Thanks to the proliferation of modular hardware and easy-to-use software, artists, designers, students and hobbyists — in ever-larger numbers — are developing creative applications as nodes on the Internet of Things (IoT), interconnected through the cloud.
Innovation in electronics is no longer the exclusive realm of the professional engineer. If you can imagine it, you can build it.
Engineers have always relied on development boards or evaluation kits to explore new microcontrollers within the context of applications. Now such kits — cheaper, user friendly and supported by communities of like-minded enthusiasts – are becoming the building blocks of the IoT. They are generally organized around specific microcontroller families, but they share the following characteristics:
The microcontroller board, the heart of the kit, is open source (except for the chip itself) and constructed to be expandable with hardware modules that enable additional functionalitylike capacitive touch, wireless communication, sensor readings, LED lighting control, etc.
The integrated development environment (IDE) – a set of tools to ease software development at a high level of abstraction — is the biggest contributor to user friendliness. While IDEs target specific microcontrollers they are evolving to bridge the gap so that applications developed for one microcontroller family are easily ported to another.
The “ecosystem” of active partners supplying “plug and play” expansion boards or software components, extends technical capabilities and potential applications.
Last, but perhaps most important, is the community of users that can be tapped for knowledge. Communities are vital to answering product questions, sparking new ideas and for other kinds of technical guidance. The size and vibrancy of a community is an important consideration in selecting a particular microcontroller camp.
As a stimulus to your creativity, Texas Instruments has unveiled a new site for its LaunchPad™ kits, that, among other things, allows you to explore the ecosystem of application solutions from third parties, draw inspiration from projects built by the community and find the right hardware, software, and support for your ideas.