Parallax Insider News

BASIC Stamp Chrome Programming Tool Proves Itself: Educational customers will soon have a Chromebook-compatible programming environment

  • By: Ken Gracey Published: 07 April, 2015 0 comments

Chromebooks are quickly gaining popularity in one-to-one high schools across the country. Estimates are that in 2017 over 14 million Chromebooks will have shipped to schools, taking well over over 35% of the education market for classroom devices. Educators use them with Google Classroom and students are able to be productive without any help from Information Technology staff. Yet Chromebooks have little memory and are limited to the Chrome operating system, and this poses a problem for most educational microcontroller systems.

Parallax foresees what’s coming and we’re working to release a BASIC Stamp and Propeller Chrome App (hereinafter the “Parallax Chrome App”). The Parallax Chrome App is an elegant project which runs from Chrome. It looks and feels like it’s own application, not something in a browser window. Internal testers on our development team have installed it directly from the Chrome App Webstore. Installation takes a minute at most and everything runs in the Chrome engine!

Today, the Parallax Chrome App is programming BASIC Stamp modules!

We’ve run it on Chromebooks, Macs, Windows and Linux. We are proud to say that it compiles and downloads flawlessly on these systems.

It’s our company goal to offer a fully comprehensive robotics system that fits the teacher’s and student’s needs. This includes support for their devices, training for teachers, American-made hardware, and support that gives teachers the confidence that we’re right there with them in the classroom. The Parallax Chrome App is one more step in this system.

Modernized Makeover for BASIC Stamp Users

If you’re an educator, you’re aware that everything from CNC, 3D printing and design software is being made available in a lightweight, modernized interface that students can quickly learn to use. The Parallax Chrome App is the same - most commonly used features will be up front. It’s a graphical system that can use a mouse or your finger for navigation and editing. Devices that use keyboards will have keyboard shortcuts for them. It’s a modernized, full makeover of the BASIC Stamp Editor - one that can be used within a minute of installing.

Engineering Design Results in a Lightweight Chrome App

The Parallax Chrome App is built using HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript. Underneath, we used a system called Node.js, a JavaScript open source project with useful libraries. The PBASIC Tokenizer, which was rewritten in C in 2001, was compiled with Emscripten to generate JavaScript source. The whole project (GUI, PBASIC Tokenizer, Serial Downloader) runs locally (offline) in its own app window using the Chrome browser engine. Take a look at the screen shots above for an example of the Parallax Chrome App. This gives the BASIC Stamp access to a whole new world of mobile learners where competitor’s products will take more time to adapt due to their significant software and compiler requirements.

The requirements for the Parallax Chrome App are that the device have Chrome and possibly an FTDI driver installed. As you know, this opens the doors to nearly any hardware. For mobile tablets with no USB, we plan on integrating our WiFi downloading tools (these are functional for the Propeller, but still in progress for the BASIC Stamp).

Development Plans and Schedule

At present, our Parallax Chrome App is missing download confirmation, visual feedback, syntax highlighting rules, source code project management, help system, and some user interface design. There’s no support for the Propeller at this time. Parallax will release an Alpha version this summer for BASIC Stamp with a full Beta ready in time for the Fall 2015 school session. You can count on us making the installation files available by June.

The entire system is open source on GitHub.

Important Appreciation for Project Management and Engineering

There’s never a shortage of good ideas among technically-minded people, but executing them successfully requires something more difficult to build - a solid engineering team who considers market, budget, schedule and engineering to be of equal importance. Parallax’s Jeff Martin has managed this project with the talent at Iced Dev (www.iceddev.com). This team meets each week to review their sprint goals and progress, budget consumption, and schedule. It’s among the most well-managed projects I’ve seen at Parallax.

Great work, Jeff and Iced Dev!

Ken Gracey