Embeddetech has launched a crowdfunding campaign for the QuickDAQ.mikroBUS, an expansion board which gives larger computers the same kind of input/output capabilities as a microcontroller — including general-purpose input/output (GPIO), SPI, I2C, UART, and more, all supported by a low-code development environment dubbed Virtuoso.
"Let's face it, writing software is a lot of fun. And writing software that interacts with the real world, like embedded systems do, is even more fun," writes Embeddetech's Jonathan Torkelson of the project. "But even for seasoned experts like us, working with hardware can be extremely difficult, and the complexity and hassle of just getting up and going is often an enormous obstacle. The QuickDAQ.mikroBUS project was born out of the desire to make working with custom electronics dramatically simpler, faster, and cheaper.
"The QuickDAQ.mikroBUS can be thought of as a board that provides your computer with the same low-level peripherals that a microcontroller has, such as GPIO, analogue input, PWM, SPI, I2C, UART, etc. It comes with a standard .NET class library and can be used in any normal .NET application, so in that sense it can be thought of as a Data Acquisition (DAQ) board, thus the name 'QuickDAQ.' What makes it unique is that it is also specifically designed to operate in the Virtuoso Low-Code Environment."
Virtuoso, Torkelson explains, is a visual programming environment based around the concept of program nodes: Applications can be written in this environment by dragging, dropping, and linking nodes, and they are then translated into a Visual Studio project for compilation and execution. "If you want to perform a high level task, like getting the current temperature in your city or sending a text message, you don't need to bother with the underlying C# code," Torkelson notes. "Just drag and drop your node, and you're done. What's particularly exciting about Virtuoso is that it's built to scale: anyone can create nodes based on their C# code and share them with or license them to the community."
An interesting feature of Virtuoso, meanwhile, is the ability to create and define so-called "virtual processors" which run alongside the main application. "A virtual microprocessor target [...] results in a new C/C++ project being added to the application, which will run in parallel but also be able to be interacted with from other Virtuoso components," says Torkelson. "You can easily add digital and analogue I/O, communication peripherals, LCD display buffers, serial communication streams, and more, and Virtuoso handles everything for you. From there, you can develop C/C++ applications that interact with the components on your Virtuoso schematic, which can be thought of as virtual hardware."
As the name implies, the QuickDAQ.mikroBUS is compatible with MikroE's mikroBUS standard — meaning that any one of the 750-some existing mikroBUS Click boards can be used with the QuickDAQ.mikroBUS, slotting quickly into three mating bays on the top of the board. Embeddetech has partnered directly with MikroE, Torkelson says, to include a selection of bundled Click boards with higher reward tiers — including accelerometers, proximity sensors, RGB LED drivers, and communication boards including UART, RS232, RS485, Bluetooth Low Energy, Wi-Fi, and Ethernet.
Early bird pricing for the QuickDAQ.mikroBUS starts at $99 with a non-commercial license for the Virtuoso Embedded Target development environment. Those looking to use the tool for commercial purposes can, Embeddetech has promised, trade their bundled non-commercial license in for a $150 discount on a commercial licence. General availability pricing starts at $136, with higher tiers including bundled Click boards in a range of varieties.
More information on the QuickDAQ.mikroBUS can be found on the project's Kickstarter campaign page, where backers can expect to receive their hardware by September this year.