The Versatile Arduino Nano

I’m currently stuck at home with some kind of respiratory crud that seems to be going around (and watching my symptoms to make sure it doesn’t evolve into pneumonia), so I decided to sort through some of the stuff in my various parts organizers. To my surprise I discovered that I’ve managed to accumulate about 20 Arduino Nano PCBs. I guess I keep on ordering them thinking I’m running low when I’m really not.

In an earlier article I had written that the Nano was an Arduino product that didn’t suffer from an oddball pin layout. Something like an Uno, which is probably what most people think of when they hear the word “Arduino” is a nice little PCB, but it has a goofy gap between the socket headers on one side that precludes using a standard 0.1″ perfboard to assemble an ad-hoc shield. The Nano, on the other hand, has a physical footprint that is almost, but not quite, equivalent to a 30-pin DIP. It is also a lot smaller than an Uno or other full-size Arduino, and it has the same MCU.

The Nano’s pin rows are 0.6″ apart, while a standard JEDEC 30-pin DIP is 0.7″. So it won’t plug into a conventional DIP socket. But a Nano can easily be integrated into a design on a larger PCB. An Ardunio Nano is really just a breakout for an Atmel MCU and it has all the same pins as any other ATMega328-based Arduino. The Nano also has a voltage regulator and a serial-to-USB bridge already built-in, so there are two parts that you don’t need to worry about.

The Nano’s reduced form factor makes it ideal for applications where space and weight are at a premium. But that same small size also means that it cannot be directly connected to a conventional shield without an adapter or some jumper wires. But there are other ways to add functionality without using shields.

I like to use Nanos in prototypes, mainly because I don’t want to makes things any larger than necessary. Here’s a photo of a pair of Nano PCBs and a real-time clock module mounted on a perfboard:


Yes, it still has some leftover flux that I haven’t cleaned up yet. This is intended for the ESR device I’m building, and it needs two processors to meet its functional requirements. By using Nanos I can squeeze in two processors and an RTC on one side of the perfboard, and I’ll mount an HC05 Bluetooth module on the back. This level of density wouldn’t be possible if I had used conventional Arduino boards like an Uno or Leonardo.

But perhaps you would prefer to avoid soldering things. For a proof-of-concept build I prefer to avoid doing any more soldering than necessary, so I turn to screw terminals. A compact screw terminal carrier board for a Nano, like the one shown shown below, meets all the requirements:


I like screw terminals for prototypes, and this little adapter also has two mounting holes. Here what it looks like with a Nano installed:


But what if you want to use conventional shields? There are multiple types of adapters available for the Nano for just that purpose. Some, like the unit shown below, have the pads for the socket headers to connect a shield, but the pins for the I/O connections might prove to be a problem if you want to put a shield on top of the board. One solution is to make this adapter the top-most board in a shield stack. There’s nothing special about the order of the shields, just so long as the signals get to where they need to go.


But, if you go to the trouble of using something like the adapter shown above, then why bother with a Nano? The primary advantage of the Nano is its compact size. It is possible to purchase most of the capabilities found on a shield in the form of compact modules, or even just ICs. The dual-Nano board shown earlier is just one example, you can build even more complex things. This works out well because modules typically only have a limited number of connections, so there isn’t a rat’s nest of wiring on the perf board. If you need to use discrete components then I would recommend laying out a PCB, and the Nano can still plug into your custom PCB.

So don’t overlook the little Nano. If you want to stuff an Arduino into a piece of PVC pipe and drop it down a well bore (in the oil industry this is called a logger), tuck one into a small RC vehicle, or even in the nose of a model rocket, then the Nano might be just what you’re looking for. You can find technical details on the Nano and the ATmega328 MCU in my book “Arduino: A Technical Reference“, and of course the official Arduino web site has information as well.


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Little Buddy

An awesome little friend

Jordi the Sheltie passed away in 2008 at the ripe old age of 14. He was the most awesome dog I've ever known.


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