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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What supplies and equipment will I need to get the most out of this course?

A: The robot kit consists of electronic parts, which are available here: The robot project as presented also requires a few wooden craft sticks, two nuts, and two springs which can be found at a local hardware store. You can find more information in the parts kit documentation:

In order to download programs to the MSP430G2 microcontroller, you will need access to a modern operating system (Apple, Windows, or Linux) with the Energia enviornment ( installed. Additionally, access to some wire cutters and pliers would be useful. Also, the lab experience will be most effective if you have access to a digital multimeter and an oscilloscope. The NI MyDAQ with NI myProtoBoard has been made available for students who would like to use this relatively inexpensive ($199 USD) measurement equipment to follow along with the course.

Q: What if I cannot find a part in my region or if the part is too expensive for me?

A: There is a student-curated list of alternative parts on the course Wiki. You may also ask on the course’s discussion forums to get clarification on specific parts. 

Q: I have another microcontroller. Can I use it to follow along with the course instead of the MSP430G2 Launch Pad?

A: You're free to bring your own microcontroller to the course if you have already have one. Our course videos feature the MSP430G2 series Launch Pad and we will program it with Energia, which is very similar to Arduino programming, but you should have very little trouble following along with other microcontrollers if you know how to program them.

Some students are planning to follow along with Code Composer Studio and C programming and will share their code on the course wiki. Other students are bringing a Tiva C Launch Pad from the UT Austin Edx course “Embedded Systems: Learn to Change the World.” Others are going to use an Arduino or an STM8 microcontroller. All of these controllers would be suitable. Please keep in mind that the male/female jumper cables listed in the parts kit were selected the work connect a breadboard to the male header strips on the MSP430G2 Launch Pad, so you may have to use different types of jumpers depending on which microcontroller you use.

Q: I’m having trouble finding the DC Motors. What are the required specs?

A: The DC motors we chose for the course has an operating voltage of 6-12 Volts. The motors are a size 130 hobby motor which commonly have a no-load speed of 10000 rpm.

Q: What type of op amps should I use for the course?

A: The applications we use in this class require 4 total general-purpose amplifiers with rail-to-rail outputs. A substitution was made for the op amp chips – the lmc6484 and opa2344 were replaced by the mcp602 in some regions. The two chips included in the kit give you access to 6 op amps in total (4 on the lmc6484 and 2 on the opa2344). Students in regions that use the mcp602 will use 3 mcp602 chips to have a total of 6 op amps. Please look for chips with DIP packaging because these are compatible with a breadboard. We use 4 op amps for the robot, but sometimes parts burn out so it is useful to have a couple extra.

Q: What is the difference between this class and the UT Austin Edx course “Embedded Systems: Learn to Change the World?”

A: UT Austin's course covers some analog electronics, but focuses on the digital/microcontroller side of things. This class utilizes a microcontroller, but focuses on the analog electronics side of things. The two courses are complementary and you probably would benefit from taking both at once. Both classes cover some of the same material but do so in different ways so it would probably be beneficial to see these perspectives. You can even use the Tiva microcontroller from the UT Austin course to take this one since you'll already know how to program it.

Q: Will the course videos be available for download?

A: Yes! We are working on a fix right now, and we should have a solution soon.

Q: All the assignments are due at the end of the course. Is there a recommended pace for going through the modules?

A: In general, you should spend about a week on each module. Modules 3 and 4 are a bit longer and may take two weeks. Here is a suggested schedule for tackling all the material that leaves some extra time.

Q: Can I design a different frame for the robot with other materials?

A: Yes, you are allowed to modify the frame and use other materials.

Module 0 (1 week)

    • Get all parts together
    • Familiarize yourself with your measurement devices (multimeter, oscilloscope)
    • Understand how to download code to your microcontroller

Module 1 (1 week)

    • Build voltage regulator and robot frame
    • Problem Set 1

Module 2 (1 week)

    • Build photocell + Wheatstone bridge circuits
    • Problem Set 2

Module 3 (2 weeks)

    • Add comparators to Wheatstone bridge front ends
    • Build buzzer driver and microphone amplifier circuits
    • Problem Set 3

Module 4 (2 weeks)

    • Problem Set 4

Module 5 (1 week)

    • Problem Set 5

Module 6 (1 week)

    • Build motor driver circuits and mount motors to your robot
    • Problem Set 6

Module 7 (1 week)

    • Complete and test full robot
    • Submit Final Robot project

Total time: 10 weeks

This schedule budgets in 5 extra weeks just in case you need to find more parts or are having trouble understanding one concept in particular.