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What is the BASIC Stamp®?

Robert Grimmick
Robert Grimmick

The BASIC Stamp® is a series of microcontrollers, i.e., small computing platforms that combine a microprocessor with other components. The processor and other components are included on a single circuit board, which can be connected to other boards or devices. The BASIC Stamp® can be programmed using a variant of the relatively simple BASIC programming language. The products are popular in education and electronics hobbyist circles and have been used in some commercial applications. The BASIC Stamp® line was introduced by Parallax Inc., although several other companies have since offered similar microcontrollers.

At the heart of the BASIC Stamp® line of products is a microcontroller, a lightweight computing platform that bundles the functionality of a microprocessor with additional features or components. These unique microcontrollers include a special type of memory called Electrically Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory (EEPROM) that is used for storing programs as well as a chip called a BASIC interpreter that translates stored programs into a format the processor can understand. These components, along with varying amounts of random access memory and other options, are packed onto a single printed circuit board (PCB).

Woman holding a disc
Woman holding a disc

This PCB includes pins dedicated to sending and receiving signals to and from a variety of devices, from light emitting diodes (LEDs) to servo motors. Other circuit boards and components can be connected to the PCB to expand the microcontoller’s base functionality. Advanced users can even design their own circuit boards for maximum flexibility.

This microcontroller can be programmed using PBASIC, a modified version of the BASIC programming language. The BASIC language is one of the simplest and easiest computer programming languages to learn, which makes the the BASIC Stamp® attractive for those new to electronics. Programs can be created on a personal computer and downloaded to the BASIC Stamp® through a serial cable.

Although the BASIC Stamp® is often referred to as a beginner or entry-level platform, it has been used as the basis for some extremely innovative projects. Their small size, about a postage stamp, makes them suitable for use in small or portable devices. They are popular in education and robotics fields; electronics hobbyists have used the platform to build everything from traffic signals to weather stations. They’ve also been used in a variety of commercial and industrial applications including wastewater management systems and aircraft cabin lighting.

The original device was released in 1992 by Parallax Inc., a company based in California. A more capable version, the BASIC Stamp® 2, was released in 1995 and has since been sold in a variety of configurations with different processor speeds and memory options. Parallax owns the BASIC Stamp® name, but some other companies manufacture similar platforms that are marketed as “compatible” or “clone” products.

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