Microcontrollers compatible with graphical programming languages

Thread Starter

Just Another Sparky

Joined Dec 8, 2019
219
Just writing to see if anyone has any experience with/recommendations for microcontrollers oriented towards those who are not good with written coding languages.

The only written coding language I've ever had any success with was pBASIC about a decade ago using Parallax's BASIC stamps. Even that was a limited success for me - every single instruction was an uphill battle fighting against syntax and trying to figure out what instructions to use to get the thing to do what I needed. I tried 'C' with an MSP430 a couple years ago - and boy, what a miserable failure that was. Complete waste of time and money for me. Couldn't even get the thing to blink an LED without stitching together bits and pieces of example code.

On the other hand, PLC class was my highest mark in tech school behind motor controls (relay logic). Once the usual software BS was sorted out on the PC end and I could get it to talk to the PLC, writing a complicated control loop with various subroutines and options for control of a simulated industrial process via modbus HMI was intuitive and enjoyable.

The difference was between traditional written languages (pBASIC and 'C') and a graphical one (ladder logic). I'm a very visual, hands-on thinker so it sort of makes sense to me that the latter clicked while the other two made me miserable. Something I can *see* vs getting lost in the weeds with syntax, conventions, symbology and invisible options associated with each instruction.

My question is: Are there any suggestions for beginner-oriented microcontrollers out there which permit the use of a graphical language? Not necessarily ladder logic, but at least something with a drag-and-drop or block-and-wire interface? I've noticed Parallax's Propeller 1 microcontrollers and those have taken my interest for their ability to use 'BlocklyProp' and their availability in a 40-DIP package. Has anyone had any experience with these? Are there other options out there also worth considering?

Thanks.
 
Last edited:

Papabravo

Joined Feb 24, 2006
16,792
Just writing to see if anyone has any experience with/recommendations for microcontrollers oriented towards those who are not good with written coding languages.

The only written coding language I've ever had any success with was pBASIC about a decade ago using Parallax's BASIC stamps. Even that was a limited success for me - every single instruction was an uphill battle fighting against syntax and trying to figure out what instructions to use to get the thing to do what I needed. I tried 'C' with an MSP430 a couple years ago - and boy, what a miserable failure that was. Complete waste of time and money for me. Couldn't even get the thing to blink an LED without stitching together bits and pieces of example code.

On the other hand, PLC class was my highest mark in tech school behind motor controls (relay logic). Once the usual software BS was sorted out on the PC end and I could get it to talk to the PLC, writing a complicated control loop with various subroutines and options for control of a simulated industrial process via modbus HMI was intuitive and enjoyable.

The difference was between traditional written languages (pBASIC and 'C') and a graphical one (ladder logic). I'm a very visual, hands-on thinker so it sort of makes sense to me that the latter clicked while the other two made me miserable. Something I can *see* vs getting lost in the weeds with syntax, conventions, symbology and invisible options associated with each instruction.

My question is: Are there any suggestions for beginner-oriented microcontrollers out there which permit the use of a graphical language? Not necessarily ladder logic, but at least something with a drag-and-drop or block-and-wire interface? I've noticed Parallax's Propeller 1 microcontrollers and those have taken my interest for their ability to use 'BlocklyProp' and their availability in a 40-DIP package. Has anyone had any experience with these? Are there other options out there also worth considering?

Thanks.
Cypress Semiconductor has the pSOC family of Programmable System On a Chip. These are ARM processors with peripherals and a block diagram style of programming. Literally no written code required.
@danadak is a big fan of these parts -- I think.
 

BobaMosfet

Joined Jul 1, 2009
1,848
Just writing to see if anyone has any experience with/recommendations for microcontrollers oriented towards those who are not good with written coding languages.

The only written coding language I've ever had any success with was pBASIC about a decade ago using Parallax's BASIC stamps. Even that was a limited success for me - every single instruction was an uphill battle fighting against syntax and trying to figure out what instructions to use to get the thing to do what I needed. I tried 'C' with an MSP430 a couple years ago - and boy, what a miserable failure that was. Complete waste of time and money for me. Couldn't even get the thing to blink an LED without stitching together bits and pieces of example code.

On the other hand, PLC class was my highest mark in tech school behind motor controls (relay logic). Once the usual software BS was sorted out on the PC end and I could get it to talk to the PLC, writing a complicated control loop with various subroutines and options for control of a simulated industrial process via modbus HMI was intuitive and enjoyable.

The difference was between traditional written languages (pBASIC and 'C') and a graphical one (ladder logic). I'm a very visual, hands-on thinker so it sort of makes sense to me that the latter clicked while the other two made me miserable. Something I can *see* vs getting lost in the weeds with syntax, conventions, symbology and invisible options associated with each instruction.

My question is: Are there any suggestions for beginner-oriented microcontrollers out there which permit the use of a graphical language? Not necessarily ladder logic, but at least something with a drag-and-drop or block-and-wire interface? I've noticed Parallax's Propeller 1 microcontrollers and those have taken my interest for their ability to use 'BlocklyProp' and their availability in a 40-DIP package. Has anyone had any experience with these? Are there other options out there also worth considering?

Thanks.
It isn't you- it's how you're being taught. I'm extremely visual like you. I wish I could sit down with you for just 1 hour and a white-board, I'd open your eyes to how to 'look at it'.... :/
 

Thread Starter

Just Another Sparky

Joined Dec 8, 2019
219
Nothing terribly high performance. Maybe driving a buck converter, building a simple security system, maybe some CNC/motion control stuff. Short scan times and plenty of I/Os (including some analog) but no need for terribly much data throughput, RAM or EEPROM.
 
Last edited:

Yaakov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
3,492
Nothing terribly high performance. Maybe driving a buck converter, building a simple security system, maybe some CNC/motion control stuff. Short scan times and plenty of I/Os (including some analog) but no need for terribly much data throughput, RAM or EEPROM.
I will preface this by saying I haven't used it, but I have been told by people I trust that it is a viable alternative to traditional coding worth checking out: http://blog.ardublock.com
 

StrongPenguin

Joined Jun 9, 2018
287
I am going to second what @BobaMosfet said. I would try to learn a language, like C, and go from there. I also have to imagine things visually before I can understand them. But if you learn a language, there will be a helluva lot more learning resources, and tutorials to get you started..

My first MCU was also an MSP430, which gave me trouble at first, because I had no idea of what I was doing and found it difficult to imagine the process. But setting registers manually and watching them change in the register overview helped a lot, as if something clicked.
 
There are a few microcontrollers that will work with Flowcode.

udec's Smart relay series, Siemens LOGO use graphical programming. There is a free simulator for Idec.

Labview is ot for microcontrollers, but it's the defacto standard for controlling Instrumentation. https://reference.digilentinc.com/reference/software/labview-home/start For a visual programming language it just blows you away. I had to learn it when there was no documentation and it was in it's infancy.

A block of code (they call them VI's or Virtual Instruments) has all of it's data, it executes. It's very easy to write code that does things in parallel and easy to create "race conditions" which are not good.

Before the addition of the error cluster concept, it was difficult. Each vi needs two sections. one that executes if there is no error and one that skips the entire code if an error exists. Finally, at the last of the chain, you handle the error.

You create "Front Panels" that may or may not be visible when called.

With Labview you can't downgrade a "program".
 
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