HD Youtube video: http://youtu.be/5-xgkBGxoTc
At it’s core, engineering is a highly creative, interactive, and inventive process that everyone should be able to benefit from as an outlet. If there is one thing we’ve learned in our lives and at our jobs, it’s that engineering is hard, and everybody seems to know it. But why is this?
The difficulty is that there simply aren’t enough options for entry, and almost none that satisfy the full spectrum of novice, intermediate, and expert engineering challenges. So we have made it our mission to fill that void. We have developed a tool for both beginners to learn on, and experts to develop with, and we call it the PiSoC.
What is the PiSoC?
The PiSoC is a way for you to create incredibly complex things, without incredibly complex code. It makes creating electronics fun and easy.
At it's core, the PiSoC is an electronics development platform that allows your software to interact with the physical world. These interactions can be extremely complex and sophisticated in their outcome, but making it happen can be exceedingly simple (or not! it is really up to you!)
No more trying to understand Arduino code when your time is better spent inventing! The PiSoC gives you all the power you could ask for, with none of the hold backs. It's more flexible than most other electronics platforms, while still being easy to use at every step. This allows it to grow with you.
The key difference between the PiSoC and a traditional microcontroller or development kit is that we have developed it as more than a piece of hardware that you must learn every tiny detail about. We developed it as an interface through which you have access to hardware from whichever platform you are most comfortable with, so that you are never set back trying to get up to speed.
This means that you no longer have to learn an entirely new environment or programming language to start building cool things. You can simply enter the world of electronics with your current understanding, and continue learning more of what you care about, and less of what you don’t.
It means that you can take your already working applications, and easily incorporate a physical element without extensive modification to your existing work.
It means that someone can understand and learn how hardware works at the same rate that they are able to learn software.
What can you make with the PiSoC?
The short answer to that question is nearly anything. While there was a lot of fun engineering that went into the hardware and underlying firmware that we are presenting, our favorite part about working on this has always been designing applications. Check out just a few of our favorites:
Capacitive 1-wire touch sensing, no extra wires needed:
We have more projects on our blog, and will continue adding more throughout the Kickstarter, so check back often!
We believe too much of the world is hidden behind lock and key these days. There are too few opportunities to open things up and see what’s inside. So of course, we just wouldn't feel right hiding our work from our backers. We want to teach electronics after all, right? With Arduino shield and Pmod compatibility, you'll never have to buy expensive proprietary add-ons.
We already have user guides and example code for getting the board up and running, and we will continue to generate documentation for each of the demonstration projects we made, all of which will be open source, and available on our github. In fact, some of it already is, like the actual board design files, our firmware, and our APIs. This allows you to use this board all the way from a prototyping kit to a full commercial product.
We are currently pilot testing the PiSoC through a work shopping process where we have visited seven local elementary schools in the NY capital region, thanks to another local company, SmartKidsNY. This has been a fantastic experience and has absolutely given us the feedback we needed to truly make the PiSoC experience as easy and as natural as possible.
We have taught over 500 third and fourth grade students how to write programs, build games, and of course, how to hack them.
These kids have absolutely no prior experience with development of technology. In fact, each of these workshops must be preceded by an explanation of what programming even is. But armed with only that knowledge, they always succeeded in creating something they are proud of, and they never stop asking for more. Something must be working…
Using your PiSoC
This is the fun part! As you might have guessed by now, there are lots of ways to approach this. We want to make sure that no one is left guessing when they get their PiSoC, so let’s start from the beginning and see what we can do!
The most approachable entry point will definitely be our Scratch interface, and even that has a couple of options. You can get yourself started on the Raspberry Pi's Scratch 1.4 environment, or you can use our Scratch 2.0 extension on your PC.
Just by this picture, you are probably able to intuitively understand the nature of Scratch, and how powerful it can be. The fundamental strength of this interface is that it introduces people to the concepts of programming, instead of the details.
It teaches people how to think like a programmer, even if they don't know how to "program" in a conventional sense. Because of the vocabulary used in the language, the geometry of the "blocks", and the immediate feedback it provides, this is an undeniably effective learning tool. We will have a lot more tutorials coming to walk you through Scratch, regardless of your starting skill level.
This is our personal favorite. Python is an incredibly powerful, and syntactically elegant language that lets you design programs almost as easily as you can think them up. With the PiSoC, Python has a new best friend.
You can take a quick look at our public documentation to see *everything* that is available through our Python interface, but just a few examples include: PWM, analog input, analog output, digital I/o, capacative sensing/touch sensors, ultrasonic range finding, strip lights control, and a lot more.
Take a look at our blog post on building a fruit piano to get a better understanding of just how easy this is to use.
And a description wouldn't be complete without some code snippets. Here is an example of a simple voltage monitoring program, it really does not get much easier.
Python is fantastic because even without programming experience, it is easy to follow. The language is so well designed that one can understand the program flow just by reading and interpreting it in plain English. And you can use this very same interface on your Raspberry Pi or PC!
This means you can comfortably design and test your programs on your PC, and then throw them on your Raspberry Pi and let it go!
This one is fun because it goes all the way with the idea of a visual programming interface. LabVIEW is used all the time in commercial environments and in education to teach systems programming and data acquisition.
Well, the PiSoC is perfectly suited for those things so it was a natural extension to include. Check out some tutorials on how to get started with LabVIEW and the PiSoC!
This one gives you an opportunity to dig as deep as you possibly can into the hardware itself. If you choose to get started with PSoC Creator, you'll be ready for some serious Engineering, but don't be afraid!
You can go ahead and download PSoC Creator from Cypress right now and experiment with it or look at example projects, even without the board. Make sure to take a look at all the components to see just how much you can do right out of the box.
Want to make a quick and dirty 16-channel ADC? No problem, just drop the Analog multiplexer into your project, configure it for 16 inputs, and connect its output to the ADCs input. Want to buffer a Voltage DAC? Easy. Just connect it to an Op-amp in the follower configuration.
Then how do you use them? Simple! Just refer to the components datasheet and read up on it's Application Programming Interface, which you can access by right clicking the component.
There you have it. It really is as simple as that. This kind of environment gives the programmer an incredible sense of vision when designing complex systems. You can quickly and easily understand and design your system architecture before you even begin programming.
The board utilizes Cypress Semiconductor's PSoC 5LP (Datasheet), a programmable system on a chip, which combines a micro controller, programmable analog and digital logic in one chip. It has an ARM Cortex M3 CPU with 128KB of flash. Our board can be used as a standalone microcontroller, a data acquisition/instrumentation device, or in conjunction with the Raspberry Pi or your PC as a hardware accessory. This opens up endless possibilities! Not to mention that PSoC is used in many commercial products, ensuring a reliability most other chips cannot commit to.
The PiSoC+ (Datasheet), formally the RPiSoC, adds more power, in the form of a Delta Sigma 20bit ADC, an extra 12bit SAR ADC, two more DACs, and 256KB of Flash. If you don't know what any of this means, the regular PiSoC already has more features than nearly all other development boards (reconfigurable pins and programmable analog and digital logic!), so you won't be left wanting.
The PiSoC is ready for production but we need your support to take it to the next level. We need initial funding to support a first production run at a reasonable cost.
If we are successful, we intend to continue selling these boards to parents, electronics hobbyists, and educators. Ultimately, we intend to bring this board into a classroom setting. We believe that giving children an opportunity to create cool things, while exposing them to the fundamentals of engineering is a powerful way to cultivate a scientifically literate world. And we see enormous benefit in giving engineering students early exposure to a commercially viable embedded solution, the PSoC, through an interface that is as accessible as possible.
Our current timeline is:
- January to Present - Pilot test PiSoC's at Elementary Schools
- May - Launch Kickstarter
- June - Test final PiSoC revision
- July - Begin production
- August - Create further content and curriculum for backers and teachers
- September - Send to fulfillment centers
- October - Receive your PiSoC!
- After that - More projects, new expansion peripherals, cheaper and simpler boards!
In the shorter term, we plan to develop new hardware modules, new interfaces, and new project kits in an effort to create an ecosystem around the PiSoC that is as natural and as accessible as possible. And of course, every step of the way we will continue to generate documentation so that you never feel lost.
So that is our plan going forward, but while this Kickstarter is still happening we will continue to develop software and tutorials for YOU to use, and we will provide frequent updates here and on our website as we do so. So stay tuned!
So how about the people behind this project? They are:
Robert Barron. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Computer and Systems Engineering at RPI. This is the third startup he's worked in, and the first he co-founded. New York is the only place that works at his speed.
Brian Bradley. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from RPI as well. His concentration is in Robotics and Control, but embedded applications have always been a devoted hobby of his. He is from Albany NY, and during the winters you can find him on the mountains, skiing at any chance he gets.
Arlen Strausman received his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Music Theory and Composition from Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. At school Arlen focused mostly on game development and the study of game A.I. He is an Albany native who enjoys playing music or tossing frisbees in his spare time.
Also special thanks to the RPI Severino Center, RPI Design Lab, Smartkids NY, Natwin Consulting, Cypress, all of our supporters from last year, and of course the elementary schools and students who helped shape what Embedit is today.
Help us spread the word!
On Twitter - https://twitter.com/embedit_pisoc
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Risks and challenges
Delivering on time. No matter how far we plan in advance, it is always possible the boards will not be delivered to you on time for various reasons. Manufacturing, part sourcing, and fulfillment delays are all possible. With that said, we have made sure all of our parts are available from multiple distributors.
We are also working with a local company for assembly right at our doorstep in Troy, NY. We have already worked with them to make several prototypes, and have personally been to the facility on numerous occasions. We have also talked to a number people about their fulfillment experiences, especially related to shipping, so we should be able to avoid their mistakes! To that end, shipping costs will not increase, no hidden fees!
Finally, we have been testing multiple iterations of the PiSoC for over a year now under a number of unique usage conditions, but as is the case with every product coming to market, it is always possible that there might exist a flaw that we didn't notice. To that end, we have been making sure to get our test batches into as many hands as possible to ensure it is as solid as it can be. The board has been reviewed by Cypress PCB design engineers, engineering professors and consultants at RPI, and we have even sent a batch of 22 boards to Element 14 where they have been used in their "Forget Me Not" Challenge where participants were challenged to make great and sophisticated Internet of Things projects. Furthermore, we have put these boards into the hands of 500 3rd and 4th graders, and they came out without a scratch. That said, we are always ready to improve should anyone have any feedback.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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