vb.net barcode scanner programming BRICK VARIATIONS 163 in Software

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BRICK VARIATIONS 163
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FIGURE 13.1 The Mindstorms RCX uses a hardware BIOS in ROM, along with firmware and data in RAM.
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The firmware layer contains what could be considered the RCX s operating system. This operating system can be periodically updated. In fact, when you first install the Mindstorms system on your computer, part of the setup process involves downloading the firmware from a file on your computer s hard disk and into the RCX. Whenever LEGO releases updates for the RCX you need merely to return to the setup portion of the Mindstorms program and download the new version of the firmware. Finally, the data layer contains the actual programs that you run on the RCX. Data programs are stored in random access memory. The batteries in the RCX continuously apply a small amount of power to the memory so your programs remain, even when the RCX is turned off. Both the firmware and the data are stored in 32K bytes of RAM. Being RAM, the data cannot only be replaced; it can be erased (including accidentally). The RCX can store up to five separate programs. There is enough RAM capacity for the firmware and no more than 1.2K for each of the five programs. Program data is stored in a 6K-byte region; the rest of the RAM is allocated to the firmware. Compared to your desktop computer, that s not very much storage space. However, the RCX needs relatively little RAM to run its programs. Since there are only five slots for programs, once you ve downloaded a program into each slot you have to overwrite one of the old programs in order to download a new one. Because data and firmware are held in RAM, all your programs will be wiped out if the batteries are removed or are allowed to become depleted. When the memory is swept clean you must also redownload the firmware. This involves running the basic setup section of the Mindstorms installation program.
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Brick Variations
The RCX that comes with the LEGO Mindstorms Robotic Invention System isn t the only programmable brick that LEGO makes. The CyberMaster, for example, is a programmable robot designed primarily for use in schools.
164 CREATING FUNCTIONOIDS WITH LEGO MINDSTORMS ROBOTICS INVENTION SYSTEM
Included in the LEGO Mindstorms Robot Discovery Set (RDS) is the Scout, another programmable brick that supports two motors and two sensors. You can also program the Scout via a computer (though the original RDS lacked this feature). The official Scout programming language from LEGO is PBrick Assembler, which is said to be a common language for LEGO s future products. You can find information on this programming language at the LEGO Mindstorms Web site at www.legomindstorms.com. Note that in this chapter we concentrate on the RCX, but that doesn t mean you should turn a blind eye toward the Scout. Feel free to explore the RCX, Scout, or preferably both! LEGO sells a version of the LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Invention System that has different software than the retail version. The school version uses a programming platform known as Robolab, while the commercial or home version uses a fully graphical programming environment called RCX Code. The hardware is the same, but the software the way to program the robot is different.
The Origins of the Mindstorms RCX
Thanks to its unusual design and almost limitless potential, there has been much interest in the genesis of the Mindstorms RCX. The idea of integrating a small computer into a generic, programmable device goes back some years, and it has been the subject of very active research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT first demonstrated socalled programmable bricks during the early 1990s, and these prototypes clearly influenced the design of the LEGO Mindstorms RCX. Researchers at MIT are quick to point out that the internals of the RCX were developed entirely by LEGO designers. Still, a quick look at http://fredm.www.media.mit.edu/people/fredm/ and other Web pages hosted by MIT demonstrates the impact of this pioneering work. An important aspect of the brick -based microcontroller is that it extends the programmability and flexibility of the microcontroller to nontechnical users. As you ll discover in later chapters, wiring and programming microcontrollers is not a simple task for the newcomer. But the RCX, and its MIT ancestors, make working with microcontrollers much easier. It is clear that the RCX is but the first of a new kind of universal, consumer-oriented microcontroller. Many others will follow. Because they are fully programmable, these microcontroller bricks will be useful in scores of projects, including home automation, home security, automotive applications, personal care and exercise equipment, toys, tools you name it!
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