June 04, 2009

microbric viper review

The microbric viper is neat. Good quality parts and unique idea. Makes a decent robotics platform if you get the wheel add-on. However, you gotta have small fingers to get some of the parts in place. Despite this, the hardware is solid, I like it. The one thing I would ask for however is more short-nuts and a printed manual, not a CDROM with a PDF. Take a leaf from LEGO and their construction manuals.



While the hardware is decent, the microbric viper is sadly let down by the software.



The microbric viper uses the basicAtom (by basicmicro), a PIC 16F87{6,7} with a custom bootloader. Now there is nothing wrong with this - arduino uses a custom bootloader too. However the custom bootloader uses a proprietary programming protocol. This is pretty fail, but what really fails is the programming software only runs under windows (or wine under ubuntu, but only for now).



IMHO the basic-esque language used by basicAtom is no better than what picaxe offers. I am completely at a lost as to why companies would use the basicmicro's products and lock themselves to a single supplier. Think about it: if basicmicro goes bust, your products using the basicAtom will not longer have a supported development environment.



Robotics companies need to seriously consider how their selection of controller will affect their customers - specifically those customers who aren't going to be running windows and staying with in the limits of whatever custom language designed by the controller vendors.



Arduino would be the best choice IMHO. Open hardware, open software. You don't have to pay premiums for the bootloader, and the number of people who will consider your product increases to include people like me.



I bought the microbric viper because it was on sale: reduced to $29 from $199. If I had known I could only program it under windows or that it used such a closed platform, I won't have bought it, even for that price.




Cheers,

Steve