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Review – “Ardublock” graphical programming for Arduino

Introduction

After helping many people get started with the world of Arduino and electronics,  we still find a small percentage of people who are turned off by the concept of programming or have trouble breaking larger tasks into smaller ones with regards to writing algorithms for their code/sketch.

So after being introduced to a new graphical programming tool called “Ardublock“, we were excited about the possibilities wanted to share it with our readers. Ardublock provides a truly graphical and non-coding solution to controlling an Arduino, that is an open-source product and thus free to download and try for yourself.

Installation

Ardublock is a Java application that runs from inside the Arduino IDE, which can be downloaded from here. It’s only one file, that needs to be placed in a new folder in the Arduino IDE. The folder names must be the same as shown below:

ardublock installation folder

Once you’ve copied the file, simply open the Arduino IDE and select Ardublock from the Tools menu:

arduino ide tools menu ardublockFrom which point a new window appears – the Ardublock “development environment”:

ardublock development environment

 Using Ardublock

It’s quite simple – you simply select the required function from the menu on the left and drag it into the large area on the right. For a quick example where we blink the onboard LED on and off – watch the following video:

 

The following image is the screen capture of the program from the video:

ardublock LED Blink

As you can see the “blocks” just fit together, and parameters can be changed with the right mouse button. After a few moments experimenting with the Ardublock software you will have the hang of it in no time at all.

And thus you can demonstrate it to other people and show them how easy it is. And there is much more than just digital output controls, all the functions you’re used to including I2C, variables, constants, servos, tone and more are available.

The only technical thing you need to demonstrate is that the Arduino IDE needs to stay open in the background – as once you have finished creating your program, Ardublock creates the required real Arduino sketch back in the IDE and uploads it to the board.

This is also a neat function – the user can then compare their Ardublock program against the actual sketch, and hopefully after a short duration the user will have the confidence to move on with normal coding.

Conclusion

Ardublock provides a very simple method of controlling an Arduino, and makes a great starting point for teaching the coding-averse, very young people or the cognitively-challenged. It’s open source, integrates well with the official IDE and works as described – so give it a go.

And if you enjoyed this review, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – check out my book (now in a third printing!) “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

tronixstuff

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. 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 ardublock, arduino, software, software review, tronixstuff, tutorial3 Comments

Visualise microcontroller data with Megunolink Pro

Introduction

When the time comes to capture data from a microcontroller-based project, or control an embedded project via a PC – the thought of writing the appropriate PC software can give some people a headache. Or if you’re an Arduino or other development board user and are frustrated with the Serial Monitor box – where do you go? These problems and many more can be solved by using the Megunolink Pro software that’s the subject of this review.

From the Megunolink website,

MegunoLink Pro is a tool designed to aid embedded electronics designers. MegunoLink provides a set of tools to help visualize serial data, it is made up of a set of visualizers that each have a unique function and any number of them can be utilized at once. With these visualizers and our functional tabbed and docked interface you can create a full control center for your embedded project. Plot, log and monitor serial streams from both hardwired, bluetooth, and network based (UDP) devices.

The user interface allows for a completely customized layout with many different visualisers displaying information at once. Perfect for developing exciting new microcontroller based designs. Data streams go from hard to follow serial messages to easy to interpret tables and interactive plots. The interface panel allows you to set up custom GUI elements that let you take control of your device from the comfort of your PC screen.

Phil from Megunolink gives us a quick demonstration in the following video:

Installation

Getting Megunolink running takes around ten minutes. You’ll need a recent PC running Windows of some variety (XP/ 2003/Vista/Win7/8) and also .NET Framework v4.0. You can download a trial Pro version which operates for seven days – at which point you can use the “lite” version or purchase a Pro license. The Megunolink team have given our readers a discount on the personal version, use the coupon code “TROMLP” for 30% off.

Operation

Using Megunolink is quite simple, even though there’s a whole pile of functions. From the home page there’s a variety of documentation for all of the software features, so you can get started very quickly. You can simply capture all output from the serial line and have it saved to a text file (and with a time/date stamp, which removes the need for a RTC in the hardware) – something which seems quite simple but not done with the Arduino IDE:

rtccapture

Furthermore there is an “upload monitor” in Megunolink – which can automatically disconnect from the COM: port used by an Arduino when you need to upload a new sketch, then reconnect afterward. This saves a lot of to-and-fro between the two programs when adjusting code.

The key to analysing data from the microcontroller is to insert text notes in the serial output, which are then interpreted by Megunolink for display purposes. For example, if you have your MCU code send labels with the data, Megunolink can then sort these out into channels and graph the data, for example:

timeplot_screencapture

An example Arduino sketch is provided to demonstrate this, and it translates to other development platforms. Another great feature is the ability to create a graphical user interface for projects connected to the PCB. You design the GUI which can include buttons, sliders and numeric fields, for example:

controls

… and each of which send values of your choice to the device via USB. Then it’s a simple matter of coding your device to respond to the serial commands.

Real-time mapping

As mentioned in the video above, there’s also mapping support – your hardware sends GPS coordinates and they’re displayed in a real-time window:

mapping

Arduino programming

There’s also an interface to allow programming of an Arduino with .hex files via Megunolink. Currently it can work with the ATmega328, -2560, and with an external programmer -328P and -644 microcontrollers.

Conclusion

Once again Megunolink has proven to be a useful piece of software. It gives you a friendly and powerful connection to all the data from your microcontroller, and also a simple GUI for control via serial. So test it for yourself, it won’t cost you anything for the trial version. And if you like it – don’t forget about the tronixstuff.com discount on the personal version – use the coupon code “TROMLP” for 30% off. Finally, if you have any questions please contact Megunolink. And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. 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.

[Note – Megunolink Pro software license was a promotional consideration]

 

Posted in arduino, data, data analysis, graphing, mapping, megunolink, review, software, software review, tronixstuff2 Comments


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