Two easy paths to begin an embedded systems design -

Two easy paths to begin an embedded systems design

Two development kits crossed my desk recently, and I give them both very high grades but for different reasons. The first kit, the PSoC 5 FirstTouch Starter Kit from Cypress Semiconductor , got you started on your design almost as soon as you took the kit out of the box. Actually, the kit was designed to show you a cool example of its capabilities without any programming. You take out the small board, connect the battery, and wave it around: it displays a message using on-board LEDs.

After I got passed that message, I installed all the software and was working on my design in a matter of minutes. The kit, which retails for $49, contains enough sensors, I/Os, projects, and software to really take PSoC for a spin and understand its capabilities. If you’re not familiar with PSoC 5, it’s a programmable system-on-chip designed around a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M3 CPU operating at up to 80 MHz. A key feature of the PSoC 5 is its integrated, high-precision 20-bit resolution analog circuitry.

In addition to trying out PSoC 5, the kit provides other functions that come in handy when you’re designing a system, including Cypress’ CapSense touch-sensing interface. The other functions are serial wire debugging, an accelerometer, a thermistor, proximity sensing, a 12-pin wireless module header, and 28 general purpose I/O pins (GPIOs).

The complete kit contains the PSoC 5 FirstTouch board, a USB cable, a 9-V battery, a proximity wire (for use as a proximity detection antenna), and a CD that holds a quick start guide, PSoC Creator software, kit projects, and documentation.

The goal of the second kit I received, the LaunchPad from Texas Instruments , is to put an MSP430-based development kit into the hands of anyone who wants one, with an extremely low barrier to entry. In this case, the barrier is $4.30 (yes, the decimal point is in the right place).
The MSP430 is TI’s low-power, low-cost 16-bit microcontroller. The announcement of this development kit is obviously meant to stay in line with the company’s recent MCU announcement, whereby they are offering 430 MCUs for just 25 cents.

For $4.30, you get all the hardware and software that’s needed to begin a 430-based design. That includes the LaunchPad development board, two MSP430 MCUs (the MSP430G2211 and the MSP430G2231), a Mini-USB cable, Code Composer Studio software, IAR’s Embedded Workbench, and a quick start guide. TI has started a Wiki. There’s also a LaunchPad video overview at

The only question that remains is, can you afford to not start your development with one of these kits?

Richard Nass is the former editorial director of Embedded Systems Design magazine and the Embedded Systems Conferences, as of July 9, 2010. (He has moved on to cover the medical industry for Canon Communications.) In a past life, he was editor in chief of Portable Design magazine and was a technology editor with Electronic Design magazine. He has a BSEE degree from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. 

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