Giveaways from tradeshows and such have left me with several different evaluation boards that I can experiment with. They seem fine as a learning aide, but I've been wondering if they can be something more. How much value can a developer get out of a low-cost evaluation board?
Right now I have in my office five evaluation boards:
It seems to me that with all this processing power available I could create something really interesting. But it would only be a hobby activity. What if I were working on a commercial project? Would boards like these offer me any advantage in my product development efforts?
It is clear to me that boards such as these are great learning tools. You can "kick the tires" on the MCUs and explore the performance of their features. In the case of the TI MD430FR devices, for instance, you can experiment with the FRAM memory to see if it is a technology you might like to use for non-volatile storage. These boards also allow you to run some test code of your own devising to see if the devices will behave as you wish in your application.
But how about beyond experimentation? Certainly these boards can be applied to hobby projects. I used the EXP430 (with initial idea and a lot of programming help from blogger Ryszard Milewicz) for the hand-waving sign I demonstrated at several Gadget Freak DIY shows. I used the board not for the FRAM, though, but for the accelerometer and LEDs it included. The accelerometer allowed me to detect the waving motion and trigger the LED display, and the linear arrangement of LEDs gave me the opportunity to trace out messages using persistence of vision.
I have some thoughts about another project using the STM board for its inertial sensors and motor control features. I want to create a tri-copter (just to be different from the quad copters out there) that will self-stabilize in flight and execute preprogrammed navigation commands to maneuver.
But both of these projects are just toys, really. What if I were seriously trying to develop a commercial product? Would I use an eval board to create a prototype and develop software before creating a custom board? How about using the eval board as a production element? That way I wouldn't have to design a board of my own, and I could leverage the production power of the MCU vendor to keep my BOM cost down.
What are your thoughts? Can these boards serve as the core of prototypes or proof-of-concept assemblies or even production designs for commercial applications? Or are they better for simply experimenting and playing with, prior to making component selection?
You can give us your thoughts here, and we also have a live chat on the topic scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 6, at 11:00 a.m. Eastern. We can talk about the pros and cons as well as what you are doing with these low-cost development boards.