TI Robotic Systems Learning Kit (TI-RSLK) - Review

Table of contents

RoadTest: TI Robotic Systems Learning Kit (TI-RSLK)

Author: MARK2011

Creation date:

Evaluation Type: Workshop Tools

Did you receive all parts the manufacturer stated would be included in the package?: True

What other parts do you consider comparable to this product?: Ti Piccolo Launchpad Lego Mindstorms

What were the biggest problems encountered?: Soldering issue - risk of overheat and spoil microswitches when soldering connectors. The kit was incomplete: spacers didn't fit, some screws were missing, holes in the chassis have to been adjusted to fit boards. Ir-Line sensor is unstable is it sensitivity problem?

Detailed Review:

Introduction

I'd like to thank  Texas Instruments and Element 14 for giving me chance to face with TI Robotics System Learning Kit (TI-RSLK).

 

Texas Instruments is well known as developer of  analog chips and embedded processors.

Quoting the TI slogan, their mission is to: “power electronics across every industry and help to make the world smarter, safer, greener, healthier and more fun”.

In my case the last word is significant indeed! Let me tell about 60 days of having fun with Ti robotic learning system.

 

RSLK is a simple robotics kit accompanied with complete classroom curriculum divided into 20 lectures (in advanced version) with examples and exercises/ experiments to be conducted.

As declared in the kit description, the system helps students in a deeper understanding of how electronic system designs work.

Attached learning modules cover basic to advanced topics of electronic and automation.

 

Each module is supported with lecture videos and slides, lab documentation, queries etc which made complete learning programme. Nevertheless the kit is fully customizable.

It can be used as mini electronic laboratory.

Complementing with additional modules, the system can be expanded and level of the course can be raised. The TI-RSLK is targeted to teach embedded systems and applications,

it can be expanded and used in a variety of engineering classes at any level along a college student’s learning journey.

 

 

I must admit that this roadtest took a lot of time and gave me lot of fun.

Curriculum is good prepared and relative simple to conduct from beginning to the end 15 or 20 lessons - relating to the version of RSLK - basic or advanced.

Honestly I spend (maybe even loose) time just playing with RSLK and attached examples.

But finally I’m able to sort out all observations, remarks and issues compiling it into let say complete report.

I’m not going to copy tons of information and data-sheets concerning above equipment and accompanying it software suite as well as curriculum papers.

That information is available on official Ti-RSLK, and also on Element14 (i.e. very interesting Webinar Learn, Build, and Compete with TI Robotics System Learning Kit) as well as on the Ti fantastic forum.

The lectures can be supported using books by university faculty, Dr. Jonathan Valvano of UT Austin.

Here I should add that our kit was developed in collaboration with Dr. Jon Valvano, the TI-RSLK is designed to supplement university curriculum.

His plentiful resource of lectures and supporting papers is available on the net.

Students will learn through hands-on labs that will  allow them to build the robot, problem-solve, test their designs and collaborate as a team to compete with their robots.

 

So, generally speaking First of all: RSLK is not only "Learning Kit" but complexive automation/ robotics learning programme! with lot of documentation, examples and fantastic support.

 

Main features, specification:

LaunchPad

The heart of the robot is SimpleLink™ MSP432P401R high-precision ADC LaunchPad

which includes a 48MHz ARM® Cortex®-M4F, 80uA/MHz active power and 660nA RTC operation, SAR Precision ADC with 16-bit performance and AES256 accelerator.

All pins of the device are fanned out for easy access.

These pins make it easy to plug in 20-pin and 40-pin Ti or compatible BoosterPack modules that add additional functionality including Bluetooth low energy, Wi-Fi wireless connectivity, and more.

 

Besides:

Motorboard

Pololu Motor Driver and Power Distribution Board for Romi Chassis - battery contact slots, reverse voltage protection,

several power switching options, and easy access to the various power busses

— and adds a two-channel motor driver and powerful switching step-down regulator

that can supply a continuous 2.5 A at 5 V or 3.3 V.

Gearmotor

120:1 Mini Plastic Gearmotor HP, Offset 3mm D-Shaft Output

Compact, plastic gearmotor (high-power brushed DC motor with a 120:1 reduction gearbox) is suited for use in small robots.

While intended for operation at 4.5 V, it should run comfortably in the 3 V to 6 V range.

The gearbox has a 9.7mm-long, 3 mm-diameter D-shaped output shaft that is offset from but parallel to the motor shaft,

and a built-in safety clutch helps protect the gears from excessive loads.

https://www.pololu.com/product/1512/specs

 

QTR-8RC Reflectance Sensor Array

The QTR-8RC reflectance sensor array is intended as a line sensor, but it can be used as a general-purpose proximity or reflectance sensor.

This sensor module has 8 IR LED/phototransistor pairs mounted on a 0.375" pitch, making it a great detector for a line-following robot.

Pairs of LEDs are arranged in series to halve current consumption, and a MOSFET allows the LEDs to be turned off for additional sensing or power-savings options.

Each sensor provides a separate digital I/O-measurable output.

  • Dimensions: 2.95" x 0.5" x 0.125" (without header pins installed)
  • Operating voltage: 3.3-5.0 V
  • Supply current: 100 mA
  • Output format: 8 digital I/O-compatible signals that can be read as a timed high pulse
  • Optimal sensing distance: 0.125" (3 mm)
  • Maximum recommended sensing distance: 0.375" (9.5 mm)
  • Weight without header pins: 0.11 oz (3.09 g)

 

 

 

Unpacking

Can I repeat - from my previous test?..."There is nothing better than opening the package with brand new, sophisticated electronic device (for me at least…)"

Specially when you find in the box plenty of electronic from simple elements as diodes or resistors to comprehensive Microprocessor development board

and additionally parts with equipment giving you freedom at developing your robotic system!

In the advertisement of  RSLK, its specification and features list sounds exciting: 50+ extra components...

Well if we count all small parts as basic screws,nuts ets we get that number. Honestly, the set of modules in the basic version is relative modest.

We will use set of micro switches and ir-sensors line as our robot senses. Not too much, anyway it should be enough at the beginning of the adventure with robotics.

Documentation, support etc.

There are lot of documentation papers and multimedia helping to build, program operate and explore both TI-RSLK and MSP432 microprocessors.

Books, examples and video support to understand basic to extended details of electricity, electronic and robotics.

On the element14 and Ti sites related to RSLK I found many explanations and links.

Basic technical materials

The best instruction to build the robot is

“Basic Kit Construction Guide TI Robotics System Learning Kit (TI-RSLK):The Maze Edition”  swrp249.pdf

For support of going through lessons, among others, I found the most useful complete manual:

“TI-RSLK Texas Instruments Robotics System Learning KitThe Maze Edition - Basic”  slay052a.pdf

And films: https://training.ti.com/zh-tw/ti-robotics-system-learning-kit

Technical documentation overview

In short words: RSLK has perfect support. Honestly - I started to dig in internet to get as many information and documentation as possible.

There is lot of them and all is very convenient. But at the end i concluded, that mentioned above instructions are good enough to go through curriculum.

 

Maybe one more resource:

After several weeks of intensive exploration of the element14/ Polulu/ Ti + Ti/CCS sites I want to put here information about another important tool

it is  the TI E2E Support Community!

and specially its Code Composer Studio section as well as MSP Low Power Microcontrollers section.

The great platform to look for answers and solutions of my present issues related to the hardware as well as software.

Most questions are answered quick, on the other hand you can share knowledge, explore ideas and help solve problems with fellow engineers.

Building the robot

Using mentioned above “Basic Kit Construction Guide” it’s rather trivial task.

I could support it watching Lab - videos from https://training.ti.com/zh-tw/ti-robotics-system-learning-kit

 

I managed… but not without some issues. First my mistakes:

Sometimes it’s worth to read instructions or at least carefully look at pictures

it's pity but the ball should be inserted in the"unamortized" socket...As follow:

 

Other issues:

Soldering

I think it was my fault comes from routine and haste but I’m afraid young students should also beware overheating elements during soldering

It's hard to admit it:

I overheated connectors in microswitches and damaged selected switches but finally I managed to repair them...

I want to share my doubts concerning quality of wires. It is very good brand.

But I have problems when soldering... was it quality of wires? copper was oxidized...

nevermind, I managed to build the system at last and it works!

I need to complain a little spacers/ screws set was incomplete

And also holes in the chassis have to been adjusted to fit boards.

OK! We can treat that as bonus lesson for young students/ engineers to cope with difficulties

Above picture: soldering battery connectors - beware overheating the board with small chips!

 

 

I decided to use spacers in different way - I raised the launchpad to sort out cables freely and conveniently below:

 

I had to adjust few wire sockets - no problem plastic is pliable details below:

 

And last remark:

Batteries...Its capacity (1300MAh) is let me name it: ancient... but of course,  it works fine.

The problem is that even qualified chargers are prepared for bigger capacities and uses improper (high too much) current

I'm afraid of lifetime of batteries…

 

Enough… sorry for nit-pick!

Robot looks fine, doesn’t it?

Software

Here is description of the set of software necessary to start the equipment and experiment with our robot.

Code Composer studio

Code Composer Studio (CCS) Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for Ti Microcontrollershttp://www.ti.com/tools-software/ccs.html

Code Composer Studio is an integrated development environment (IDE) that supports TI's Microcontroller and Embedded Processors.

Code Composer Studio comprises a suite of tools used to develop, compile and debug as well as analyzing embedded applications.

It includes an optimizing C/C++ compiler,source code editor, project build environment, debugger, profiler, and many other features.

According to Ti description:

  • Based on the Eclipse open source development environment enabling integration with many tools.
  • Includes an optimizing C/C++ compiler, source code editor, project build environment, debugger, profiler, and many other features.
  • Provides a single user interface taking you through each step of the application development flow.
  • Familiar tools and interfaces allow users to get started faster than ever before.
  • Various free, node locked (tied to a PC) and floating (network) licenses are available.
  • For complete information including links to platform features, robust resources for users,

 

Code Composer Studio (CCS) Integrated Development Environment (IDE)http://www.ti.com/tool/CCSTUDIO

Selection by processor family:

Cloud-based Development Tools

 

 

 

CCS Cloud is a web-based IDE that allows you to create, edit and build CCS and Energia projects.

Once you have successfully built your project, you can download and run on your connected LaunchPad. Basic debugging,

including features like setting breakpoints and viewing variable values is now supported with CCS Cloud.

Reduce download and installation time by starting your editing, evaluation or initial design immediately with CCS Cloud.

Simply connect your LaunchPad or SensorTag, launch CCS Cloud, and begin

CCS Cloud supports wiring API via Energia, TI-RTOS and C/C++ development

 

I didn't run cloud Ide but I looks fascinating. I will test it soon, for sure.

 

https://dev.ti.com/

 

And...

Resource Explorer

Very convenient site, where all necessary tool, application or documentation as well as help or examples could be found.

 

 

 

Installing software

I was prepared for that RT having Ti CCS installed in my laboratory.

But I decided to share my previous remarks concerning Ti CCS suite installation.

My previous installation of CCS

At the beginning I decided to install the proper environment for my incoming experiments.

According to the manuals and advises on Ti websites, I started to install Motor Ware and CCS.

I must honestly admit, that I encountered some strange issues during the installation.

The first attempt produced several error messages.

 

 

 

 

Frankly I knew CCS but I admit, previously I had to learn “a little bit” about philosophy of dealing with projects in the CCS workspace, before.

Now I didn’t spend too much time for learning details of the suite. On the other hand for students without experience with Ti software, that means few hours of curriculum extra.

Don’t worry MODULE1 of the curriculum explains everything very clearly!

After installation, running simple example we can see proper settings corresponding to the MSP432 Launchpad. Some settings should be checked, other fine-tuned. There are lot of options indeed!

 

Nevertheless as I mention here many time, The manual is perfect it shows the way of installation and then teach how build projects.

Software review

Despite of fact it costed me many time to dig through the documentation, manuals with demos and discussions on the Ti forum,

using the support or webinar "bundled" to this roadtest I found the software quite convenient.

virtual oscilloscope

The RSLK comes with excellent tool to experiment with signals - fantastic Ti -software  - virtual oscilloscope TExaS Display

Moreover: When debugging you don't need to use external measurement equipment.

CCS is equipped with  inbuilt scopes and debugging tools

 

I must confirm that after honest study and review of papers (I knew it from the previous Ti equipment/ software roadtests),

all necessary instructions are available and everything is well described.

On the other hand, I need to repeat, unfortunately there lot of related papers, sometimes I became confused,

wondering which manual concern my board or module,

which should be used. After the "fraternization" phase it appear clear, but the beginning was full of doubts.

But the suite is perfect tool for error correction debugging etc.

You can't feel lost thanks to supporting Ti forum - I found answer for most my questions using archive posts.

But I believe, that even the new issue will be answered soon by kind members of Ti forum society!

 

Here is also the place to emphasize the very important and convenient toll: BoosterPack Checker https://dev.ti.com/bpchecker/#/

Compatible modules list:

Details of the couple selected

 

Using this tool I can easily realize which connector is occupied and otherwise, which could be used.  Excellent to explore the IO's,

when planning to go beyond "classic" labs and work with own, individual project.

First switching on

First of all it’s worth to run “out-of-box Demo” application

 

The out-of-box delivered with the MSP-EXP432P401R LaunchPad kit features a graphical user-interface that enables selection of  RGB LED

(from over 16 million color options) using HID on screen. It can be done using cloud ide.

 

TESTS - LAB MODULES

Basic, preliminary tests

I decided to omit most of basic level education exercises. Nevertheless I admire the involvement of authors to introduce students  in realm of electronic.

Starting from absolute basics and simple examples step by step to more challenging issues.

For my curiosity I checked simple sine generator on MSP432

The code was prepared in curriculum script. All I need was open the LAB code and build it.

I could see, that using advantages of CCS debugger the results of code execution could be easily observed and checked.

Here are sine generator data:

 

Logic states and running of the TExaS logic analyzer

I wrote above about very convenient virtual oscilloscope attached in the curriculum tirslk_maze folder.

TExaS Display is my favourite, indeed!

At the beginning I had a problem with it just because of misunderstanding.

Instructions told, that I need to take first COM port used by the device, in my case I should use the second one.

Results of LAB 1.4.8 

I decided to see it also in conventional (ancient) way

 

 

results HI = 0,7ms LO = 0,8 ms

 

The results of program (change of signal parameters using Launchpad switches) is easily visualised as follow:

Scope view is available also:

Try to solve the maze

… or at least control the robot

 

Now I jump to most interesting part of curriculum, full control of robot using sensors and advanced codes.

For creation of the final version of the system, the code must contain parts related to GPIO of course,

related also to microswitch bumpers described with details in LAB10 and LAB 6 devoted to IR Line Sensor.

The heart of curriculum is  Module 12 related to DC motors control.

 

I hope you also agree, that copying the whole curriculum in the report has no sense.

Thus I decided to attach only some results of my experiments and developing the system.

I’m afraid there are too much words in my RT now I hope following videos would show it better

 

The first film shows operation of simple alghorint of control motors only

 

 

In the second I add bumpers - for collision sensors

 

And following, we have 1st attempt to use of IR sensors and Line-Following simple algorithm

The line sensor is very sensitive.

I have problems with fixing the proper distance from the floor:

 

But also color, contrast of line is the issue the film shows that even fine tuned algorithm fails sometime.

Line sensor is very sensitive and relative unstable.

I experimenting lot with setting the best position of the sensor board.

 

below: still not working, but the victory is closer!

 

And finally: success !

 

moreover It can find the edge of the card, below:

Creating own applications

Basic version is relative primitive I suffer lack of communication modules or at least tachometers!

I tried to go forth expanding the kit but honestly I didn't decide so far to buy Pololu components, responsible for communication, distance sensing and tachometer.

Therefore I plan to explore that in the future. I leave that chapter “under construction” for now.

OTHER - comparison with LEGO Mindstorms

Well, difference is obvious.

HARDWARE

Ti: Small parts, basic electronic components need to soldering or at least use of breadboard

LEGO: bricks - just bricks compatible with each other ready to plug, connect and play.

 

SOFTWARE

Ti: eclipse based CCS environment - very comfortable and relative simple and friendly for coder - beginner but i’m afraid not for kids

LEGO - expanded application to program robot using bricks (as usual in LEGO)

I must admit -  “bricks programming” could be quite fast.

Results are quite interesting.

I can't blame the flexibility it is quite fine.

Regarding CCS, for the experienced programmer there is no difficulties in programming moreover Ti seems to be even more flexible.

Expanding the RSLK is relative cheaper and quite simple - here, even kid with electronic/ mechanic skills could manage it.

With support of experienced teacher it should be very educative!

I experienced similar problems experimenting with line-follower - both kits are sensitive if line/pattern have improper colour or contrast etc...

Conclusions

Here I would like to combine my reflexions from current Ti RT and also from the previous one.

After relative long time of dealing with LaunchPads - previously Piccolo  accompanied with Motor Booster DRV8301,

spending several hours configuring and experimenting with Code Composer Studio (CCS),

I was quite prepared for the next challenge with MSP432 based launchpad and the whole RSLK.

Now I’m ready to add complete remarks as the summary.

The selection of kit elements to be used on robotic lessons and specially instructions how to conduct it, are perfect!

It lead the student step by step from the beginning (something can be omitted by experienced user - no problem here) to quite comprehensive projects.

Here I must state that in that roadtest I have quite different feelings as in the case of another Ti test, also related to the Launchpad and CCS software.

With RSLK programme I felt quite comfortable navigating through the software suite, building the robot on the basis of MSP launchpad.

Now hardware and software configuration isn't the mystery anymore!

Nevertheless I still remember my previous hesitation when installing the soft, doubts when the order of the installation matters and could cause errors.

Another or maybe common remark - documentation.

RSLK is perfectly supported and can be honestly recommended to be used in electronic/ robotic clases.

In the opposition to my first feelings, I can admit that the usage of the program suite - CCS is quite friendly even for for beginners.

Some programmings skills are necessary. I suppose that roadtest isn't the place for discussion if any user friendly extra interface should be introduced.

(if you need the toy you can go to Lego Mindstorm anyway) Ti helps us giving clear instruction, nevertheless low (semi) level programming in C is still necessary.

 

Possibilities of LaunchPad used in RSLK are outstanding indeed! I haven't even used few percent of its functionality.

I focused on robot motors control and reading the system sensors but the tool is extremely universal.

Together with good knowledge support it make powerful equipment providing control of comprehensive robot system.

Having the skills and experience you can take on any robotics/ automation related challenges.

 

Bibliography

 

Texas Instruments papers and website         Texas Instruments Incorporated Texas Instruments Copyright Information

Polulu papers and website                    Pololu Corporation https://www.pololu.com/

cons

Minor montage difficulties,

Lack of few screws - these can be neglected.

Instability of line sensor

pros

Let me repeat - generally speaking

and first of all:

RSLK is not only "Learning Kit" but complexive automation/ robotics learning programme!

with lot of documentation, examples and fantastic support.

As - let say - experienced engineer

I can make humble assessment and judge it as perfect tool for primary and college students.

 

Thank you again for selecting me as the roadtester and give me opportunity to deal with that extraordinary and amazing board.

Marek

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