When it comes to my hobby projects, I'm a huge fan of Arduino and ChipKIT microcontroller development boards. One of the big attractions is the huge ecosystem that's grown around these little rascals. If I need something like a servo controller shield or a real-time clock (RTC) module, for example, then I can invariably find something appropriate from companies like Adafruit or SparkFun.
Now, a lot of embedded design engineers tend to think of the Arduino as being of interest only for beginners and hobbyists, but this really isn't the case. I've met a number of folks who really like the open source aspect of all this — they use an off-the-shelf Arduino as the basis for evaluation and prototyping — then take all of the open source design files and use them as a starting point for spinning their own boards.
One of my chums — Duane Benson — is a bit of a microcontroller guru. Duane has worked with just about every professional MCU development system I've heard of, but — even so — he's a big fan of the Arduino when it comes to prototyping his projects. As Duane said to me in a recent email:
The Arduino is a great educational and hobby tool. I've recently discovered that it has use in the commercial world as well. For example, I'm a big fan of the I2C bus. It doesn't use a lot of resources, it only requires two signal lines (clock and data), it can support a lot of devices at the same time, and it's bi-directional. One thing I don't like about I2C is that some manufacturers play a little loose with the standard. There are enough variations that the bus itself can get in the way of trying out a new chip. This is where the Arduino comes in.
Recently. I wanted to use a Freescale MMA8452Q accelerometer. My intended microcontroller was a Microchip PIC18F46K22, which I had not used with I2C before. The PIC microcontrollers seem to have slight differences in I2C implementation from family to family. That left me with three unknowns: I2C on the accelerometer, I2C on the MCU, and the operation of the accelerometer itself.
The Arduino allowed me to separate these unknowns. I found an Arduino library for the Freescale part. With that library and the accelerometer on a breakout board, I was able to go straight to learning the ins and outs of the chip. By the time my circuit boards for the PIC-based project were back in house, I had learned the accelerometer quite well, which left the I2C as the lone unknown to attack.
The most common Arduino boards still use 8-bit microcontrollers, but the libraries mean that it can be of great use no matter what your end MCU will be. Also, these libraries have been ported to Arduino-compatible boards based on much more powerful 32-bit microcontrollers. These 32-bit ports, such as the Arduino Due and the Microchip Technology's Arduino-compatible ChipKIT Uno32 and ChipKIT Max32, make a base Arduino powerful enough for many embedded applications that previously would have required a bare-metal ARM or similar MCU.
If you'd like to hear more as to why I find the Arduino to be such a useful tool, you can attend my session The Arduino for rapid prototyping; It's not just a toy at ESC Silicon Valley, Tuesday, July 21, 11:00 to 11:45.
This is certainly one talk I'm going to attend. Duane is one of my heroes. As I mentioned in my recent blog, BADASS Display: It's alive! It's alive!, while I was working on the display, I decided that it would be great to take my breadboard prototype spectrum analyzer and migrate it to a custom Arduino shield. I called Duane who said “send the circuit over,” and just a couple of days later the littler scamp was wending its way to the board shop (by “little scamp” I mean my custom shield, not Duane, although it's certainly no business of mine what he gets up to in his spare time LOL).
Are you planning on attending ESC Silicon Valley? If so, have you checked out the Conference Schedule? Which talks look to be the tastiest and most tempting as far as you're concerned?
Join over 2,000 technical professionals and embedded systems hardware, software, and firmware developers at ESC Silicon Valley July 20-22, 2015, and learn about the latest techniques and tips for reducing time, cost, and complexity in the development process.
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