Getting Started w/PIC Microcontrollers - advice, please?

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PICmeUp
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Getting Started w/PIC Microcontrollers - advice, please?

Post by PICmeUp » Wed Jul 09, 2008 5:57 am

I am designing and building a remote-controlled filming device (similar to a CAMCAT®) as an independent project at my high-school. I have been working hard on this project for many months, and recently finished debugging the proof of concept. This fully functioning prototype has been used now in filming two stage productions. I am now moving on to version two, which I plan to build around PIC micro-controllers.

v2.0 Description:
Version two of the system will be controlled by the user at a base station by a combination of joysticks and buttons. The station will also include an interface for setup such as channel travel, centering, joystick position vs. motor position curves, and velocity/position control selection, as well as a screen to view the live video signal. Data will be sent wirelessly from the base station to a traveling carriage, where it will be decoded to control the motor drivers. As in the prototype, the carriage will be suspended on taut cables and will hold the camera, electronics, and motors. Power will be supplied through the carrying cables, also as in the prototype.

Question:
Being new to programming micro-controllers, I am unsure quite where to start. I have done extensive programming in VB6, and I am well-versed in electrical engineering. I already own the Microchip ICD 2, and mikroC (www.mikroe.com), and have done good research into development boards. However, each time I search again, I find something new. Because of this, I am still unsure what hardware to get.

I am considering MikroeElectronika's EasyPIC5, but I'm unsure if this will be the best choice. What development hardware would you recommend to a new user who learns quickly? - something that will hopefully continue to be useful for some time, and not exorbitantly priced, as I am doing this project on a shoestring budget.

Thanks in advance!

Craig
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Post by Craig » Wed Jul 09, 2008 7:06 am

Hi,

I recommend reading Chuck Hellebuyck's column Getting Started with PICs. I have been following them since they started in January 2006 and have found them to be a great resource. I have been able to build several projects based on his articles, and have also improved on a couple of his designs (like the hockey scoreboard).

I have the MikroElectronics EasyPIC4 board, but have found it much easier to build my own layouts on a breadboard (Chuck explains how to do this in detail in his columns). Once you get the in-circuit serial programming going it's really quick and easy.

Do you have access to the back issues of N&V?

Craig

PICmeUp
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Getting Started w/PIC Microcontrollers - advice, please?

Post by PICmeUp » Wed Jul 09, 2008 7:20 am

Thanks for the tip. I'll take a look...

Yes, I have back-issues since Nov. 2006.

Do you think it would be easier for me to build my own setups even when using such devices as CF cards and graphical LCD's?

Engineer1138
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Post by Engineer1138 » Wed Jul 09, 2008 8:09 am

You're doing this in high school?? I'm impressed. My undergraduate EE final year project wasn't remotely this complex.
Heck, even the software projects I did in grad school were simpler than this.

My hat's off to you. More so if you can get it done by the time you graduate!

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GoingFastTurningLeft
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Post by GoingFastTurningLeft » Wed Jul 09, 2008 9:04 am

lol, what are they doing still teaching VB6? I thought only 3rd world programmers still use it :lol:

I believe that's what we used when I was in high school about 9 years ago. Even then, all they taught us was how to read a text file and perform simple logical operations.

I would recommend upgrading to VB 2005 express... it's free, much more current, and it's been around for a few years so there's lots of examples out there. Most examples for VB .NET work as well.

http://www.microsoft.com/express/2005/

Craig
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Post by Craig » Wed Jul 09, 2008 9:13 am

There's a newer version out, VB 2008: http://www.microsoft.com/express/vb/default.aspx

PICmeUp
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Getting Started w/PIC Microcontrollers - advice, please?

Post by PICmeUp » Thu Jul 10, 2008 7:38 am

Hi all,
Thanks for the VB advice.

I was actually originally asking about PIC development boards. If you read my original post (top of the page), I'm considering MikroElektronika's EasyPIC5 board. I'm wondering: considering the requirements of my project - graphical LCD, 7-seg. LCD or LED, CF card usage, different types of PICs - will this board make development considerably easier (compared to building my own circuits or to some other board).

Again, I have plenty of electrical engineering knowledge, and programming practice with VB, but I would like to be able to focus mainly on the PIC-related development.

gerty
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Post by gerty » Thu Jul 10, 2008 9:24 am

I have the Easypic 4 and 5 here for my students, we love them!
It makes it easy to prototype just about any circuit including lcd.
It's an elective here, and we've not been into pics for too long ,roughly 8 months. It's a learning process for all involved, I can handle the circuitry
but the programming is giving me fits,we're using mokrobasic.
The only thing that needs to be modified on the EP5 is to be mounted on some sort of insulating board. I had a student who left a scrap of wire on his bench and it shorted the traces on the backside ( bottom) of the board. There was no damage done, but it caused his project to no work untill he found it. It did however help to sharpen his troubleshooting skills.
The EP 5 is powered from the USB port or can be powered from an independant supply, it has a lot of other good features.

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Getting Started w/PIC Microcontrollers - advice, please?

Post by PICmeUp » Thu Jul 10, 2008 12:05 pm

gerty,

Thanks for the great info. I think I'll mount the board on an insulator first thing if when I get it.

Is it the MikroBasic that's giving you problems? I was thinking of using MikroC...

Since you seem to be working through the learning curve, is there anything else that I should know, look out for, try out, etc?

gerty
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Post by gerty » Thu Jul 10, 2008 6:34 pm

What we've been doing is using the examples and going through the code line by line. We then modify the code to see if we get the expected results. They have several examples for about 6-8 different pics, I'd stick with them until I was more comfortable. We also found that getting the 40 pin pic (16F877a) out of the socket was a pain, so we bought a ZIF socket and plugged directly into to existing socet. Now it's just a flip of the lever and it'll fall out. As far as the Mikrobasic, the only programming I ever had experience with was Allen Bradley PLC-2 (about 20 years ago) so the language was totally foriegn to me. For me it's been a slow progress, especially learning the terminology. Mikroe has a few downloadable books so that helps, plus I've been on a few forums begging help and getting it.
Watch your jumpers/osc when changing pic types, there's a jumper/osc layout for the EP 5 in the manual.
Have fun.

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Getting Started w/PIC Microcontrollers - advice, please?

Post by PICmeUp » Fri Jul 11, 2008 4:23 am

gerty,

That's just the kind of summary/advice I've been looking for. Thank you!

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