Example research essay topic: In-depth Explanation Of How Microcontrollers Work – 1,932 words

… write serial data on an output pin sound –
send a sound of a specific frequency to an output
pin toggle – toggle the bit on an output pin
Instructions specific to the BASIC Stamp: branch –
read a branching table debug – send a debugging
string to the console on the desktop computer
eeprom – download a program to EEPROM lookdown –
return the index of a value in a list lookup –
array lookup using an index nap – sleep for a
short time pause – delay for the specified time
random – pick a random number read – read a value
from EEPROM sleep – power down for the specified
time write – write data to EEPROM Operations: + –
addition – – subtraction * – multiplication
(low-word) ** – multiplication (high-word) / –
division // – mod max – return maximum of 2 values
min – return minimum of 2 values & – AND | –
OR ^ – XOR &/ – NAND |/ – NOR ^/ – XNOR If
statement logic: = <> < <= > >=
AND OR Variables All variables in the BS-1 have
pre-defined names (which you can substitute with
names of your own). Remember that there are only
14 bytes of RAM available, so variables are
precious. Here are the standard names: w0, w1,
w2…w6 – 16-bit word variables b0, b1, b2…b13 –
8-bit byte variables bit0, bit1, bit2…bit15 –
1-bit bit variables Because there are only 14
bytes of memory, w0 and b0/b1 are the same
locations in RAM, and w1 and b2/b3 are the same,
and so on. Also, bit0 through bit15 reside in w0
(and therefore b0/b1 as well). I/O pins You can
see that 14 of the instructions in the BS-1 have
to do with the I/O pins.

The reason for this
emphasis is the fact that the I/O pins are the
only way for the BASIC Stamp to talk to the world.
There are eight pins on the BS-1 (numbered 0 to 7)
and 16 pins on the BS-2 (numbered 0 to 15). The
pins are bi-directional, meaning that you can read
input values on them or send output values to
them. The easiest way to send a value to a pin is
to use the HIGH or LOW functions. The statement
high 3 sends a 1 (+5 volts) out on pin 3. LOW
sends a 0 (Ground). Pin 3 was chosen arbitrarily
here — you can send bits out on any pin from 0 to

There are a number of interesting I/O pin
instructions. For example, POT reads the setting
on a potentiometer (variable resistor) if you wire
it up with a capacitor as the POT instruction
expects. The PWM instruction sends out pulse-width
modulated signals. Instructions like these can
make it a lot easier to attach controls and motors
to the Stamp. See the documentation for the
language for details. Also, a book like Scott
Edward’s Programming and Customizing the BASIC
Stamp Computer can be extremely helpful because of
the example projects it contains.

Playing with a
BASIC Stamp If you would like to play with a BASIC
Stamp, it’s very easy to get started. What you
need is a desktop computer and a BASIC Stamp
starter kit. The starter kit includes the Stamp, a
programming cable and an application that you run
on your desktop computer to download BASIC
programs into the Stamp. You can get a starter kit
either from Parallax (the manufacturer) or from a
supplier like Jameco (who should be familiar to
you from the electronic gates and digital clock
articles). From Parallax, you can order the BASIC
Stamp D Starter Kit (part number 27202), or from
Jameco you can order part number 140089. You will
receive the Stamp (pictured below), a programming
cable, software and instructions.

The kit is $79
from both suppliers. Occasionally, Parallax runs a
special called “We’ve Bagged the Basics” that also
includes Scott Edward’s Programming and
Customizing the BASIC Stamp Computer. Hooking up
the Stamp is easy. You connect it into the
parallel port of your PC. Then you run a DOS
application to edit your BASIC program and
download it to the Stamp. Here is a screenshot of
a typical editor (in this case, the one from Scott
Edward’s book): To run the program in this editor,
you hit ALT-R.

The editor application checks the
BASIC program and then sends it down the wire to
the EEPROM on the Stamp. The Stamp then executes
the program. In this case, the program produces a
square wave on I/O pin 3. If you hook up a logic
probe or LED to pin 3 (see the electronic gates
article for details), you will see the LED flash
on and off twice per second (it changes state
every 250 milliseconds because of the PAUSE
commands). This program would run for several
weeks off of a 9-volt battery. You could save
power by shortening the time that the LED is “on”
(perhaps it is on for 50 milliseconds and off for
450 milliseconds), and also by using the NAP
instruction instead of PAUSE.

Creating a Really
Expensive Digital Clock Spending $79 to flash an
LED may seem extravagant to you. What you would
probably like to do is create something useful
with your BASIC stamp. By spending about $100 more
you can create a really nice digital clock! This
may seem extremely extravagant, until you realize
that the parts are reusable in a variety of other
projects that you may want to build later. Let’s
say that we would like to use the I/O pins on the
BASIC Stamp to display numeric values. In the
digital clock article, we saw how to interface to
a 7-segment LED display using a 7447 chip. 7447s
would work just as well with the BASIC Stamp.

could wire four of the I/O pins straight into a
7447 and easily display a number between 0 and 9.
Since the BS-1 Stamp has eight I/O pins, it is
easy to drive two 7447s directly like this. For a
clock, we need a minimum of four digits. To drive
four 7447s with eight I/O pins, we have to be
slightly more creative. The following diagram
shows you one approach: In this diagram, the eight
I/O lines from the Stamp enter from the left. This
approach uses four lines that run to all four
7447s. Then the other four lines from the Stamp
activate the 7447s in sequence (“E” on the chips
means “Enable” — on a 7447, that would be the
blanking input on pin 5).

To make this arrangement
work, the BASIC program in the Stamp would output
the first digit on the four data lines and
activate the first 7447 by toggling its E pin with
the first control line. Then it would send out the
value for the second digit and activate the second
7447, sequencing through all four of the 7447s
like this repeatedly. By wiring things slightly
differently, you could actually do this with only
one 7447. By using a 74154 demultiplexer chip and
some drivers, you could drive up to 16 digits
using this approach. This is, in fact, a standard
way to control LED displays. For example, if you
have an old LED calculator, turn it on and shake
it while watching the display.

You will actually
be able to see that only one digit is ever
illuminated at once. The approach is called
multiplexing the display. While this approach
works fine for clocks and calculators, it has two
important problems: LEDs consume a lot of power.
7-segment LEDs can only display numeric values. An
alternative approach is to use an LCD screen. As
it turns out, LCDs are widely available and can be
easily hooked to a Stamp. For example, the
two-line by 16-character alphanumeric display
shown below is available from both Jameco (part
number 150990) and Parallax (part number 27910).

typical display is shown here, mounted on a
breadboard for easier interfacing: This sort of
LCD has several advantages: The display can be
driven by a single I/O pin. The display contains
logic that lets a Stamp communicate with it
serially, so only one I/O pin is needed. In
addition, the SEROUT command in Stamp BASIC
handles serial communication easily, so talking to
the display is simple. The LCD can display
alphanumeric text: letters, numbers and even
custom characters. The LCD consumes very little
power — only 3 milliamps. The only problem is
that one of these displays costs $59.

you would not embed one of these in a toaster
oven. If you were designing a toaster oven,
however, you would likely prototype with one of
these displays and then create custom chips and
software to drive much cheaper LCDs in the final
product. To drive a display like this, you simply
supply it with +5 volts and ground (the Stamp
supplies both from the 9-volt battery) and then
hook one of the I/O pins from the Stamp to the
display’s input line. The easiest way I have found
to connect the Stamp’s I/O pins to a device like
an LCD is to use a wire-wrap tool (Jameco part
number 34577) and 30-gauge wire wrap wire (Jameco
part number 22541 is typical). That way, no
soldering is involved and the connections are
compact and reliable. The following BASIC program
will cause a BASIC Stamp to behave like a clock
and output the time on the LCD (assuming the LCD
is connected to I/O pin 0 on the Stamp): pause
1000 ‘wait for LCD display to boot serout 0,
n2400, (254, 1) ‘clear the display serout 0,
n2400, (“time:”) ‘Paint “time:” on the display
‘preset before loading program b0 = 0 ‘seconds b1
= 27 ‘minutes b2 = 6 ‘hours again: b0 = b0 + 1
‘increment seconds if b0 < 60 then minutes b0 =
0 ‘if seconds=60 b1 = b1 + 1 ‘ then increment
minutes minutes: if b1 < 60 then hours b1 = 0
‘if minutes=60 b2 = b2 + 1 ‘ then increment hours
hours: if b2 < 13 then show b2 = 1 ‘if hours=13
reset to 1 show: serout 0, n2400, (254, 135)
‘position cursor on display, ‘then display time
serout 0, n2400, (#b2, “:”, #b1, “:”, #b0, ” “)
pause 950 ‘pause 950 milliseconds goto again
‘repeat In this program, the SEROUT commands send
data to the LCD.

The sequence (254, 1) clears the
LCD (254 is the escape character and 1 is the
command to clear the screen). The sequence (254,
135) positions the cursor. The other two SEROUT
commands simply send text strings to the display.
This approach will create a reasonably accurate
clock. By tweaking the PAUSE statement you can get
the accuracy to within a few seconds a day.
Obviously, in a real clock you would like to wire
up a push-button or two to make setting it easier
— in this program, you preset the time before you
download the program to the Stamp. While this
approach is simple and works, it is not incredibly
accurate. If you want better accuracy, one good
approach would be to wire a real-time clock chip
up to your Stamp.

Then, every second or so, you
can read the time from the chip and display it. A
real-time clock chip uses a quartz crystal to give
it excellent accuracy. Clock chips also usually
contain date information and handle leap year
correction automatically. One easy way to
interface a real-time clock to a stamp is to use a
component called the Pocket Watch B. Pocket Watch
B Module The Pocket Watch B is available from both
Jameco (part number 145630) and Parallax (part
number 27962). This part is about as big as a
quarter and contains the clock chip, crystal and a
serial interface so that only one I/O pin is
necessary to communicate with it.

This component
costs about $30 — again, not something you want
to embed in a toaster oven, but easy to play with
when constructing prototypes..

Research essay sample on In depth Explanation Of How Microcontrollers Work