Why one Community Member switched from Arduino to ARMstrap

I came over to ARMstrap from Arduino because I was growing increasingly frustrated with the IDE and toolchain. Don’t get me wrong, I love Arduino and how it’s enabling beginners to really get their hands dirty in electronics and programming without needing to know the ins and outs of using a compiler or flashing an MCU, but when you move from trying to learn how something works or doing a few simple routines to trying to use advanced features of a specific chip, it can start to get cumbersome.” // Hoss, ARMstrap community memberHoss_picture

The importance of easy manufacturing

What experts predicted has finally happened.  People are using the BeagleBone Black and Raspberry Pi for more than just prototyping.  They are using them as critical pieces to their deployed solution.

There’s just one problem.  These tiny all-in-one mini computers were never designed to be deployed in an end-product.

BeagleBone Black Assembly

Companies that sell the BeagleBone Black are now reporting huge backlogs totaling 14,000 units.  It’s really hard to get a hold of these boards and according to Gerald Coley, the designer of the BeagleBone Black and systems engineer at Texas Instrument (the company sponsoring the BeagleBone Black), the problem is not going away anytime soon.

Gerald writes

We have doubled our production over the last two months to 3,000 per week. But that is about as good as it is going to get. We still have people sucking up 100s of boards for use in products and we have not found a way to stop that. We are building them and we are shipping them as fast as we can. They just aren’t getting to people that we want to have them.

The BeagleBone Black and Raspberry Pi fall into a category of electronics I call the put-everything-on-a-pcb-and-make-it-cheap type of device.  They don’t need to worry about drivers because they have their own on-board operating system.  These solutions make prototyping a joy because they offer fertile soil to grow the seeds of a maker’s dream.

There is just one big problem–these solutions do not scale.

These all-in-one boards seduce entrepreneurs, who find themselves at a loss when it comes time to scale their solution.  Naturally, these startups cannot reproduce any of these low cost devices and preserve their low price point.  Yes, they are open source and that’s a big win.  But if you cannot scale your solution, why would any startup consider using one of these all-in-one devices?  Why would your core component be tied to another company’s supply chain?

ARMstrap is  different.  We care about the ability to mass produce your solution.  That’s why the ARMstrap Eagle is made using 0805-sized components on a simple 2-layer PCB.  They can easily be recreated by hand if need be.  And thanks to its open-source license and to services like OSH Park and OSH Stencils anyone can remix the board and hand-solder a new prototype.  If your Kickstarter is massively successful, then you can make the adjustments necessary to lower cost–for example eliminating the integrated JTAG debugger if its not required.

Rather than giving makers everything on a board and slapping an operating system on top, we embrace the hardware and focus on making it easier to develop, debug and deploy your solution.

Want to buy an ARMstrap Eagle?  We sell them on the website, however, they can be built by hand too.  More on that later.

It works on a Mac

Quarter by quarter, news outlets are reporting that PC sales are either flat or plummeting.  HP just announced another layoff in an on-going effort to restructure and reinvent themselves.  Dell went as far as to convert themselves to a private company.  Since we are not in an economic depression, all of these articles hint at one fundamental fact–Mac sales are rising.armstrap-mac-featured

When I look at the options embedded developers have on the Mac, the outcome is grim.  External JTAG devices require a proprietary driver to enumerate and those JTAG vendors only ship drivers for the PC.  That shiny new MacBook Pro can’t do any real-world embedded development without a lot of hackery.  It’s no wonder that products like the BeagleBone Black and the Raspberry Pi exist.  It’s easier to put an entire operating system on a chip than to create a new driver stack for a different ecosystem, riddled with lawyers and politics.  No drivers are required when your embedded board ships with an entire operating system on board.  But what happens to those developers who want to be close to the hardware?  These developers don’t want an operating system in the way of their time-critical projects.

ARMstrap is different.

ARMstrap boards don’t abstract away the hardware, they embrace it.  Rather than putting a TCP/IP between your code and the hardware, ARMstrap boards connect to your project directly via a standard USB cable.  There are no external adapters to worry about.  Debugging is done on any platform (Windows, Mac or Linux) because ARMstrap boards enumerate as a tty serial device, utilizing the standard USB driver stack.  Debugging is ultra fast and snappy thanks to the heavy lifting done by the open source debugger that comes integrated on every ARMstrap board.

Finally, ARM development that actually works on a Mac.

Documentation Facelift

I think that for any open-hardware community to thrive, that community has to have insanely-great documentation.  Great documentation is not just in the form of web pages on a screen, but also PDF and ePub documentation that you can take on-the-go.  Documentation teaches others how to use your product and learning and discovery is a big part of ARMstrap.

Subway Reader (iPad Edition)Like most engineers, I find documentation hard.  They are great to read, but difficult to write.  Why?  Because too often, documentation becomes a war of styles, tags, placement and deployment.  Like programming, documentation is riddled with rules and getting the simplest projects off the ground requires an enormous amount of effort.  This enormous effort has nothing to do with the message you are trying to convey.  Rather than helping you, they stand in your way, forcing you to learn their quirks.  Writing anything will take time because the author has to overcome these hurdles.  Luckily, two technologies exists that can alleviate much of this pain–reStructuredText and readthedocs.org.

reStructuredText is a markdown language that is incredibly rich in syntax and easy to learn.  It does a fantastic job hiding those complex XML/HTML/DocBook tags, giving authors the freedom to express themselves in a plain-ol’ text editor.  Unlike those tag-based approaches to documentation, reStructuredText has no tags.  That’s right.  None.  reStructuredText uses an intelligent approach to documentation where styling and formatting is inferred based off text spacing and layout.  If you have five minutes, check out the reStructuredText cheatsheet and the online editor.  I found it amazing how fast and easy it was to learn.  Try doing this with DocBooks.

But what about deployment?  Getting documentation written is one challenge but deployment can be a greater challenge.  Generating HTML, PDF, and ePub for consumers can be an equally difficult task.  That’s where Read the Docs come in.

The readthedocs.org service is amazing!  In a nutshell, they translate reStructuredText from a github repository into beautiful, clean documentation.  They automatically generate HTML, PDF and ePub front-ends that make documentation kind of fun.  It’s free and it looks fantastic, even on a mobile device.  Did I say this happens automatically?  If you have five minutes, check out their screencast.

We recently revamped our tutorials and getting started guides to use reStructuredText and readthedocs.org.  In the future, we plan on getting more tutorials and guides published using these technologies.  Documentation is fun again!

ARMstrap on Adafruit Show and Tell 10-12-2013

Thank you to Adafruit for having ARMstrap on their Show and Tell.  Click on the thumbnail below to see our cameo.  Adafruit has their Show and Tell every Saturday at 9:30PM EST.

What do you think about the presentation?  Do you have any questions?  Click here to join us on our discussion page.

Adafruit Show and Tell Thumbnail

ARMstrap OX 1.0.0 released!

rectangle-pennyCompatible with Apple Mac OSX, Ubuntu Linux, and Microsoft Windows

By integrating the JTAG board with the ARMstrap OX, Linux, Mac and Windows users can flash and debug their ARM project without the need of an external JTAG adapter.  The ARMstrap OX enumerates as a serial device, freeing the user from needing to install an expensive, proprietary driver.

Onboard JTAG gives you fast, raw resource access

Integration between the 168 MHz ARM Cortex M4 processor and a popular open-source JTAG implementation called the Black Magic Probe from Black Sphere Technologies makes debugging easy.

Maker / Entrepreneur Friendly

The ARMstrap OX uses 0805-sized SMT components and has a breadboard-friendly layout, allowing for quick and easy prototyping.  Schematics and board layout files are always open-source and free to use for any purpose.

Click here to get more information or if you are interested in buying one.

Click here if you have questions or would like to see what others are saying about the product.

ARMing the Next-Generation Engineer