Intel may reign supreme in the desktop and laptop space, but ARM is eating its lunch almost everywhere else. That's not something the chipmaker can ignore, which is why it's having another crack at the hobby / developer market with Sharks Cove. The board, designed with Microsoft, has the stated aim of helping developers build apps and drivers for Windows and Android devices that use Intel chips. Since it's also available for everyone else to buy, it could also be quietly positioned as a more powerful alternative to boards like Arduino and Raspberry Pi. Unfortunately, as with the NUC, there's a catch: the board will retail for $300.
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Notice how so many maker projects require open-source hardware like Arduino and Raspberry Pi to function? Intel has, and the company is leaping into bed with the former to produce the Galileo development board. Galileo is the first product packing Intel's Quark X1000 system-on-chip, Santa Clara's (designed in Ireland, trivia fans) new low-power gear for wearables and "internet of things" devices. Don't imagine, however, that Intel is abandoning its X86 roots, as Quark's beating heart is a single-thread Pentium-based 400MHz CPU. As part of the new project, Intel will be handing out 50,000 of the boards to 1,000 universities over the next 18 months -- a move which we're sure will make Eben Upton and Co. delighted and nervous at the same time.
There are many types of microcontrollers on the market, and it would be fair to say one of the two most popular types is the Microchip PIC series. The PICs are great as there is a huge range of microcontrollers available across a broad range of prices. However learning how to get started with the PIC platform isn’t exactly simple. Not that we expect it to be, however a soft start is always better. There are some older books, however they can cost more than $100 – and are generally outdated. So where do you start?
In his words:
There is plenty of material available on PICs, which can make it daunting to get started. And some of the available material is dated, originally developed before modern “flash” PICs were available, or based on older devices that are no longer the best choice for new designs. Our approach is to introduce PIC programming and design in easy stages, based on a solid grounding in theory, creating a set of building blocks and techniques and giving you the confidence to draw on as we move up to more complex designs.
So in this article we’ll examine David’s course package. First of all, let’s look at the development board and inclusions. Almost everything you will need to complete all the lessons is included in the package, including the following PIC microcontrollers:
You can choose to purchase the board in kit form or pre-assembled. If you enjoy soldering, save the money and get the kit – it’s simple to assemble and a nice way to spend a few hours with a soldering iron.
Although the board includes all the electronic components and PICs – you will need are a computer capable of running Microchip MPLAB software, a Microchip PICkit3 (or -2) programming device and an IC extractor. If you’re building the kit, a typical soldering iron and so on will be required. Being the ultra-paranoid type, I bought a couple extra of each PIC to have as spares, however none were damaged in my experimenting. Just use common-sense when handling the PICs and you will be fine.
Putting the kit board together wasn’t difficult at all. There isn’t any surface-mount parts to worry about, and the PCB is silk-screened very well:
The rest of the parts are shipped in antistatic bags, appropriately labelled and protected:
Assembly was straight forward, just start with the low-profile parts and work your way up. The assembly guide is useful to help with component placement. After working at a normal pace, it was ready in just over an hour:
Once assembled (or you’ve opened the packaging) the various sections of the board are obvious and clearly labelled – as they should be for an educational board. You will notice a large amount of jumper headers – they are required to bridge in and out various LEDs, select various input methods and so on. A large amount of jumper shunts is included with the board.
It might appear a little disconcerting at first, but all is revealed and explained as you progress through the lessons. The board has decent rubber feet, and is powered either by the PICkit3 programmer, or a regulated DC power source between 5 and 6V DC, such as from a plug-pack if you want to operate your board away from a PC.
However there is a wide range of functions, input and output devices on the board – and an adjustable oscillator, as shown in the following diagram:
There is some assumed knowledge, which is a reasonable understanding of basic electronics, some computer and mathematical savvy and the C programming language.
You can view the first group of lessons for free on the kit website, and these are included along with the additional lessons in the included CDROM. They’re in .pdf format and easy to read. The CDROM also includes all the code so you don’t have to transcribe it from the lessons. Students start with an absolute introduction to the system, and first learn how to program in assembly language in the first group of tutorials, followed by C in the second set.
This is great as you learn about the microcontroller itself, and basically start from the bottom. Although it’s no secret I enjoy using the Arduino system – it really does hide a lot of the actual hardware knowledge away from the end user which won’t be learned. With David’s system – you will learn.
If you scroll down to the bottom of this page, you can review the tutorial summaries. Finally here’s a quick demonstration of the 7-segment displays in action:
Update – 18/06/2013
David has continued publishing more tutorials for his customers every few months – including such topics as the EEPROM and pulse-width modulation. As part of the expanded lessons you can also get a pack which allows experimenting with electric motors that includes a small DC motor, the TI SN75441 h-bridge IC, N-channel and P-channel MOSFETS and more:
So after the initial purchase, you won’t be left on your own. Kudos to David for continuing to support and develop more material for his customers.
Where to from here?
Once you run through all the tutorials, and feel confident with your knowledge, the world of Microchip PIC will be open to you. Plus you now have a great development board for prototyping with 6 to 14-pin PIC microcontrollers. Don’t forget all the pins are brought out to the row of sockets next to the solderless breadboard, so general prototyping is a breeze.
For those who have mastered basic electronics, and have some C or C-like programming experience from using other development environments or PCs – this package is perfect for getting started with the Microchip PIC environment. Plus you’ll learn about assembly language – which is a good thing. I genuinely recommend this to anyone who wants to learn about PIC and/or move into more advanced microcontroller work. And as the entire package is cheaper than some books – you can’t go wrong. The training course is available directly from the Gooligum website.
Disclaimer – The Baseline and Mid-Range PIC Training Course and Development Board was a promotional consideration from Gooligum Electronics.
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Yesterday at Maker Faire Bay Area 2012 we visited the Electric Imp booth to chat with the startup's founders and get some hands-on time with the tiny wireless computer. What is the Electric Imp? It's a module containing an ARM Cortex M3 SoC with embedded WiFi that's built into an SD card form factor. While the device looks just like and SD card, it's not pin-compatible with the standard -- the idea is to leverage a reliable and affordable connector for the Electric Imp. The module is not very useful on its own -- it only comes to life when inserted into one of several boards, which provide the Electric Imp with power and access to the real world. In turn the device gives these boards a brain and an Internet connection. Eventually the company hopes that appliance manufacturers will incorporate Electric Imp slots into products to make them network aware.
We talked with CEO Hugo Fiennes (formerly with Apple) about the past, present and future of the Electric Imp so hit the break to read more and to watch our hands-on video.
Gallery: Electric Imp hands-on
Hands-on with the Electric Imp at Maker Faire (video) originally appeared on Engadget on Mon, 21 May 2012 00:20:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.Permalink | Email this | Comments