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Author Topic: Which microcontroller is easiest to approach?  (Read 3171 times)

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Offline Half ShellTopic starter

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Which microcontroller is easiest to approach?
« on: November 15, 2007, 01:01:59 PM »
I was asked this morning to try and put together a kit for engineering students interested in robotics. The goal of the kit is to be as cheap as possible while providing the ability to build a simple robot and easily expand into more complicated robots.

I'm doing my own research and leaning more towards Boarduino. Can anyone recommend very easy micro controllers that could act as a replacement?

Offline Steve Joblin

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Re: Which microcontroller is easiest to approach?
« Reply #1 on: November 15, 2007, 02:58:35 PM »
In terms of price, I think PICAXE is a strong candidate... free IDE and the chips are only a few dollars each.  You program in BASIC, so engineers that don't know programming can learn it quickly... they have many offerings designed for the education market.

Parallax BASIC Stamps are a bit more expensive, but are probably the biggest and most dominant player in providing education robotics kits.


Offline Admin

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Re: Which microcontroller is easiest to approach?
« Reply #2 on: November 15, 2007, 03:01:20 PM »
College level right? Which engineering subject?

Is the goal to make a microcontroller or to just learn how to use one off-the-shelf?

Offline Half ShellTopic starter

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Re: Which microcontroller is easiest to approach?
« Reply #3 on: November 15, 2007, 10:25:13 PM »
Use one off the shelf.

The target are Robotics Engineering Students, though of course it will be open to Electrical and Mechanical Engineers who are concentrating in robotics.

I've noticed that many of the RBE students (it IS a brand new major so most are freshmen) have slim to none experience with microcontrollers- even many of the EEs are as well unless they're juniors, and the MEs are hopelessly lost when it comes to this.

While I think the EEs and RBEs could manage having to take a chip, set up a programmer and then set it up in a bread board, I think the MEs and other majors would be turned off by the prospect.

My goal is out of the box ready to run and program.

If I had to order the parts for the kit today I would go with Arduino because I know it can run an H bridge and read sensors and out of the box will work. On top of that someone with little experience can figure it out with little effort.

I will be posting another question in the mechanical section after this one about the robot chassis.

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Re: Which microcontroller is easiest to approach?
« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2007, 08:23:05 AM »
Quote
I think the MEs and other majors would be turned off by the prospect.

Yea, I know a lot of ME's who don't like programming or electronics - avoiding it like the plague . . . but the EE's will no doubt complain they aren't doing any electronics work . . . Its like asking a CS student to not program ;)

Have you considered a development board?
http://www.sparkfun.com/commerce/categories.php?cPath=2_10
This will give room to add and experiment, but it wouldn't be required for it to work.

I think the key to getting it to be successful is to have a library of code and a good tutorial with pics for the students to use.

For example, a student doesn't need to understand the complexities of a servo if you have a library function like:
servo(speed);
servo(degrees);

Offline Half ShellTopic starter

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Re: Which microcontroller is easiest to approach?
« Reply #5 on: November 16, 2007, 10:24:08 AM »
True, EEs will complain about the lack of electrical work, but not as much as we might think. Consider this - the ones that would be buying the kit are probably interested in an easy way to build a robot or learning how to control the micro controller portion of the robot because they don't yet know how to do that. If that's true then they certainly will not mind an easy to approach kit.

Also include that with the kit you can expand onto more advanced electronics yourself....


Right now I'm leaning towards releasing the kit at the same time as announcing a small autonomous robot competition - something simple and can be done by kit robots with clever modification.

Offline Half ShellTopic starter

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Re: Which microcontroller is easiest to approach?
« Reply #6 on: November 16, 2007, 09:51:50 PM »
Actually, your link to sparkfun led me to an equally nice find:
http://www.sparkfun.com/commerce/product_info.php?products_id=8391

Unfortunately out of stock, but I will give it a try. For just under 10 dollars less than the arduino I get everything I need to upload code to an AVR chip AND allows for the student to go out and buy MORE microcontrollers easier.

I'm going to call them during their next set of business hours and see when the kit is coming back in - I'm going to buy one to test to see if it is worthwhile...

...That is, unless someone on the boards can tell me if
A) It is indeed a good idea
B) The cost of the kit is actually good compared to buying parts individually from elsewhere
C) A good reason why this is not approachable by people new to embedded electronics.

Offline Admin

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Re: Which microcontroller is easiest to approach?
« Reply #7 on: November 17, 2007, 09:35:03 AM »
Hmmmmm it doesn't have a pic in the link . . . ???

Offline Half ShellTopic starter

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Re: Which microcontroller is easiest to approach?
« Reply #8 on: November 17, 2007, 11:50:51 AM »
Yeah, and the description is so.... undescriptive that it does leave me a tad bit worried. It doesn't even tell me what computer connection the programmer cable uses which is kinda key for me since I don't have a parallel port or a serial port.

Offline paulstreats

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Re: Which microcontroller is easiest to approach?
« Reply #9 on: November 17, 2007, 06:38:31 PM »
this isnt a development board as such, and doesnt even include a board for soldering onto. It is literally just a bag of loose components so there would be some work to do before you could use it. The components you get are the list under where it says atmega8 lecture.

From my understanding, you would want a development board like admin suggests which is like plug and play so you can use it without any soldering, but it leaves room foradditions if necessary.

Here is a board developed from admins $50 robot that somebody on the forum has designed in eagle http://www.societyofrobots.com/robotforum/index.php?topic=2228.0 maybe if you could get in contact with killtacularmods to see if he could supply you with some fully built boards, or somebody else on the forum might make you some, its just an idea because the design incorporates an i2c bus, and additional eeprom onboard

Offline Kohanbash

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Re: Which microcontroller is easiest to approach?
« Reply #10 on: November 17, 2007, 06:44:30 PM »
I don't know if most EE's are going to complain that much.
Many of us (I am an EE) enjoy micros/FPGA/embedded system type stuff.
Robots for Roboticists Blog - http://robotsforroboticists.com/

 


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