Microcontroller kits are simple educational tools for anyone wishing to start learning how to work with microcontrollers, or for hobbyists to build DIY robots. A long list with microcontrollers available on the market makes quite difficult the decision to choose between one microcontroller and another. In this article, I explore a series of microcontroller kits including here both hardware and software tools that can be used together with microcontrollers in order to embed systems and write programming code.
Before choosing a kit or another, would be helpful to establish the needs including here what programming language will be used, how much memory inside the microcontroller, how many programmable pins, what microcontroller can be suitable for the robotic project, which of the microcontroller kits have the best possible report between specifications and price, etc.
The process of choosing must pass through the selection of a large number of brands, a wide range of controllers, and complexity.
Abbreviations used for microcontroller are µC, uC and MCU.
Since microcontroller programming is still done in many ways as programming in the early 1980s, a large amount of documentation and examples could be used to build from simple to complex microcontroller programs.
Depending on the programming language supported, most manufacturers provide free development kits for their microcontrollers and comprehensive manuals with instructions and examples.
For a wide range of microcontrollers like PIC, AVR, MSP430, etc., are used C or assembler programming languages.
Assembly language was originally used for programming the microcontrollers, but since then various high-level programming languages like C or C++ are very common in the field.
If you’re looking inside a microcontroller you can find additional peripherals on-chip compared with a microprocessor. A microprocessor is designed to have control lines, address bus, and a data bus, which are generally used in personal computers, while a microcontroller is designed with peripheral I/O pins for embedded applications.
Regarding program execution, a microprocessor execute programming lines from external ROM compared with a microcontroller that uses the internal memory called ROM.
The number of the bits is an important feature of a microcontroller. On the market are available a series of microcontrollers that works on 8, 16, or 32 bits. In general, the 8 bit processor works on old architecture and is slower in execution compared with 16 or 32 bits. The number of the bits refers to the width of the data pipe, which is closely related to the precision of math and performance.
Each manufacturer builds different microcontrollers, which means a wide range of technologies underlying these small computers. Many hobbyists use the smaller BASIC stamp microcontroller since it can be programmed in a high-level language, while for a lower-level work a common choice are the PIC’s without on-board memory.
In this section of the article are available a wide range of microcontroller kits engineered for students, hobbyists, or even professional users.
- PICkit 3 Debug Express – complete flash microcontroller kit with support for debugging and programming PIC(R) and dsPIC(R);
- 8051 Development Boards – 8051 is a popular microcontroller among hobbyists, while this development board is a powerful tool that can be used for a wide range of Atmel 8051 microcontrollers;
- 8051 Microcontroller self learning kit – complete kit that can be used for students as well as for hobbyist to start working with 8051 microcontroller and embedded systems;
- AS3123KT – ATMEL 89 Series Programmer – software and hardware support for entire family of ATMEL 8051 microcontrollers. Using this completed kit, users can write programming lines, verify, test, write/erase the memory of the microcontroller;
- BeagleBone Black – Black comes with an open hardware for developers and hobbyists in order to develop embedded computer applications. The kit supports Linux, and with only a single USB cable the development can be started in minutes. A suite of software is available while the programming language supported is Java;
- Atmel AVR 8- and 32-bit – STK600 – AVR release on the market a complete starter kit designed to work with 8-bit and 32-bit AVR microcontrollers. The kit includes software and hardware components and a series of features that make easy the development and embedded systems;
- NerdKit – educational kit designed for beginner users to start to understand and programming the microcontrollers;
- Ultimate Arduino Microcontroller Pack – versatile kit based on Arduino that can be used by beginners or advanced user in order to develop simple or advanced projects;
- BASIC Stamp Activity Kit – USB – the BASIC Stamp kit is designed to be used for programming as well as embedded systems. The kit comes with software and hardware components and ready to be used by connecting with a USB cable to a computer;
- Propeller Education Kit – PropStick USB Version – a kit for advanced users with built-in Propeller chip, EEPROM, regulator, and programming tools;
- Arduino Mega Rev. 3 Android Development Kit – with a long list of features including here 54 digital input/output pins, 16 analog inputs, 4 UARTs (hardware serial ports), a 16 MHz crystal oscillator, a USB connection, etc., this hardware and software kit is based on the Arduino board and is a powerful resource to start working with ATmega2560 microcontroller;
- Starter Pack for Arduino (Includes Arduino Uno R3) – the Arduino kit comes with a long list of components including cables and parts to start embedding system and programming. The kit is based on Atmega328 microcontroller;