Freescale and Texas Instruments Goodies and World Maker Faire

Freescale was very kind to Hackaday at Maker Faire this weekend, showing off a few boards and answering a few questions about why old Motorola application notes aren’t available on the Internet.

The Hummingboard from SolidRun comes in an oddly familiar form factor to anyone who has ever handled a Raspberry Pi. It also has an interesting feature: the CPU is on a small module, allowing anyone to upgrade the chipset to something significantly more powerful. In the top of the line configuration, it has a two core iMX6 CPU with a Gig of RAM, LVDS output, and Gigabit Ethernet. All the complex bits for this board are on a single module, allowing anyone to take the module and put it in another project, a la the Intel Edison.

Also in the Freescale booth was the pcDuino, a dual core ARM Cortex A7 with Ethernet, WiFi, and a SATA, with Arduino form factor pinouts. It’s a somewhat niche product, but being able to stack shields on something comparable to a Raspi or BeagleBone is a nice feature.

[Trey German] from Texas Instruments showed off some very cool stuff, including a quadcopter board for a Launchpad microcontroller. This isn’t a board with an IMU and a few servo outputs; this is the whole shebang with a frame, motors, and props. The frame was cut from some odd composite that’s usually used for road signs, and even though it wasn’t flying at the Faire (nothing was flying, by the way), it’s pretty light for a quad made at a board house.

Also from TI was their CC3200 dev board. This is a single chip with an ARM Cortex M4 and a WiFi radio that we’ve seen before. The CC3200 runs TI’s Wiring/Arduino inspired development environment Energia, and at about $30 for the CC3200 Launchpad board, it’s an easy and cheap way to build an Internet of Things thing.

Proper Debugging for Energia Sketches

Moving a sketch from Energia to Code Composer Studio

Energia is a tool that brings the Arduino and Wiring framework to Texas Instruments’ MSP430 microcontrollers and the MSP430 Launchpad development board. This allows for easy development in an Arduino-like environment while targeting a different microcontroller family.

One problem with Energia and Arduino is the difficulty of debugging. Usually, we’re stuck putting a Serial.println(); and watching the serial port to trace what our program is doing. Other options include blinking LEDs, or using external displays.

Code Composer Studio, TI’s official development tool, allows for line-by-line debugging of applications. You can set breakpoints, watch the value of variables, and step through an application one instruction at a time.

The good news is that the latest version of Code Composer Studio supports importing Energia sketches. Once imported, you can step through the code and easily debug your application. This is a huge help to people developing more complex software using Energia, such as libraries.

TI gives us an overview of the new feature in a video after the break.

[Thanks to Adrian for the tip!]

Continue reading “Proper Debugging for Energia Sketches”

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!

Continue reading “Low-Power Orientation Tracker and an Optimized Math Library for the MSP430”

New Version of Energia Supports Wolverine and Connected

Energia UpdateThere is something to be said about how easy it is to write Arduino code. For those of who you are big fans of the MSP430 and Texas Instrument’s LaunchPad series, an upcoming release of Energia brings Arduino style coding to the two newest member of the LaunchPad family: the TivaC Connected LaunchPad EK-TM4C1294XL and Wolverine FRAM LaunchPad MSP-EXP430FR5969LP.

“Energia is an open-source electronics prototyping platform … with the goal to bring the Wiring and Arduino framework to the Texas Instruments MSP430 based LaunchPad.” The newest release of Energia is exciting for the sole reason that the new TivaC Connected LaunchPad and Wolverine FRAM LaunchPad are supported. The TivaC Connected LaunchPad is a $20 development board for TI’s low-power ARM processors that has Ethernet connectivity. The MSP430 at the heart of the Wolverine FRAM LaunchPad uses up to 250x less power than flash based MCUs at low speeds in addition to many other cool benefits.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the new version of Energia, it should be arriving sometime next week. Now is a better time than ever to try out the Tiva C or the MSP430 MCUs!

PCB Antenna Reference Designs

Have you ever built a wireless project and weren’t sure how to make one of those awesome (and cheap!) PCB antennas? “What low-cost solutions does our Antenna Board #referencedesign contain?” said Texas Instruments (TI) recently via Twitter.  This older reference design contains some comprehensive designs for sub-1 GHz and 2.4 GHz antennas.

While TI’s documentation can be difficult to navigate, there are many hidden gems, and this is one of them. While TI created these designs for use with their wireless products, they will work on any device which utilizes the same wireless base frequency. For example, you could use any of the 2.4 GHz antennas with any Bluetooth, WiFi (2.4 GHz), or Bluetooth Low Energy chips. Simply open up their Antenna Selection Quick Guide document and navigate to the specific design for whichever antenna you would like to build.

For a more detailed overview of what goes into designing and testing a PCB antenna, check out this hack which we featured back in 2010. With the internet of things coming into its own, wireless projects will become more and more prolific, making PCB antennas more important than ever.

$25 coupon code for Texas Instruments store


If you’ve been coveting a piece of Texas Instruments hardware you should put in an order before September 30th. A coupon code for $25 off a purchase was posted to the Stellaris ARM Community forums and it should work until that date. Above is the overview of an order placed yesterday for two Tiva Launchpads (apparently TI has rebranded the Stellaris chips as Tiva for some odd reason). After applying the coupon code “National-1yr” the total price of [BravoV’s] order is just under one dollar (including shipping). The coupon code can be entered into a box on the right hand column of step #3 (payment) when placing an order.

UPDATE: There are now multiple comments reporting that the coupon code no longer works.

We’re pretty sure you can use this coupon code on anything in the TI store. But if you don’t have a Stellaris/Tiva Launchpad yet we highly recommend getting one. We picked ours up about a year ago. It’s a great way to try your hand at ARM programming. We have had some issues with how the breakout headers are organized — there’s some gotchas with multiple pins being connected (read the last five paragraphs of the project write up linked in this post for more). But for the price and ease of programming this will get you up and coding in no time. If you need some ideas of what to do with the board look at our posts tagged as “Stellaris”.

[Thanks Vlad]

[Ken Shirriff] completely reverse engineers the 1974 Sinclair Scientific calculator

Wow. Seriously… Wow! The work [Ken Shirriff] put into reverse engineering the Sinclair Scientific is just amazing. He covers so much; the market forces that led [Clive Sinclair] to design the device with an under-powered chip, how the code actually fits in a minuscule amount of space, and an in-depth look at the silicon itself. Stop what you’re doing and read it right now!

This calculator shoe-horned itself into the market when the HP-35 was king at a sticker price of $395 (around $1800 in today’s money). The goal was to undercut them, a target that was reached with a $120 launch price. They managed this by using a Texas Instruments chip that had only three storage registers, paired with a ROM totaling 320 words. The calculator worked, but it was slow and inaccurate. Want to see how inaccurate? Included in the write-up is a browser-based simulator built from the reverse engineering work. Give it a try and let us know what you think.

Now [Ken] didn’t do all this work on his own. Scroll down to the bottom of his post to see the long list of contributors that helped bring this fantastic piece together. Thanks everyone!

[Thanks Ed]