Planet Debug

I mentioned Planet Debug in my last blog entitled “Concept Development” but I didn’t explain much about it. I simply said that a WiFi interface enabled it. This article more thoroughly describes this technology and what can be developed with it.

(Image source: MikroElektronika)

Mikroe is a development tool company; they design and manufacture development tools for semiconductor devices (i.e.: chips).  Such devices span the range from microcontrollers to sensors, voltage regulators, clocks, radios, and all the rest. Whereas the microcontrollers are the host devices of typical embedded systems that add intelligence to a system, the other chips are necessary for interfacing to the real world and between systems. Whereas there are tens of thousands of microcontroller devices (Digi-Key lists over 90,000 of them), there are hundreds of thousands of other devices (Digi-Key lists over 760,000 of them).

The genius of Mikroe’s MikroBUS standard is that it accommodates those other devices for easy coupling to microcontrollers.  Boards made by Mikroe that are based on their MikroBUS standard are called Click boards and Digi-Key stocks over 1,000 varieties of them.  All that is needed to develop virtually any product or device is for the board accommodating a microcontroller to have MikroBUS compliant sockets on it. How many sockets there are determines the breadth of the variety of products or devices that can be implemented. Many such boards have 5 MikroBUS sockets. With more than 1,000 Click board functions available, this means there are 1,000s of possible configurations. The MikroBUS makes concept development easier than it has ever been and with very few limitations.

Aside from the Click board devices that couple to real-world signals, code must be written for the microcontroller to integrate and control those signals and this is done with an in-circuit debugger (ICD).  Mikroe’s approach to this is through a product of theirs called CodeGrip. CodeGrip has a USB interface and was one of the first, if not the first, to also have a WiFi interface, meaning one needs no wires from a host personal computer to control and program a target board’s embedded microcontroller. It is this “wireless” environment that enables high target board density. There are no wires to untangle and connect. Connections are made via WiFi keys. This resulted in another Mikroe innovation that they call Planet Debug. Now that the pieces of Planet Debug have been listed, I can explain Planet Debug.

Planet Debug is a frame, or racks of frames, of one or more tightly packed, CodeGrip equipped, embedded microcontroller boards each with its own complement of MikroBUS sockets. Each board also has a live, high-resolution camera pointing to it. One runs Mikroe’s integrated development environment (IDE) software, called Necto Studio, on their personal computer which communicates with Planet Debug’s embedded router and establishes a connection to two items: the target board’s CodeGrip debugger and the live camera that points to it. Necto displays the camera feed in one of its windows and displays the CodeGrip interface in another one. Voila, a remote connection to a target board that you can control, interact with, and, see but the fun doesn’t end there.

Mikroe carries inventory on all of its Click boards. From within Necto Studio or from Mikroe’s website, you may request a complement of Click boards that you wish to be installed on any of their microcontroller boards and have that setup reserved for your use. Mikroe plans to have more than a thousand microcontroller boards available at any given time. Setup can be in hours but, given that the hardware is at Mikroe’s headquarters in Eastern Europe, your expectation should be that your setup is available the next day.

Now, this hardware and the online facilities to make it available cost money. So Mikroe provides access to the Planet Debug hardware via a security token that is licensed through Digi-Key’s DK+ Marketplace. Tokens are time-based and are based on public key encryption (PKE). One subscribes to whatever amount of time he or she wants and the price for the token is proportional.

Planet Debug enables anyone, students, hobbyists, to professionals to develop their electronic concepts with only a personal computer and in less time than it takes to have hardware sent to your premises. It’s virtually immediate unless you are requesting a custom setup. Anything from a simple concept to a final product can be developed. Test equipment can also be developed. Mikroe will configure connections between Click boards so that you can generate real-world signals yourself and implement hardware in the loop (HIL) for real-time testing and emulation. It is said that you may not fully understand your system unless you can model it in real-time. Planet Debug accommodates this. Well, there is more.

What Mikroe provides in their Planet Debug setup can be implemented by you on your premises. All of the needed Planet Debug pieces are available for sale through Digi-Key: the frames, the CodeGrip equipped microcontroller boards, the Click boards, the cameras, etc. are available. There has never been a more flexible and powerful concept development system more readily available than Planet Debug and Mikroe’s association with Digi-Key has enabled immediate concept development or immediate shipment of electronics to you or any combination of the two. Happy developing.

About this author

Image of Randy Restle

Randall Restle has over 40 years’ experience in the electronic components industry.  He is now semi-retired and served as Digi-Key Electronics’ Vice President of Applications Engineering. His experience includes directing teams of skilled application engineers, technicians, and management personnel to develop original and unique advanced technology products.

His personal pursuits include digital signal processing, programmable logic implementation, motion control improvements, and software design.  He holds patents across multiple industries and is a Senior Member of the IEEE.  Randall holds BSEE, MS and MBA degrees from the University of Cincinnati.

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