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FIGURE 32.4 Use the BasicX program editor to create, edit, compile, and (optionally) download programs for the BX-24.
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Smith to get Smith1 ). Apart from the danger that you will introduce bugs by mixing data types, variants consume a lot of memory. They also tend to slow down execution speed, since it must determine the type of variable each time it is accessed. Visual Basic provides the variant feature because memory is abundant on PC systems, and at least with the latest machines processor speed is fairly fast. Conversely, memory in a microcontroller must be carefully rationed. The BX-24 supports 400 bytes (that s bytes, not megabytes or even kilobytes) of RAM memory to store data. For a microcontroller, that s actually a copious amount of memory! (By the way, if you re wondering, your programs are stored separately in a 32K block of EEPROM, which is enough for some 8000 instructions. You ll be hard-pressed to create programs that large for your robot.) When using BasicX, you must be constantly aware of the data type being stored in each variable. If you need to manipulate two variables that contain different types of data, you must remember to use the various data conversion commands that BasicX supports. This is perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of BasicX programming for newcomers. A particularly nice feature of the BasicX editor is that it allows you to build projects consisting of multiple files. This allows you, for instance, to build a library of commonly used programming functions that you may regularly use in your robotics work. When building a new program for the BX-24, you create a new project and then include any constituent files. This saves you from having to manually cut and paste commonly used code to make one big program file. Advanced programmers will appreciate the ability to work with real arrays in the BX24 environment. You can create arrays of any data type except strings or other arrays. You can then reference the elements of the array using an index number. This feature makes it handy to manipulate such things as data streams, where you want to store a series of bytes in one compact package. Before you can send your programs to the BX-24 chip they must be compiled. This is done in the BasicX editor by choosing the Compile command from the Compile menu.
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Compiling can take a while on slower machines, so be patient. Syntax errors are flagged, and if they are found, compiling stops. When you have successfully compiled the program it can then be downloaded to the BX-24 chip. This can be done from the BasicX editor or from the download console. After the program has been successfully compiled, it can be redownloaded any number of times. It does not need to be recompiled before each download.
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One of the more valuable uses subroutines provide is the ability to create multitasking programs. Multitasking is a built-in feature of the BasicX operating system. In most instances, the multitasking is preemptive, meaning that the BasicX operating system forces the BX24 microcontroller to time-slice between each multitasked subroutine. Each slice is given 1/512 of a second, more than enough to complete over a hundred instructions before moving on to the next subroutine. (The BX-24 processes some 65,000 instructions per second, or approximately 127 instructions per time-slice.) A few of the commands supported in the BasicX system suspend multitasking because they are sensitive to timing. These include such commands as InputCapture (explained later in this chapter), which accurately measures the duration of signals received by the BX-24. While multitasking is a powerful feature of the BX-24, it s not always easy to implement. For each subroutine that you wish to multitask you must manually calculate the amount of RAM needed to hold data for that subroutine while the system switches. This calculation is necessary so sufficient stack space is allocated to hold the data as the BX24 services each task. If you underestimate the RAM requirements, your program won t work properly; if you overestimate the requirements, you waste precious memory.
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