A decision on Basic Stamps and Parallax (+ FREE Propeller chip hardware to a good home!)

After my impetuous outburst about the limitations of the Parallax Basic Stamp platform, Parallax co-founder Ken Gracey was kind enough to respond directly in the comments. Excerpt:

The BASIC Stamp product line will continue to be developed by Parallax. But most of the improvements we make to the product line pertain to documentation, operating speed and memory, and the addition of commands. You won't be seeing a floating point library built into the BASIC Stamp.

If you want to have true simultaneous processing with another high-level language, my suggestion is to use the Propeller. You seem to already know that processor so I'll skip listing the specifications. We aim to make the Prop very easy to use by publishing our educational tutorials (see Propeller Education on this page). The forums supporting the Propeller are very active. Supporting the growth of the Propeller is a big priority for Parallax and we back our position by responding to customer requests. In this case, you've got a complete floating point library to use. There's also a BS2 library for the Propeller in case the user wants to continue using something they've already learned.

He and I also had a good phone chat where we talked more about the options. Here's my bullet-point report from that, and summarizing the comments above:

  • The Basic Stamp platform continues to be staple of electronic education in schools and will be for years to come. It's still growing in terms of its usage base.
  • That said, the technology is not going to evolve much more. The things we want, such as floating point, C-like variable handling and significant increases in memory, are not planned for the Basic Stamp architecture.
  • Instead, Parallax recommends that we shift to the Propeller chip, which has both everything we need and reflects the direction that Parallax as a company is going.
  • Although Propeller is not currently as easy to learn as the Basic Stamp, Parallax is working hard to improve that. One thing in particular that will help a lot is a forthcoming serial debug window facility like that of the Basic Stamp. This will let you use the PC as a display screen for the chip's output and otherwise get real-time data on variables and program operation. Finally, it will be possible to write a simple "hello world" program for the Propeller and see "hello world" on your screen, rather than just a blinking LED.

As a result, this is what I propose for DIYDrones:

  1. We complete the Basic Stamp autopilot so that it works perfectly as it is, both as a teaching tool and for those who currently have the Basic Stamp hardware and want to keep it.
  2. After that is done, however, we will not develop it further.
  3. We will instead port the Basic Stamp autopilot code to the open source Arduino platform. All future development of our "entry-level DIY autopilot" will be on that platform
  4. After that, we will port the code to the Propeller platform and then encourage better programmers than me to help collectively build an open source "pro-grade" autopilot project on it. This is a big job (just ask Dean Goedde, who used the Propeller for his awesome AttoPilot commerical autopilot), so I'm looking for volunteers to help take it on. Anybody out there want to try their hand at the future of embedded computing (8-core, 32-bit, object-oriented parallel processing)?
  5. To that end, Parallax has kindly offered to donate $500 worth of Propeller gear to DIYDrones. If you want it and can make a public commitment to starting and sharing an autopilot project here (and can demonstrate that you've got the coding experience to pull that off), I'll work with Parallax to give you the gear of your choice up to that dollar limit. Please respond in the comments.

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Comment by Dr. Orlando Hernandez on September 16, 2008 at 3:39am
You should look into the C Stamp. It supports full ANSI C, but with a software infrastructure that makes its usage as easy as the basic stamp. It also has 48 pins and many peripherals, including 12 channels of analog2digital conversion. See www.c-stamp.com
Comment by Tom in NOVA on September 16, 2008 at 8:47am

Here is some reasonably priced Propeller hardware:


Technical Data :
P8X32A-DIP40 Propeller Chip
5.00MHz crystal (5MHz x PLL16 = Clock 80MHz)
24LC256 EEPROM (32KByte) for program storage
PS/2 connectors for Keyboard I/O
PS/2 connectors for Mouse
Stereo output with Headphone jack
8 I/O Port (pins P0-P7)
RS232 Communication
Microphone input
VGA output
TV output
3.3V and 5V regulators
Vin 7-12Vdc

Included Parts :
P8X32 Base Board
Cable for Download Software
Examples and Source Code on CD
Manual, Schematic and Datasheets on CD
Propeller tool (Freeware) on CD
Comment by Tom in NOVA on September 16, 2008 at 8:55am
The link didn't post good. Here it is in a pdf file:

Parallax Propeller P8X32 Base Board 32Bit 160MIPS NEW!! - eBay (ite...

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on September 16, 2008 at 1:18pm
Interesting looking board, but it's only being sold on eBay by some guy in Indonesia. The Parallax forums are skeptical.
Comment by Tom in NOVA on September 17, 2008 at 3:37am

I bought one and willing to ship (US only) it to you or Jordi for a look\drive around the block, if you send it back within a couple of months. Just pay for shipping it back .

I have not had time to mess with it yet, nor will have time for a while.

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on September 17, 2008 at 5:27am
Hi Tom,

Thanks for the kind offer, but we're not currently developing on Propeller chips and that particular board is actually designed for desktop applications (mouse, vga, etc) rather than the mobile ones we focus on. When we return to Propellers, we'll prototype on stamps and breadboards as usual, and then design a custom PCB. It's really the only way to do an autopilot.
Comment by Tom in NOVA on September 17, 2008 at 7:42am
Understood. Eager to follow progress on both and again thanks for breaking new ground.
Comment by Zel Limbo on January 25, 2016 at 6:51am

Practical analysis - Apropos , if your company are looking for a service to merge two images , my kids saw a tool here http://goo.gl/HrzMBv


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