mmmmm...mbed on OpenSolaris

mbed A while back, Bob from hacman mentioned that there was a competition running for the mbed microcontroller, and that to encourage people to enter the organisers were giving away mbeds for free, so I filled in the web application form and promptly forgot about it. Yesterday I got an email telling me I'd been allocated an mbed and that ot could take up to three weeks to arrive, so I was a little surprised to find it pop through the letterbox this morning.

The mbed NXP LPC1768 is quite a beastie:

  • ARM Cortex-M3 Core running at 96MHz
  • 512KB FLASH, 64KB RAM
  • Analogue, digital and PMW I/O.
  • On-board Ethernet
  • On-board USB
  • CAN bus (vehicle data bus)
  • SPI bus
  • I2C bus
  • On-board filesystem

The development environment is fairly novel as well, they've opted for what you might call a 'Cloud' solution. You plug the board in to a USB port and it appears as a USB disk drive. The compiler is hosted at mbed.org where there's web-based IDE. You develop your code using that, and when you hit 'compile', you get a downloadable binary image that you save onto mbed's USB drive, then hit the 'reset' button on the board and it runs your code. For debugging, the board also appears as a serial device, so you can read/write from/to the device using that.

I had no idea if it would work on Solaris but it works just fine on build 150 - I plugged it in and it appeared as a USB disk and Gnome filemanager duly popped up so I could copy images onto it. I loaded up one of the serial demo programs and tip -b 9600 /dev/term/0 connected to the board and allowed me to interact with it as expected.

I'm not entirely sure about the online IDE - sure, it's quick and easy to get started, but a bit like the Arduino IDE, I suspect you'd grow out of it pretty quickly, plus having to be online just to compile code is a bit limiting on a planet that's still not got 100% network coverage. There's some information out there on how to set about doing things yourself, but it looks like it would be a bit of a faff to get set up - you need Code Sourcery's ARM EABI toolchain, which of course isn't available in binary form for Solaris, plus there's a whole heap of other messing about that's necessary. In fact, as far as mbed goes I'd pretty much echo these sentiments.

So, I'm not sure quite what I'll be using my mbed for - the Ethernet support seems interesting, as does the USB support, but at £50 each I don't think I'll be rushing out and buying a load soon, when the AVR is so much cheaper and perfectly adequate for most hack projects. I think the mbed will probably end up being a gateway between the physical and virtual worlds, for example as a bridge between the internet and a collection of wirelessly-connected Arduinos.

Categories : Solaris, Tech