This section is about electronics with a heavy emphasis on embedded microcontroller projects using the AVR (and now ARM) series of chips.
What's an embedded system? Well in general the term refers to small electronic "gadgets" that are controlled by a microcontroller. Technically they are computers but you don't normally recognise them as such. Your microwave oven is probably a good example, all those buttons and displays are controlled by a microcontroller computing away in the background, there's no Windows and no mouse but it's a computer none the less.
Although I worked in photography during most of the 70s I always had an interest in electronics and used to build my own stereos from kits etc. In 1978 however I became really interested and a year or so later managed to get myself a job in the field. My main interest was in digital circuitry (mostly 4000-series CMOS) but I also designed various analogue projects.
Microprocessors were not a part of the landscape at that time and I distinctly remember getting a data sheet from Intel featuring the 4004 4-bit microprocessor and thinking "What a crock, there's nothing useful you can do with these things".
Of course I was about as wrong as you can be, these days there's a micro in just about everything.
In spite of my initial misgivings within a couple of years I was right into microcontrollers and processors, mostly the 6502, 6805, 6809, 80x86, Z8, Z80, Z180 and Z8000 chips but also 2900-series bit-slice processors. I even won an Institute of Engineers design award for a remote bore level monitoring system featuring a 6502-based solar-powered remote unit and a Z80-based base computer (the RF work was done by Marshall Shepard, an analogue engineer workmate at the time and now friend who still doesn't see any point in microprocessors :-)
I was employed as an electronics engineer for most of the 80s and on the side worked freelance as a PCB designer and had a product on the market for a few years, an EPROM emulator called the "Romulator" that had some commercial success and earned me the title of ACT Inventer of the Year.
With a change of job I moved more into high-level software engineering although I still had an electronics lab at home until 2001 when as you may know we hit the road and all forms of hardware/firmware development went by the board.
Fast forward to 2007
A friend of mine (Gavin from hobohome.com) was building neat gadgets with Picaxe processors and one day, when talking about his projects, my interest was rekindled. However I was building Wothahellizat Mk2 at the time and didn't have the time to do much about it so electronics was put on the back burner.
Gavin makes a comment on his web site something like "the wind generator's output is not regulated so I knocked up a simple regulator with a Picaxe". This comment gets me thinking about electronics again and before I know it I've justified the purchase of quite a pile of electronics gear and components.
For the last three years I've been getting back up to speed with the new technology, not that that was hard as most things are the same as they always were, just smaller.
I've just finished the design of my dual-processor ArdweeNET (Arduino
with an ARM co-processor) board and will start prototyping that soon.
Meanwhile I'm designing a range of SCADA modules for a South American
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under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA and/or Open Hardware licences.
Copyright © 1973-2013 Rob Gray, All rights reserved.