Multitasking on the MSP430F5529 LaunchPad

What exactly is multitasking, scheduling, and context switching? This is a great question for those interested in understanding how operating systems work, even small real-time operating systems (RTOS). [Jeffrey] had the same question, so he built a multitasking scheduler for the MSP430F5529 LaunchPad.

These topics are some of the most difficult to wrap your head around in the embedded world. Choosing a project that helps you understand tough topics is a great way to learn, plus it can be very rewarding. In his post, [Jeffrey] goes over the basics of how all of these things work, and how they can be implemented on the MSP430. Overall, it is a great read and very informative. For more information on RTOS, check out a few sections in the FreeRTOS book. Be sure to see his code in action after the break.

[Jeffery] was nice enough to release all of his code as open source, so be sure to check out his repository on GitHub. “Feel free to use it and learn more. I have made the code self explanatory. Enjoy!”

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Low-Power Orientation Tracker and an Optimized Math Library for the MSP430

MSP430 Orientation Tracker

Orientation trackers can be used for a ton of different applications: tracking mishandled packages, theft notification of valuables, and navigation are just a few examples! A recent blog post from Texas Instruments discusses how to build a low-cost and low-power orientation tracker with the MSP430.

Based on the MSP430 LaunchPad and CircuitCo’s Educational BoosterPack, the orientation tracker is very simple to put together. It can also be made wireless using any of the wireless BoosterPacks with a Fuel Tank BoosterPack, or by using the BLE Booster Pack with a built in Lithium Battery circuitry. TI provides all the necessary code and design files in their reference application for getting your orientation tracker up and running. Be sure to see the device in action after the break! This project not only involves building a low-power orientation tracker, but also showcases IQmathLib, a library of optimized fixed point math functions on the MSP430. One of the more challenging aspects of using small MCUs such as the MSP430 or Arduino is how inefficient built in math libraries are. Check out the IQmathLib, it greatly improves upon the built in math functions for the MSP430.

It would be interesting to see this project modified to be a DIY pedometer or be used on a self-balancing robot. It would also be interesting to see the IQmathLib ported to other micros, such as the Arduino. Take a look and see how you can use this reference design in your own projects!

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MSP430-Based CTF Hardware Hacking Challenge

Hardware 'Flag'

Hacking conferences often feature a Capture the Flag, or CTF event. Typically, this is a software hacking challenge that involves breaking into targets which have been set up for the event, and capturing them. It’s good, legal, hacking fun.

However, some people are starting to build CTFs that involve hardware hacking as well. [Balda]’s most recent hardware hacking challenge was built for the Insomni’hack 2014 CTF. It uses an MSP430 as the target device, and users are allowed to enter commands to the device over UART via a Bus Pirate. Pull off the exploit, and the wheel rotates to display a flag.

For the first challenge, contestants had to decompile the firmware and find an obfuscated password. The second challenge was a bit more complicated. The password check function used memcpy, which made it vulnerable to a buffer overflow attack. By overwriting the program counter, it was possible to take over control of the program and make the flag turn.

The risk of memcpy reminds us of this set of posters. Only abstaining from memcpy can 100% protect you from overflows and memory disclosures!


Java Grinder Spits Out dsPIC and MSP430 Assembly Code


[Michael Kohn] sent in a link to the set of projects he’s been working on lately. The Java Grinder is a project that converts Java code for use on microcontrollers. This actually started back in 2009, when he mentioned that the project was worthless because there were already a ton of Java virtual machines out there. But if he had really thought that he’d never learn anything. We’re glad [Michael] picked this back up and made something out of it.

The image above shows the proof of concept. It’s a box bouncing around the Nokia 6100 screen. He wrote the animation in Java, and used his grinder to turn the code into dsPIC assembly, which was then compiled and flashed onto the microcontroller. That’s not all, he’s also coded a Mandelbrot set generator or the same hardware. As it stands he can also produce assembly code for use on MSP430 chips.

This kind of exploration is great for the brain. We see it as a natural extension of the learning you acquire from Nand2Tetris which walks through the essential text The Elements of Computing Systems. If you’re not familiar, that’s a trip from building your first logic gate, which you plunk together with others to build an ALU, then start coding all the way up to a virtual machine to run on your simulated hardware.

Video of the bouncing box and Mandelbrot set is below.

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A Better USI I2C Library For The MSP430


TI’s MSP430 chips are rather interesting – they’re low power, very capable, and available for under a dollar in most cases. Some of these chips, though, don’t have native SPI or I2C interfaces; instead, everything is done through a USI, or Universal Serial Interface module. [Jan] found the stock I2C USI module was a little rough around the edges, so he created his own.

[Jan] found the TI example code for using the USI as an I2C device overly complicated and something that an intern whipped up in a week and was never touched again. In response to this, he created a much, much simpler USI/I2C module that’s actually readable. It’s available over on the GitHub if you want to grab it for yourself.

Compared to the TI code, [Jan]’s library is dead simple. There are only two functions, one for initialization, and another for sending and receiving. Easy, small, and it works. Can’t do much better than that.

Porting Contiki to the TI MSP430 Launchpad

For many years Contiki has been one of the main choices when it came to choosing an IPv6 over Low power Wireless Personal Area Networks stack (aka 6LoWPAN). It is developed by a world-wide team of developers with contributions from Atmel, Cisco, ETH, etc… and is open source. As most platforms to which Contiki has been ported are quite expensive, [Marcus] decided to bring the operating system to the TI Launchpad. For our readers that don’t know, the latter is based on a msp430g2452/2553 microcontroller, which only have 256/512 bytes of RAM and 16kB of ROM. As a side note, Contiki typically requires 10k RAM and 30k ROM.

[Marcus] therefore had to remove several features from Contiki: queue-buffering, energy estimation and regrettably uIP. His test setup (shown above) uses the TI CC2500 radio that can be found for less than $2 on Aliexpress, for which he wrote radio drivers from scratch. He also coded his own radio duty-cicling layer, as the one included in Contiki was too big.

Wireless Encryption Between Galileo and a MSP430

[Mark] recently finished his latest project, where he encrypts wireless communications between the new Intel Galileo and a Texas Instruments MSP430. The wireless interfaces used are the very common nRF24L01+ 2.4GHz transceivers, that had a direct line of sight 15 feet range during [Mark]’s tests. In his demonstration, the MSP430 sends an encrypted block of data representing the state of six of its pins configured as inputs. This message is then received by a sketch running on the Galileo and stored in shared memory. A python script then wakes up and is in charge of decrypting the message. The encryption is done using AES-128bits in Electronic Codebook mode (ECB) and semaphores are used to prevent simultaneous accesses to the received data. As it is the first project using an Intel Galileo we received, don’t hesitate to send us a tip if you found other ones.