Anaren recently developed a series of dev kits that help both experts and newbies get a jump-start on their wireless designs. Based on the ZigBee protocol, the kits support either an MSP430 or Stellaris microprocessor (both from Texas Instruments).
The kits that I had an opportunity to configure were the CC2530 AIR module Booster Pack (for MSP430) and a pair of LaunchPad development tools. I had to install some software, including the drivers for the kits, but it worked pretty seamlessly using the CD that shipped with the kit. The whole process took me about an hour to do the software install, configure it for my “application,” and put the hardware pieces together.
If you’re considering going with ZigBee for your end system, or even if you’re thinking about a different protocol, you might want to give these kits a look. I was pretty surprised how easily I got up and running. Part of that is obvious because they’ve made the kits semi-idiot proof, but also because the hardware-software combination is a good fit. There are also a ton of features that I didn’t get involved in, like low-power modes, different antenna configurations, and so on.
Note that I put together a “system” based on the MSP430. But if you’re an ARM fan, there’s another kit that supports TI’s Stellaris family. The other key device in the kit is TI’s CC2530 low-power IEEE 802.15.4 compliant RF transceiver (which operates using TI's Z-Stack firmware). There are also more than 30 code examples and a set of development tools. Some videos on the Anaren website can be helpful.
I was once very interested in those TI 802.15.4 SoCs, but those currently in production use an 8051 core and to do anything useful with them requires a heafy investment in development tools (eg IAR which costs 2-3k$). No thank you, ARM for me please.
I recommend the ZigBee protocol only when a design requires interoperability with other ZigBee devices, or when someone wants a ZigBee certification. For proprietary designs or basic wireless communications, modules that operate to the IEEE 802.15.4 standard will do a nice job without the software overhead ZigBee requires.
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