Archive | arm cortex

mbed and the Freescale FRDM-KL25Z development board

In this article we examine the mbed rapid prototyping platform with the Freescale FRDM-KL25Z ARM® Cortex™-M0+ development board.


A while ago we looked at the mbed rapid prototyping environment for microcontrollers with the cloud-based IDE and the NXP LPC1768 development board, and to be honest we left it at that as I wasn’t a fan of cloud-based IDEs. Nevertheless, over the last two or so years the mbed platform has grown and developed well – however without too much news on the hardware side of things. Which was a pity as the matching development boards usually retailed for around $50 … and most likely half the reason why mbed didn’t become as popular as other rapid development platforms.

And now we have another powerful yet inexpensive board to use with mbed  – the Freescale FRDM-KL25Z

It’s a move in the right direction for both mbed and Freescale. It allows educators and interested persons access to a very user-friendly IDE and dirt-cheap development boards.

What is mbed anyway?

mbed is a completely online development environment. That is, in a manner very similar to cloud computing services such as Google Docs or Zoho Office. However there are some pros and cons of this method. The pros include not having to install any software on the PC – as long as you have a web browser and a USB port you should be fine; any new libraries or IDE updates are handled on the server leaving you to not worry about staying up to date; and the online environment can monitor and update your MCU firmware if necessary. However the cons are that you cannot work with your code off-line, and there may be some possible privacy issues. Here’s an example of the environment:


As you can see the IDE is quite straight-forward. All your projects can be found on the left column, the editor in the main window and compiler and other messages in the bottom window. There’s also an online support forum, an official mbed library and user-submitted library database, help files and so on – so there’s plenty of support. Code is written in C/C++ style and doesn’t present any major hurdles. When it comes time to run the code, the online compiler creates a downloadable binary file which is copied over to the hardware via USB.

And what’s a Freedom board?

It’s a very inexpensive development board based on the Freescale ARM® Cortex™-M0+ MKL25Z128VLK4 microcontroller.

Features include  (from the product website):

  • MKL25Z128VLK4 MCU – 48 MHz, 128 KB flash, 16 KB SRAM, USB OTG (FS), 80LQFP
  • Capacitive touch “slider,” MMA8451Q accelerometer, tri-color LED
  • Easy access to MCU I/O
  • Sophisticated OpenSDA debug interface
  • Mass storage device flash programming interface (default) – no tool installation required to evaluate demo apps
  • P&E Multilink interface provides run-control debugging and compatibility with IDE tools
  • Open-source data logging application provides an example for customer, partner and enthusiast development on the OpenSDA circuit

And here it is:


In a lot of literature about the board it’s mentioned as being “Arduino compatible”. This is due to the layout of the GPIO pins – so if you have a 3.3 V-compatible Arduino shield you may be able to use it – but note that the I/O pins can only sink or source 3 mA (from what I can tell) – so be careful with the GPIO . However on a positive side the board has the accelerometer and an RGB LED which are handy for various uses.

Getting started

Now we”ll run through the process of getting a Freedom board working with mbed and creating a first program. You’ll need a computer (any OS) with USB, an Internet connection and a web browser, a USB cable (mini-A to A) and a Freedom board. The procedure is simple:

  1. Order your board from
  2. Download and install the USB drivers for Windows or Linux from here.
  3. Visit and create a user account. Check your email for the confirmation link and follow the instructions within.
  4. Plug in your Freedom board – using the USB socket labelled “OpenSDA”. It will appear as a disk called “bootloader”
  5. Download this file and copy it onto the “bootloader” drive
  6. Unplug the Freedom board, wait a moment – then plug it back in. It should now appear as a disk called “MBED”, for example :


There will be a file called ‘mbed’ on the mbed drive – double-click this to open it in a web browser. This process activates the board on your mbed account – as shown below:


Now you’re ready to write your code and upload it to the Freedom board. Click “Compiler” at the top-right to enter the IDE.

Creating and uploading code

Now to create a simple program to check all is well. When you entered the IDE in the previous step, it should have presented you with the “Guide to mbed Online Compiler”. Have a read, then click “New” at the top left. Give your program a name and click OK. You will then be presented with a basic “hello world” program that blinks the blue LED in the RGB module. Adjust the delays to your liking then click “Compile” in the toolbar.

If all is well, your web browser will present you with a .bin file that has been downloaded to the default download directory. (If not, see the error messages in the area below the editor pane). Now copy this .bin file to the mbed drive, then press the reset button (between the USB sockets) on the Freedom board. Your blue LED should now be blinking.

Moving forward

You can find some code examples that demonstrate the use of the accelerometer, RGB LED and touch sensor here. Here’s a quick video of the touch sensor in action:

So which pin is what on the Freedom board with respect to the mbed IDE? Review the following map:


All the pins in blue – such as PTxx can be referred to in your code. For example, to pulse PTA13 on and off every second, use:

The pin reference is inserted in the DigitalOut assignment and thus “pulsepin” refers to PTA13. If you don’t have the map handy, just turn the board over for a quick-reference:


Just add “PT” to the pin number. Note that the LEDs are connected to existing GPIO pins: green – PTB19, red – PTB18 and blue – PTB.

Where to from here? 

It’s up to you. Review the Freedom board manual (from here) and the documentation on the mbed website, create new things and possibly share them with others via the mbed environment. For more technical details review the MCU data sheet. And to order your own Freedom board, visit


The Freedom board offers a very low cost way to get into microcontrollers and programming. You don’t have to worry about IDE or firmware revisions, installing software on locked-down computers, or losing files. You could teach a classroom full of children embedded programming for around $20 a head (a board and some basic components). Hopefully this short tutorial was of interest. We haven’t explored every minute detail – but you now have the basic understanding to move forward with your own explorations.


Have fun and keep checking into Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in 1 hz, arm cortex, education, FRDM-KL25Z, freedom, freescale, lesson, M0+, mbed, MKL25Z128VLK4, MMA8451Q, opensda, part review, tronixlabs, tronixstuff, tutorial0 Comments

First look: Arduino Due

Updated 27/02/2013


After much waiting the Arduino Due has been released, so let’s check it out. We’ll run through the specifications and some areas of interest, see what’s different, some random notes – then try out some of the new features. Before moving forward note that it might look the same – the Due is not a drop-in replacement for older boards – even the Mega2560. It’s different.

First announced in late 2011, the Due is the Arduino team’s first board with a 32-bit processor – the Atmel SAM3X8E ARM Cortex-M3 CPU. With an 84 Mhz CPU speed and a host of interfaces and I/O, this promises to be the fastest and most functional Arduino board ever. According to the official Arduino press release:

Arduino Due is ideal for those who want to build projects that require high computing power such as the remotely-controlled drones that, in order to fly, need to process a lot of sensor data per second.
Arduino Due gives students the opportunity to learn the inner workings of the ARM processor in a cheaper and much simpler way than before.
To Scientific projects, which need to acquire data quickly and accurately, Arduino Due provides a platform to create open source tools that are much more advanced than those available now.
The new platform enables the open source digital fabrication community (3d Printers, Laser cutters, CNC milling machines) to achieve higher resolutions and faster speed with fewer components than in the past.

Sounds good – and the Due has been a long time coming, so let’s hope it is worth the wait. The SAM3X CPU holds a lot of promise for more complex projects that weren’t possible with previous ATmega CPUs, so this can be only a good thing.


First of all, here’s the Due in detail – top and bottom (click to enlarge):

You can use Mega-sized protoshields without any problem (however older shields may miss out on the upper I2C pins) – they’ll physically fit in … however their contents will be a different story:

The specifications of the Due are as follows (from Arduino website):

Microcontroller AT91SAM3X8E
Operating Voltage 3.3V
Input Voltage (recommended) 7-12V
Input Voltage (limits) 6-20V
Digital I/O Pins 54 (of which 12 provide PWM output)
Analog Input Pins 12
Analog Outputs Pins 2 (DAC)
Total DC Output Current on all I/O lines 130 mA
DC Current for 3.3V Pin 800 mA
DC Current for 5V Pin 800 mA
Flash Memory 512 KB all available for the user applications
SRAM 96 KB (two banks: 64KB and 32KB)
Clock Speed 84 MHz

Right away a few things should stand out – the first being the operating voltage – 3.3V. That means all your I/O needs to work with 3.3V – not 5V. Don’t feed 5V logic line into a digital input pin and hope it will work – you’ll damage the board. Instead, get yourself some logic level converters. However there is an IOREF pin like other Arduino boards which intelligent shields can read to determine the board voltage. The total output current for all I/O lines is also 130 mA … so no more sourcing 20mA from a digital ouput for those bright LEDs.

The power regulator for 5V has been changed from linear to switching – so no more directly inserting 5V into the 5V pin. However the 3.3V is through an LDO from 5v.

Each digital I/O pin can source 3 or 15 mA – or sink 6 or 9 mA … depending on the pin. High-current pins are CAN-TX, digital 1, 3~12, 23~51, and SDA1. The rest are low current. And there’s still an LED on digital 13. You will need to redesign any existing projects or shields if moving to the Due.

The analogue inputs now have a greater resolution – 12-bits. That means it can return a value of  0~4095 representing 0~3.3V DC. To activate this higher resolution you need to use the function analogReadResolution(12).

Memory – there isn’t any EEPROM in the SAM3X – so you’ll need external EEPROMs to take care of more permanent storage. However there’s 512 KB of flash memory for sketches – which is huge. You have to see it to believe it:

Excellent. A new feature is the onboard erase button. Press it for three seconds and it wipes out the sketch. The traditional serial line is still digital 0/1 – which connect to the USB controller chip.

Hardware serial – there’s four serial lines. Pulse-width modulation (PWM) is still 8-bit and on digital pins 2~13.

The SPI bus is on the ICSP header pins to the right of the microcontroller – so existing shields that use SPI will need to be modified – or experiment with a LeoShield:

You can also use the extended SPI function of the SAM3X which allow the use of digital pins 4, 10 or 52 for CS (chip select).

The SAM3X supports the automtive CAN bus, and the pins have been brought out onto the stacked header connectors – however this isn’t supported yet in the IDE.

There are two I2C buses – located on digital 20/21 and the second is next to AREF just like on the Leonardo.

There’s a 10-pin JTAG mini-header on the Due, debug pins and a second ICSP for the ATmega16U2 which takes care of USB. Speaking of USB – there’s two microUSB sockets. One is for regular programming via the Arduino IDE and the USB interface, the other is a direct native USB programming port direct to the SAM3X.

The SAM3X natively supports Ethernet, but this hasn’t been implemented on the hardware side for the Due. However some people in the Arduino forum might have a way around that.

Using the Due

First of all – at the time of writing – you need to install Arduino IDE v1.5.1 release 2 – a beta version. Windows users – don’t forget the USB drivers. As always, backup your existing installation and sketch files somewhere safe – and you can run more than one IDE on the same machine.

When it comes time to upload your sketches, plug the USB cable into the lower socket on the Due – and select Arduino Due (Programming Port) from the Tools>Board menu in the IDE.

Let’s upload a sketch now (download) – written by Steve Curd from the Arduino forum. It calculates Newton Approximation for pi using an infinite series. As you can see from the results below, the Due is much faster (690 ms) than the Mega2560 (5765 ms):



Next, let’s give the digital-to-analogue converters a test. Finally we have two, real, 12-bit DACs with the output pins being … DAC0 and DAC1. No more mucking about with external R-C filters to get some audio happening. These pins provides true analogue outputs which is controlled by the analogWrite() function. To use them is very simple – consider the following example sketch which creates a triangle wave:

And the results from the DSO:

This opens up all sorts of audio possibilities. With appropriate wavetable data saved in memory you could create various effects. However the DAC doesn’t give a full 0~3.3V output – instead it’s 1/6 to 5/6 of the Aref voltage. With the IDE there are example sketches that can play a .wav file from an SDcard – however I’d still be more inclined to use an external shield for that. Nevertheless for more information, have a look at the Audio library. Furthermore, take heed of the user experiences noted in the Arduino forum – it’s very easy to destroy your DAC outputs. In the future we look forward to experimenting further with the Due – so stay tuned.

Getting a Due

Good luck … at the time of writing – the Dues seem to be very thin on the ground. This may partly be due to the limited availability of the Atmel SAM3X8E. My contacts in various suppliers say volumes are quite limited.


I really hope this is a rare event, however one of the Dues received had the following fault in manufacturing:

One side of the crystal capacitor wasn’t in contact with the PCB. However this was a simple fix. How the QC people missed this … I don’t know. However I’ve seen a few Arduinos of various types, and this error is not indicative of the general quality of Arduino products.

Where to from here?

Visit the official Arduino Due page, the Due discussion section of the Arduino forum, and check out the reference guide for changes to functions that are affected by the different hardware.


Well that’s my first take on the Due – powerful and different. You will need to redesign existing projects, or build new projects around it. And a lot of stuff on the software side is still in beta. So review the Due forum before making any decisions. With that in mind – from a hardware perspective – it’s a great step-up from the Mega2560.

So if you’re interested – get one and take it for a spin, it won’t disappoint. The software will mature over time which will make life easier as well. If you have any questions (apart from Arduino vs. Raspberry Pi) leave a comment and we’ll look into it.


Have fun and keep checking into Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in arduino, arm cortex, AT91SAM3X8E, dev-11589, due, part review, review, SAM3X8E, tutorial6 Comments

Exploring the TI Stellaris platform with Energia Arduino-compatible IDE


In the same manner as their MSP430 development board, Texas Instruments also have another LaunchPad board with their powerful Stellaris LM4F120H5QR microcontroller. It’s an incredibly powerful and well-featured MCU – which offers an 80 MHz, 32-bit ARM Cortex-M4 CPU with floating point, 256 Kbytes of 100,000 write-erase cycle FLASH and many peripherals such as 1MSPS ADCs, eight UARTs, four SPIs, four I2Cs, USB & up to 27 timers, some configurable up to 64-bits.

That’s a bucket of power, memory and I/O for not much money – you can get the LaunchPad board for around $15. This LaunchPad has the in-circuit debugger, two user buttons, an RGB LED and connectors for I/O and shield-like booster packs:

and the other side:

However the good news as far as we’re concerned is that you can now use it with the Energia Arduino-compatible IDE that we examined previously. Before rushing out to order your own Stellaris board, install Energia and examine the available functions and libraries to make sure you can run what you need. And if so, you’re set for some cheap Arduino power.


Installation is simple, just get your download from here. If you’re running Windows 7 – get the USB drivers from here. When you plug your LaunchPad into the USB for the first time, wait until after Windows attempts to install the drivers, then install drivers manually after download via Device manager … three times (JTAG, virtual serial port and DFU device). Use the debug USB socket (and set the switch to debug) when installing and uploading code. If you get the following warning from Windows, just click “Install this driver software anyway”:

Once the drivers are installed, plug in your LaunchPad, wait a moment – then run Energia. You can then select your board type and serial port just like the Arduino IDE. Then go ahead and upload the “blink” example…


Awesome – check out all that free memory space. In the same manner as the MSP430, there are some hardware<>sketch differences you need to be aware of. For example, how to refer to the I/O pins in Energia? A map has been provided for front:


… and back:


As you can imagine, the Stellaris MCUs are different to an AVR, so a lot of hardware-specific code doesn’t port over from the world of Arduino. One of the first things to remember is that the Stellaris is a 3.3V device. Code may or may not be interchangeable, so a little research will be needed to match up the I/O pins and rewrite the sketch accordingly. For example, instead of digital pins numbers, you use PX_Y – see the map above. So let’s say you want to run through the RGB LED… consider the following sketch:

Which simply blinks the red, green and blue LED elements in series. Using digital inputs is in the same vein, and again the buttons are wired so when pressed they go LOW. An example of this in the following sketch:

And for the non-believers:

Where to from here? 

Sometimes you can be platform agnostic, and just pick something that does what you want with the minimum of time and budget. Or to put it another way, if you need a fast CPU and plenty of space but couldn’t be bothered don’t have time to work with Keil, Code Composer Studio, IAR etc – the Energia/Stellaris combination could solve your problem. There’s a growing Energia/Stellaris forum, and libraries can be found here. At the time of writing we found an I2C library as well.

However to take full advantage of the board, consider going back to the TI tools and move forward with them. You can go further with the tutorials and CCS etc from Texas Instruments own pages.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in arduino, arm cortex, energia, launchpad, lesson, LM4F120H5QR, MSP430, product review, software review, stellaris, TI, tiva-c, tutorial2 Comments

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