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How to start off in microcontrollers?

Discussion in 'Microcontrollers, Programming and IoT' started by Jheckman1986, May 28, 2012.

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  1. Jheckman1986

    Jheckman1986

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    May 28, 2012
    I am a newb at electronics, as a matter of fact i am just beginning to an extent.

    I am wantign to delve into amateur robotics, specifically small stuff like the size of a coffee can and i would like to move up to making robotic limbs and remote controlled robotics.

    My question is how do i start off, are there any good books with full tutorials i should look out for?

    Is the PICkit 3 a good Microcontroller programmer to use?

    Thanks for your help!:D
     
  2. Maverick

    Maverick

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    May 27, 2012
    Pickit3 is probably the easiest and cheapest ,, tho pickit2 was better IMHO but newer devices are all supported on PicKit3. Great Cheap programmer.

    Then Pic a language , if your new to programming go for a basic compiler Proton Development Suite is hard to beat, lots of examples support on the forums ,, take a look.

    If you don't mind being limited to one MCU to start with the MYAMICUS which is proton development suite limited to 18F25K20 is free.

    N.B Assuming you want to use pic micros
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2012
  3. Jheckman1986

    Jheckman1986

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    May 28, 2012
    Some good ideas but i want to build everything from scratch and so using an arduino like clone is not an option for me, to me it just doesn't seem like a good learn unless i do it myself from scratch.

    I want to be able to do this stuff from nothing but parts and for me to use a pre-built board is in my opinion more expensive and it takes away from what i need to learn, which is soldering and basic electronics!

    I am not sure what i want to use because i just want to start learning how to program and integrate micro controllers into new projects!

    Are there any beginner level books that explain how to program these chips and how they are implemented into a design, How to wire them in so to speak?
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2012
  4. CocaCola

    CocaCola

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    Apr 7, 2012
    Most newer PIC chips are dead simple to wire up, most have build in oscillators even so to get them running all you need is to hook up power and decouple the power lines with a cap to smooth it out... You can skip the cap and it should work but it's best to use them...

    I don't know of any do it all books as most books get outdated very quick, my suggestion is to simply read the support forums of the compiler you choose and try stuff out... It won't take you long to figure out that the PIC16F628a is a popular chip for a lot of projects, I also find myself using a lot of PIC12F683 and PIC16F88 chips seems under powered compared to the new stuff but you can still do a lot with them... Hit up Google and start reading, once you get your feet wet you won't be so scared to take the next step and so on...

    I really like the developer boards from http://www.mikroe.com/ they have a built in programmer support a lot of chips and have lots of do-dads to play with for a reasonable price... Their compilers continue to grow in popularity as well but I'm not going to recommend them per say as it's been years since I played with them... For most of my stuff I use PicBasic Pro, as I have been using it so long it's just natural now...
     
  5. Jheckman1986

    Jheckman1986

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    May 28, 2012
    Right but how to wire them up, keep in mind i have no experience whatsoever with micro controllers and i am just beginning with electronics but because i have become bored with using resistors and leds i want a bigger challenge. I do not feel comfortable with just googling this stuff because i cannot afford to buy everything under the sun just because someone thinks it may help. I have a limited budget every month and so i need advice that represents that, which is why i am asking for a book that starts off for the beginner, a good solid book!
    I will browse the forums but i am starting to suspect this may justify posting in other websites!
     
  6. CocaCola

    CocaCola

    3,635
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    Apr 7, 2012
    You are not listening, the books out date themselves faster than fast there is no solid book that gives you the magical answers you think you are going to find... You also need to make some choices, a book on PIC assembly is going to almost certainly be way over your head, and for the newbie nearly useless if you are using a high level compiler... If you get a book on PIC BASIC but decide to use C, again mostly a waste for the newbie... The books will only be good for the very basics that didn't change over the last year, and that assumes you use the same hardware and software the author used... The truth is that same info can be garnished in a night of reading online...

    BTW most of the PIC books written over the year have been written by members of various online forums or communities, most of them have been sharing that same knowledge for years online...

    This forum covers a lot of the basics of electronics, it's not a dedicated microcontroller forum, if you want the basics of electronics this forum has a wealth of info... And can provide the basics of micros as well if you are willing to listen...

    If you won't take advice of those that have been there and done that, what kind of advice are you looking for? No matter what forum you find the people are going to recommend certain hardware and software they are familiar with...

    If you have a limited budget the ABSOLUTE BEST ADVICE is to spend your time learning and educating yourself before you spend any money, and the Internet forums fit that picture perfect... Don't make any purchases until you have a solid grasp of the subject matter and the direction you are going...

    I recommended the developer board I did, and it fits perfectly into your needs... It's a fully functional programmer, no need for another programmer... No matter what compiler you select it will still work... And being a developer board that has sockets for 'most' dip packages you can explore a vast amount of different chips... You won't need to breadboard you initial designs as you will have a solid platform to test your code on... It's a piece of hardware that you can use as a newbie and one you can still be using 10 years from now as an experienced person to test code...
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2012
  7. Jheckman1986

    Jheckman1986

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    May 28, 2012
    Ok first of all i am extremely grateful for the advice i have been given by you guys and yes i have been listening i just don't understand why there are no reliable books on micro controller programming, any that are always being updated at least. Also i am not looking for a magical answer to my question as you say, i am just truly lost on this and i have had this passion since i was ten, but i never had the courage to explore it until now! As you can imagine i am beyond frustrated that i didn't get into this stuff when i was younger because back then i was a computer guru of sorts, so hopefully you understand how i might get frustrated trying to figure this stuff out(Now that iv'e told this to you). I am going to go look up the board you told me about and consider using it but i think i am just going to wait and keep trucking with the basic electronic learning that way i will have a solid background in basic circuits before i think about jumping to robotics. But i am for sure going to Google the board and see what it is all about to a greater detail before making my decision!

    So thanks again!
     
  8. Jheckman1986

    Jheckman1986

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    May 28, 2012
    Sadly the board is WWWWAAAYYYY out of my price range!!! At least it is 99 dollars!
     
  9. Jheckman1986

    Jheckman1986

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    May 28, 2012
    I think what i am going to do against what i said earlier is look at the arduino again and see if it is something that might be a good start for me since it is way cheaper
     
  10. CocaCola

    CocaCola

    3,635
    5
    Apr 7, 2012
    Because it's 2012 and constantly updated print is dead as it's cost prohibitive... Coupled with the fact that this tech is moving forward and changing all the time a book written last year is old news...

    If $100 sinks you, you might want to really reconsider your path and approach to the hobby... The Arduino or PICaxe might be a better alternative, to get your feet wet on a lower budget... If you want to go full blown into the hobby it's going to cost substantially more in the end... You can still do it cheaper using the free microchip stuff, learning assembly and getting a bare bones programmer but the learning curve jumps significantly...
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2012
  11. Jheckman1986

    Jheckman1986

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    May 28, 2012
    I think arduino will be a good start too, atleast until i get my feet wet and i am confident in knowing how to build a simple setup....

    But where can i buy it for a good price, ebay is off and amazon seems to have knockoff issues.

    I hate to buy it from arduino direct as the shipping is a death trap, is sparkfun a good place?
     
  12. CocaCola

    CocaCola

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    Apr 7, 2012
    I have made many purchase from Sparkfun they are reputable company... And not to say purchase a knock off but the difference between the knockoff and real deal is nil as long as it's a decently built knockoff, since the bootloader is freely distributed... The only difference is whos hand you are feeding, and it's always nice to give back to the guys that developed it, and continue to support it...
     
  13. Maverick

    Maverick

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    May 27, 2012
    Just to note the AMICUS compiler I mentioned is FREE and the file it produces is a HEX for 18F25K20 ,, the hardware is open. you don't have to buy an AMICUS board ,, you could etch your own or just stick a 18K25K20 into a breadboard , compile your Hex in AMICUS compiler and just drop it on the chip with your programmer. Even the boot-loader HEX is downloadable so you don't even need the PicKit3 if you get a friend to drop the boot-loader onto the chip.

    You can start out for next to nothing and if you fry the chip ,, well you only fry a $2 chip and not a $100/$500 dev system.

    If your wanting to do everything for nothing and learn without working upwards from the basics ,,, forget it.

    A lot of my dev work is on 32Bit ARM micros now, but I started with the simple 555 timer and logic gates up to 8bit 6502 and Zilog Z80 CPU's and PIC micros THEN onto ARM.
    I learned to program in basic , then assembler on 6502. Basic is more readable and easier to understand for a new player imho.
    Now I use C#/C/C++ not fun languages for beginners if you know nothing about programming.

    watch the EEVBLOG maybe the PSU design video will give you a taste for what its all about http://www.eevblog.com/2011/11/28/eevblog-221-lab-power-supply-design-part-1/
    Dave has about 282 videos all about electronics I highly recommend them all stuff I am very familiar but still enjoy his blog. check out how he learned and got into electronics
    https://www.electronicspoint.com/newreply.php?do=newreply&noquote=1&p=1468784
    sound familiar :)


    I don't like Aurdrino myself but thats a personal thing ,, not fond on ATMEL's and not fussed buy their viral nature (every blinky light project , hey lets shot in an aurdrino) they are often used like sledgehammers to crack an awfully weak egg , when a simple logic chip could do the same for fraction of the price.

    To be honest if you know nothing about electronics yet I'd suggest reading a few books, learning ,Ohms Law, knowing how a transistor works,a diode, resistor ,capacitor, building a few 4000 series logic projects. Do some 555timer flashing leds because If your struggling to afford a single aurdrino board or a MyAmicus I think you will be in for a shock. I almost grantee your gonna blow a few of them , I still pop the occasional dev board after all these years and the ones I use aren't aurdrino cheap. Hell I cooked a $800 transmitter only a couple of days ago. I wasn't happy of-course and could have avoided it ,, but accident happen even when you have been at it a long time.

    http://www.useusa.co.uk/product.php?id_product=56148

    I learned a lot on a kit like this as a kid ,, blew nearly half the components but they are a fantastic way to learn the basics you go through all the circuits in the book learning the fundamentals as you go ,, then once your done with them you make your own circuits.
    Sometimes you WILL get it wrong and smoke a 25 cent transistor or capacitor and everything you learn is directly relocatable to micros, current limits, reading and understanding the datasheets for the devices.

    So when you are confident enough to move onto your shiny new micro dev board , you will already know to drive a relay from your micro pin for example, you will need a transistor and a back emf diode, because you learned all that on your basic components board, drop a relay on an output without understanding and the output or whole chip will go pop, no satisfaction just blue smoke. Input driven above VCC yay same result.
     
  14. Jheckman1986

    Jheckman1986

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    May 28, 2012

    When i said i wanted to do it from nothing i meant to say i didn't want to spend hardly any money, i have been soldering stuff from broken electronics and that has been good for gathering up passive components just fine. I am just going to go with the arduino and also keep using my basic electronics books i have, most of them have really good projects in them it's just that i wanted them to have more micro controller.

    I understand what a resistor and a capacitor do, i have been reading these books i just get bored quickly and i want to move onto controller stuff, but i will keep reading.

    Basic is a pretty easy language from what i have seen and i am reading up on c++ right now and it looks not so difficult if you ask me! I have a book on ti and it comes with a cd, C++ without fear by brian overland

    Make: Electronics Charles Platt

    Robot Builders Bonanza Gordon McComb

    Electronics for dummies

    CircuitBuilding for dummies

    Robot Building for beginners David Cook
     
  15. CocaCola

    CocaCola

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    Apr 7, 2012
    Exactly how I feel, the viral nature of the darn things is just mind boggling stupid in many cases! I have come across so many blog entries that amount to a guy ramming a Arduino Uno ($25-$30) into whatever (usually complaining about how it barely fits) so he can have a few blinking LEDs... And 10-50 people are lining up asking him to share the sketch (script) so they can do the same exact thing... :confused: All the while the circuit could be replicated with discrete parts and a few logic chips for a few bucks and no programming, or a $1 micro and a little work...
     
  16. CocaCola

    CocaCola

    3,635
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    Apr 7, 2012
    Understanding what they do and how they work is a good start, but you really need hands on before it all sinks in... As Maverick stated, letting the magic smoke out of these components and popping their lids is the next step in learning how they 'really' work and what you 'shouldn't' do to them...

    Most people feel the same, I love BASIC I use it all the time, it's my go to language since I have been using it so long, but I will state if you want to go further faster learn C it has become the industry standard... I still struggle with C but I can stubble through a C project if I need to, same with assembly that I'm even rustier at...
     
  17. Maverick

    Maverick

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    May 27, 2012
    Well that's good so you have a grounding in electronics ohms laws ect basic drive circuits. C/C++ isn't hard just convoluted if you have no programming experience , basic is more human readable and really easy to learn. If you have worked with OOP languages then C++ is not to huge a step but having learned both (and quite a few others) I'd say basic is i nice first stepping stone.
    I would still suggest that you watch Dave's videos and I'd suggest that to a beginner or an experienced pro , as they are a good watch anyway.

    Aurdrino ,, fair enough for the MAKE crowd not a fan myself each to their own, mind at least there's a large community for support. which is a plus if your new.
    Still hate their viral nature and calling a program a sketch ? why? Plus the sheilds.. ok in principle they are a reasonable idea , but as soon as someone wants to run a 320*240 RGB display for example they are paying $100 for a $10 screen and another MPU to do the actual work. when you can get a $10 screen and a $5 MCU (ARM,MIPS whatever) that can do the work of both plus a lot more, but the drino blinkers are on.

    Your still gonna pop a few ,, it's inevitable ,, but Aurdrino like Amicus is nothing special just an ATMEGA with the ardrinou boot loader on it ,, you could still use the raw chip and a clock on a breadboard if you really wanted too.
     
  18. Jheckman1986

    Jheckman1986

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    May 28, 2012
    Ok so do you know where i could find instructions on how i can make one without a programmer
     
  19. Maverick

    Maverick

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    May 27, 2012
    Posted links but wating for a mod ,, thats new :)
     
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