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Need Guru Help Regarding Micro-Controller + Wireless

Hello !
What is the most inexpensive, yet stable robust and relatively fast micro-controller + wireless setup?

I have been asking this question to myself for way too long... Now, I'm curious of your experiences in the different flavors available..

In my specific situation talking back and forth to a computer or laptop would be the primary objective.

For the computer this is great (because often there are no needed parts - most modern computers or laptops come with bluetooth) - so that makes it cheap on the computer side $0

#1 On the micro-controller I've always been partial to BBB arduino boards $16 ...   +  BlueTooth Silver Smirf $39 @ 115K (have'nt got one)

#2 There's this do-hicky http://www.sparkfun.com/products/8255  which has already come and gone (retired) .. where have I been?

#3  I've tried 2400 RF modules with BBB - I would say "not very stable" - "FritsMayHaveSavedHisHairButThisThingIsNotThatStableNorFast".... and there is always contention with Servos (Grrr)

#4 I made a IR transciever which worked off my computers serial port and its twin for the BBB - was very slow, not that stable.. bit banging solutions always seem problematic...

#5 MSP420 $5 + CC2560 ?  @ 2.6 Ghz 

#6 MSP430F5438 Experimenter Board - $149 (too spendy .. and not even on the market yet..)

Any Ideas O' Gurus?

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Ok, I would say first off, that the question is between X-bee and Bluetooth. Lets get through the obvious (much of which was covered above --and-- in no particular order)

  (It can be assumed that I am talking about a "BlueSmirf")

  • Xbee requires breakout boards to deal with the metric pins
  • The Xbee on the computer end is going to need a USB thingie/breakout board
  • Bluetooth is built in to most lappys now and/or dongles are wicked cheap $2
  • Bluetooth from uC to uC is not readily available (uC to computer only)
  • Xbees from robot to robot is super easy
  • Xbees are built for swarms and mesh'es and do it well (if you can figure it out)
  • Xbees have a TON of handy stuff, ADC's and extra I/O's --all neat
  • Bluetooths eat 115,200 for lunch --Xbee's (at least the basic models) seem to want to top out at 38,400 or so
  • Any, if not all, work done with a smart phone or tablet will be Bluetooth
  • (Back to the breakout boards) Bluetooth usually comes with a standard row of pins for connections
  • Xbees can be addressed (via the xbee itself, not within your code)
  • 2 Xbees is just slightly more money than one basic BT unit (again, + the breakouts)
  • BT plays nice with 3.3 and 5v
  • X-bees do not play nice at 5v (well, they do, but only once)


Personal experience:

(It should be assumed that all communications were done with the Tx and Rx in the same (average sized) room)

I have used both Xbee and BT with picaxe, arduino and propeller all with fantastic results. I have not found any difference in performance between either the uC platforms or the Xb/Bt units themselves. --Other than the fact that I was able to go faster with the bluetooth. That said, when running within their speed "limits", I have never lost a single byte of data (using either one) nor lost a connection. For me, this is the whole picaxe/arduino argument all over again. I think they are both great and both have their place. If my intention is to do any kind of PC/robot communication, I will go BT every single time. If I intend to go robot/robot or transmitter/robot I will go with X-bees every time.

Specific units:

I say go cheap. I would think that the vast majority of us are going to have the Rx and TX unit in the same room. In this case, I see no reason to go "Gold" on the BT or "Pro" on the Xbee. I use the basic models of each and never give them a second thought. I would also add that if an upgrade on the Xbee's is desired, one would be well served by skipping the series 2 and going straigh to Pro. The series 2 are a spectacular pain (almost impossible) to configure for 2-way communication, and very little info exists on how to solve this problem. I know it has been done, but I could not get it to go and I personally wasted much time in trying. That said, series 1 and pro's are good to go.

Thanks for all the information CTC and advice.  I have successfully avoided Xbees because of their price and voltage requirements. I am interested in swarming, but all the information will either be directed by the computer or routed from one robot through the computer to another robot..

Its encouraging you have had solid results with both, now to see if Rogues super cheap BT example is just as solid !

I disagree with Chris' limitied list of solutions. I know I'll catch hell for this, but don't count the msp430 solution out....I noted that you had a couple on there, but I think the one I mention below might be closer to your needs.

The msp430 solution is a very valid and with the deals that they have on the kits every so often, you could possibly pick this one up for $25-$30. At it's regular price, it goes for $55 at mouser. This is a nice kit with the target boards(you get 2) containing a proc(msp430f2274) which is very capable(hw uart, i2c and spi) as well as the cc2500 2.4ghz rf tranciever. The kit also comes with the programming and interface board that you can easily use as a passthrough for data via serial port(check the userguide doc for more info on this). Mind you I seem to be one of the few on this site that uses the msp430 procs, but this kit would seem to be a good option.

I'm not sayin, I'm just sayin is all...

But its not BT so - the computer would need a tranciever too no?

However, I bought 4 msp430s  

So maybe the least expensive robust solution is :

 $5 msp430 + Rogue's Cheap BT find $10 = $15 per unit (woo hoo)

Seems a very "Swarmable" price

it comes with 2 trancievers, so you have all that you need.  :)

as far as price goes you have a lot more room to save on wireless than on a microcontroller, so I think any micro with a hardware serial port in conjuction with a cheap bluetooth module with serial port profile is a winner!  I haven't used the linked $10 bluetooth module but I intend to.

That's what was frustrating me... SparkFun has had Smirfs for ages but they are always @ $40 to $50 a unit... seemed frustrating when the uC is less than half that price.

So now we are looking at :

115K Serial with no Servo contention, Computer->Robot with a BBB $16 + Cheap BT $10  = $36 a unit 

Thanks - Very Nice !

I have to say, thats a really good price.

And here is SMD BT for $6.60  - although it looks as if default setting would need to be re-programmed if you want 115K

So I could print my own interface to plug into a msp 430, and that would be ~ $10 per (uC + BT) !!

$40 for a 4 bot swarm (not including servos, wheels or batteries)

Seems doable...

I've found the bare Bluetooth modules are difficult to solder even with a microscope and surface mount soldering station, I really don't like the half via pins they use.  The four dollar premium for the presoldered breakout board is worth every penny to me.