As an engineer, starting a new project is an exciting time. Learning and applying the latest technology; getting on top of new challenges. Here, at the Debug Store, we have been working out a solution to keep that excitement and not be dragged down my the reality of the past.
Now, The Debug Store announces Rapid Electronic Development or RED™. This simple concept encompasses software and hardware development tools which will speed up the process of prototype design and make design changes more manageable.
Let's look at some of the problems faced by electronic design and software engineers with older practices:
They Don't Make'm Like they Used To
Traditionally, prototypes were constructed from Veroboard® or Strip Board. Components are soldered onto the board and connections made by soldering wires onto the pads of the board. Once the board had been constructed, the design would then be fixed.
The introduction of breadboards allowed circuits to be build simply by plugging components and wires into the breadboard and this adds some flexibility to the construction and made the design simpler to modify if needed. Breadboards are still a useful method of prototyping low-speed and low-current applications.
Current designs often need a microcontroller (MCU) to control the electronics and dedicated integrated circuits for memory, signal processing, sensing and power supply applications. The process of wading through device data sheets to select suitable components can be a long process, especially if other considerations such as cost, availability and predicted lifetime need to be considered. MCUs are also listed in hundreds of different variants (in theory) with different combinations of peripheral interfaces. At any time during the design process the original choice of component may need to be changed because of a design fault or sudden non-availability.
If a new MCU is chosen, development tools also need to be purchased. Test code needs to be written for the MCU to verify operation and communications with the rest of the control electronics. Many devices communicate with the MCU via the I2C or SPI busses and it is prudent to check these interfaces as the design progresses.
Now, let's take a look at some of the disadvantages of traditional prototype building:
New Market Opportunities Missed
In today's competitive environment it is often critical for a design concept to be built quickly so that it can be tested by a few chosen customers. Not testing your product with real customers can result in market failure when the product is launched for real. Customer reaction can often highlight changes needed to the design.
Traditional construction methods take time and are often expensive and time consuming to modify. The market can add pressure to get the product on sale quickly whilst the sales opportunities exist. If your competitor gets their product to market first, they can often benefit from increased market share. Being too slow to market can mean the end of a project.
I Don't Have the Time...
Selecting components for a design can take a very long time. Manufacturers catalogues are full of products which are never made or sold. Price and availability are other important considerations, which often result in a time-consuming iterative process. Sadly, for the time being, we need to accept this process as there is little that can be done about it.
If using an MCU, a choice usually has to be made at an early stage about the choice of family or variant. This will often result in the purchase of a dedicated evaluation or development board from a chip manufacturer. In reality, this means that the MCU choice will get fixed early with little scope for later change.
Product features rapidly change for each model. Last year's design worked just fine with a WiFi Interface. The new model now needs a LoRa interface. Where are you going to find the time to learn about the new technology and become competent with it? This can also apply to the choice of MCU. The last model worked just fine with a PIC32. The latest design will need to move to a more powerful platform, say a Cortex M series.
Hard-wired prototypes usually have a short shelf-life. This means they are often consigned to the scrap bin once production starts. That's not environmentally friendly and a waste of materials. Wouldn't it be good if those components could be re-used?
Breadboarding surface mount components is a challenge. They usually require soldered adapters to fit as Dual-in-line device slots on a breadboard. This can be a real challenge when BGA devices are used or MCUs with a hundred plus SM contacts. If the design is using high-speed devices then a PCB may need to be made. It would be convenient if such issues could be eliminated.
I am sure you will relate to some or all of the above issues, whether you are an electronic engineer, software engineer or project manager. RED™ has been conceived to address these issues head-on and let you focus on the positive aspects of your project.
Beating The Competitors
Being able to build an electronic prototype quickly will allow more time to be spent testing the final product. If your competitors are developing prototypes the old-fashioned way, they are hoping that their original design meets market needs. Their prototype will be soldered together, making it difficult and time-consuming to make changes.
They will also have less time to test and improve on their prototype. In the mean-time, you will be steaming ahead building your prototype, knowing that if design changes are needed due to component performance issues can be fixed quickly.
RED™ - The Solution
Here are the benefits of choosing a system based on RED™:
Throw Away Those Stripboards
A Red™ based prototype can be built using simple building-blocks. Imagine an ARM Cortex development board that has interchangeable MCU modules. You can now choose the which Cortex variant you want to start with and plug-in the pre-soldered module. If you need to change the variant later in the initial design, or upgrade to a more capable MCU later, this can be done easily - just plus in a different MCU module.
Now imagine all your interface and control devices connected to the MCU. These can also be added as simple plug-in modules, communicating with the MCU via standard I2C or SPI interfaces. Would you like to be able to choose from over 750 modules, ranging from gas sensors to a 4G IoT modem. Again, no soldering required!
Learn a New Technology
Imagine a development board which is fully supported by an integrated development environment (IDE). You can choose from one of three programming languages (C, Pascal and Basic). Every MCU supported by the development board is pre-configured into the IDE with all variant-specific registers ready and waiting to be used. Support is also available for a Royalty-Free real-time RTOS.
Plus, each of those 750 plus hardware modules is supported by pre-tested library code and an example application. This means you can start using the module's active device right-out of the box and adapt the example code for your own needs.
These features make learning how to use a new MCU family and unfamiliar active devices a breeze!
Just think of all the time you will save!
In fact, it will give you more time to concentrate on designing your new product, knowing that RED™ has your back covered.
RED™ is an ongoing environment for electronic and software engineers and if you want to be kept updated with latest developments then simply signup to RED™ NEWS.
I will send you news at it appears, only about RED™ and only when there is something useful to say. You may unsubscribe at any time, so there is nothing to loose.