Maker spaces and ‘FabLabs’ are popular and accessible in many areas. 3D printers are on the cheap, and powerful laser cutters are in the range of the fearless hobbyist. You can get dirty-cheap PCBs from China in less than a week (ok, probably not right now because of Corona virus) and it is easy to SMD solder parts these days with a DIY SMD PnP machine and OpenPnP. With the right equipment and skill set it is possible to build many cool projects. It is very rewarding and a great learning thing. Blog about it so other can learn too. And it even could get featured on Hackaday.
But: The risk is that someone might send you letter about a ‘Copyright Infringement’. Sadly, this is what happened to me for one of my recent projects. I don’t think that ‘take down’ letter was justified, but I learned a great deal what I should have done differently to avoid that situation. So in the end, it was a learning opportunity, which I believe is worth to share. In essence: what can a maker or educator do?
Hackaday: building a giant meta-clock made of smaller clocks (image: original image from Hackaday)
The gnuplot is a versatile and powerful tool to plot and visualize all kind of data. I wish there would be a plugin for it in Eclipse. But as this is not (yet?) the case, here is how I’m using it with gdb and Eclipse, using the MCUXpresso IDE as example.
One great feature of Eclipse is its built-in spell checking engine. So no more excuses are possible for typos in the source code ;-). Eclipse scans the source code in the background and offers to correct it:
When using an RTOS like FreeRTOS, sooner or later you have to ask the question: how much time is spent in each task? The Eclipse based MCUXpresso IDE has a nice view showing exactly this kind of information:
FreeRTOS Runtime Information
For FreeRTOS (or that Task List view) to show that very useful information, the developer has to provide a helping hand so the RTOS can collect this information. This article shows how this can be done on an ARM Cortex-M.
Stack overflows are probably the number 1 enemy of embedded applications: a call to a a printf() monster likely will use too much stack space, resulting in overwritten memory and crashing applications. But stack memory is limited and expensive on these devices, so you don’t want to spend too much space for it. But for sure not to little too. Or bad things will happen.
The Eclipse based MCUXpresso IDE has a ‘Heap and Stack Usage’ view which can be used to monitor the stack usage and shows that a stack overflow happened:
Heap and Stack Usage
But this is using the help of the debugger: how to catch stack overflows at runtime without the need of a debugger? There is an option in the GNU gcc compiler to help with this kind of situation, even if it was not originally intended for something different. Continue reading →
That machine has now been modified to dispense solder paste. I did not had time yet to describe the build, but as I have received recently many questions: here are some pre-information about the build:
The ‘Black Magic Probe’ (or in short: BMP) is a very small and open source JTAG/SWD debug probe with a build-in GDB Server. I saw that probe referenced in different places, so I thought I try it out with a few of my NXP LPC and Kinetis boards:
LoRa and LoRaWAN is getting the de-facto wireless IoT network in my area. No surprise that traditional telecom providers like Swisscom trying to monetize the ‘Internet of Things’ area. Luckily there is an open and free alternative: https://www.thethingsnetwork.org/. Volunteers, enthusiasts and members in the different TTN communities build gateways and offer free LoRaWAN network access. I wanted to contribute to that grassroots movement with building my gateway, providing LoRaWAN access to my neighborhood.
Most of the time software needs some way to configure things: depending on the settings, the software will do different things. For example the software running on the microcontroller on top of the Raspberry might have the OLED LCD available or not:
Raspberry Pi and tinyK22 (NXP Kinetis K22FN512) with OLED LCD
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:
coverage information from FreeRTOS application
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 …
Modern microcontroller come with plenty of internal FLASH memory. On the other side, many high performance MCUs as the NXP i.MX RT are ‘flashless’, because the silicon process for high performance cores is not matching the FLASH memory technology, so they are using external serial SPI or Quad-SPI (QSPI) memory instead.
Winbond w25q128 Serial Flash Breakout Board
Why not using an external SPI FLASH for a ‘normal’ microcontroller too?
I’m using the VL6180X ToF (Time-of-Flight) sensors successfully in different projects. The VL6180X is great, but only can measure distances up to 20 cm and in ‘extended mode’ up to 60 cm. For a project I need to go beyond that, so the logical choice is the VL53L0X which measures between 30 cm and 100 cm or up to 200 cm. For this project I’m using the VL53L0X breakout board from Adafruit, but similar products are available e.g. from Pololu.