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Hardware Hacking

Video Armstrap Claims to Make ARM Prototyping Easier (Video) 41

It almost seems too perfect that the originator of the Armstrap 'community of engineers and makers' is named Charles Armstrap. He just introduces himself as 'Charles' on the website. Names aside, is 100% open source, including circuit board designs. This is not a 'draw your own circuit boards' bunch, although you certainly could if you wanted to badly enough since they provide schematics and even full CAD drawings of what they make. The reason they do this is laid out on their Core Values page. The boards Armstrap sells are not expensive, but if you are going to be truly open source, you need to supply the means to duplicate and modify or extend your work, as is totally permitted under the MIT License they use.

Charles: ARMstrap is the easiest way to bootstrap ARM development. We’ve done a lot of things to make ARM development easy, fun and open for makers, tinkers, and pretty much anybody who wants to do ARM development. There are a lot of development platforms out there and ARM development boards, and a lot of them are actually very very cost effective. And here are examples of a few of them here. And what’ve done is we just documented every single thing, every problem we’ve had with them. And we were born out of the Arduino community and we really like how open and remixable Arduino stuff is.

We love the idea that people have come up with Lawn Duino and Sprinkler Duino and all these cool variations of Arduino that they basically remixed. And one of the things that we saw was lacking in the ARM community was people remixing projects. And we wanted to change that. And one of the ways that we changed that is we developed a prototyping board that makes remixability really really easy. This is an example of an ARMstrap development board this is developed by the community and it has gone through several revisions to make it better and better. And because it is open source you could certainly do that.

One of the things that we’ve done on this board is we’ve made it very breadboard friendly, so you could easily prototype, you could strap your stuff inside of your breadboard and you could do your prototyping that way. On this board, we have a Cortex M4 ARM chip. We have a real time clock integrated into our board so you’ll always know what time it is, you could set an alarm to say wake up or do something at five o’clock every day, take a swirl measurement, maybe feed the fish if you are doing something along those lines. We have 2 megs of flash built into the chip but we also have 8 megs of flash outside of the chip.

So if you wanted to have a file system to do logging, temperature logging, do configuration settings, you could save that over here, and you don’t have to worry about like a racer chip where you go through several variations of it, that data is protected over here. One of the things that we do that we are very proud of is that we have the ability to do open source JTAG development.

One of the things that we really like about this is that we have the ability to do on board JTAG development, and thanks to the magic of the Black Magic Probe and it is an open source initiative, we have actually integrated that into our board so that anybody could come along and they may plug in a standard USB connector, they could debug and flash to ARM chip through this integrated JTAG capability. Some of the things that we’ve done to make this easily remixable is that we’ve used components that are really easily to hand solder and really easy to manage yourself.

So there is no VGAs there is no tiny grains of sand components that are on here. And that’s really important because if you ever wanted to take this design, you could download with an open license and remix and do whatever, you could easily remix this and repurpose this device. So if you had an idea to maybe and you needed this board to stretch and grow and you needed to move the holes so that it fits into this beautiful poly case enclosure, you can do that very easily. And it’s something that allows you to get your idea out easier on Kickstarter or something. We use a two layer PCB board because it is actually very cheap and affordable, to make; these boards can be made by several services online.

This particular one was made by OSH Park. It is a two layer PCB board so it is about $5 per board if you wanted to order it yourself, and this particular board all the logic is on this side and if you flip it over, this side is almost clean, in fact the only traces you see here are the debugging traces. So if you want to mass produce this board and scale it up and say your Kickstarter is successful and you want to scale this to quantities of 500 or 1000, you could easily drop the JTAG debugging because you are no longer prototyping at this point, and it clears up these lines and you put all of your stuff on there, making it far easier and affordable to get your idea to market and into the hands of your customers.

Thanks to OSH Park we don’t have to go through batches of 100 or 500, we could just do batches of 3, or batches or multiples of 3, and you don’t have to drop a fortune either to get your prototype or to change or revision or to test an idea. And that’s important for the little guys because they don’t have a lot of money to spend on doing different revisions and sometimes changing up a revision costs money. Hardware costs a lot of money and time to market is a really big deal.

So we use an MIT license, it basically allows you to take all of our hardware designs and take them, you could close source them or you could open source and give them back to the community. Some of our best ideas have come from the community, but we understand that not everybody this is not a model for everybody, so if you need to take it and close source it that’s fine, you have the ability if you want to include this in a final product, you could resell this, or you could have this made by a different company if you will. We publish all of our schematics and we publish all of our designs.

We not only publish the schematics, but we give you the design files, the Eagle CAD design files so if you go to Sparkfun or if you go to Adafruit, you could take all of the they use Eagle CAD as well, you could take their designs and merge them into it into a single board so that it gives more options and more flexibility; it gives you more tools to get your idea off the ground in a cost effective manner.

I do software by day and I love hardware and I do hardware by night. So I am really excited to get hardware into people’s hands.

Interviewer: !!! (Looks at printer/plotter device)

Charles: I am working on this project with my kids. This is one of those open hardware things I'm working on. I'm building a drawing machine for my kids so that one day I could hook this up and then we could draw up, my kid wants to be able to draw Spiderman. So we talked about hardware, let’s talk about software.

So we use, right now, we use Eclipse to do all of our software development, if you to you could get a free configured version of Eclipse that includes a GCC compiler, we are using the GCC for ARM and it comes all built in into one bundle so you don’t have to configure it yourself. And right now I have it hooked up so that when I press this button, it launches this break point, and I could literally just step through my code and over here, I could see what the values are and this particular thing isn’t doing something interesting it is just toggling an LED. So you could see there.

So when I press this button again, I am stepping through my code and you could see at the end of the day, we are just going to be toggling the bits most bits are connected to an LED. So we have people all over the world in this community. We are still getting started so we are a growing community and part of being here at South By Southwest is trying to get the word out so people can join our community. We are looking for people who are passionate; we are looking for people who believe that ARM should be open, free and remixable. And we are looking for great people to help us to do that.

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Armstrap Claims to Make ARM Prototyping Easier (Video)

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  • I've developed many applications for Arm based systems and anything that gets more people involved is an excellent way to make the platform more well polished and increase the market share not only for the Arm platform but for Linux as well.
  • by Change ( 101897 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2015 @04:54PM (#49425059)

    ST makes several ARM M4F based dev/eval boards with built-in JTAG and a few additional chips thrown in to play with (I think accelerometers and MEMS microphones are common). They cost around $15-$20... go to [] and check the box for STM32F4 under Supported Devices.
    So, with what I suspect is the benefit of manufacturer loss-leader subsidies on the Discovery boards, why would I spend $40-$60 more on a dev board?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This board, , based on an STM32F401RET6 costs $10 dollars and has a HUGE community with a great set of libraries, on-line IDE. And if you want you can use the MBED libraries with an offline toolchain.

    I don't understand why one would mess with the Armstrap Eagle. Ok, maybe to build my own board with modifications since they provide the Eagle files.

Someone is unenthusiastic about your work.