Are you bored of PC programming? What to try something new? Then make the jump to microcontroller world. An electrical engineer background is highly recommended but the practice shows that a lot of hobbyists out there can handle the switch with just a good logical understanding and basic programming knowledge.
Parallax - BASIC Stamp Microcontrollers
These excellent modules produced by Parallax are very friendly and easy to use. Almost anyone will feel comfortable with the BASIC dialect used to program them.
NetMedia – BasicX Radip Development Microcontrollers
Similar to BASIC Stamp but speedier.
Savage Innovations – OOPic
Program this microcontroller in an object-oriented BASIC dialect.
Beginners may learn a lot and also have fun if they use these microcontrollers as part of a robotics project or video-game system.
After you master working with any of these controllers is time for you to move further to more complex systems, such the ones described below.
Microchip - PIC
One of the most popular 8-bit microcontrollers is coming from Microchip. PIC microcontrollers are widely used in products ranging from toys to high-tech devices. Even some of above beginner modules are using PIC chips as their core.
Developed originally by Intel in 1980- today it comes in enhanced devices with 8051-compatible processor cores that are manufactured by more than 20 independent manufacturers including Atmel, Philips, Winbond, and Silicon Laboratories.
Zilog – Z8
Zilog is the maker of CPUs and microcontrollers based on the popular Z80 core. In the past several 8bit personal computers used Z80 as their processors.
Rabbit Semiconductor – Rabit 2000
Rabbit shares a similar architecture and a high degree of compatibility with the Z80 and Z180. Programmers familiar with the Z80 will be completely at ease with the Rabbit 2000.
Atmel – AVR
Popular 8-bit RISC microcontroller
ARM – ARM7, ARM9
The ARM processors family is the most used (maybe 75%) of all 32-bit embedded CPUs. You can find an ARM processor in products ranging from consumer electronics, PDAs, mobile phones, media players or computer hardware such as hard-disks. Intel XScale is the most notable branch of this family.
While a simple 8-bit microcontroller, with limited ROM and RAM resources, doesn’t require an operating-system, the most complex embedded systems, with more resources and usually 32bit processors, are better exploited with an embedded OS. The C programming language is usually preferred to assembly language for programming these micro-systems.
Operating systems such as VxWorks, QNX, Linux or Windows CE are often used as embedded OSes.
Developers have also lots of already build hardware modules that can use as a base for their projects. Two interesting sites that worth visiting are: LinuxDevices.com and WindowsForDevices.com.
The electronic devices market is full of cool add-ons and modules that help with embedded systems development. For instance:
- to put a web based interface to an 8-bit microcontroller project you can use the SitePlayer module from NetMedia.
- to add an USB Keyboard, Mouse, Printer or FAT File System you can use the USBwiz module from GHI Electronics.
Please drop a comment if you wish any other product to be added to this list. Other than this: have fun with your new projects!