Fast Embedded Prototyping: GHI Electronic's FEZ Cobra
In an ideal world, a design project has well defined phases with appropriate time alloted for each milestone. In the real world, clients often bring a project that is already behind schedule, needing results yesterday. Board design can be a cumbersome process, often taking weeks before something physical is ready for the end customer. Breadboarding is an option, but it often isn't worth the time to put together a complete system with flimsy connectors that will be difficult to document.
GHI Electronics has been pushing the envelope on serious off-the-shelf options with their FEZ product line. Their robust .NET Micro Framework-based designs make a great solution for many commercial applications. (Microsoft's .NET Micro Framework is a mature, full featured managed embedded programming platform that makes sense for many complex commercial applications.)
Their latest addition to this line is the FEZ Cobra, which consists of the EMX module mounted on a board with several peripheral devices and IO points available. Unlike a starter kit, more IO points are easily available along with many useful peripherals including Ethernet, USB Host, USB Device, and an LCD connector.
This device is an ideal solution for a client looking to get an initial prototype up and running quickly for testing and verification, prior to designing a final board for the EMX module. The large amount of easily accessible IO leads allow external prototype circuits to be connected and validated. (Often times development kits don't have enough IO available if the system will use the majority of IO available). The on board peripherals allow quick connectivity and programmability. The robust board design is more appropriate for a temporary (or potentially permanent) field deployment to test the device or interface with a larger system compared to a typical development system. The 6 JST connectors allow connection to one of several off-the-shelf peripherals (see the FEZ Cobra Components).
Of course the Embedded Master and FEZ lines are also well suited to hobbyists fun for robot design, interactive display devices, and other fun projects. In the commercial world where the hardware platform is decided by expected volume, target price per unit, engineering cost, and calendar development time, the FEZ Cobra platform definitely has found its spot.
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