Smartphone devices are as valuable as there are some useful apps there. So I started wondering if there are electronics/microcontroller-related apps that could be useful in daily work. Let’s see what we can find in an in-app store. First of all, we are interested in free apps. Search on AVR microcontrollers gave me coupe results: AVR Fuse Calculator and Using Atmega128 apps. Let’s see what they are capable of.
Simple USART routines are not always practical because waiting transmitting buffer to be ready in a simple loop occupies processor resources. If we do not know when data will be received, we are just wasting resources inside the waiting loop. Another issue arises when multiple data bytes have to be sent/received. In this case, we have to write complex code to deal with the data flow. Since the microcontroller’s specialty is interrupting, it is better to use them to handle communications, improving overall performance and energy saving. Instead of continuously checking if there new data received in the UDR register or checking if send buffer is free, lets us write a more effective USAR communication code with a guardian, which would wake the MCU if it has received a byte via USART. On the other hand, Interrupt mode allows performing other tasks at total capacity while waiting for USART interrupt. Let us implement interrupt driven AVR USART communication example.
STM32F103R board is a simple and easy development board to learn STM32 microcontroller programming. Its heart is an STM32F103RBT6 ARM Cortex-M3 microcontroller with 128K of Flash and 20K of SRAM memory. It can be clocked at the maximum 72MHz frequency and considered a medium-density performance line microcontroller. Other features include USB, CAN, seven timers, 2ADCs, and nine communication interfaces. The Development board has several excellent features to get started. First of all, it has an RS232 interface for communicating and accessing the bootloader. There also is a USB 2.0 full-speed interface connector that also can work as the power supply. Next is a JTAG connector to program microcontroller using tools like a J-Link adapter. Two pushbuttons and two programmable LEDs are hardwired to MCU pins alongside all I/Os connectors.
The nearest star from Earth is Sun. And it emits a massive amount of energy, which is free. No surprise, many people try to get most of it at a minimal cost. Photovoltaic solar panels still have low efficiency and yet are quite expensive. Every day we hear how their effectiveness is increased by introducing new technologies. Anyway, solar panels require direct Sun, which in some regions doesn’t appear very often. So how can we get this energy with almost no initial cost? The easiest way to do so is to build a solar thermal collector. You can find lots of high efficient commercial collectors. They look great and, at some level, works in the wintertime when Sun shines. I decided to go simpler. I need hot water only in spring, summer, and fall. In the wintertime, I burn wood to heat the house and so water. I usually boiled water using an electric boiler in the summertime, which generates excellent bills at the end of the month. No more… So I started this project, which is still in the testing phase. But seems to work fine. Let’s go through the build process to make a simple solar collector using…
Probably some of you are struggling in finding a proper LCD driver that would work on any circuit. I just wanted to point out that I found some time to improve my current LCD library to support a mixed pin connection case. Earlier, you had to connect LCD in a pretty strict way where pins had to be aligned and attached to a single AVR port. Sometimes this can’t be done for various reasons – you want to use those pins for other alternative functions, or you want to trace your PCB better, etc. In this updated version of the library, there are two more modes added: LCD_4BIT_M and LCD_8BIT_M that allow controlling LCDs either in 4 or 8-bit mode but with any pin connection layout. So data pins and control pins can be connected to any PIN and any port. A couple of examples should give some clue on how to start using it. If you used this library for some project, you only need to modify the header file while the project source code can remain the same.
When building an AVR DDS2 signal generator, there were many discussions about signal conditioning in the analog part of the device. The first argument was that LM358 wasn’t the best choice for this purpose. Another one pointed to the sine wave that wasn’t smooth enough. As you can see, there are some dents on it. Other waveforms also are distorted, especially when higher voltages are selected. This asks for a better analog part. Some people suggested replacing LM358 with OPA2134, but it seems to be quite an expensive choice. In my opinion, low noise, a general-purpose op-amp can be great too. I’m going to give a try to Texas Instruments TL074 low noise op-amp. It is low power, high slew rate (13V/us) IC – almost five times faster than LM358 and for the same reasonable price.
STM32F103ZET6 board comes with 3.2 inches graphical LCD which features an ILI9320 controller. Equipped LCD is capable of displaying 252144 colors when driven in 18-bit mode. We are going to run it in 16-bit mode, so we are limiting it to 65K colors. LCD driver is based on the existing code found on the internet, originally developed for the STM3210E board. Only minor modifications were needed, like assigning the proper control pins.
In many situations, when working with STM32 microcontrollers, you will want to output text strings. There is no need to write specialized functions that output specially formatted strings as it is hard to keep up with various cases. It is convenient to use standard I/O streams and their library functions that allow sending formatted data streams. Arm GCC toolchain comes with the newlib C library from Redhat, so it isn’t specially designed for the embedded toolchain. To use stdio functions, we have to take care of several syscals so-called “stub functions.” These functions usually are provided by operating systems like you would write C programs in Windows or Linux. In our case, we aren’t using any OS, so to avoid error messages while compiling, we have to provide these function declarations where most of them are dummy implementations. It’s not something new pick one that you find on the internet. I noticed that it was written for STM32 Discovery. I named it newlib_stubs.c and placed it in the startup directory. Among system functions implementations like _write(), _fstat(), etc., there are also USARTs assigned to standard streams:
In the previous example, we implemented a simple demo program that reads buttons by continually checking their status in the main program loop. This isn’t an efficient and convenient way to do that. Imagine your application has to do lots of tasks, and in between, you also need to check button status – mission becomes impossible unless you use interrupts. In this part, we briefly introduce to STM32F10x interrupt system and write example code where LEDs and buttons are serviced within interrupts. ARM Cortex-M3 microcontrollers have an advanced interrupt system that is pretty easily manageable. All interrupts are controlled inside Nested Vectored Interrupt Controller (NVIC), close to the Cortex core, to ensure low latency and robust performance. Main features of NVIC include:
Last time we have made a good starting point with setting up a project template for the STM32F103ZET6 development board using GNU tools. Using the same project template, we can move forward and start programming other elements. This time a quick note about adding a button library. This is a modest implementation that initializes port pins and then reads their status. The Development board is equipped with four user-programmable buttons named WAKEUP, TAMPER, USER1, and USER2. We will not care about the meaning of names; use them as general-purpose buttons for now.