Over the course of roughly a year, after completing my first book, I resurrected an old pet project of building an autonomous submarine (referred to as the E-2 project) with certain fairly challenging functionality requirements. In the course of developing this idea, I spent many hours on the Internet and elsewhere, researching techniques for rapid development of various electromechanical control systems and platforms to run fairly complex signal-processing algorithms. Although there are, of course, thousands of useful projects and snippets of information to be obtained from the Internet and books on hobbyist robotics, I found that nobody else seemed to have my exact priorities. In particular, there is apparently no single reference that gathers together at least introductory solutions to all the embedded design issues that affected my project: a need to use low-cost (open-source) tools and operating systems, a requirement for several features with fairly hard real-time requirements, and a desire to use cheap, off-the-shelf consumer grade components wherever possible. Available resources on many topics concentrate either on very expensive off-the-shelf industrial components, or on tightly constrained systems built around a single microcontroller, with delicately optimized, nonportable code to control peripherals—and a very limited range of peripheral support, at that. These latter system design restrictions are unavoidable when you’re working to tight power requirements, space constraints, or a rock-bottom bill of material (BOM) cost, but it’s an inordinate amount of effort to build and tune such systems for a one-off project or a prototype. Furthermore, learning all the details required to assemble such a system is an enormous task; it’s easy to get lost in fine-tuning details without ever managing to field a complete, working system. Irritatingly, many of the tweaks and most of the careful planning you do to get that system operational will have to be thrown away if you move into actual production, or if you need to build some more units with slightly different components.
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