Electronic Design
The Ultimate Zigbee Develoment Kit

The Ultimate Zigbee Develoment Kit

I have been checking out ZigBee development kits since they were first released (see ZigBee Kits 5). The change over time has been amazing. Of all the ones I have looked at in the past, Ember's EM35x Development Kit (Fig. 1) is the best I have seen to date. It includes not only top notch software but a hardware combination that includes backchannel Ethernet debug capability. Ember doesn't make you run out and buy more hardware or hope you have it handy (except for a development PC and batteries).

The EM35x Development Kit hardware list includes:

  • EM35x Radio Control Modules Board (3)
  • EM35x Breakout Board (3)
  • EM35x InSight Adapter - ISA3 - (3)
  • EM35x Module Variety Pack (1 Box with 6 modules)
  • Radio Frequency Cable (1)
  • InSight Port Cable (3)
  • Data Emulation Interface Cable (3)
  • Power Supplies and Battery Pack (3)
  • 8 Port Switch with 4 POE ports (1)

The 10/100 Netgear ProSafe FS108P Power Over Ethernet (POE) switch (Fig. 2) ties together the three breakout boards into a wired debug environment (Fig. 3). Each EM35x breakout board (Fig. 4) contains a wireless module and the board is connected to a matching InSight Adapter (ISA3).The breakout board has a nice breadboard area, plenty of LEDs, buttons and configuration jumpers to satisy most developers plus a serial port. The modules each have a debug socket and the breakout boards do as well.

The InSight Adapter is the key. It has an Ethernet connection that is accessible via development software that runs on the PC. It also has cables that connect to the breakout board providing debug capabilities. Ethernet is much faster than ZigBee so this speeds up programming and debugging of the modules.

You can get more details on the kit including all the documentation mentioned here at Ember's development tools web page. Definitely take a look at the Quick Start Guide (PDF) to get an idea of how all this goes together. It took me a little while to set up everything simply because of all the cabling. There is nothing complex. There is just a lot to do with the hardware plus installing the software. The nice thing is that when it is done you are ready to hit the ground running.

One of the first tools I checked out was the InSight Desktop (Fig. 5). The InSight Desktop (ISD) is built on Eclipse open source IDE. The software communicates with the InSight modules to provide everything from event tracking and decoding to node management. It is not too hard to use but the number of features is mind boggling. Lucikly hooking up to the modules via the Ethernet back channel was easy. I won't get into the details. Simply take it that ISD is one tool you will really miss if you try another development platform.

Eclipse can be used as a development environment but Ember also includes 30-day trial IAR's Embedded Workbench. Another version of the kit has a 256Kbyte code limitation but no time limit. IAR has a number of advantages when it comes to development tools. It has wide processor coverage that includes the Arm's Cortex-M3 that Ember's EM35x chips are based on as well as its own development kits. IAR supports the EmberZNet PRO stack that is also included.

On thing I like about the IAR option is visualSTATE. This is a graphical state machine development tool add-on that generates C code. Many of the applications associated with ZigBee are sensors and controls where applications are often defined using state diagrams. In this case the definition can be the program.

The other piece to the software puzzle is from Ember. It is the Ember AppBuilder. AppBuilder is essentially a menu-based application configuration tool. It knows about ZigBee profiles (of which there are many), the stack and the range of ZigBee commands. It can handle device-specific code using ZigBee certifiable template applications.

There are basic projects, demos and tutorials that are included with the kit that will take a couples days to work through and explore. I have found that getting through the initial demos is easy but wireless sensor and control design is a bit more complex. The advantage with this kit is the framework is in place and adding to a demo is significantly easier than starting from scratch.

It would have been nice to have an Eclipse-based development option in the box but if you are starting from scratch then the IAR option is best. The other Ember tools area standalone so they will work in conjunction with other development tools including those based on Eclipse as well. This is important given the range of Cortex-M3 programming options available.

One thing I didn't cover yet was the inclusion of the Module Variety Pack. Ember has many EM35x chip and module variations. The pack includes seven additional modules that can be swapped with any of the modules on the breakout boards. Applications will have to be modified accordingly if you are targeting a new chip depending on the feature set used. Some are just changes on the wireless side such as antenna options.

It can be a little difficult to find all the hands-on ZigBee reviews I have done over the years so I collected most of them here.

Check out some of those and you will see why I am so impressed with Ember's latest offering.

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