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This board converts a USB connection into a 5 volt Serial TX and RX that you can connect straight to the Arduino Mini, Arduino Ethernet or other microcontrollers, allowing them to talk to the computer. It features an Atmega8U2 programmed as a USB-to-serial converter, the same chip found on the Arduino Uno. The ‘8U2 firmware uses the standard USB COM drivers, and no external driver is needed. However, on Windows, a .inf file is required.
The USB Serial Adapter has an onboard mini-USB connector and 5 pins including RX (for receiving data from the computer) and TX (for transmitting data). 5V, Ground and a Reset pin are also exposed.
Status lights include power, RX and TX activity.
The adapter can easily connect to the Arduino Ethernet, Mini, Mini Pro, LilyPad, LilyPad Simple, and Fio.
An onboard polyfuse limits the current to 500mA and protects the host computer from short circuits.
The ATmega8U2 firmware source code is available. The ATmega8U2 is loaded with a DFU bootloader, which can be activated by connecting the solder jumper on the back of the board and then resetting the 8U2.
You can then use Atmel’s FLIP software (Windows) or the DFU programmer (Mac OS X and Linux) to load a new firmware. Or you can use the ISP header with an external programmer (overwriting the DFU bootloader).
See this user-contributed tutorial for more information.