Monday, November 19, 2012

BeagleBone Design Contest

Design a new plug-in board for the BeagleBone CapeContest to win $1000 and production by Circuitco.  The contest deadline is December 31, 2012, with the top three winning the Grand Prize which includes the above plus an analyzer from Total Phase.  Entry requirements are a schematic, bill of materials and YouTube video describing the cape.  Weekly prizes are also be available including Total Phase tools, Adafruit ProtoCapes, and MetaWatches from Mouser.  There are already two submissions, a Geiger cape and a CollRunner-II CPLD cape, you can see them here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Atmel Launches Family of Power Efficient ARM Microcontrollers

Atmel SAM4L processors target designs that need both performance and low power usage.  An evaluation kit is available for $149 at the Atmel store with an integrated power meter.
This family uses the ARM Cortex-M4 processor which has the highest performance in the Cortex-M family and includes control and signal processing capabilities.  For pricing and availability see this Atmel press release.

SAM4L-EK: Overview

The SAM4L-EK evaluation kit features an ATSAM4LC4C with 256K flash and 48MHz max clock frequency.  The kit includes an on-board Segger J-Link, capacative touch area, USB device connector, light sensor, audio jack, segmented LCD, a wireless interface header and an add-on board header for Atmel Sensors Xplained boards.  A unique feature of this board is the real-time power monitoring section with OLED color display.

Monday, October 1, 2012

New Low-Power ARM Processors Available from Freescale

Cortex-M0+ processors and $12.95 development platform are now in stock at Mouser  The Cortex-M0+ is the most energy efficient ARM processor and is currently only available in the Freescale Kinetis L series MCU family.  Currently available are a KL25 with USB and a KL15, both with 128KB program memory, 16KB data RAM, and 48MHz clock frequency.

The FRDM-KL25Z Freescale Freedom Development Platform is also available at other distributors including DigiKey.  It includes a Capacitive touch slider, accelerometer, tri-color LED, OpenSDA USB to serial debug interface, and an open-source data logging application.  See the video below for more information.
Introducing the Freescale Freedom Development Platform FRDM-KL25Z

Friday, September 28, 2012

New Low Cost Lattice FPGA Kits

For $19 you can buy a high performance or low power iCE40 family evaluation kit with free iCEcube2 development tool support.

The iCEblink40-HX1K Evaluation Kit is the high-performance platform with a iCE40HX1K FPGA.  The board is USB powered and programmable.  An onboard Atmel 90USB162 8-bit microcontroller allows two-way communication with the FPGA.
The iCEblink40-LP1K Evaluation Kit is contains a low-power and small footprint iCE40LP1K FPGA.  It also contains the Atmel 90USB162 for communication.

Both iCEblink40 kits feature 1280 tables, on-chip RAM, 1Mbit SPI flash and capacitive buttons.  The low price lasts until October 31, 2012.

Lattice is also reducing the price of the MachXO2 Pico Development Kit to $29 until the end of the year.  This kit allows you to test popular serial interfaces using the LatticeMico8 open, free 8-bit soft microcontroller, it also features a segmented LCD, 4 capacitive buttons, SPI Flash, I2C temperature sensor and power measurement.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

New TI ARM Starter Kit Includes Display

Texas Instruments' new AM335x Starter Kit is now available for $199 featuring a 720MHz AM3358 ARM processor, 4.3 inch touch-screen/LCD, and dual-gigabit Ethernet with integrated switch.  This processor is in the same family as the Beaglebone's AM3359, so it should be easy to port software that is available for that popular platform.  TI already has Linux and Android software development kits for the 3.x kernel and ice cream sandwich respectively.  Here is a list of features from the starter kit's product page:
  • AM3358, 720Mhz
  • 256MB DDR3
  • 4.3” Touch screen LCD
  • Dual Gigabit Ethernet Ports with integrated switch
  • WiFi WL1271 with Wifi Direct Support’
  • Bluetooth®
  • USB-XDS100 emulator
  • Android navigation buttons
  • User configured LEDs
  • Audio Out
UPDATE: There is now an AM335x Starter Kit Page on the Texas Instruments Wiki  for developers with software and development tool downloads and design files.

You can purchase from the TI e-store, Avnet, DigiKey or Mouser, all have it in stock at the time of writing.  The part number is TMDSSK3358.

Introducing the Sitara AM335x Starter Kit

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Summer Development Board Deals

Discounts on ARM, DSP and PLD boards are available from TI and Lattice.  Texas Instruments new LCDK boards are 20% off until the end of August from the TI estore.  One model is a multicore ARM+DSP, and the other has only the DSP.  See my LCDK post for more details.  For PLD development, the MachXO2 Pico Development Kit from Lattice Semiconductor is now only $29.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Low Cost TI Floating-Point MCU Board

The new $17 LaunchPad has a more powerful Piccolo floating-point processor than the popular MSP430 Launchpad series.  The kit includes on-board XDS100 JTAG for debug and programming with the included USB cable and a free version of Code Composer Studio v5 to develop and program code.  There is also a new LED Boosterpack compatible with the system for $30.  Both are available from the TI eStore.  More information available in this press release and the youtube video shown below.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Free 3D Design Software

Autodesk 123D allows you to design and create 3D objects with apps that run on a PC, iPad, or online.  The 123D family of products are aimed at the personal fabrication market. You may be familiar with Autodesk from it's popular AutoCAD products or from

Another free 3D program is SketchUp. With SketchUp, it's possible to build 3D models of printed circuit boards using CadSoft Eagle files, using the EagleUp script and ImageMagick.  Google recently sold SketchUp to Trimble who plan on continuing to offer it for free.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Google Reimagines the Development Board

The ADK 2012 platform is packed with innovation and usable code for Android accessory development.

They advertise that all of the code is open source and with a less restrictive license like BSD so you can include it in your products. Here are the main libraries:
  • Bluetooth stack (BSD license) with libraries for RFCOMM, A2DP,L2CAP, SDP
  • Multimedia library including an ogg player
  • MicroSD SD/SDHC driver with FAT12/RAT16/FAT32
  • USB Host stack with Android open accessory protocol implementation

All of this runs on the Atmel SAM3X ARM Cortex-M3 processor with 512kB flash, 100kB RAM, and bluetooth is provide by a Texas Instruments CC2564. There are also sensors for light, proximity, acceleration, magnetism, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and other toys like a capacitive slider and buttons, RGB LEDs including the 7 segment display, a transducer speaker, and an NFC tag.

For more info, here is the developer's guide from google Accesory Development Kit 2012 Guide. A little more info about the Arduino IDE (for an ARM processor) it uses on the Arduino blog.

The surprise at the end of the video is that an ADK 2012 was given to each attendee of this talk, and the device is not for sale (yet). If you really want one, try e-bay, currently the best price is an auction at $400 US. If are lucky enough to have one here is the Android app from google play.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Development Board Community Sites is a new community site for a Xilinx-ARM development board.  User-supported development boards have become very popular. TI has over a dozen listed at including which supports beagleboard and beaglebone.  Here are a few more popular sites. - Zync-7000 processor features Dual ARM Cortex-A9 at 667MHz, FPU, GigE, HDMI, stereo CODEC - Open-source FPGA project with Spartan 3E FPGA. Ever-popular open-source electronics platform you can build yourself. Modular stackable multi-architecture development kits and peripheral modules. Rapid prototyping boards and software tools.


Blackfin Koop Open-source software and hardware projects including uClinux and support for the Blackfin STAMP board. Projects support a number of STM32 development boards including the EvoPrimer platform. Arduino format, but with an ARM Cortex-M3 processor. Many boards such as beaglebone, beagleboard, msp430, craneboard, pandaboard

Saturday, June 16, 2012

NXP Android Device Design Contest

Microcontroller Central is giving away ten NXP Android Open Accessory Applications kits in a micro-design contest.  Entrants submit design proposals for an Android controlled MCU based device.  The contest theme is 'changing the world with android' and ends on July 4, 2012. To learn more about the prize, see my blog post on the NXP ADK.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Two New NXP ARM Evaluation Boards

NXP design partner NGX Technologies has just released the LPC4330-Xplorer and LPC1830-Xplorer.  These almost identical evaluation boards use pin compatible ARM processors.  One features the LPC4330FET100 dual-core with ARM Cortex-M4 with floating point unit and Cortex-M0 coprocessor, both running at up to 204MHz with 264kB SRAM.  The other has the LPC1830FET100 running up to 180 MHz with 200kB SRAM and is an ARM Cortex-M3.  Both provide two high-speed USB 2.0 interfaces, Ethernet, CAN, and SPI flash interface.  For more comparisons between these two processor families, see the video below from NXP.

The NGX Xplorer boards add many useful connectors and support chips, including 32Mb flash, Ethernet PHY and connector, Micro SD card slot, two USB ports, headers for unused I/O, debug header, LEDs and switches.  The boards can be purchased from the NGX Technologies online store or from distributors; in the US you can currently find them at mcpros.

I plan on evaluating both boards in more detail in the coming weeks.  In the near future NGX will offer the boards shipped with a ulink-me debugger (at an additional cost).

Monday, June 4, 2012

Eagle Design Competition

The CadSoft EAGLE Design Competition is underway, you can already view multiple entries at element14. The top prize is an Alienware laptop and EAGLE 6 Pro version, other prizes include CadSoft EAGLE and Microchip development boards.  The design must include a Microchip processor and a screenshot of the EAGLE 6 layout.  You have until August 31 to post your blog entry using the format of this sample post.  The full terms and conditions of the competition are posted at element14.

CadSoft Online

Friday, May 25, 2012


The new TI LCDK development kit comes in two models for $195 each.  Choose an OMAP-L138 with ARM9 and floating point DSP, or the pin compatible TI TMS320C6748 DSP.

Both boards are available from the TI eStore and on-line distributors.  The OMAP-L138 is part number TMDXLCDK138, and the single core DSP version is part number TMDXLCDK6748.  Two software development kits are available for the board, a Linux SDK and the BIOS C6 SDK that uses SysBIOS 6.3.33 and Starterware.

This board is an alternative to the hawkboard that also used the OMAP-L138 but had stability problems with DDR memory.

The board has a few interesting interfaces like the LCD port that uses Beagleboard XM connectors, a leopard imaging camera sensor input, and an on-board fingerprint sensor.  Standard interfaces include 100Mbps Ethernet, USB 1.1 Host, USB 2.0 OTG, SATA, VGA, Audio, Video Composite IN, and an FTDI USB to serial interface.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Today's Google Doodle honors Robert Moog with a working Synthesizer.  Here are a few more that you can buy, make, or run as an app.

You can purchase a modern Moog directly from like the one in this video comparing the Doodle to the real thing.

Moog also has an iPhone App synth, the Animoog, on sale for $0.99 for the next few days.  Unfortunately, my iPhone 3G is too old to run this (I'm stuck at iOS 4.21 which isn't compatible with Animoog).

An open hardware hackable digital synth is available from MeeBlip starting at only $39 for the basic board, up to a complete ready to assemble kit for $149.

Teenage engineering sells a musical experimental board called Oplab ($299) and an all-in-one portable synth with USB connectivity, the OP-1 ($849) shown in this video.

Something a little different is the x0xb0x from LadyAda, you can build one yourself from her manual or buy a complete kit or finished synth from WILLZYX and a few other online sources.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Free Renesas Kits

Renesas is offering some free development boards and a 25% discount on other kits and tools from Avnet Memec. The free boards with avnet part number are shown below.

RX62N promotion board (YRPBRX62N) 

RX-Stick for RX610 (R0K5RXTKTZ003BR)

RL78 Promotion Board (YRPBRL78G13)

To get them free from Avnet use the coupon code and checkout at the Avnet/Renesas promotion site.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Renesas Green Energy Challenge

Renesas is giving away hundreds of development kits to contestants in the RL78 Green Energy Challenge.  Qualified applicants will receive the RL78G12 Renesas Demonstration Kit (RDK) including IAR Kickstart edition development tools. The contest runs from March 26 to August 31, 2012 with prizes of $17,500 US.  Additional prizes will be given away on a weekly basis such as development tools, Wi-Fi modules, and embedded systems books.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

ARM Announces Ultra Low Power Cortex-M0+

Today ARM introduced the Cortex-M0+ as the "world's most energy-efficient processor" in a press release.  Both Freescale and NXP have announced they will license the core in today's press releases that coincide with ARM's announcement.

Freescale is introducing the Kinetis L series as the first microcontroller to be built on the Cortex-M0+.
They list some new features of the ore including reducing the pipeline to two stages, single-cycle access to I/O, faster access to program memory, linear address space and a micro trace buffer.  Freescale has functional silicon today according to the following YouTube video.

NXP's announcement talks about the success they have had with the predecessor Cortex-M0 core.  They currently have the lowest power Cortex-M0 at 110uA/MHz, licensing the new Cortex-M0+ will enable them to continue to offer the lowest power ARM processors.  The new license is part of NXP's strategy to offer the widest range of ARM solutions as you can see in this interview.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

NXP Android Accessory Kit Includes Two ARM Development Boards

Embedded Artists and NXP have developed the Android Open Accessory Application Kit (AOAA).  The kit implements a USB host interface and the Android accessory protocol used by the Android Open Accessory Development Kit (ADK)  An added bonus to this $79 US development kit is an ARM Cortex-M0 board that is detachable from the main board and features the  NXP LPC11C24 microcontroller  The main board uses an ARM Cortex-M4 NXP LPC1769 that interfaces with the second ARM through a CAN interface.

Here is a video presentation from NXP about the kit.

To purchase the kit visit the embedded artists AOAA page, it can be purchased direct or through distributors including Digi-Key and Mouser.   The embedded artists page also includes documentation and software downloads.  In addition, there is a kit resource page at the LPCware NXP community.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tiny Serial WiFi Module Includes ARM Cortex M3

The Inventek Systems 802.11 b/g/n Serial to WiFi module makes it easy to add Wi-Fi to your embedded design.  It can be programmed from a host with a choice of serial interfaces using a simple AT command set.

These serial interfaces are provided by an STM32 ARM Cortex M3 processor as shown on the block diagram.  No software development is required for the STM32, the AT command set interface is resident in firmware.  This means your host microcontroller does not need a TCP/IP stack or RTOS.  This simplifies software development for your application - you only need to write serial I/O code to send the AT commands and process data.

An embedded wireless evaluation board is available that make it easy to connect the module to your microcontroller board for development of your WiFi application.  Both the evaluation board and the module are available from the Inventek Systems online store.

For more information on the module and evaluation board watch this video that includes a description of the functional block diagram above.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tesla Coil Guitar Amplifier

High voltage is not just the name of a song and album from AC/DC.  The latest Another Geek Moment Video from Digi-Key shows how to use a Tesla coil to see and hear "high voltage rock and roll" without an amp or speaker.

This doesn't look safe to build for most DIYers, but I see from videos on YouTube a few people have tried this before.  It sounds a little harsh, with distortion a bit beyond a heavy metal sound, but the Digi-Key setup sounds better than most.  I wonder if you could use a tube amplifier somewhere in the circuit for a smoother sound.... If it didn't sound better, at least it would look even more extreme with the lights off.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Google Honors Heinrich Hertz Discoverer of Radio Waves

Today's Google Doodle honors the Physicist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz who discovered what are now called radio waves in November 11, 1886.  He name is well known because of a previous commemoration for this discovery.   The Hertz is the SI unit of frequency (which is why the abbreviation is capitalized as Hz).  Hertz made this discovery conducting experiments based on the work of James Clerk Maxwell.

Introduction to Radio Waves

Lec 27  MIT 8.02 Electricity and Magnetism, Spring 2002

Electromagnetic Spectrum Poster by UniHedron - click for links to online retailers

Friday, January 27, 2012

ATMega Development Board Supports GPS Video Overlay Module

Decade Engineering has released the BUD Smart Application Board that is designed to display GPS and user defined video overlay using the BOB-4 on screen display module. BUD can also be used as a general-purpose Atmel megaAVR development board. It has an ATmega640, uses a serial bootloader, and can use free AVR-GCC based development tools, so an external debugger and third-party tools aren't required. The processor has 64KB flash and 4KB EEPROM, additional EEPROM can be added to the board as an option. You can easily to download example software and schematics from Decade's website, registration is not required.

The videos below show the BOB-4 used for GPS overlay with an RC plane camera in Antarctica and for a Datsun 240Z track session.  The BOB-4 can easily be used with other microcontroller development boards or a PC, it only requires 5VDC, serial data, and video I/O.

You can purchase BUD and BOB-4 from Decade Engineering's website.  The BOB-4 module is also available from Solarbotics and Farnell.  See the Decade Engineering site for additional dealers.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Free ChipKit Boards For DesignSpark Contest

The DesignSpark chipKIT Challenge is giving away 1000 chipKIT Max32 development Kits to registered participants.

The chipKIT Max32 is an arduiono-like platform from Diligent with a Microchip PIC32MX795F512 MIPS processor and 512K Flash.  Cash prizes will be awarded for the most energy-efficient designs ranging from $5000 US for first prize to $200 for honorable mention.  Community awards will also be given, $100 vouchers for electronics and magazine subscriptions.  The deadline for entries is in March 2012.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lattice Low-Cost PLD Breakout Board

The Lattice Semiconductor MachXO2-1200ZE Breakout Board Evaluation Kit includes a MachXO2 programmable logic device with 1280 look up tables, 108 I/O, and support for DDR, LVDS, and hardened I2C, SPI, and timer/counter.   The board is only $29.99 and includes free access to Lattice Diamond design tools.  The on-board FTDI USB allows easy connectivity and programming without additional debug hardware, power is also provided via USB.  The large prototyping/header area surrounding the chip has standard 0.1 inch spacing.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mouser Carrying Pandaboards

The PandaBoard is another powerful Texas Instruments Sitara ARM-based processor development platform like the BeagleBoard and BeagleBone. The video below shows it running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich).

Now that Mouser is an authorized PandaBoard distributor, you can order all three boards at one place.  PandaBoard is also featured in the Mouser Product Knowledge Center, which gives it a dedicated page with more detailed information than for most products.  Currently, there are only about 2000 pages in the Product Knowledge Center and TI has over a hundred products listed including microcontrollers, sensors, evaluation modules and development boards.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

CES 2012 Videos

If you want to see what is happening at CES, there is an official youtube channel for the 2012 CES conference where you can see booth interviews and attendee videos.  Here is a video from OLogic showing a robot they call A.M.P. for Automated Music Personality.  OLogic is a design house for toys and consumer electronics, the A.M.P. isn't for sale yet but has been shown for a few years as a showcase of their engineering abilities.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Embedded Linux Conference 2012

If you are an embedded Linux developer who maybe missed out on CES you might try the  2012 Embedded Linux Conference which runs from Feb. 15-17 just North of Silicon Valley in Redwood Shores, California.  This is co-located with the Linaro Connect Q1.12 conference which runs from Feb. 6-10.  Linaro Connect covers Linux on ARM development.  Another co-located conference is the 2012 Android Builders Summit from Feb. 13-14.  For a retrospective of Linux, see the Linux Foundataion video commemorating 20 years of Linux.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Microsoft Small Basic

Microsoft Small Basic is a free compiler for beginners to computer programming.  You can find it at the Beginner Developer Learning Center at MSDN.  Microsoft wants to put the fun back into computer programming with Small Basic and includes a getting started guideonline lessons, online e-books chapters, and code sharing.

The syntax is not the same as the BASIC I learned as a kid on the TI 99/4a or the Commodore 64, but more of a take off on Microsoft languages like VB.  For example, compare the classic "Hello World" in BASIC to Small Basic.


In Microsoft Small Basic it's a bit different:

TextWindow.WriteLine("Hello World")

The longer function name doesn't look as fun to me, but they make it easier to remember with help as you type.  I can't find any auto-complete, but that is probably just as well for beginners.

Microsoft makes it easy to migrate your Small Basic program to Visual Basic, there is a Graduate button built into the interface that will convert your program automatically.

I found Microsoft Small Basic when I was looking for a free compiler for a child to learn computer programming.  I think it is a good choice, it should keep them interested because it is easy to use and they can get instant results with the run button, like you do in classic BASIC programming.  They even have turtle graphics, which is always fun for kids.  When they become more advanced programmers, they might be interested in the free sample chapter from Basic Computer Games Small Basic Edition.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Open and DIY Game Consoles

Two Linux based systems are coming out that are aimed at consumers for general computing, education and gaming.  The Rasberry Pi has been making a lot of headlines because of its low cost (< $35 US), and a recent blog predicts it could cause a social gaming explosion.  Another highly anticipated system is Pandora, which is not cheap at 375 EUR, but offers portability.  If you can't wait a few months for these to be available, you can build your own console by connecting an Arduino to a  GameDuino, or get build the entire console yourself with and XGameStation or Uzebox kit.

Raspberry Pi





Thursday, January 5, 2012

Audio Kits and Amplifier Boards

Parts Express has a great selection of DIY parts for audio projects as well as A/V cables and equipment.  They have recently added a DIY kits section to the website.  Most of the products are called kits but I would call most of them boards because come fully assembled and tested.   They stock Velleman and Parts Express brands.  You can find a lot of audio applications including AM/FM radio, MP3 player, and a few Class-D audio amplification boards.  The amplifier boards use Tripath, Texas Instruments and Power Analog Microelectronics chips.   For an example see the video below for the TK2050 Class-D Audio Amplifier Board.  It is one of the higher end kits at $44 US, they start at $9.90 for the 2x2W@4 Ohm Class-D.

Other sources of Class-D Audio amplifier boards:

Class D Audio Inc. Below is a pic of another Texas Instruments Amp.

International Rectifier

Jameco Electronics always has a good selection of audio kits and kits in general.  Here is an example of a guitar effects pedal built using the Perfboard Prototyping Kit.