New toys for the embedded systems class

Oct 7, 2010

I have been a long-time fan of AVR microcontrollers; I have also been passing on avr-love to my students. In the good old days, you had to build the GNU toolchain from source and wire up your own burning circuit to get started. Nowadays, just "apt-get" gcc-avr, buy an "Arduino" board and you are up and running in an instant!

I still love the AVR's, but it's time to try out something new! I am going to introduce TI's 16 bit MSP430 processors in the classroom. TI has a very low cost development board called the Launchpad - it costs just $4.30 and comes with a 2-wire JTAG interface which you can access through the PC's USB port. A MSP430 version of GCC is available, and JTAG access is possible through mspdebug which can act as an independent debugger or as a proxy for gdb. My idea is to get students started with the MSP430 and once they are thorough with the architecture, toolchain and peripherals, switch over to the considerably more complex ARM. I am planning to use the OMAPL138 based HawkBoard for teaching ARM architecture as well as basics of embedded Linux.

Besides the Hawkboard and a few a launchpad's, I have another very interesting toy in my lab:

This is the Ez430 Chronos Wireless watch development tool - the prize for the coolest gadget in my collection goes to this beauty! I am thinking of ways to use this in the class ...

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