ARM Lab in a Box

ARM Lab in a Box
by Paul McLellan on 03-02-2014 at 5:57 pm

St. Francis Xavier said “Give me the child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man.” ARM is not going for them quite that young but this week they announced their “lab in a box” for participating universities worldwide. It is actually a joint launch between the ARM University Program (which is not new) and various partners. Since ARM doesn’t actually make any silicon themselves, they can’t supply everything needed themselves even if they wanted to.

So what is in the “lab in a box” (LiB)?

 The LiB package includes hardware boards from ARM partners, software licenses from ARM, and complete teaching materials ready to be immediately deployed in classes. Current partners supplying hardware boards include Freescale and NXP. The full contents of the box are as follows:

  • 10 x ARM-based development boards
  • 100 x ARM Keil MDK-ARM Pro 1-year, renewable software tools licenses
  • A complete suite of teaching materials from ARM, including lecture note slides, demonstration codes, lab manuals and projects with solutions in source.

Not surprisingly, Cambridge University is one of the first participants to get a LiB package. After all they are only a couple of mile away from ARM HQ and many of the founders of ARM graduated from the Cambridge Computer Laboratory (as did I). So you might expect that it would be the Computer Laboratory that loves the LiB. But the quote in the press release comes from Dr. Boris Adryan who appears to be in the department of genetics. He said:We were delighted to be one of the first institutions to receive the ARM University Program’s Lab-in-a-Box on Embedded Systems. It has immediately proven itself to me as an excellent resource for our research and teaching activities. The ARM-based materials it contains are helping us to connect our teaching of systems biology with the world’s latest embedded computing and sensing technology.

On April 14th and 15th, Xilinx and ARM are hosting two one-day workshops specifically for training faculty and researchers on the ARM SoC Lab-in-Box. The LiB is based on the ARM Cortex-M0 DesignStart processor core and Xilinx Vivado Design Tools. The one day workshop comprises lectures, hands-on exercises, and opportunities to network with experts from ARM and Xilinx. Details, including a link for registration, are here.

 If you are not a “participating university” there are other ways to learn about ARM, program one, build applications and so forth. Probably the most accessible today is Raspberry Pi. This is a credit-card sized computer. It went on sale almost exactly 2 years ago (on February 29th so it is hard to say “two years ago today” this year) and sold 100,000 units on the first day. Since then over 2.5 million units have shipped.

The idea behind a tiny and cheap computer for kids came in 2006, when Eben Upton, Rob Mullins, Jack Lang and Alan Mycroft, based at the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory, became concerned about the year-on-year decline in the numbers and skills levels of the A Level students applying to read Computer Science. There isn’t much any small group of people can do to address problems like an inadequate school curriculum or the end of a financial bubble. From 2006 to 2008, they designed several versions of what has now become the Raspberry Pi. The project started to look very realisable. Eben (now a chip architect at Broadcom), Rob, Jack and Alan, teamed up with Pete Lomas, MD of hardware design and manufacture company Norcott Technologies, and David Braben, co-author of the seminal BBC Micro game Elite, to form the Raspberry Pi Foundation to make it a reality. Three years later, the Raspberry Pi Model B entered mass production and within a year it had sold over one million units.

 Buy a Raspberry Pi on Amazon (eligible for Prime) without ethernet hereor with here. $29.99 or $39.99 respectively.

Details of the Lab in a Box announcement here.

But wait, there’s more. At Embedded World in Nuremburg last week, Freescale announced the smallest ARM ever. Yes, that is a golf ball. It is a 1.6mm by 2mm package using wafer-level chip-scale packaging. Internet-of-things-ready.

More articles by Paul McLellan…