The term "LaunchPad" refers to a suite of microcontroller-based development kits from Texas Instruments (TI). These come in a variety of flavors to address your various project needs.
MSP430-based LaunchPads are known for their ultra-low power consumption; C2000-based LaunchPads are targeted at real-time control applications; Hercules-based LaunchPads are ideal for safety-critical applications; and Tiva C Series-based Launchpads feature general-purpose ARM MCUs. All LaunchPad kits -- which are priced from $9.99 to $19.99 -- include everything you need to begin developing applications within minutes of opening the box.
But wait, there's more, because we also have BoosterPacks -- plug-in modules that fit on top of your LaunchPad using a standardized connector. These BoosterPacks allow you to expand the capabilities of your LaunchPad to explore different applications. BoosterPacks are available from the folks at TI themselves, from third parties, and from the community. They include functions such as capacitive touch, wireless communication, sensor readings, LED lighting control, and more.
There's a lot of talk about the cloud these days. Some of this can be really confusing, but the overall concept is simple enough. In the not-so-distant past, each appliance and embedded system was "an island unto itself," as it were. The thing is that the efficiency and overall usefulness of our systems is magnified dramatically if they can "talk" to each other. This leads us to the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the cloud, where the latter is used to facilitate communication between systems and to store and process data.
The thing is that the IoT and the cloud are wonderful for the end-users, but creating systems and developing applications that can take full advantage of these concepts is a non-trivial task. All of which leads us to the fact that TI have just announced a Tiva C Series Connected LaunchPad.
This little beauty is based on a Tiva C Series TM4C1294NCPDTI MCU, which includes a 120 MHz ARM Cortex-M4F CPU, 1MB Flash, 256KB SRAM, and 6KB EEPROM. When it comes to connectivity, this MCU is "armed for bear" -- it boasts 10/100 Ethernet (both MAC and PHY), 8 x 32-bit (16 x 16-bit) timers, 10 x I2C, 8 x UART, 4 x QSPI, 2 x CAN, EPI, USB, and 2 x 12-bit ADCs.
The integrated USB-powered (cable included) in-circuit debug interface allows you to be up and running in minutes. Meanwhile, the RJ45 Ethernet jack, USB Host/Device port, and user buttons and LEDs make this extremely straightforward to use as a development platform.
Observe the I/O connection grid of pads that runs all the way along the nearside edge of the above image. This provides access to the MCUs I/O pins and allows you to easily interface to external circuitry, breadboards, and custom baseboards.
Of particular interest is the fact that there are two BoosterPack XL interfaces (2 x 40-pin, where 20 of these pins are on one side of the board and 20 are on the other side). These boast stackable, dual-gender connectors on the top and bottom of the board, thereby allowing you to directly attach four BoosterPacks. Of course, BoosterPacks can be stacked on top of each other, which means you are largely limited only by your imagination as to what's possible.
And, speaking of what's possible, consider the following scenario in which we take the Tiva C Connected LaunchPad and use a SimpleLink CC3000 BoosterPack to provide Wi-Fi connectivity and a SimpleLink CC2541 SensorTag BoosterPack to provide Bluetooth connectivity.
What we see above is the Tiva C Connected LaunchPad acting as an integrated gateway solution, aggregating multiple disparate wireless networks and connecting them (via Ethernet) into the cloud. This sort of gateway unlocks the capabilities of always-connected applications and facilitates tasks like monitoring industrial systems and assembly lines through web-connected dashboards.
But wait, there's more, because the Tiva C Connected LaunchPad also comes equipped with an IoT example application that provides access to cloud-based scalable solutions. You can use the Tiva C Connected LaunchPad to connect remotely via the Internet using Exocite's scalable cloud technology. What this means in real terms is that the Tiva C Connected LaunchPad can be accessed remotely using a web browser or custom application to manage the device and interact with real-time data. Consider the following image, for example:
I saw a demo of this and it blew me away. Once you've connected your Tiva C Connected LaunchPad to the Internet via Ethernet, you can use the TI/Exocite web page shown above to register your LaunchPad and connect it into the cloud. At this point, you can monitor real-time data (such as the junction temperature in this example) from the LaunchPad, and -- by clicking the LED controls in the browser window -- you can control the LEDs on your Launchpad. Obviously this doesn’t sound too exciting when you have the browser in front of your nose and the LaunchPad within arm's reach on your desk -- but now imagine that you are accessing your browser whilst on an airplane and the LaunchPad in question is somewhere in Australia, for example.
The other things you can see in the above image are the fact that as soon as you register your Launchpad, its location appears on the map. Also, you can play tic-tac-toe with other LaunchPad users through the cloud. I'm not quite sure as to the advantages of the tic-tac-toe part, but it's really cool to see it work.
I think the main point here is that using a Tiva C Connected LaunchPad allows you to quickly and easily start developing IoT and cloud-based applications that would have been almost inconceivable just a couple of years ago (click here for more details). The world as we know it is about to change dramatically -- hold onto your hat -- it's going to be an interesting ride!
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting