Doing Mini Sumo robot competition is really fun, and there is yet another one coming to end the current university semester. For several years we have used our own sumo robot, and this is the one used in the course this year too. But for future and extended events we are exploring a new robot. I proudly present the concept of the next generation sumo robot for the year 2018:
“Amazon FreeRTOS – IoT operating system for microcontrollers”: The announcement of FreeRTOS V10.0.0 was one of the biggest news last week for me. Not only is there now a Version 10, the bigger news is that FreeRTOS is now part of Amazon. Wow! Now this explains why Richard Barry (the founder behind FreeRTOS) was kind of hiding away for about a year: he joined Amazon as a principal engineer about a year ago. I think we all have to wait and see what it means for FreeRTOS.
Back in March 2017, NXP had rolled the MCUXpresso IDE starting with Version 10.0.0. With the intent to unify the SDK, LPCXpresso, CodeWarrior, Kinetis Design Studio and Processor Expert into one unified and integrated set of tools. V10.0.0 was a good start. The MCUXpresso IDE V10.0.2 in July was more of a smaller update, and the Pin and Clock configuration tools were not integrated, no added tool for peripheral configuration.
A week ago the MCUXpresso V10.1.0 has been released which shows where the journey is going: an free-of-charge and code size unlimited Eclipse based integrated set of tools to configure, build and debug Cortex-M (Kinetis, LPC and i.MX RT) microcontroller/processor based applications.
I have used it for a week, and although many things are still new, I thought I’m able to give an overview about what is new.
The ARM mbed USB MSD bootloader which is used on many silicon vendor boards has a big problem: it is vulnerable to operating systems like Windows 10 which can brick your board (see “Bricking and Recovering OpenSDA Boards in Windows 8 and 10“). To recover the board, typically a JTAG/SWD programmer has to be used. I have described in articles (see links section) how to recover from that situation, including using an inofficial new bootloader which (mostly) solves the problem. The good news is that ARM (mbed) has released an official and fixed bootloader. The bad news is that this bootloader does not work on every board because of a timing issue: the bootloader mostly enters bootloader mode instated executing the application.
For several projects I’m using library projects: I build a library and then use that library in the other project. If I change something in a library, I want to run make both on the referenced libraries and rebuild my application if needed. If you don’t know how to do this, then read on… 🙂
(… actually it means workign around known Eclipse CDT bug too….)
ARM Cortex-M microcontrollers can have multiple memory controllers. This is a good thing as it allows the hardware to do multiple parallel memory read/writes. However this makes the memory map more complicated for the software: it divides the memory into different regions and memory segments. This article is about how to enable FreeRTOS to use multiple memory blocks for a virtual combined memory heap:
The tools and IDE market is constantly changing. Not only there is every year at least one new major Eclipse IDE release, the commercial tool chain and IDE vendors are constantly changing the environment too. For any ARM Cortex-M development, the combination of Eclipse with the GNU tool chain provided by ARM Inc. is the golden standard. But this does not mean that things can be easily moved from one IDE package to another.
While moving between Eclipse versions and GNU versions is usually not a big deal at all, moving between the Eclipse build tool integration is usually not simple. While the GNU MCU Eclipse plugins are widely used (see Breathing with Oxygen: DIY ARM Cortex-M C/C++ IDE and Toolchain with Eclipse Oxygen), the Eclipse based IDEs from the silicon vendors or commercial Eclipse toolchain vendors are using their own GNU toolchain integration. Which means the project files are not compatible :-(.
Eclipse as IDE takes care about compiling and building all my source files. But in an automated build system I would like to build it from the command line too. While using make files (see “Tutorial: Makefile Projects with Eclipse“) is an option, there is another easy way to build Eclipse projects from the command line:
Last month (June 2017), the latest version of Eclipse “Oxygen” has been released, and I have successfully used it in several embedded projects. Time to write a tutorial how to use it to build a custom Do-It-Yourself IDE for ARM Cortex-M development: simple, easy, unlimited and free of charge. While the DIY approach takes a few minutes more to install, it has the advantage that I have full control and I actually know what I have.
By default, the GNU Linker expects a very special naming scheme for the libraries: the library name has to be surrounded by “lib” and the “.a” extension:
But what if the library I want to use does not conform to that naming standard?
The benefit of an IDE like Eclipse is: it makes working with projects very easy, as generates make files and it takes and automatically manages the make file(s). But sometimes this might not be what I want because I need greater flexibility and control, or I want to use the same make files for my continues integration and automated testing system. In that case a hand crafted make file is the way to go.
One thing does not exclude the other: This article explains how to use make files with Eclipse with similar comfort as the managed build system in Eclipse, but with the unlimited power of make files:
NXP has released an updated of their Eclipse based IDE for ARM Cortex-M (Kinetis and LPC) microcontroller: the version v10.0.2 build 411:
A bootloader on a microcontroller is a very useful thing. It allows me to update the firmware in the field if necessary. There are many ways to use and make a bootloader (see “Serial Bootloader for the Freedom Board with Processor Expert“). But such a bootloader needs some space in FLASH, plus it needs to be programmed first on a blank device, so a JTAG programmer is needed. That’s why vendors have started including a ROM bootloader into their devices: the microcontroller comes out of the factory with a bootloader in FLASH. So instead writing my bootloader, I can use the one in the ROM.
And as with everything, there are pros and cons of that approach.
If you are like me – someone who always wants to know what the compiler generates for a piece of source code – then have a look at the Compiler Explorer: A web-based compiler code comparison tool:
Thanks to Matt Godbolt, I can select different compilers and compare their output for a given source code. Very useful to see the impact of a compiler optimization or to compare different GCC compiler versions.
Happy Comparing 🙂
For reliable applications, I avoid using functions of the standard libraries. They are banned for most safety related applications anyway. I do not use or avoid
printf() and all the other variants, for many reasons including the ones listed in “Why I don’t like printf()“. Instead, I’m using smaller variants (see “XFormat“). Or I’m using only the thread-safe FreeRTOS heap memory allocation which exist for many good reasons.
Things get problematic if
malloc() still is pulled in, either because it is used by a middleware (e.g. TCP/IP stack) or if using C++. Dave Nadler posted a detailed article (http://www.nadler.com/embedded/newlibAndFreeRTOS.html) about how to use newlib and newlib-nano with FreeRTOS.
Some silicon vendors provide their Eclipse example and SDK projects using linked files and folders. For example a bootloader demo application is provided in the context of an SDK or library. That’s fine until the time I want to transform such an example into a real project or if I want to have it without the hundreds of files for all the other devices I don’t need or use. I cannot take the project and put it into a version control system as the linked files won’t be in my VCS. I cannot move the project to another place as the links are pointing to many places. What I need is a ‘standalone’ project: a project which has all the needed files in it and is self-containing.
For a research project, we are going to send a satellite with an embedded ARM Cortex microcontroller into space early next year. Naturally, it has to work the first time. As part of all the ESA paperwork, we have to prove that we tested the hardware and software thoroughly. One pice of the that is to collect and give test coverage evidence. And there is no need for expensive tools: Free-of-charge Eclipse and GNU tools can do the job for a space mission 🙂
The GNU tools include powerful utilities to collect coverage information. With coverage I know which lines of my code have been executed, which is a very useful test metric. The GNU coverage tools are commonly used for Linux applications. But to my surprise not much for embedded application development, mostly because it requires a few extra steps to have it available? Why not using free and powerful tools for improving software quality? This article explains how to install the GNU gcov tools into the Eclipse IDE.