Sunday, June 22, 2014

Microcontroller Kits For Students

Microcontroller (MCU) kits for students are of great interest to me for several reasons, but primarily because the Humboldt Microcontrollers Group will be offering one or several 'Intro To Microcontrollers' sessions to any interested Humboldt State University (HSU) students this fall. Additionally, it will be great if we are able to connect with Humboldt County high school students to offer opportunities of interest to them for learning about MCUs.

(There are many middle school students doing cool things with microcontrollers. But there are only so many hours in a week, and a person has to make decisions about how to spend their limited time. My top 'student' priority for the Humboldt Microcontrollers Group is getting as many college and high school students involved with the region's microcontroller community because that makes it easier on parents -- people in those two groups often don't need to rely on parents for transportation. However...  If any middle school students are interested in learning more about microcontrollers, or want to teach us new microcontroller tricks, we'd be happy to have them at the bi-weekly meetings of the Humboldt Microcontrollers Group, and we'd be thrilled to work with middle school teachers to figure out how we could help with 'microcontroller basics' activities.)

So, back to MCU kits for students. I read an ARM press release yesterday about a new $50 'Lab-in-a-box' kits aimed at university students for DSP (digital signal processing) audio. While the focus of this kit isn't 'basics of microcontrollers,' it does include an STM32F4 Discovery microcontroller board from STMicroelectronics. The press release says:
"ARM and its Partners will start shipping a digital signal processing (DSP) 'Lab-in-a-Box' (LiB) to universities worldwide to help boost practical skills development and the creation of new ARM-based audio systems. This will include products such as high definition home media and voice-controlled home automation systems...LiB packages offer ARM-based technology and high quality teaching and training materials that support electronics and computer engineering courses. DSP courses have traditionally used software simulation packages, or hands-on labs using relatively expensive development kits costing around $300 per student. By comparison, this new DSP LiB...will cost around $50...The DSP kits, powered by ARM Cortex-M4-based processors, enable high performance yet energy-efficient digital signal processing at a very affordable price. We expect to see them being used by students to create commercially-viable audio applications."
It's not a 'bad' thing that above Lab-in-a-box isn't a 'basics of microcontrollers' kit. Many students may be a lot more interested in a kit focused on practical applications of microcontrollers, such as "high definition home media and voice-controlled home automation systems" than a kit that just teaches them microcontroller basics.

The next step for the Humboldt Microcontrollers Group regarding the ARM LiB kit is to contact a few instructors at Humboldt State University to find out if they are already working with ARM or one of its partners to obtain at least one LiB kit. If it appears no HSU faculty are already working on this, we can ask if they are interested in collaborating with us on an opportunity for HSU students to work with this kit. Two people at or near the top of my HSU list to contact about this are David Marshall and Ken Owens, who did a Robot Camp at HSU last week.

In the 'it's a small world' category, the Humboldt Microcontrollers Group will be an especially good partner for HSU or College of the Redwoods for working with the LiB kit. Just last week at the
Humboldt Makers meeting, John H did a fantastic talk and demo about audio with a single-board microcontroller. Part of John's talk focused on the Wolfson audio card, so the Humboldt Microcontroller community has someone already very knowledgeable about using the audio electronics in the LiB kit. The Wolfson / Raspberry Pi combo picture on the left is from an Engadet article talking about the Wolfson card.

There are other MCU resources aimed at students. Here are a few examples -- these are aimed primarily at universities:
If you know of other student-focused microcontroller programs or cost-effective kits, please send an email with a link or other info to arcatabob (at) gmail {dott} com. It would be great to create a list of good microcontroller student kits and programs for Humboldt students to choose from. I'd like to have at least three or four low-cost 'MCU Basics' kits for student intro sessions, and it would be nice to have three or four other higher-cost kits for more involved MCU projects or workshops.

Because most teachers aren't microcontroller experts, and because they are already responsible for cramming more 'stuff' into their class time than is humanly possible, the Humboldt Microcontrollers Group might be able to offer opportunities outside the classroom for students to learn how to use Arduinos and other microcontroller-focused electronics. 

If you're a student, an instructor, or a parent of a student in Arcata, Eureka, McKinleyville, Fortuna, Trinidad, Blue Lake or any of the other fine parts of the Humboldt region who is highly interested in electronics or microcontrollers, please contact me. We can discuss ways to get you or your student(s) more involved with the Humboldt microcontrollers community.


No comments:

Post a Comment