Brendan Dawes

Analogue + Digital


First day with the mbed microcontroller

I was very kindly sent an mbed microcontroller from Arm and today I've been starting to explore this wonderful little device.

I've been using Arduino for a while now to make little interactive devices like The Happiness Machine and my wooden Weather Machine, but after a fortuitous meeting with Chris Styles from Arm I've now a got a new Microcontroller to play with. And I've got to say I'm loving it.

Programming is done via an online IDE and there's a vast array of examples to get you started. The great thing about the online IDE is when you find some code or a library you want to use on the mbed site you can just press a button and it's added to your program. The downside: if you're not online you can't use the IDE, but apparently there is a way to use an offline compiler as well. Hitting compile downloads a file that you then drag onto the mbed–it appears as a USB drive on the desktop–hit the reset button on the mbed and you're done.

The cool thing about the mbed though is the stuff that's included onboard: USB, Ethernet as well as a built in local file system so you can read and write files with ease. To add Internet connectivity to an mbed just wire in an RJ45 Ethernet connector and you're done; no need for a shield or any other parts.

As a test I wired up a Nokia 5110 display to the mbed. In about five minutes I had it working perfectly. The next step is to get the RJ45 wired in for some Internet connection loveliness.

It's also much more powerful than Arduino – faster and with more memory. I still love Arduino of course but right now I'm falling in love with the mbed!