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Review of Texas Instruments 430Boost-CC110L BoosterPack featuring  Anaren Integrated Radio (AIR) modules

Scoring

Product Performed to Expectations: 9
Specifications were sufficient to design with: 10
Demo Software was of good quality: 6
Product was easy to use: 4
Support materials were available: 6
The price to performance ratio was good: 10
TotalScore: 45 / 60
  • RoadTest: Texas Instruments 430Boost-CC110L BoosterPack featuring Anaren Integrated Radio (AIR) modules
  • Buy Now
  • Evaluation Type: Independent Products
  • Was everything in the box required?: No - I think for a realistic quick start there needed to be a bit more QA on the deliverables. Clearer packaging on which ICs had the default firmware for the demo and perhaps a barebones MSP flash utility for getting the firmware on the required IC.
  • Comparable Products/Other parts you considered: ZigBee XBee shield and Arduino.
  • What were the biggest problems encountered?: 1. Product needs better descriptions for the included ICs. It wasn't clear which of the ICs shipped were compatible with the firmware. 2. Need to QA the ICs beforehand to determine that the DEMO software was actually on them. 3. Make sure that all ICs. shipped were compatible with the firmware binaries. eg. You shipped two m430g2452 ICs which didn't really work with the prebuilt firmware which was compiled for the m430g2553 ICs. This wouldn't have been a problem if problem 2. was addressed. 4. No USB reset or host connection diagnostic on the AIR-Booster-Stack demo GUI made troubleshootin g more complex than it needed to be.

  • Detailed Review:

    The TI MSP430 IC series has been a favorite of mine for quite awhile. The cost to performance ratio for this development ecosytem is great for those folks, who like me, are turning to microcontrollers from traditional discreet ICs for common everyday tasks like sensor and servo control. When I heard that there was now a low cost AIR module for wireless applications I was incredibly exicited to roadtest. The cost versus other systems like the Xbee and Arduino kits was and is a huge draw for me.

     

    Other roadtest reviewers have covered photos and such for this kit, so allow me to add to that by saying that the build quality of the hardware is just great. TI and Anaren should be appluaded for a very thoughtful design of the PCB for both the Launchpad Dev Tool and the 430Boost-CC110L Booster Pack. You get really nice headers, leds, switches, jumpers, a power connector and extra ICs, all for about the price of the included usb cable. I can't stress enough how nice this hardware is considering the very low cost to the consumer.

     

    The included software, once you get it going, is really helpful in figuring out whether this kit is appropriate for your application. The application I'm working on is a remote sensor network for weather. How nice for me that the demo application source and the included binary are a basic remote temp display with a radio strength graph which quickly let me know how far I could go with the radios and still get a signal. The default max power of 10Dbm was more that adequete for coverage of my condo's windows and the host near my EM noisy PC.

     

    However,I think TI and Anaren should take a page from the world of ATMEL's AVR microcontroller ecosystem and realize that the growth of those chips and peripherals and their rapid adoption in the hobby and home electronics world is the wealth of easy IDEs for getting projects prototyped rapidly. The Processing and Wiring framework that give us the Arduino IDEis the kind of development environment hobbists and hardware hackers are expecting these days. The software development environment of Code Composer Studio is as complex as combersome as the IDEs of the 90s. While I applaud the ability to debug and step through code on the MSPs, getting all the library and IC ID's to line up and actually produce a working binary is a chore, and it is for this reason that this kit is probably not for beginners.  In fact I consider myself an accomplished software guy and it took me days of tinkering to get the Anaren demo build for the AirBoosterStack to compile. Since I'm impatient I had to find and use the Lite FET-Pro430 Elprotronic flasher to flash the ICs with the included firmware to even get the demo going intially. That software can be found here BTW: http://www.elprotronic.com/download.html and the firmware is tucked in the demo CD at \120124 - CD ROOT\CD ROOT\Firmware\_FactoryDefault\AirBoosterStack.txt Users will also need to ensure they are flashing the ICs with the M430G2553 serial# and not the included M430G2452 ICs if they want that firmware to flash without error.

     

    Getting support was also challenging. It's not that there isn't a lot of material, it's just the opposite there is a sea of PDFs to wade through to get to an understanding of a basic working build in code composer and no really definitive guide to integrating the demo sources into your workspace. I have yet to find a single concise source of tutorial and demo projects for these tools, Someone needs to prune and start moderating the wiki for these products to encourage more widespread usage and satisfaction there.

     

    Again I want to really emphasize that this hardware and price point are awesome and TI should be really proud of bringing this kind of product to market. However folks starting out in microcontrollers and embedded systems may want to wait until other IDE products like Energia https://github.com/energia/Energia/wiki  become more mature and support the MSP430 line and the AIR module more fully before diving in.

     

    TI and Anaren I hope that you'll continue polishing Code Composer Studio for the heavy duty users. But I hope that you both consider helping the open source community bring Energia up to feature parity with the Arduino IDE if you really want to move MSP430 Launchpad and AIR Booster Pack units and start nibbling away at the AVR userbase.

     

    As for my own weatherstation application I'll be very happy with the hardware quality and radio strength of these packages and will definately be using MSP430 and these AIR booster pack radios in future projects.

     

    TIPS:

    1. Get a firmware flasher and flash the ICs with the factory defaults to really quickstart your usage of the package.

    2. You may have to fiddle with USB connection / unplugging, plugging back in to get the AIRBoosterStack GUI to make the connection from host to pc. The button for restablishing the serial connection in that app doesn't seem to work.

    3. The radios are great. Really strong. In fact they are so strong that they may overdrive and distort the signal if they are too close. If you have trouble pairing the radios try moving them apart or putting some metal shielding between them to get them to initially pair. Another method is to connect each node to the pc and turn down the signal strength on each unit before pairing.

    4. Getting your head around which node is which can be confusing. Try naming each with easy recongizable unit ID in AirBoosterStack and turn on the LED for remote nodes to help.

    5. Make sure you have the MSP430 model with enough memory for this application, for instance the MSP430G2553. Some of the older ICs that ship with the Launchpad like the MSP430G2452 can be difficult to flash with the demo firmware, and even more tricky to build the demo project on.

    6. The MSP430 LaunchPad needs to have the jumpers for RXD an TXD on J3 flipped parallel to the header to work with the AIR Booster Pack this is the first time I've needed to do that for any MSP430 application and the demo definately doesn't work without that modification.

    7. On the sensor nodes you need to hit s2 three times wait for the led to nearest to flash three times then hold S2 again to pair with the host.  Make sure you take your finger off S2 after the LED closest to the switch begins radpidly flashing during pairing / discovery or pairing may fail.

    8. Have fun and remember how inexpensive this kit is before you get too upset or frustrated with the software! Cheers!


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