This summer is a really exciting time at Matrix TSL – with some exciting new product announcements sitting high at the top of the list.
For the past number of years, we have been successful in the development and manufacturing of an industrial PLC designed for electronic engineers, who need the rugged power PLC’s regularly deliver, but are more familiar with programming microcontroller devices and their relatively low cost (the current MIAC retails at just £132). This 8bit PIC based device, known as the MIAC (Matrix Industrial Automotive Controller) has led to a number of industrial use cases in countries as far and wide as Sri Lanka and the US.
Recently, the growth of microcontrollers has given opportunity for development of a further range of these popular industrial controllers. This summer, we will be adding to the 8bit PIC MIAC with four brand new MIAC controllers – including a MIAC with the super-powerful Raspberry Pi compute module.
Our goal here is to provide industrial style controllers for electronic and computing engineers who want to use the software tool chains and libraries that they are familiar with, rather than ladder logic, block diagrams or C languages of the traditional controller manufacturers. So we have four new MIAC’s: Raspberry Pi, Microchip 16bit dsPIC, Arduino, and AllCode (which will be released later this year). In the picture on the top left hand side you can see our original 8 bit PIC MIAC which is programmed with C or Flowcode – Matrix’s flow-chart software – alongside the upcoming new MIAC’s.
The MIAC range has an impressive specification: 8 analogue or digital inputs, 4 relays (up to 240VAC and 10A), 4 transistor outputs (24V, 2.8A total 5.6A) with PWM, USB, CAN bus, RS232, RS485, internal real time clock, SD card, graphical backlit blue LCD display (capable of displaying 5 lines of 20 characters), and on-board keypad. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi communication modules as optional extras. All contained in a custom moulded DIN rail compatible box. That’s a huge specification and there are some impressive and unique technologies in there.
Let’s take a closer look inside:
First of all, construction: The solution is a three board solution – all the power electronics is contained on the main board which connects to the processor board via a multi way ribbon cable. The main board has four chunky relays and the ST L6206N IC power driver driver chip: this is a DMOS low voltage drop device, which allows up to a whopping 2.8 amps per channel – with a max of 5.6 amps total. These outputs are short circuit protected and current limited to their maximum allowable output. On the top left side of the main board you can see Microchip’s MCP2515 CAN bus chip and TI’s VP230 CAN transceiver chip: these two act as an interface between the host chip’s SPI bus and the CAN bus. The main board also includes various buffer devices and a field of diodes offering input protection.
The top board includes the processor module in a SODIMM socket configuration. The photo shows the Raspberry Pi computer module on the top board as well as Matrix’s own dsPIC, and Arduino SODIMM modules beneath. This is a clever idea: the Dev guys have taken the RPI compute module form factor and created new microcontroller boards using the same pin out to make sure that all the versions of the MIAC use common circuit boards to keep costs down. The top board includes real time clock circuitry, optional battery cell for backup, mini SD card slot, and a USB slot for a low cost Wi-Fi dongle.
MIAC Raspberry Pi is rather special – and strange if you are used to embedded development tools. The Pi version is always fitted with a Wi-Fi module – but no on-board sockets for mouse, keyboard or HDMI video for programming. The Pi version is programmed with remote desktop software. This is really neat: on start-up you use the on-board keypad to set up the unit’s IP address. Then using remote desktop software, you connect to the RPI MIAC using a PC, MAC, or LINUX machine as a dumb terminal, via your Wi-Fi router, to program and interact with the MIAC. This is really clever and works quick enough to make you think that you are directly connected to the Pi. It’s a great technology: you can program a MIAC in England from Singapore over the internet, or you can program several MIACs in different locations in a factory from your desk. As the Pi compute module is basically a LINUX computer, it has bags of power and you can use Python, C or any other language running on Linux. The on-board memory stores your programs and you can fit a micro SD card if you need more space or you want to log data.
We will be providing written libraries to control all of the input output circuitry, display and keypad, and all the communications standards. These will be usable in Python, C and other languages. The combination of Pi and MIAC technology make a great partnership: huge power, flexible I/O, lots of comms possibilities.
The MIAC (Arduino compatible) is very different: all the circuitry is the same with the ATMEGA 1281 and a FDTI USB interface chip on the SODIMM card. To program the ATMEGA device you simply use the standard Arduino IDE. You will need to set the MIAC up as a valid hardware target – easy enough with the files supplied by the Dev guys. As with the Pi, our development team have written a library of routines to allow you to easily interface with all parts of the MIAC’s hardware and comms interfaces using the Arduino language. Couldn’t be easier. If the Arduino C++ language is not to your taste then you can use Flowcode to program the Arduino MIAC. We like to think this is a whole lot easier than the Arduino C++ language and it has the advantage that you can simulate your MIAC and any electronic or electromechanical items in your system before downloading and testing in hardware. You can also use an AVR C compiler toolchain to develop code for the ATMEGA device.
The 16bit dsPIC MIAC uses a powerful 16 bit dsPIC33 device. It can be used with Microchip’s own MPLABX software IDE and C code. This too can use Flowcode and all hardware libraries are supplied.
Now, the AllCode is special. The purpose of AllCode technology is to allow engineers to make use of conventional PC-based programs like Visual Basic, LabVIEW, MATLAB, etc. The AllCode is a kind of dumb hardware box. We supply a DLL with a suite of libraries to control all the hardware and comms interfaces. This means that the AllCode always has to be connected to your PC, tablet or mobile phone when in operation – but it provides a nice, low cost interface for a whole variety of uses in the lab or the workshop. Maybe you can prototype using your favourite PC language and then deploy in your machines using one of the other MIAC’s?
Now the big question: prices? The current 8bit PIC based MIAC is £132. For the new Arduino MIAC retail price will start at just £199. For the dsPIC version £215, and for the Raspberry Pi (inc. Wi-fi) version at £235 (all ex VAT and delivery). Versions with Wi-Fi/Bluetooth capability will cost a little extra.
So to conclude: what we will soon have will be a range of low cost industrial quality (including CE/EN standards) controllers which can be used with nearly whatever language you want, wherever you want, however you want.
The new MIAC’s will be available from Matrix this summer, keep an eye on www.matrixtsl.com for up-to-date information.