Arduino Due: enough to move DIYers from 8-bit MCUs to the 32-bit ARM?

August 15, 2012

Bernard Cole-August 15, 2012

Shown for the first time at the recent Maker Faire in San Mateo, Ca., is a new Arduino development board based on Atmel’s 32-bit ARM based SAM3X8.

Now available for use by do-it-yourself enthusiasts and professional developers, the new board is called the Arduino Due and is based on an Atmel ARM Cortex-M3 processor-based MCU, also known as the Atmel SAM3 MCU. Because it is still undergoing beta testing within the Arduino community, the cost of the Due to the public has not been set.

The big question is whether it will only be of interest to designers comfortable with doing application development on 32-bit platforms or whether there is enough there to move the large base of hobbyists who have been doing designs with the now familiar 8 bit MCUs.

As with previous 8-bit Arduino boards, the Due platform is targeted at home automation projects and can run up to 96MHz, three times the clock speed of any other of the Atmel MCU based boards now available. Two other Arduino components have also been released for use by the community:

* Arduino WiFi Shield. Built for WiFi applications, the Arduino WiFi shield is powered by Atmel’s AVR UC3 MCU based its proprietary 32-bit RISC architecture and a H&D wireless module, and provides developers a powerful WiFi interface.

* Arduino Leonardo. Based on the Atmel 8-bit megaAVR ATmega32U4, the Arduino Leonardo is a low-cost Arduino board. It has the same shape and connectors as the UNO but it has a simpler circuit. On the software side it has a USB driver able to simulate a mouse, a keyboard, and a serial port.

The new 32-bit ARM based Due board is not the first one developed to provide a pathway for hobbyists to migrate from the original 8-bit AVR form factor to a 32-bit MCU. Several other 32-bit based platforms are what are called “duinos,” - boards and components which are compatible, but do not fully satisfy the Arduino community definition.

Among the 32-bit processors used in these “duino” boards are the Firebird32, based on Freescale 32-bit Coldfire MCF51JM128; the FezDomino, an ARM-based platform from GHI Electronics; the 48 MHz 32-bit ARM7 Netduino; the Bugblat, based on ST Micro’s ARM Cortex-M3-based MCU; Freescale’s Kinetis-L ARM Cortex-M0+ Freedom and Leaflab’s Maple, based on STMicro’s 32-bit ARM MCU.

Developers using the new 32-bit ARM-based Due will have all of the same software development tools - the open source C++ based Wiring language and the Processing IDE, a cross-platform application written in Java - currently available on most of the current 8-bit Atmel platforms. The Arduino IDE uses the GNU tool chain and AVR Libc to compile programs. Also available at no cost from Atmel  is the cross hardware platform  Studio 6, a.full-featured IDE and software development system for use across all of Atmel's AVR 8-bit, AVR 32-bit, and SAM (ARM-based) 32-bit MCUs, processors.

Certainly the cost of the board will be important to the Arduino audience, made up as it is by an eclectic mix of artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in DIY projects, for whom both cost and ease of use are equally important. Studio 6 will be a good first step toward helping such “knowledge domain enthusiasts" (DIYers who have an idea and want to build it with a minimum of fuss) make the transition from the simpler 8-bit environment to the inherently more complex 32-bit programming venue a bit easier.

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