Sometimes I start a project with an ARM microcontroller, and in the middle of the project I find out that it was a wrong choice at the beginning and I need to switch the microcontroller derivative or even the used ARM core. With little knowledge of the project structure and the files needed, such a switch is not the easiest thing, but definitely possible.
In the age of high-resolution graphical LCDs using a character display might look like a bit anachronistic. But these displays provide a lot of value for me as they are robust, available in different shapes and number of lines. And such a character display can be a better solution for an industrial application.
Most host or desktop systems (say Linux, Mac or Windows) have a normal use case where you start the operating system say in the morning and shut it down in the evening, and then you leave the machine. Embedded Systems are different: they are not attended, and they are supposed to run ‘forever’. Not every embedded system needs to run an OS (or in that world: Real-Time Operating System or RTOS), but the same applies here: after the RTOS is started, it is not intended that it will shutdown and restart. To the extend that you won’t they support the ‘shutdown’ and ‘restart’ functionality at all. In case of gathering coverage information this would be really useful:
In the case of FreeRTOS: what if I really need to shutdown the RTOS and restart it again, as by default this is not supported. This is what this article is about …
GDB supports a mode which allows the GDB debug client to read memory while the target is running. This allows features like ‘live variables’: that way I can see the variables refreshed and changing over time without halting the target. Another functionality which comes with that feature is to check stopped threads or to see all threads in the system.
You might wonder what ‘Zork‘ is? Zork is one of the first and earlist fictive computer games, written around 1977 and 1979, written in MDL on a DEC PDP-10 by members of the MIT Dynamic Modelling group (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zork). I believe the first time I have played Zork was around 1984 on a Commodore 64.
With Eclipse as IDE it is very easy to debug an application on a board. Still sometimes it is useful to get one level down and control the GDB server directly.
Windows 8 and 10 have added a ‘feature’ to scan and index devices attached to the host machine. This means that bootloaders or MSD (Mass Storage Device) programming implementations on evaluation boards developed in the Windows 7 age might not be prepared for that. Up to the point that it can impact the bootloader as outlined in “Bricking and Recovering OpenSDA Boards in Windows 8 and 10“. So far one of the easiest way to get out that situation was to use a Windows 7 machine. But if you only have a Windows 10 machine available, this article describes the needed steps to update the bootloader with Windows 10 host machines.
In “Flash-Resident USB-HID Bootloader with the NXP Kinetis K22 Microcontroller” I presented how I’m using the tinyK22 (or FRDM-K22F) with a flash resident USB HID bootloader. To make sure that the loaded application is not corrupted somehow, it is important to verify it with a Cyclic redundancy Checksum (CRC). The NXP KBOOT Bootloader can verify such a CRC, but how to generate one and how to use it is not really obvious (at least to me), so this article explains how to generate that CRC.
The NXP Freedom boards are very popular. Many of them are inexpensive (less than $20), include a debug interface and can be easily extended with extra shields or boards. Especially the FRDM-KL25Z is very popular: I’m getting told because of Processor Expert and tutorials available on web sites like this one ;-).
Unfortunately there are no small or breadboard friendly Kinetis boards available. There is the NXP LPC800-DIP but with no onboard debugger and without Processor Expert support. We have the tinyK20, but projects tend to use more CPU power, FLASH and RAM space than what the tinyK20 board (50 MHz, 128 KByte FLASH, 16 KByte RAM) can provide. So we ended up designing the big brother of the first tinyK20: the tinyK22 with 120 MHz, 512 KByte of FLASH and 128 KByte of RAM.
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.
Many of the NXP OpenSDA boot loaders are vulnerable to Windows 8.x or Windows 10: write accesses of Windows can confuse the factory bootloader and make the debug firmware and bootloader useless. In this post I show how to recover the bootloader using MCUXpresso IDE and the P&E Universal Multilink.
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:
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.
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 🙂
For many projects it would be cool to build a custom USB Joystick device, either as custom game controller for Windows or any USB host which can be used with a USB Joystick. Instead buying one, why not build my version? All what I need is a USB capable board, some kind of input (potentiometer, push buttons) and some software, and I have my USB Joystick:
The MCUXpresso IDE (see “MCUXpresso IDE: Unified Eclipse IDE for NXPs ARM Cortex-M Microcontrollers“) has one great feature: it includes debug support for the popular LPC-Link2 debug probes. That way I have yet another powerful debug probe with extra features for ARM based boards. That LPC-Link2 circuit is present on many LPCXpresso boards from NXP. So why not using it to debug it my custom hardware?
For me, the available software and tools are the primary key decision factor why I select a particular silicon vendor. Without good software and tools, a microcontroller only ‘sand in plastic case’, even if it is the best microcontroller in the world. I do have several probably excellent microcontroller boards, and they are only getting touched by more durst over the months and years.
There are many mergers going on in the industry, and one of the largest one was in 2016 the integration of Freescale Semiconductor with NXP Semiconductors, with both providing Eclipse based IDE’s to their customer base. Consequently, the company merger triggered a merger of the IDE’s, and last week NXP has released the result: the MCUXpresso IDE.
To me, software and tools are by far more important than the microcontroller. Because the silicon is a ‘one time kind of thing’, where the software has to be maintained and working over a longer time. And at least my software usually needs to be ported to a new device, so portability and available software and tools are critical to me.
The combination of MCUXpresso SDK (formerly Kinetis SDK) and Processor Expert is unfortunately not supported by NXP. But I have found a way to get them work together in a nice way, and this article is about making that combination possible :-).
The concept of Linux (Open Source, broad developer base and broad usage) is a success story. While there is a lot of diversity (and freedom) in the Linux world, Linux is Linux and again Linux :-). And the world has (mostly) standardized on Linux and its variants on the high embedded system side.
On the other side, the ‘middle and lower end’ Embedded world is fragmented and in many aspects proprietary. So it was no surprise to me when the Linux Foundation announced the ‘Zephyr’ project back in February 2016:
“The Linux Foundation Announces Project to Build Real-Time Operating System for Internet of Things Devices. Open source Zephyr™ Project aims to deliver an RTOS; opens call for developers to help advance project for the smallest footprint IoT devices.“
Ζεφυρος (Zephyros) is the Greek good of spring and the west wind. Obviously this inspired the logo for the Zephyr project: