Monday, July 30, 2012

FEZ Spider Video Camera

Microsoft has created an embedded programming microcosm known as 'Gadgeteer'. Like other .net micro-format (MF) microcontrollers, they are programmed in C# and use the embedded master chip set (which provides a wide range of functionality for USB client and host, Ethernet and memory media). It is open source, and a range of companies are producing controllers and module accessories for Gadgeteer. The real gem of this system is the integrated development environment (IDE) that permits the user to graphically lay out their system that models the actual hardware, and then prompts for the code snippets that respond to events (like a pressed button or a timer interval) that executes a sequence of code. To get a handle on this, I ordered a getting started book by Simon Monk (listed below). I purchased the GHI Spider Kit, which is named for its resemblance to a large spider when multiple modules are connected to the processor. All elements are connected via ribbon cables that are identical, to specific ports on the microcontroller. In one evening, I hooked up a video camera, a color touch screen display, and an SD card to form a simple video capture system. This is a "gadget guy's" dream! I can't wait to give the Ethernet module a go and create a Web enabled sensor.

GHI Spider Kit [Link]

Getting Started with .Net Gadgeteer Book [Link]

Microsoft Gadgeteer Page [Link]

My other interests [Link]

Saturday, January 28, 2012

My FEZ Fan Page

FEZ stands for "Freakin' Easy!"

I have been playing with the FEZ Domino for a couple of years, which has been superseded by the FEZ Panda II. I let this project rest last year while I dug into PICAXE BASIC programming and ant-scale robotics; and to get a dent in MSP430 ANSI C. Mastering this platform will give me experience with C# and object-oriented programming, and a lot of expanded capabilities.

“The 72Mhz FEZ Panda II runs .NET Micro Framework, allowing users to program and debug FEZ Panda using Microsoft's free Visual C# Express. Applications are loaded over USB cable (or serial) with full featured debugging capabilities, such as stepping in code or inspecting variables.”

...Many libraries are already included like FAT file system, threading, UART, SPI, I2C, GPIO, PWM, ADC, DAC and many more.”

It is a 32-bit, 72 MHz ARM 9 processor with the embedded master chip-set integrated within. It is programmed via C#, is object-oriented and works within the MS .NETMF (Microsoft .NET Micro-format). I know it sounds like a lot of gobbley-gook; but let me break it down into its key capabilities. It is programmed in a higher level language and it provides a greater layer of abstraction than you can get with PICAXE Basic or ANSI C. You can load drivers for routine, repetitive tasks that others have written so your focus can be on the 'fun stuff'. There are drivers to allow you to easily implement Ethernet, wifi, zigby, USB host and client, MP3/4 music, GPS, etc. 32 bits has the power to process video images. C# is the root language of all of the .net languages (be it Visual Basic, C++, C#, etc.); the express version that MS offers for free is perfectly adequate for working with the FEZ. I like the idea of being able to use the same language to write a GUI (graphical user interface) for a computer desk-top application that I can use to program a microcontroller. The company that makes and markets the FEZ, GHI/Tiny Clear, also provides at no cost a lot of helpful material on getting started (even getting started with C#).

My aim in pursuing FEZ is to build and program a sensor platform with Web access as my great leap toward an internet-based robot telepresence (a robot I can control over the internet).

Essential Links

TinyCLR [Link]

GHI Electronics [Link]

FEZ Panda II [Link]

SW Downloads and Tutorials [Link]

Getting started, essential documents [Link]

My other interests [Link]