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February 14, 2008

MSP 430 - The wonder chip for data acquisition and control

A new microcontroller chip named MSP 430 has been released by Texas Instruments (TI). For beginners like me, here's the deal:

1. This chip is a small computer that will help you acquire voltage, convert it into digital signals and send it to the computer all within 50 bucks. You can get 3 chips soldered on a nice evaluation board for $10 too!

2. Not only do these microcontrollers help your data acquistion, they can be also be used for basic control by sending out voltages.

3. Its real easy to program the chip to do these things because most of the programs are already on the web!

4. I think this is the coolest feature- TI has integrated this chip with a wireless transceiver.(model: ez430-rf2500) That means that you can start getting data into the chip and send it wirelessly to your computer! And, at the computer's end, TI provides a USB device to get the data just like a wireless mouse's receiver. All this at 50 bucks.

5. Again no worries about programming and soldering, these chips come soldered on evaluation boards and loaded with the right programs. If you are not satisfied with the current setting, a few lines of the program need to be changed to get the chip to do 'exactly' what you need.

6. For those familiar with data acquisition, no more Labview or MATLAB or Simulink. The data from the chip goes directly viewed in hyperterminal and saved to a text file.

7. Lastly, TI has different types of development kits which have other components already interfaced to the chip. You can choose one based on your need. For example, one development kit has a neat digital display to receive data from the chip. You would use this if you are developing some kind of a hand held meter and wanted to display measurements.

I love tools like these microcontrollers. But, the learning curve and complexity put me off microcontrollers for a long time. I got this one after hearing about it as a wireless data acquisition device. Wouldn't have ventured near it if somebody told me it was a 'microcontroller'! But, the learning curve on the chip was so short that I now think every project requiring sensing and getting signals into computers should use these MSP430s.

p.s: No, I have nothing to do with TI!