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Agilart project: the visual way of programming microcontrollers from your browser Answered

Hi all,
about an year ago we faced a problem with a microcontrollers and how difficult were for us to use them in a simple home solar system. That was the reason to start our project Agilart (www.agilart.com) with the idea to make a simple web based program designer, where we can visually program the microcontrollers. 

Now we have the site (www.agilart.com), a short demo video of the idea (http://www.agilart.com/community-and-support/video-tutorials/agilart-getting-started), and a few blog posts where we have tried to give some more details about the project (http://www.agilart.com/blog). We also made microcontroller's part and open source project (http://www.agilart.com/blog/agilart-runtime-in-github). We have plans for open hardware project for microcontollers designed especially for Agilart and providing features on prices under Arduino with Ethernet shield.

But why I'm telling you all this? Because we need your feedback and help. We would like to ask you to share what do you think about the approach we propose; what do you think about programming using block-diagrams; do you think you can use such approach yourself; do you need such tool or you prefer programming?

This will help us test our hypothesis, to check whether what we think will be useful is actually useful or it is cool only in our heads. This will help us understand does it worth to go further or not.

Our vision about Agilart is to provide an easy and intuitive way of working with microcontrollers even from people without technical background. We see it as open source/hardware projects combined with some paid services to cover R&D.

So, thank you for reading this and I will appreciate any feedback from you.
Thanks in advance for your time.
Ivan Dragoev


This could be used to teach college students....
Just throwing an idea in, might help.

I think (know!) visual programming is a great idea. To sell the idea is not so easy but i think some well thought out examples might do it. I have a visual programming system for PIC microcontrollers that is very simple to use but find very little interest among friends, even if they see 2 elements flashing an LED.

Hi LourensLG,
do you have an on-line demo of what you have done?

We also considering using blockly - see our blog from yesterday http://www.agilart.com/blog/no-typing-required) as possible UI, what do you think?

What was the reaction of your friends? Why do you think they did not used such visual approach?

Hi idragoev
My project is aimed (i think) at the user with a technical mindset. I will try to add 2 documents (pdf) to this reply. The one i made for a friend who wanted to know more, the other is an example of the documentation for VPS_P18. But to answer your question - my friends reaction was wow! impressive... and that was it. I had no hardware demonstration, which i think was the problem, so thats why i like your idea of examples (and a practical demonstration). VPS_P18 was developed using vb.net.

Hi Lourens
thanks for the docs. From what I see, you are still bound deeply to the hardware. I mean the people needs serious background in order to use that tool. In Agilart we aim to provide people a tool that is intuitive to use and does not require deep technical knowledge. That's why we use widgets that in your example would be PID_Control widget with several inputs and output. At this moment we target mainly Arduino and Raspberry Pi audience, more DIY people rather than professionals.
Another major difference is that Agilart supported controllers are accessible over the net - Ethernet for the moment, but it could be ZigBee, WiFi, Serial, etc - and you can remotely program it again and again. uo can also make dashboards and control your controller directly from the web browser: http://www.agilart.com/blog/Archive/2012/3

Btw how far did you get with that project? Did you stop working on it?

Hi idragoev
You are right about being very hardware bound, but then my idea was to make the hardware very simple and cheap. You can test all the function blocks with a $10 processor on a piece of stripboard. You need a xtal and a rs232 converter chip.
Regarding the project - i started working on it (again) this year, ported it to vb10, killed some bugs, increased data acqusition speed to 38.4kB, improved a few functions and are now busy updating documentation. I hope to have an install file ready by end Sept.
Back to your project - thanks for the info, i like the idea of the remote access and programming ability. How far down the development path are you, or should i ask how long before you have a system?

And one more thing: do you think you can give it a try? Do you see a potential you can use for yourself? Why?

Your website seems to preach availability and ease of use, but the second you browse away from the home page you launch into technical jargon that your professed target market would have no understanding of.

I also think many people would argue against your phrase: "focus on what the microcontroller should do, not how to do it" since understanding how a microcontroller works and how it does it is an important part of getting a working and reliable system. No?

and thanks for the comment, I definitely agree on the too-much-technical-words. How do you think we can fix that? By explaining by examples may be?

Regarding "focus on what the microcontroller should do, not how to do it" - it seems we do not stated it clear. The idea is that the learning curve is huge is you want to program microcontroller: you need toolchains, programming skills, etc. So usually you have to invest a lot of time learning how the MCU are working and then to build a solution using that knowledge.

"focus on what the microcontroller should do, not how to do it" should mean you do not need to learn all this, just drag and drop some widgets, connect and voila - it works.

Thanks Jayefuu for your comments, you pointed us 2 weakness we will address ASAP.