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Texas Instruments Educational Boosterpack II - Review

Scoring

Product Performed to Expectations: 10
Specifications were sufficient to design with: 9
Demo Software was of good quality: 8
Product was easy to use: 6
Support materials were available: 10
The price to performance ratio was good: 10
TotalScore: 53 / 60
  • RoadTest: Texas Instruments Educational Boosterpack II
  • Buy Now
  • Evaluation Type: Independent Products
  • Was everything in the box required?: Yes - null
  • Comparable Products/Other parts you considered: This is the first TI boosterpack I have used, so there are not other possible alternatives I had the option to put the hands on. Instead respect the TI launchpad, the "brain" and base of the entire ecosystem, in theory comparable alternatives are other microcontrollers like Arduino, LinkIt One and other devices but in my opinion by a technical point of view there is nothing to do with this board. I should admit that considering all the aspects including price and features the launchpad is impressive.
  • What were the biggest problems encountered?: The biggest problems has been some software issued in the development kit libraries that needed some days to be set working correctly.

  • Detailed Review:

    Package content

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    This road test is focused on the TI Launchpad MSP432TI Launchpad MSP432 board and one of the components of the ecosystem rotating around this device: the Educational BoosterPack MKII As I am used in many other cases, the box including the bare hardware and a small instructions single paper sounds absolutely normal. Both the devices appears very well done and the first look perception is really nice.

    A very appreciate detail is that the included paper shows the essential information to manage the board; the same document can be downloaded from the launchpad TI site too, but having it printed has been very useful in more than one case.

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    After the justified enthusiasm, the next step is to power-on the printer and see what happens


    Introduction to the MSP-EXP432P401R launchpad board

    The first attention was to the MSP-EXP432P401R launchpad board. It's small and complete, with some appreciable components. My personal opinion is a class A development device very good for teaching, advanced makers and engineers and in the meantime may result very useful for all those that are affording the first approach to the world of micro controllers; in a good balance between a lot of performances and a very good price.

    Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 18.29.53.png Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 18.30.06.png

    The availability of the design files in different formats including board and schematics for Eagle (and the gerber files too), makes this board the ideal base for the development of any custom project.

     

    • MSP432 Low-Power + Performance 32-bit MCU
    • A total of 40 exposed PINs; some of them become reserved when one or more boards of BoosterPack Ecosystemare added to the launchpad board (the BoosterPack boards are stackable).
    • 8 analog-in ports
    • 1 available UART (Tx/Rx)
    • 2 capture timers
    • 5 PWM
    • 1 SPI bus (with three dedicated CS PINs)
    • 1 I2C bus
    • Reset PIN
    • 2 GND PINs
    • +3.3 V power line
    • +5 V power line
    • The remaining PINs are standard GPIO, interrupt capable

     

    Most of the dedicated PINs (i.e. SPI, PWM, UART etc.) can be used as GPIO PINs as well.

    Special attention has been put to the low energy capabilities that are not only peculiar of the MSP432P401R microcontroller but also the entire launchpad board. As a matter of fact it is surprisingly that the board is built in two parts. The bottom half respect the micro USB connector is the launchpad board while the top half is the circuit of the XDS110-ET on-board emulator including the Energy Trace Technology implementation. This design can incredibly simplify the development and debug process, always with special attention to the power consumption.

    More in-depth details on the launchpad board can be found on the ti.com site at the following link: MSP432P401R LaunchPad - MSP-EXP432P401R - TI Tool Folder (maybe you should be registered to access the technical details of the site products and devices).

     

    What happens running a project based on this board to the emulator and the energy trace circuit board ? The two half boards (or, better the two boards on the same PCB) can be isolated through a series of jumpers converting the board from a lab development kit to a effective prototype working board. The jumper settings are shown in the table below.

    Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 18.35.56.png

    Based on the first tests I have done on the board, without connecting an external component the entire system was full responding with high stability. This board demonstrated very good performances also with A/D conversion  supporting up to 14 bits thanks to the 14-bit SAR ADC, capacitive touch, comparator.

     

     

    To simplify the usage of the board with any project, the 40 PINs headers are replicated on the top and bottom side of the board while - a detail not included in many other development kit boards - the all other unused PINs of the micro controller are accessible on a unpopulated fanout along a side of the board.

     

    Introduction to the Educational BoosterPack MKII

    Confirming the first impression I had unpacking the board the term Educational is very well deserved. A relatively small board including a well designed educational lab that can replace a variety of single shields. The MKII list of the available sensors and components is impressing:

     

    • 2 user programmable push buttons
    • 2 axis analog joystick with pushbutton
    • 1  good quality microphone
    • 1 colo TFT LCD graphic display
    • 40 pin stackable connectors (to the side of the LCD display) to plug the BoosterPack in the launchpad board
    • 1 buzzer
    • 1 RGB LED
    • 1 3-axis accelerometer
    • 1 3-PINs servo motor connector
    • 2 capacitive connectors (GND and PIN)
    • 1 temperature sensor based on the TMP006, high resolution sensor
    • 1 light sensor OPT3001, very far from the light sensing variable resistors we find in many projects. With this light sensor there is a wider range and it is possible to use if for many applications including - for example - a light exposimeter

     

    IMG_20151120_191907.jpg

    MKII Pros

    The educational BoosterPack has been tested and all the components worked fine in different configurations. All these components on a single board with the advantage of simplicity to plug it in the launchpad is very useful for experimenting; I think that just the two components, a PC and the USB cable to connect the kits to the computer without extra cables, breadboard etc. makes this product, first of all ideal for educational purposes.

    Making an almost complex project another appreciable aspect of the board is the distribution of the components making is a really usable tool.

    As well as the launchpad alto the Educational BoosterPack MKII is open source and on the ti.com site (the MKII page link is  Educational BoosterPack MKII - BOOSTXL-EDUMKII - TI Tool Folder) a large number of downloadable documentation is available that I rarely find on other dev kits. Depending on the reader target it is possible to fin easy to use documentation, first steps and detailed application notes up to the datasheet of every used component.

    Should be noted that also that making several tests on the launchpad board with the BoosterPack plugged in it is not difficult to find other available analog and digital PINs available as well as PWM outputs and analog inputs. By this point of view the MKII really represent a full working almost complete development and experimenting lab.

     

    MKII Cons

    The MKII board has demonstrated to have not serious issues and all the components worked fine. In my opinion, maybe it was the case to add two servo pin headers instead of only one; this limits the use of a single servo for simple experiments. There is the advantage that all the PINs used by the MKII are anyway accessible from the launchpad free header connectors.

    Another really noisy detail is the association of the buzzer to a PIN. This reduces the usage of a PWM output and it is impossible to disable it. Developing a test project with the boards I had to desolder the buzzer to have the PWM output free without the associated noise while generating frequencies.

    When the BoosterPack is plugged on the launchpad board unfortunately the reset button, natively present only on the launchpad board, is hidden by the board and it is impossible to access to it. If a hardware reset should be sent to the board, it is needed to use the reset pin.

     

    Software tools and examples

    There is an appreciable and interesting aspect in the software tools available to develop on the TI launchpad and the ecosystem: the availability of different kind os development platforms to support beginners and advanced developers. The two most interesting tools covering both the possibilities are Energiahttp://www.ti.com/tool/ENERGIA?keyMatch=energia%20software%20download&tisearch=Search-EN-Everything and Code Composer Studio. The first tool is a customised derivation from the popular Arduino IDE, running on all the desktop platforms Linux, OSX and Windows while the second runs on Windows only and is a customised version of the Eclipse IDE integrating the launchpad on-board debugger and a plugin to manage the proprietary Energy Tracking Technology.

    With Code Composer Studio it is possible to develop complex and structured projects exploiting all the potential of the launchpad board.

    For the beginners, eventually used to the Arduino class micro controllers, there is Energia. It is a well known development tool that has been revised (and in most of the parts totally rewritten). The Eneriga setup installs all what is needed to start immediately developing with the launchpad and the BoosterPack MKII.

     

    The Energia IDE worked fine with almost all the included examples but a blocking issue makes impossible to use the colour LCD display of the BoosterPack MKII. The post TI Educational Boosterpack MK II and Energia, part of this road test, discusses the issue and a workaround to solve the display bug.

     

    Playing with the TI BoosterPack MKI

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    To experiment the features of the two boards I have developed the TiltPan Moving Camera prototype, GoPro version exploring the features of these two components of the TI BoosterPack Echosystem in a real case. The video below is presenting the obtained results. A more detailed presentation of this project including the adopted software approach and the general performances will be discussed in a separate post.


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