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Publisher's Letter

Microcontroller projects can be simple and complex at the same time

This month, we have two or three projects (depending on how you count them) which are based on PIC microcontrollers. They are the Shift Light Indicator and Rev Limiter, the UHF Remote Mains Switch (or Pump Controller) and the UHF Remote Transmitter. Last month (January), we had the PIC-Controlled Swimming Pool Alarm and the Water Tank Level Meter Base Station (again PIC-controlled). And then back in November 2007, we had four microcontroller projects of varying complexity, from the Playback Adaptor for CD-ROM Drives to a UV Light Box Timer. In fact, if you wanted to survey the last few years of SILICON CHIP projects, you would find a similar frequency of designs using Atmel, PIC or PICAXE microcontrollers.

The main reason why so many microcontrollers are featured in our constructional projects these days is simply that they make it possible to bring these projects to fruition. Without them, these projects would be impossibly complex or just simply uneconomic. A good example of this is the CD-ROM Playback Adaptor. It simply would not be possible to produce this project without the powerful Atmel microcontroller and a lot of software to boot.

It is also evident that microcontrollers also make the circuits seem quite simple while allowing very complex features to be incorporated. The Shift Light and Rev Limiter project in this month’s issue is a case in point. The PIC microcontroller allows very rapid measurements of engine RPM (necessary because engine RPM can vary over an extremely wide range with just a blip of the throttle) while performing two control functions: shift light indication and/or rev limiting. In fact, you could argue that we have made the control functions too complex and possibly we should have split the design into two separate projects.

The reason I am canvassing this topic is that we would like to know what you, the readers, think of this general trend to microcontrollers. Do you accept that micros are the way to go for many of our projects or would you prefer, if it were possible, that SILICON CHIP’s projects not use a micro and instead use a more complex circuit with possibly a lot of conventional logic ICs? Or are our projects simply too complex, whether they use micros or conventional circuitry?

We are also aware that we are devoting a lot of space to our electronic projects and they tend to incorporate a great deal of instructional detail so that novice readers have as few problems as possible. And of course, we also know that no matter how much detail we include, there will always be some questions unanswered for some readers. Or inevitably, there will always be some readers who want the project to provide for some other function which would have made the design more complicated.

Finally, do we have too much emphasis on electronic projects and not enough on new developments in electronics? At the risk of unleashing a deluge of email, we would like to hear your opinions on these questions. And if you have suggestions for articles or projects, please let us know about those as well.

Leo Simpson

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