Many designs start with a development kit. That's one of the places I advise engineers to begin. The processor vendors usually offer them at very reasonable prices, or free in many cases. These kits are usually built with an architecture that really lets the designer understand all the inner workings of the microcontroller/microprocessor that it's based on. In addition, there's usually a fair amount of code already written to provide a jumpstart.
If your question is which of the kits is best suited for your application and/or your level of design expertise, we have just the answer for you. Design News' Continuing Education Center, sponsored by DigiKey, is running a class next week that walks the designers through a series of development kits. Taught by expert Jon Titus, the five-day class will go into detail on a different kit each day. Participants will learn about the various development kits' capabilities, software tools, and what they offer, including kit quirks and problems, sources of information, and each kit's pluses or minuses. The final session of the week reviews things people should think about when they look for a kit, how to avoid pitfalls, and some debugging and testing tips.
On day one, Titus will focus on the expandable SiM3U1xx Precision32 Development Kit that provides an ARM Cortex-M3 MCU and headers for five I/O ports. Silicon Labs offers its own integrated development environment and AppBuilder software for a quick start with peripheral control. That's followed on day two with the EFM32 Tiny Gecko Starter Kit (EFM32TG-STK3300), a board that lets users measure power consumption and correlate power use with code. Users will learn how that capability helps fine-tune programs for battery-powered and energy-harvesting applications.
Atmel provides the small XMEGA-A3BU Xplained board and software that's the subject of the day three lecture. The class is aimed at introducing engineers to this MCU architecture and to the company's software tools. Those tools include easy ways to work with sample code and find documents. Participants will learn about the tutor's experience using the board and how well the software works. The fourth kit, the DM182015-1, lets engineers and programmers test wireless communications between two transceivers that use the Microchip MiWi protocol. Users will learn how a wireless connection operates and sees sample code for such a connection. An API simplifies wireless-communication software. Also covered is the use of a packet "sniffer" to observe wireless traffic.
Day five involves an autonomous FSLBOT robot that uses four servo motors to amble about a lab. Freescale's TWR-MECH board provides the needed driver electronics, and a small operating system and programs users write in BASIC or C/C++ to control robot actions. Onboard sensors can keep the robot on track or serve other purposes. The stacking TWR family of boards can increase the robot's capabilities as users learn programming and about hardware. Or users can work with a TWR system alone.
Hi Jon, thanks for the link. This continued education series helps busy engineers maintain existing skills and learn new ones. Tech students, inventors, and entrepreneurs will benefit from these classes as well.
I teach a Microprocessor class at ITT Tech and have explained to my class the benefit behind these Development kits for rapid prototyping new product concepts and features. I continued to use them in my engineerng design projects to prove technical feasibility and to demonstrate the lastest in microcontroller and semiconductor technologies to Product Managers.
The development-kit seminars in the Digi-Key Continuing Education program remain archived for anyone to view any time. You can download the PowerPoint slides and listen to the audio. Many interesting questions and answers for each session, too.
I use them all the time, they're cheap and most times have enough breadboard area to get a circuit into to. Sometimes I don't even reuse them, just wire them up for a prototype and leave them in the cabinet if the design ever needs to be revisited.
You make an excellent point, gsmith120 - they are a great way to narrow down your design choices and make a final selection! Much better than blindly picking one according to spec sheets without having any real world experience. Thanks for pointing that out!
Thanks Richard for this blog I would love to attend the live online class but due to a schedule conflict I will have to get it as an archive. It comes at a good time because I'm in the process of selecting a development kit for one of my new designs.
Kind of off subject but maybe someone will blog about Field-programmable analog arrays (FPAAs). I read about them many years ago when I worked for a major corporation but couldn't get much interest from my co-workers. Maybe because most were digital designers however I like and do design both analog and digital circuits so I was/am very interested in this technology. Now that I'm working for myself and developing new products I've decided to incorporate one in my new design idea and maybe as a part of the research I will do to get my PhD.
I agree with you Nancy, develop kits are a great way to become familiar with specific technology. I have a couple and really enjoy them. Several designers I know would use them as their somewhat prototype before selecting the final microprocessor or FPGA.
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