MRRF: ARM-Based CNC Controllers


8-bit microcontrollers are the standard for RepRap electronics, but eventually something better must come along. There has been a great deal of progress with ARM-based solutions, and of course a few of these made a showing at the Midwest RepRap Festival.

First up is [Mark Cooper], creator of Smoothieboard, the ultimate RepRap and CNC controller. It’s an ARM Cortex-M3 microcontroller with Ethernet, SD card, and up to five stepper drivers. It had a Kickstarter late last year and has just finished shipping all the rewards to the backers. In our video interview, [Mark] goes over the functions of Smoothieboard and tells us about some upcoming projects: the upcoming Smoothiepanel will feature a graphic LCD, SD card, rotary encoder and buttons, all controlled over USB by the Smoothieboard.

Next up is [Charles] with a whole bunch of CNC capes for the Beaglebone. By far the most impressive board was a huge I/O expander, motor driver, and everything controller for a Beaglebone featuring – get this – three parallel port interfaces. This was a one-off board costing thousands of dollars, but [Charles] did show off a few smaller and more practical boards for Beaglebone CNC control. Here’s a link to [Charles]‘ capes.

Videos below.

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The Catweazle Mini: A Super Small ARM Based Embedded Platform


There has been a recent trend in miniaturizing embedded platforms. [Jan] wrote in to tell us about his very tiny ARM based embedded platform, the Catweazle Mini. Who knew that an ARM based system could be so simple and so small?!?

With the success of the Trinket and Femtoduino (miniature Arduino compatible boards) and many other KickStarter campaigns, it is only natural for there to be a mini platform based on the ARM architecture. Built around the NXP LPC810 ARM Cortex M0+ MCU at 30MHz (which only costs slightly more than $1, by the way), this small embedded platform packs some pretty impressive processing power. The board contains a simple linear regulator, and can be programmed via UART. [Jan's] development environment of choice is the mbed compiler, which is free and requires no installation. If you need some help getting started Adafruit has a nice guide for the LPC810.

Do you need some more processing power for your next wearable project? Be sure to use the Catweazle Mini.

Homebrew Phase Laser Rangefinder


Just when you thought ARM micros couldn’t get any cooler, another project comes along to blow you away. [Ilia] created a phase laser rangefinder (.ru, Google translatitron) using nothing but a laser diode, a pair of magnifying glasses, a few components and an STM32F4 Discovery dev board.

The theory behind this build is using a laser’s phase to determine how far away an object is. By modulating the laser diode’s output at a few hundred Mhz, the reflection from the laser can be compared, giving a fairly reasonable estimate of how far away the target is. This method has a few drawbacks; once the reflection is more than 360 degrees out of phase, the distance ‘loops around’ to being right in front of the detector.

The laser diode used does not have any modulation, of course, but by using an STM32F4 ARM chip, [Ilia]was able to modulate the amplitude of the laser with the help of a driver board hacked out of a 74HC04 chip and a few resistors. Not ideal, but it works.

The receiver for the unit uses a photodiode feeding into the same microcontroller. With an impressive amount of DMA and PLL wizardry (the STM32F4 is really cool, you know), the phase of both the transmission and reflection can be compared, giving a distance measurement.

It’s all an impressive amount of work with a hacked together set of optics, a cheap dev board, and a few components just lying around. For any sort of application in a robot or sensor suite this project would fall apart. As a demonstration of the theory of phase laser rangefinding, though, its top notch.

You can check out a video of [Ilia]‘s rangefinder below. Be sure to full screen it and check out the distance measurement on the LCD. It’s pretty impressive.

Thanks [Володимир] for the link.

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NXP’s ARM Micros With Motor Controllers


It’s still relitavely early in the year, and all those silicon manufacturers are coming out with new toys to satiate the engineer and hobbyist for years to come. NXP’s offering is the LPC1500, a series of ARM microcontrollers optimized for motor and motion-control applications.

The specs for the new chips include an ARM Cortex-M3 running at 72MHz, up to 256kB Flash, 36kB SRAM, USB, CAN, 28 PWM outputs, an a real-time clock. There are options for controlling brushless, permanent magnet, or AC induction motors on the LPC1500, with dev boards for each type of motor. Each chip has support for two Despite NXP’s amazing commitment to DIP-packaged ARM chips, the LPC1500 chips are only available in QFP packages with 48, 64, and 100 pins.

Don’t think the LPC1500 would be a perfect chip for a CNC controller – the chips only support control of two motors. However, this would be a fantastic platform for building a few robots, an electric car, or a lot of the other really cool projects we see around here.

ARM Debugger for Nearly One Dollar

Oh that title is so misleading. But if you squint your eyes and scratch your noggin it’s almost true. Thanks to the hard work of [Peter Lawrence] it is now possible to hack together an extremely inexpensive CMSIS-DAP ARM debugger.

Let’s talk about function and we’ll get back to cost later. CMSIS-DAP is a standard that gives you the kind of breakpoint control you expect from a proper debugger. In this case [Peter] implemented the standard using 4k words of space on a PIC 16F1454. This lets it talk to the debug port on ARM chips, and the bootloader (also written by him) doubles as a USB-to-UART bridge. Boom, done. OpenOCD (and a couple of other software packages) talks to the PIC and it talks to the ARM. Nice.

Back to the cost question. You can get a 16F1454 for nearly a dollar when you order in quantity. If you cut up an old USB cable, recycle some jumper wire, and already have power and decoupling on hand, you’re in business for nearly one dollar.

Autonomous Quadcopter Fits in the Palm of your Hand

_5184952 [Horiken Engineering], which is made up of engineering students at the department of aerospace at the University of Tokyo have developed an autonomous quadcopter that requires no external control — and its tiny. By using two cameras and a sonar sensor, the quadcopter is capable of flying by itself due to its ability to process the data from the on-board sensors. To do the complex data processing fast enough to fly, it is using a Cortex-M4 MCU, a Spartan-6 FPGA, and 64MBs of DDRSDRAM. It also has the normal parts of a quadcopter, plus gyros, a 3D printed frame and a 3-axis compass. The following video demonstrates the quadcopter’s tracking ability above a static image (or a way point). The data you see in real-time is only the flight log, as the quadcopter receives no signal — it can only transmit data.

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Making An ARM Powered MIDI Synthesizer

What you see in the picture above is a hand-made 4-oscillator synthesizer with MIDI input, multi-mode filter and a handful of modulation options. It was built by [Matt], an AVR accustomed electronics enthusiast who made an exception to his habits for this project. The core of the platform is a DIP packaged 32-bit Cortex-M0 ARM processor (LPC1114), stuffed with ‘hand’ written assembly code and compiled C functions. With a 50MHz clock speed, the microcontroller can output samples at 250kHz on the 12bit DAC while being powered by 3 AA batteries.

Reading [Matt]‘s write-up, we discover that the firmware he created uses 4 oscillators (sawtooth or pulse shape) together with a low frequency oscillator (triangle, ramp, square, random shapes). It also includes a 2-pole state-variable filter and the ability to adjust the attack-release envelopes (among others). The system takes MIDI commands from a connected device. We embedded videos of his creation in action after the break.

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