If you’ve been hungry for more power for your microcontroller projects, but reluctant to dump your investment in Arduino shields or the libraries and community knowledge that go with them all, Digilent has you covered. Their new chipKIT boards are built around the Microchip PIC32 MCU…a powerful 32-bit chip that until recently was left out of the cross-platform scene. A majority of code and quite a number of Arduino shields will work “out of the box” with the chipKIT, and the familiar development tools are available for all three major operating systems: Windows, Mac and Linux.
We first mentioned these a couple weeks ago, but the software was unavailable at the time. Seeing the development tools in action was quite unexpected…
What’s really fascinating with chipKIT is that the workflow is exactly Arduino-like. The serial bootloader works with avrdude, and you can program both “real” Arduinos and Digilent’s 32-bit work-alikes using the exact same IDE; there’s no need to run two different IDEs for two different boards, as has been the case with Leaf Labs’ 32-bit Maple. As a demonstration, they compiled and ran code for an Arduino Mega with SparkFun LCD shield…then popped the shield off and placed it on the Max32, selected the 32-bit board in the same IDE, and repeated the process. The exact code ran on the new board/shield combo, with stunning performance — all the standard Arduino libraries have been implemented natively for the PIC32; this is not emulation.
Because Digilent didn’t just adapt the Arduino IDE to their one specific board, but rather developed a system by which the IDE can be extended to new hardware, it’s their hope that their work (not an official Arduino project) might be rolled back into the mainline code, and that other developers might jump on the bandwagon to provide Arduino IDE support for their own boards, whether they be based on AVR, PIC32 or a completely different kind of microcontroller altogether. The groundwork has been laid.
The chipKIT comes in two versions: Uno32 and Max32, similar in form factor to the Arduino Uno and Mega 2560, respectively. These can be ordered directly from Digilent’s web site, and the IDE is freely downloadable as of today. We have evaluation hardware in-hand and expect to be providing a proper review in the near future.