One of the gifts to Supercon attendees was a Sparkfun Roshamglo badge. While reading documentation on writing software for it, one detail that stood out about this Arduino-compatible board was the lack of a USB-to-serial bridge. Such a component is common on Arduino boards. The only exceptions I’m aware of are the Arduino Leonardo line using the ATmega32u4 chip which has an integrated USB module.
The ATtiny84 on the Roshamglo is far too humble of a chip to have an integrated USB functionality, so that deviation from standard Arduino caught my interest. In fact, not only does the board lack a serial-to-USB bridge, the ATtiny84 itself doesn’t even have a UART peripheral for serial communication with a serial-to-USB bridge. Now we’re missing not one but two things commonly found in Arduino-compatible boards.
What’s the magic?
The answer is something called V-USB, a software-only implementation of basic USB fundamentals. It is not a complete implementation, most notably it does not handle all the error conditions a full implementation must gracefully handle. But it does enough USB to support the Micronucleus boot loader. Which creates a very basic way to upload Arduino sketches to an ATtiny84 without an USB serial interface engine (SIE), or even a UART, on the ATtiny84 chip.
Yes, it requires its own custom device driver and upload tool, but there are instructions on how to make all that happen. The point is minimizing hardware requirements – no modification on the host computer, and minimal supporting components for the ATtiny84.
It looks like a huge hack, and even though SparkFun cautions that it is not terribly reliable and won’t work on every computer, it is still impressive what the V-USB people have done under such limits.