Monday, August 07, 2006

Embedded toys

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.

Advanced designers

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.

Intel MCS-51
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

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.

Complex micro-systems

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: and


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!

1 comment:

VMASOFT said...

Exclusive Hands-On Review Microcontroller Development Kits provides an overview over the most popular development kits with microcontrollers from Parallax, Microchip, Zilog, etc.