Development tools and their contribution to democratizing technology

May 25, 2018 // By Mark Patrick
Today’s low cost but still highly capable embedded chips provide the potential for almost anyone to build sophisticated computing power into personal projects and small-scale commercial products. However, while that potential has existed for years, it has only been fully realized in more recent times - and that is thanks to the remarkable growth of complete ecosystems comprising hardware and software embedded development tools.

These tools, such as development and evaluation boards and integrated development environments (IDEs), take much of the hard work out of system development and mean that projects are no longer based simply on trial and error. Not surprisingly, chipmakers and board vendors have put substantial resources into providing low-cost or even free development tools to encourage further sales of their products.

One of the easiest ways to get involved with electronics is with one of the popular embedded MCU boards - like those from Arduino and SparkFun. These units are designed to be easy and enjoyable to use for beginners, proving to be a good way to learn and to try out ideas. Their general-purpose nature means they can be implemented into hobbyist designs as well as for prototyping. However, many chipmakers, like Cypress and Texas Instruments (TI), now make development kits which are somewhere in between hobbyist devices and professional evaluation boards, and can be used to prototype production scale electronics. These kits can provide a useful stepping stone as developers learn their craft, because they provide many simple features, like an Arduino or SparkFun product, but they also let users directly work with chips and hardware that could subsequently be turned into a mass produced electronic system. That said, many professional engineers are now using hobbyist-oriented kits, like Arduino, as versatile development and testing tools.

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