Arduboy's Kevin Bates Is Back with an ESP32-S3-Powered All-in-One: The Singleboard Alpha

With a Sinclair ZX Spectrum-inspired capacitive keyboard and compact color display, this true single-board computer is in early development.

Gareth Halfacree
1 month agoHW101

Arduboy creator Kevin Bates is working on something new: a true single-board computer, the Singleboard Alpha — which includes a capacitive touch keyboard, a compact display, and an Espressif ESP32 to drive it all.

"Singleboard Alpha is my first concept of an entirely new platform," Bates writes of the project. "It's inspired by the work of twitter users Sulfuroid and Bo[b]ric[i]us on their small single board devices being used as communicator devices. I saw the potential in devices like these, and growing a community around them similar to Arduboy."

The creator of the Arduboy is back with a new device, using a bigger footprint to include a working keyboard. (📹: Kevin Bates)

Where Bates' Arduboy was a compact microcontroller-driven homage to the Nintendo Game Boy, though, the Singleboard Alpha is something more ambitious. Now in its second prototype, the Singleboard Alpha is powered by an Espressif ESP32-S3 module with an on-board 320×172 LCD display. There's a microSD Card slot for storage, a piezoelectric buzzer, and three 1.5mm addressable RGB LEDs — plus a keyboard inspired by the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

"This uses 10 pins in a matrix configured similar to a 'Charlieplex' and is routed like overlapping Vs to form a keyboard that is inspired by a [Z]X Spectrum," Bates explains. "The final row is only a single touch pad, so the software has to have an extra de-bounce to allow for the finger to press both pads."

The first Singleboard Alpha prototype lacked SD Card storage, while the keyboard design has been improved. (📹: Kevin Bates)

"My hope is that this can be a cool platform for people to learn about the ESP32, that’s why I created it and it’s been heaps of fun. I am not a very good programmer so I would be excited to see what other people might be able to do with it. I know that this chip and display can run emulators, and [Id Software's] Doom. Also Linux has recently been ported to the ESP32 so if possible, that would be fantastic on this system."

Bates has set up a site for the project at singleboard.computer, and has listed the second-generation prototype for sale on auction site eBay. "The first one [to be sold] is an auction," he explains, "and that will help me set a price for the rest. If this goes extremely high price, don’t worry I will use some sense of judgement to price the rest."

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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