When we talk about microcontroller development boards, like an Arduino or NodeMCU, we’re referring to what is essentially a breakout board. The actual microcontroller is a tiny chip on the board that has the processor, memory, and I/O. The rest of the board is just there to make it easier to use the microcontroller by providing ancillary components and connections. That means that the form factor of a development board is based largely on practicality, and not on many concrete constraints. So, it’s possible to build unique designs, like this LEGO minifig development board from Benjamin Shockley.
Shockley’s goal was to design a fully-functional development board in the size and shape of a LEGO minifig. Mini SAM is mostly about the cool aesthetic, but that doesn’t mean it’s impractical. It’s very small, which means you can integrate it into a wide range of projects — it measures just 1.55″ tall and 0.95″ wide. And, while it does use SMT (surface-mount technology) components, their package sizes are large enough that a skilled maker should still be able to solder them by hand.
There is also a lot of tech packed onto that tiny minifig footprint. The microcontroller is a Microchip SAM D21E Arm Cortex-M0+, which is far more powerful than the ATmega328P that you’ll find on an Arduino Uno. There is a micro USB port for programming and power, a reset button, a user-defined button, an LED, and a WS2812B RGB LED. On the back, there are solder pads for adding SMT headers for the I/O pins. If you want to build your own Mini SAM, the design files are available on Shockley’s GitHub page.