The typical "where do i start" question

Discussion in 'Embedded Systems and Microcontrollers' started by dsw222, Jan 11, 2011.

  1. dsw222

    Thread Starter New Member

    Jan 11, 2011
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    Hey guys... I'm new to the forum and this looks like a great resource for me.

    I would like some guidance as to where to start.

    I went to Penn State for computer engineering, where I had courses using Motorola chips, assembly language, MIPS, etc. Now I am a Software Engineer and work on coding C software for devices like PowerPC boards and VXWorks.

    I would like to start my own side project which would basically be a layer lower than what I am used to working with. I want to take a microcontroller and interface with several input/output chips such as an accelerometer, a temperature sensor, GPS receiver, etc and dump that information to an SD card.

    Do you have any suggestions for a chip (or multiple chips) that would have adequate I/O ports for my needs?

    I looked into the PIC24H series, but I'm concerned that it might not be what I need for interfacing to so many devices. (I downloaded MPLAB with the C plugin last night and went over a few example projects... the software seems decent enough to me, and i like that they give it you a free version... so I was leaning towards a Microchip Technologies product)

    I'd also like a recommendation for a programmer if possible.... I don't really want to spend hundreds of dollars on this, so all I really want is something that will allow me to download code to a microcontroller (but not just one single type of microcontroller, so i can use it for multiple projects). What do you guys use?

    Thanks for any help!
     
  2. Kermit2

    AAC Fanatic!

    Feb 5, 2010
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    You worry me.

    You say you are a college grad, with a degree in computer science and currently work in that field, but don't know about the commonly available micro's and their pin outs/capabilities?

    ??


    Microchip is a good one, and I personally have the Pickit3 programmer, which again, is very cheap.
     
  3. dsw222

    Thread Starter New Member

    Jan 11, 2011
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    Computer Engineering, not Comp Sci.... but yes.

    The few courses I had in microprocessors used the Motorola 6812, so I am familiar with only that. And the courses in assembly language had us using SPIM (MIPS simulator), which means they had us writing assembly code that we were able to simulate.... but we never put it on a processor. That part was all computer simulation.

    As for my job, I write software that goes on a PowerPC board running VXWorks so that isn't exactly the same as writing software for a standalone microcontroller, and interfacing to it.
     
  4. Kermit2

    AAC Fanatic!

    Feb 5, 2010
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    Well that helps my understanding, but I won't be the best one to give you advice between products, since I only have used one(mentioned above)

    Somebody will be along soon to add something more useful than I can now.


    Welcome to AAC!
     
  5. jpanhalt

    AAC Fanatic!

    Jan 18, 2008
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    Microchip has a nice product selection application. You will need to set some basics, like number of ADC's, ports, memory that you envision using. As for programming, I would get something supported by MPLab. Unfortunately, I use a dinosaur, so any specific recommendation I could make on that would be worthless.

    John
     
  6. dsw222

    Thread Starter New Member

    Jan 11, 2011
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    Thanks! I hope to learn a lot on here!

    With your PicKit 3, do you use the demo board with it? Or do you just use it to interface to whatever microcontroller you are currently working with by using a breadboard and the pinouts? It looks like either way is possible using the PICkit 3... I'm going through some of the documentation for it right now, as there aren't many details on the description
     
  7. hgmjr

    Moderator

    Jan 28, 2005
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    If you want to get off to a running start with your hardware development then I would recommend you look at the Arduino Uno or its bigger brother the Arduino Mega. They are $30 and $65 respectively and you don't need a programmer with them as they have a boot loader already installed. The development software is free at www.arduino.cc. Type Arduino into the keyword search on Youtube and you will get a taste for what is out there.

    hgmjr
     
  8. hgmjr

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    By the way, Arduino Uno is based on the ATMEL ATMEGA328 microcontroller. The Arduino software tools are for development in C.

    hgmjr
     
  9. maxpower097

    Well-Known Member

    Feb 20, 2009
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    .................................................................... Sorry bud these guys are nuts with too much drama, gonna be starting a real forum soon, I'll email you the addy,.
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2011
  10. maxpower097

    Well-Known Member

    Feb 20, 2009
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    ....................................................................
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2011
  11. t06afre

    AAC Fanatic!

    May 11, 2009
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    I think the Arduino will fence you in. Back in the days then the expensive Pic start plus was almost the only option. The Arduino concept may have been a good idea. But with the introduction of the cheap PICKIT 2/3 programmers. The Arduino concept is obsolete. And the concept also use a pre loaded bootloader method. And I think this part of the Arduino concept is not open source.
    If you want to start PICs and Microchip. I recommend using the PIC18F series as your entry point. And not the some 16F series. You may read more about here http://forum.allaboutcircuits.com/showthread.php?t=48143
     
  12. hgmjr

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    Jan 28, 2005
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    I have used the Arduino and have not found it limiting at all. The concept of a bootloader is a good one for the hobbyist who is not interested in seeing the sausage being made. The real advantage of a bootloader is that you do not need to invest in a programmer.

    With the arduino, you can get up and running in a matter of hours. The extensive free libraries that are available make it easy for the non-techie types to achieve some very impressive results as demonstrated by some of the youtube videos.

    If the Arduino Uno or Arduino Duemilenove do not have enough IO for you then you can move up to the Arduino Mega.

    If you like seeing the sausage made then the AVR and the PIC are the way to go.

    hgmjr
     
  13. retched

    AAC Fanatic!

    Dec 5, 2009
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    Ewww.. I dont like seeing the sausage made.. poor cute little pigs. ;)

    I own an arduino. Very quick to get going. Right out of the box.

    Little more of a learning curve with the pickit3 stuff, BUT you have access to hundreds of different PICs..

    If you are looking to use your assembly language skills, go with the pickit3.

    The explorer16 is a fantastic development kit. Plenty of power, and plenty of expansion possibilities.
     
  14. Kermit2

    AAC Fanatic!

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    If you ever plan to make a large 'run' of boards. You will find the price -per chip- to be a big concern with some brands.

    Be sure and check the costs of the chips themselves, and not just the programmer/loader price.
     
  15. t06afre

    AAC Fanatic!

    May 11, 2009
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    @hgmjr what do you mean by "If you like seeing the sausage made" ;) This is not meant as sarcasm from my side. And as we both are happy with the our current development platform. We can put the bickering aside:p. I like the freedom in using a general programmer. If something goes wrong I can get a new chip from somewhere. I do not have to wait for a new Arduino board to arrive.
     
  16. thatoneguy

    AAC Fanatic!

    Feb 19, 2009
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    I can see benefits to both sides, and actually have both, though I haven't seen the arduino around, I do have an AVR within reach. As well as a *cough* BASIC Stamp, but Stamps are great for getting confidence in kids built up quickly.

    Different apps call for different processors. The stamp or Ardunio aren't a "fits all holes" type of system, but they cover a big gap. PIC and AVR do fit many holes, at very reasonable cost. There is no "perfect solution for everything" at the moment. I'm working on one though.
     
  17. hgmjr

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    Jan 28, 2005
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    There is no offense intended. This is an expression that pops up once in a while. "Watching the sausage being made" refers to the idea of getting down into the deeper details of something. The Arduino basically allows the non-technical hobbyist the luxury of designing with an embedded microcontroller without the need to break out a datasheet and design the basic circuitry before he/she can get started with programming. Hence my use of the phrase.

    hgmjr
     
  18. t06afre

    AAC Fanatic!

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    No offence taken at all:). I should have looked it up on Google. I guess I am kind kind of electronic chef that like to make electronic sausage. But some are more than happy with pre-prepared electronics.
     
  19. hgmjr

    Moderator

    Jan 28, 2005
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    When it comes to microcontrollers, I too have "made a lot of sausage" in my day. It is that sausage making experience that has provided me with the insight that the majority of the members that join this forum with neat ideas for projects that could be done with a microcontroller are facing a steep learning curve before they are ready to deal with the basic details of designing a micrcontroller board in addition to building up a full set of interface hardware that allows them to do what they actually need it to do.

    Arduino and possibly PICAXE are a couple of quick start ready to use boards that can then be enhanced with the components needed to run a motor or monitor a sensor or activate a relay or light an LED or beep a beeper or all of the above. Instant gratification is the name of the game in the hobby world. The shorter the path to success the more likely the individual will be engaged and move to the next level. For those few members who are more technically knowledgeable, they are more likely to post the question less broadly than the ones that are newbies.

    hgmjr
     
  20. retched

    AAC Fanatic!

    Dec 5, 2009
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    True.

    The shields that are offered allow for quick "upgrading" or the arduino. Even to the point of full motion video, and web server.

    Touch and stylus support on a full color touch-screen display.

    Yes they "do" boost them with beefy drivers, but the point remains the same.

    You can use the arduino as the control. Therefore you still have the bootloader, and still have a stockpile of well-written, well-tested code available to all who seek it.

    Also, you can use the arduino as a Atmega328 programmer, of sorts.

    There is no reason you cant pop the uC out and etch a PCB and mount it.

    No problem.

    The only thing there is, you must have another programmer to get the bootloader onto the replaced chip... OR buy an $8 pre-loaded arduino uC.
     
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