Microsoft has teamed up with Make: Online to develop a series of embedded projects that make use of Windows Embedded CE, Visual Studio 2005 Pro, and third-party embedded hardware. We’ve brought our pal Kipp Bradford on-board to create three Windows Embedded-based projects and to document them, here on Make: Online and on Microsoft’s SPARK Your Imagination website.

For those who may be unaware of SPARK, it’s an MS campaign and series of contests designed to introduce students, hobbyists, and others to Windows Embedded CE and its use in “minimalist computers” and embedded systems. Microsoft has partnered with a number of hardware vendors, including VIA, Advantech, and Special Computing to provide special hardware kits. Buy an embedded device kit from one of these vendors and you get full versions of Windows Embedded CE 6.0 R2 and Visual Studio 2005 Professional for free.

For the first project, Kipp will be building a “smart home” automation system using Windows Embedded CE and the VIA ARTiGO A1000 Pico-ITX Builder Kit. He provides some background, on himself and the project:

My first home-built embedded project involved programming a Microchip PIC 16C73, using assembly code to control a stepper motor for a robotic stereo vision camera mount. I had limited experience modifying FORTH and C code on the trusty 6811, but it was truly exciting to machine the mounts and control linkages, design and build circuit boards, write embedded code, and write PC software. Unfortunately, I was in college, all of this work was done outside of my classes, and it truly took a significant amount of time that might have been better spent studying.

I did eventually complete the build and the accompanying electronics and software. Most of the projects I work on today require the same skills and combine the same basic elements: an embedded device receiving input from a user or sensors and generating an output.

Much has changed in the fifteen years since that project. Moore’s Law has made a significant impact on computational power while processors have become more energy efficient. On-chip peripherals now include USB, I2C, SPI, A/D, D/A, UART, etc. More importantly, customer’s expectations have changed. There is increasing pressure on developers to deliver complex user interfaces and feature-rich products nearly overnight. Software tool vendors responded by converting innovations developed for rapid application development on a desktop computer into versions better suited for the latest embedded hardware.

One very prominent tool is Windows Embedded CE. I remember thinking how cool it would be to take my Visual C code and recompile it to run on some little box inside a robot. As with my stereo vision project, I had no legitimate reason to run Windows in an embedded environment other than I thought it would be an interesting project, and as I quickly found out, Windows CE (as it was called at the time), was not the answer I was looking for. I felt like I would need a comprehensive knowledge of the Windows CE libraries to make anything useful happen with my projects, and I really didn’t know where to start with the tools. I noticed that other hobbyists faced similar challenges, so I gave up and looked for other solutions.

I was recently asked by MAKE to take a second look at the new Windows Embedded CE and to explore the product from a hobbyist’s perspective. With that in mind, I’ll be working on three projects using some exciting new embedded computer systems. The first project will involve creating a “dashboard” for an award-winning ultra-high efficiency building in Providence, Rhode Island. The dashboard will run on a VIA Pico-ITX. I will be covering the process of designing and buildingthis project, and the ins and outs of getting started with Windows Embedded CE, in the coming series of posts. Stay tuned…

Our new Make: Online author and technical editor, Kipp Bradford, is a technology consultant and entrepreneur. He’s developed electromechanical devices ranging from research instrumentation, consumer products, medical devices, and “mission critical” systems. Kipp may admit to inventing hundreds of toys for Hasbro and Mattel, but he’s unlikely to tell you which ones. Kipp is also an Adjunct Lecturer in Engineering at Brown University, where he teaches several engineering design and entrepreneurship courses. Additionally, he serves on the boards of two art non-profits, AS220 and The Steel Yard, in Providence, RI.

Starting next week, Kipp will be reporting on his progress, both here and on the SPARK Your Imagination website, in putting together this automation system using these tools.

Here’s the link to the SPARK website.

This SPARK Your Imagination Make: Windows Embedded project series is sponsored by Microsoft Corporation.