Electronex and Robot Wars

Last Thursday, I managed to get myself down to the local Electronex expo for the day, an Electronic exhibition aimed at the trade industry. I’m not in the target market for such an event (made all the more painfully obvious by the lack of interest by some of the stall vendors after seeing me) but it was an interesting experience nonetheless.

I came away very, very impressed by the cheap new Agilent 2000 X-Series Oscilloscopes, which seem to offer great features and performance for a reasonably low price point. The killer feature for me was the inbuilt lab/help function, which would simulate various signals and walk you through the process of setting up the scope to diagnose the particular problem under test. I do wish  my University bought up those instead of the much more expensive Techtronic scopes we have now, which have a several-minute long start-up time. What those bleeding things are doing for the two minutes you have to wait I don’t know, but I do know that a dedicated embedded piece of equipment shouldn’t be so damn slow for that amount of money.

After the expo, I caught up with the Melbourne AVRFreaks members, for another one of our occasional bar nights. As I learned from Norway, the best engineers are drunk engineers, although we all managed to keep ourselves fairly sober this time. It’s really great to sit down and have a long talk with like-minded people whose eyes don’t glaze over at the mention of “Microcontroller” every so often.

Over the last few weeks I’ve also been visiting some local high schools with some of my University’s EE staff, who are giving long spiels extolling the benefits of a career in engineering (at Latrobe University, of course). In my first year the Electronic Engineering department had a good 50-60 students starting out, however this has been in decline – a general trend if public figures are to be believed – for several years now, and with just 30 odd new EE students this year the department has decided to start taking action. It’s a real shame to see such a lack of interest; Latrobe has lots of great equipment mostly sitting idle as no young people want to create any more, just consume. As part of the talk we are demonstrating my final year project and a past student Segway-style balancing robot, which is rather unfortunate as the bloody mongrels’ first instinct is to try to have an impromptu “Robot Wars” with them. It’s only a matter of time before I’ll have to present a pile of rubble at the end of the year instead of my completed project.

Speaking of my robot, the construction has gone rather nicely. My lecturer managed to knock up a front hinge and clip assembly out of plastic using our new cheap 3D printer in only an hour or so, which greatly sped things up. Right now I’m still busy coding up the missing bits of the project. right now this is just the incomplete Bluetooth services – everything else works just fine – although the code as it stands now is already uploaded for public scrutiny. It’s incomplete, so be nice.

Working on the robot code has given me a better sense of how other people are approaching LUFA; when working on the USB library proper, the demos are understandably focused on the stack itself. Now that it’s just a small component of my larger project, I can get a feel of how it can be integrated into a larger system, as well as the shortcomings of the current design. I’ve got lots of great ideas I want to implement, but sadly my University project comes first. After getting some mysterious crashes in the HID joystick management code of the robot when a PS3 controller was inserted, I’ve discovered and (I think) fixed an issue in the HID parser which I’ve yet to commit to the public repository.

I hope everyone doesn’t think I’ve abandoned LUFA – I realize that not a whole lot has happened to the source in a few weeks now, but as I say above this is due to my focus being shifted towards finishing off my degree. Next week I’ll be QA’ing a new branch which should eventually form a full release next month, currently targeted for the 9th of October. Expect more news on the beta when it’s ready for public testing.

I got a few emails this week pointing out Microchip’s new $1000 bounty on an open source USB stack which apparently also includes a port of LUFA to their platform. It’s nice to see companies reaching out to users, but my personal opinion here is that Microchip are completely bonkers if they think that “only” $1000 will get them a complete, functional USB stack. Mind you, I stand to make a decent amount of money if LUFA is ported over in commercial licenses, but I don’t have the equipment, time or proper incentive to have a go at it myself right now.



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Vital Stats

  • 33 Years Old
  • Australian
  • Lover of embedded systems
  • Firmware engineer
  • Self-Proclaimed Geek

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