LONDON ARM and NXP have launched an online platform for fast, low-risk prototyping of microcontroller-based systems. The website mbed.org and the mbed microcontroller rapid prototyping tools initially provide integral hardware and software support for the NXP LPC1768 ARM Cortex-M3 processor-based MCU.
“It is designed to enable people to prototype a 'proof of concept' for using a ARM-based microcontroller,” said Mark Onions, director of marketing of the system design division at ARM. “It is different from traditional development tools, is different from normal evaluation boards and has a different place in the market. It is designed to enable a look at an idea and test it just to see if it would work and then start true development.” Onions stressed that it is not designed to replace existing tools or development boards.
Onions said that a number of other industries have benefited from rapid prototyping solutions such as 3D moulding, 3D printing, 2D/3D design web frameworks while development cycles for microelectronics have not kept pace.
The mbed microcontroller board is plugged in to a computer and the user visits the mbed.org website to signup. A 'Hello World!' binary is downloaded and running in the same ay a file can be saved to a USB flash drive.
Compiling a first program should take 60 seconds. to launch the browser-based compiler, create a new template project, and click 'compile' to build and download the binary.
“This is cloud-computing in the true sense,” said Onions. “The great thing about this is that you do not have to install anything, you always have the latest information.”
“The tools are online in a browser, so there is nothing to configure or install, and everything works on Windows, Mac or Linux. “Any programs created can be stored online – providing access to approved users anywhere – or locally.
Development with mbed tools is focused on rapid prototyping by enabling the creation of proof-of-concept designs that exploit the functionality and cost saving opportunities.
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The first mbed microcontroller hardware packages an NXP LPC1768 Cortex-M3 processor-based MCU and support components in a 40-pin 0.1 inch pitch DIP form-factor. It provides CPU performance of over 140 DMIPs at 120 MHz, combined with a range of peripherals like USB, Ethernet and CAN.The mbed C/C++ Libraries build on top of the ARM Cortex Microcontroller Software Interface Standard (CMSIS) to provide interfaces to microcontroller peripherals, enabling API-driven approach to coding. The online compiler is the same as that used in the ARM devlopment suite and the Keil ARM tools, “it is based on the same compiler that we use in our professional tools,” explained Onions.
The intuitive API means that engineers do not have to work at the register level which is common with standard tools avoiding implementation details. The hardware and software interfaces are aligned and provides immediate connectivity to peripherals and modules.
Onions believes that this solution focused on rapid prototyping has a broad appeal for engineers new to embedded applications to enable experimentation and testing product ideas for the first time. It will provide experienced engineers with a way to be more productive in the proof-of-concept stages while marketing, distributors and application engineers are provided with a consistent platform for demonstration, evaluation, and support.
Onions said that ARM started a research project a couple of years ago and has been working with NXP on it for 18 months. He confirmed that ARM is talking to other suppliers of ARM-based MCUs about similar initiatives. Trials of the system have been taking place over the last 6 months and 500 boards have been supplied to engineers with general availability now through the normal distribution channels.
The mbed.org website provides several videos, blogs, and a forum.