Sunday, February 05, 2012

A flock of Arduinos

Oddly enough I'm not very impressed with the Arduino. I come from an embedded systems background and overall there's nothing on the board that stands out as special. It's just a simple board using an AVR. Also its software environment is just C/C++ and the shields are just stackable boards. All of these things we've seen time and time again. Yet this simple idea works. It works very well for it's intended audience, the artist, the tinkerer, and the beginner hobbyist. Obviously it has scratched the appropriate itch for it's intended community. The code itself consists of a setup and loop. Not really different from your simple standard embedded design. Yet the libraries are there, as is the community. So while I may not be impressed with the Arduino, I am impressed with what folks have done with it. Really anything that encourages a positive result is a good thing. We really are much closer to the 'Internet of things'. If we can get the cost and make networking much easier then we'll really be there.

Now, while I'm not impressed with the Arduino I still like the convenience. So I've invested in the Arduino, I intend to use them with the gHCS home automation system I'm working on. I now have 3 Uno (r3) boards, 2 Chipkit Uno32 boards, a Chipkit Max32 and a PIC32-Pinguino. The last 3 boards are PIC32 (MIPS) based. I'm also hoping to build a Arduino like board using the PIC32 (a lot of bang for the buck). I've noticed lots of other Arduino like boards available like the 32 bit ARM based Maple. Lets see how well all this goes. Making things easy for those whose expertise is not in the embedded systems area is not a bad thing. It does allow them to concentrate on the areas where they are experts (and usually the point of the work they are doing). And from everything I've seen it's quite usable. The only bad thing is that it makes embedded system work seem like it's a commodity service and it's not. While anyone can build embedded systems not everyone can do it right. The areas that the Arduinos fill are areas where engineers usually didn't tackle. Making art work interactive is no where near as complex as monitoring and control of industrial systems where safety is an issue.


At 2/05/2012 12:22 PM, Blogger David Pitkin said...

It is interesting to see how Arduino has had such a following!

I think the cool name, and the board layout being open sourced as well has helped. The processing IDE also helped.

At 2/05/2012 2:19 PM, Blogger Neil Cherry said...

I haven't seen what the purpose of "Processing" is so far. I need to dig into that a bit. My biggest concern is for how easy it is for a new user to put together a project. So far that seems to be going well. Of course I haven't had to work with a new user who is trying to solder for the first time. ;-)

Oddly enough, my local Radio Shack (Rt 9, Marlboro, NJ) has just started carrying the Arduino boards. So in addition to the one in Wall Twp. (Rt35), near IXR (a NJ Hackerspace) I now have a second resource should I need a quick board.

At 2/14/2012 9:54 AM, Blogger Harbinger said...


I don't know if you've seen this, or if it could even be useful to you, but here you go:

At 2/14/2012 11:43 AM, Blogger Neil Cherry said...

Wow my brain is fried! I don't recall reading the entire first posting. With that in mind ...

The Arduinos are a bit of a surprise. The community they are intended for really has embraced them (as have a few others :-) ). Maybe it's more than Open Source, maybe it's because it's inexpensive and kept simple. Let's face it the IDE isn't that great.

Coming from an embedded background I don't see anything different from normal embedded programming. Maybe it's because I'm just doing simple things with the Arduinos at the moment. I still haven't taken advantage of C++ in this env. either, but I'll get there eventually.

At 2/14/2012 12:51 PM, Blogger Neil Cherry said...

Harbinger, of course I saw that. I love Hack A Day. :-)

At the moment I don't think we need this software UART (but it is good to know about - I think it supports other serial bus protocols too). The first phase will be getting the digital & analog I/O working. Later we'll move to other things like timers, various bus devices, frequency and a lot more.

The stuff that can be supported on the HCS II may get a little limited but I think some creative magic will allow us to work with that.

The initial build will only need one serial port tied to the RS485 chips (later tied to the Xbee instead). I'm hoping that later work will be able to use the PIC32 Pinguino for places where more is needed. A lot more horesepower for the buck (especially RAM & Flash). Most of the computational horsepower will be back in the Linux box.


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