eRIC Development Kit

I won an eRIC Development Kit from LPRS end of last year and decided to give it a try, seeing the positive feedback during its RoadTest on element14. There was also an episode of the Ben Heck Show, in which the eRIC module was used to create a pair of texting radios. It looks to be an interesting kit, and I wonder how easy the easyRadio really is.

eRIC

eRIC stands for easyRadio Integrated Controller.

The eRIC module consists of:Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 22.22.24

  • a radio transceiver
  • a MSP430 microcontroller
  • temperature sensor
  • 3.3V low drop voltage regulator
  • 32k memory:
    • 16k for eROS and bootloader
    • 16k for user application code

All of that in a compact (stamp-sized) form factor for less than 20EUR.

There are a various different versions of the module available as well:

  • Arduino Shield
  • Beaglebone Black Cape
  • XBee Adapter
  • Electric Imp Gateway
  • Arduino Esplora
  • Breakout Board
  • USB Dongle

The only thing I wonder about when seeing this list is why there is no HAT version for the Raspberry Pi, while more exotic things (like the Arduino Esplora) do have their own specific boards.

I’ll be working with the development kit, which consists of following items:

  • two eRIC transceiver modules (eRIC4 in my case, for 433MHz)
  • two development boards to which the transceiver can be connected
  • two antennas
  • two 9V batteries
  • a “Wireless Mike” USB stick with documentation, tutorials and code examples

According to the LPRS website, the kit should also contain two short microUSB cables. My kit didn’t, but I have plenty of those around, so not a problem.

photo 2 photo 3

Documentation

As stated earlier, the USB stick contains all the documentation needed to get you started in the form of documents and videos.

Obviously, the stick contains the datasheets. The stick also contains tutorials and demos. One of the videos is the “Demo1 App Example”. It shows how to set the kits in demo mode with one transmitter and one receiver. Buttons pressed on the transmitter side, light up LEDs on the receiver side. It was extremely easy to set up the demo and use it. At first though, it didn’t appear to be working. This was because I had the two modules too close to each other. After putting some distance between the two modules (about 30-40cm), everything was working as expected as you can see in the video below.

The PDF tutorials cover the installation of Code Composer Studio, how to set up a workspace, and how to flash an application to the module. The steps are clear, and accompanied by screenshots.

Finally, there are the different software tools and files needed to program the modules. The flash programmer is provided, along with some demo hex files, different versions of the bootloader and the easyRadio Companion software. I’ll get into more detail on the applications in the next section.

One small remark on the documentation though: the spelling mistakes in the video tutorial’s title, the “preliminary” watermark in the documents and “NO NAME” USB key were a pity. It gives a feeling the content wasn’t ready and reviewed at the time of launch and hasn’t been looked at since. Hopefully this gets corrected and the updated versions put on the Wireless Mike USB key with a meaningful name.

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 22.40.56  Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 21.29.11Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 20.14.02

Software

eROS

eROS stands for easyRadio Operating System and is used within eRIC to provide a simplified way of configuring and programming the onboard microcontroller and RF transceiver. eROS takes half of the processor’s 32k memory. The other half is available for custom user applications, as will be demonstrated in the “Code Composer Studio” paragraph.

easyRadio Companion Software

The easyRadio Companion Software can be used to connect to the eRIC modules and query or (re)configure various parameters, such as:

  • UART baud rate
  • power level
  • frequency channel
  • over air data rate
  • test modes

The tool also allows you to send message over air to another eRIC module for testing.

The interface is not really modern looking, but it is intuitive and it works. And even though the tool is Windows-only, it can be replaced by more generic serial communication tools like putty, termite, screen, minicom, etc … which can be used in combination with any operating system.

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 21.30.22 Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 21.58.35

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 21.30.22 Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 21.32.42

Code Composer Studio

TI’s Code Composer Studio can be used by more advanced users to program their own code on the eRIC module directly. The provided tutorials cover the installation of CCS5, while the current version is CCS6, having slightly different installation steps. After installation and creation of the workspace, it is possible to import a demo application which includes the necessary libraries to get started.

Starting from the demo application, I typed in a “blink” version for the dev kit which will light the first onboard LED on and off every second.

This is obviously only a very simple example and Code Composer Studio can be used for much more than just blinking LEDs. One of the interesting features (especially in an IoT context) that can be coded this way is the fact that 128bit AES encryption can be used! Programming the onboard controller as opposed to an external one should also result in smaller form factor and lower power consumption.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 09.39.33 Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 10.11.50

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 10.23.50 Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 10.29.38

eRIC Flash Programmer

Finally, there is the eRIC Flash Programmer which can be used to do two things:

  • flash the built *.hex file of a program created in CCS
  • flash the bootloader of the eRIC module

The program is easy to use as it auto-detects connected eRIC modules so long the bootloader jumper has been set. Open the file, and press flash. A progress bar at the bottom shows the flashing progress. Once the flashing procedure is terminated, the board can be reset after removing the bootloader jumper. The flashed application should then be running.

I’ve flashed the “blink” program onto one of the modules and the first LED (on pin 16) is blinking as expected.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 10.38.17 Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 10.45.48

Testing

With the hardware and software working as expected, I thought I’d make a little test to control a simple robot wirelessly using the eRIC modules.

Because I had flashed one of the modules with a blink program, it was no longer capable on sending or receiving messages wirelessly. I had to flash the original program called “eRIC4easyRadioV1.1.hex” back onto that module first. The program was available on the Wireless Mike USB key.

I proceeded to configure an Arduino with motor shield to listen for specific commands on the serial interface. The loop function is simple:

Then, I hooked up the eRIC Dev Kit to the Arduino UNO:

eRIC –> Arduino
9V (from battery) –> Vin
GND –> GND
Pin 3 –> Pin 0

The motor shield was powered from the same 9V battery as well.

Finally, from the eRIC Companion Software, I sent commands wirelessly to the Arduino via the second eRIC Dev Kit attached to the computer. I was able to send different command to have the robot go forward, turn left or turn right.

Conclusion

Overall, I’m very impressed with the kit as it really delivers on the “easy” part. The kit is flexible as it can be used with an external controller or can have a program flashed onto the module itself. The small issues regarding the documentation are a pity, but can easily be resolved and will make the experience even more enjoyable.

I will most certainly be integrating these in future projects.

4 thoughts on “eRIC Development Kit”

  1. Huge thanks for your comments.
    I’m currently down in New Zealand reading these comments and hugely inspired by your comments.
    Thanks guys.

  2. Hi
    Just seen the link, sorry!
    I note your various comments on both posts about the documentation and lack of accessory boards.
    The documentation is being fixed and the new version of the Companian software is just been released.
    We now have an eRIC breakout board and a Pi HAT is in the works.
    You may also be interested to know that we are about to sign a distribution deal for Europe with Electric Imp, specifically for the IMP 002. Our IMP/eRIC gateway compliments both products.
    Keep in touch

    1. Hi Barry,

      great to hear the feedback is being used to improve the product. The Pi HAT and Electric Imp gateway sound particularly interesting!

      Frederick

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