Wednesday, April 28, 2010

myforth, 8051 and iRobot Create

At the end of my previous post I entertained the idea of using a SiLabs C8051 for controlling the Create. Of course, I can't run Lua on that MCU, so the obvious alternative is Forth.

But which Forth? I have a copy of SwiftX for the 8051, but I decided to look at an interesting environment called MyForth that i found here. This is the, quite detailed, manual.
Its non-standard (I don't really care), influenced by colorforth (yeah!) and completely tied to the 8051.

In this day and age, who would use a language completely tied to a platform? Well, apparently, the point of MyForth was to produce a true 8-bit Forth that would match the 8-bit nature of the 8051. (Most 8051 Forths are 16-bit, while the registers and most efficient instructions on the 8051 are 8-bit based.)

After a while, I started to think: so what? As modern programmers we've embraced portability over efficiency. No, its more that that: We strive to avoid software that locks us to a particular piece of hardware.

Is this a real problem (all of the time)? If I want to augment Create (or other consumer robots) with an MCU and some code, should I strive to make it portable? Or do I just concern myself with the problem at hand: Making the robot do interesting things.

Another plus for MyForth is its development environment: It uses gforth as a cross-compiler. I have full access to the cross (meta) compilation. I can craft MyForth to become "my forth". So, who says I can't re-target it for another MCU? Or, at the very minimum, use it as a model for cross-compilation.

Interesting reading and hacking for the weekend.

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