Making DIY project software

September 1, 2014 OpenSystems Media

3You’ve got the hardware to make your own DIY projects, but what about the software to make it do what you want it to do? Though some makers can design any system from scratch, others could use a little help getting started or with more complex projects. MathWorks offers MATLAB and Simulink geared toward making, and offers more resources at its MakerZone. Embedded Computing Design interviewed Paul Kassebaum, Manager, Maker Community Relations at MathWorks on what the company is doing in the maker space.

MathWorks has always had a mission to engage students with engineering and science at formal institutions like colleges and universities and more informal playful spaces like our sponsorship of student competitions. MathWorks first expanded its support of education and innovation into the maker movement by sponsoring one of the world's largest makerspaces, Artisan's Asylum near Boston, and also jointly organizing an Autonomous Robot Design Challenge as part of the 2013 and 2014 Cambridge Science Festivals. Since then, we've gone on to sponsor other makerspaces such as Makespace and the Stockholm Makerspace. We've also been taking part in Maker Faires around the world including the Paris Maker Faire, where we organized an autonomous Mars rover competition. We are currently preparing to exhibit at the World Maker Faire New York in September 2014.

What are some of the typical challenges people run into during board bring up and development with open source/DIY hardware, and how do MATLAB and Simulink help alleviate some of those challenges?

Most of the time spent on hardware projects is consumed by iterative testing of algorithms on the hardware. MATLAB provides instantaneous manipulation and analysis of input and output to rapidly prototype algorithms. Simulink is at once a simulation and development environment for your algorithms allowing you to closely couple mathematical models of your system with the algorithms that are meant to run on your hardware by automatically generating code based on high-level visual representations of your system. Combined, these two features reduce the painful process of iterative testing.

Additionally, most DIY hardware is supported through MATLAB and Simulink Hardware Support Packages, easing the installation process for makers and getting them up and running sooner.

Are the tools accessible to novice hobbyists, students, and younger developers, or geared toward professional engineers? What types of DIY projects are MATLAB and Simulink best suited for?

MATLAB and Simulink are available for students and hobbyists on our website through two offerings: MATLAB Student and MATLAB Home.

MATLAB is best suited for projects that involve logging and analyzing data, such as a DIY weather station (Figure 1). Simulink is best suited for controlling systems such as a line following robot.

Figure 1: A weather station data analysis project using an Arduino. Image courtesy of MathWorks.

What is MakerZone and how is it unique from other DIY communities?

MakerZone is a website to learn how to get started using MATLAB and Simulink to design and program hardware projects. Many other DIY communities focus on physical design and low-level programming, based around tools that become cumbersome as the complexity of your projects grow. MakerZone highlights projects and programming methods that will carry you from getting a LED to blink to designing sophisticated systems. Our support also extends to MATLAB Central and File Exchange, which offer thousands of useful downloads contributed by our community members.

There are ports available for MATLAB and Simulink on Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and LEGO MINDSTORMS (Figure 2). Why these three platforms? What are the costs and features of the MATLAB and Simulink platforms used? Are there any plans for other platforms?

Figure 2: MATLAB and Simulink ports are available for LEGO MINDSTORMS as well as Arduino and Raspberry Pi. (Photo used by permission, ®2014 The LEGO Group)

The Arduino highlights control projects, the Raspberry Pi highlights data analysis projects, and LEGO MINDSTORMS provide the shallowest learning curve for those new to electronics, letting them focus on programming.

Low-cost hardware has helped to make engineering more accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds. We want to support this accessibility so we're offering these additional packages built on top of MATLAB and Simulink at no extra charge. MATLAB and Simulink Student and Home empower students and hobbyists with all the features used by professionals.

MATLAB Student and MATLAB Home can already interface with an extensive list of hardware far beyond the three platforms we highlight on MakerZone. MathWorks is always listening to the market to add other hardware to our offering.

What is the MATLAB and Simulink Student Design Challenge and how can students get involved? What should students know before getting started?

The MATLAB and Simulink Student Design Challenge is open to college students at the undergraduate and graduate levels to submit their capstone or thesis projects that utilize our tools in interesting and innovating ways for a chance to win cash prizes.

MathWorks @MATLAB

Monique DeVoe (Managing Editor)
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