Brick Emu

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A LEGO MindStorms RCX Brick Emulator

This is an emulator for LEGO MindStorms RCX bricks. It emulates processor and peripherals, so it runs the original ROM code, firmware and programs. In principal it should work with any firmware, but I only tested brickOS. It also has some special features that only works when brickOS is installed.

The emulator is currently only available as source archive. It was tested under Linux and Windows (cygwin). You need gcc and perl to compile it and Tcl/Tk to run it. To get sound you need SDL.

Of course, you also need a firmware and a program you want to run on the emulated brick. To compile your own programs you also need the h8300 compiler suite. Personally I use brickOS, see their web page for more information.

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screenshot of brickemu

This screenshot shows the hello world program coming with brickOS. It was taken before the sensor input was implemented. This is why the sensor and battery indicators are displayed.

The next screenshot shows the remote control and the file menu where you can load firmware and programs to the emulated brick.

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Quick install instruction

Apply the patches that add brickemu support to brickOS and rebuild brickOS. The patches add socket support to dll/firmdl3 (for downloading via simulated infrared server) and debugging support to the brickOS Makefiles.

tar -xvzf brickos-xy.tar.gz 
tar -xvzf brickemu-xxxxxx.tar.gz 
cd brickos 
patch -p0 < ../brickemu/*.diff
You may also consider to install my other brickOS patches now.
make install

Now build brickemu.

cd brickemu
export BRICKEMU_DIR=`pwd`
export BRICKOS_DIR=/usr/local
export TOOLPREFIX=/usr/local/crossgcc/bin/h8300-hitachi-hms-
wish GUI.tcl -firm /usr/local/lib/brickos/brickOS.coff

BrickOS now includes its own ROM image written from scratch. However, if you want a more precise emulation, you can remove rom.bin and put the original ROM image into rom.srec (in SREC format), or rom.bin (in binary format). You can get a program at that extracts the image from your RCX.

You can set BRICKEMU_DIR if you want to start emu from another directory. This directory should contain the rom image, GUI.tcl emu and ir-server. You should also adapt BRICKOS_DIR and TOOLPREFIX to match your installation. I recommend to put the last five commands into a small script that starts brickemu.

There are two possibilities to download firmware and programs. The easy way is to choose "Firmware..." and "Load Program..." from the menu. The hard way is to use the modified firmdl3/dll utilities and is not recommended at all.

With "Firmware..." you can load either coff or srec files. I recommend to use coff files as these come with symbolic information, which is used by brickemu to determine the location of memory, program and thread data structures. The "BrickOS" menu will only work if you loaded a brickOS firmware from the coff file. You should find brickOS.coff in the same directory as the srec files if you applied the patches to brickOS.

The menu entry "Load Program..." can load either .lx files or .a files. I strongly recommend to load .a files as these include symbolic information and are always linked to the correct firmware. A rule to create them was added to the brickOS patch.

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IR support

The emulated bricks support IR communications and if you start several instances of "emu" they can send each other messages. You can also inject messages yourself by connecting to port 50637 (the magic lego port). All data is sent as raw bytes and repeated to every one who is connected to this port (including the sender). This emulates the broadcasting nature of infra red.

The distribution contains a simple remote control (remote) that emulates the remote control from the Ultimate Accessory Set. You start it by invoking "remote" and it will control all emulated brick.

You can also download the program and firmware via IR with the standard brickOS utitilies. You need to patch the utilities so they can also write to a network socket instead of the serial port, see above. Then you just download the firmware and program as you do it on your real RCX, only the tty needs to be changed.

cd brickos
util/firmdl3 --tty=tcp:localhost:50637 boot/brickOS.srec
util/dll --tty=tcp:localhost:50637 demo/helloworld.lx

This will download the firmware via TCP/IP and emulated infrared controller (this is what ir-server is good for). Since the emulator runs in real time this will take a while.

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With brickemu it is possible to debug your code or brickOS itself with gdb or the graphical debugger ddd. Of course, you need to compile a debugger targeted to the Hitachi H8300 Platform. So the first step is to download gdb and to compile it. I tested it with gdb-5.0, however, you may also try the latest release.

tar -xvzf gdb-x.yz.tar.gz
mkdir gdb-h8300
cd gdb-h8300
../gdb-x.yz/configure --target=h8300-hitachi-hms
su root -c 'make install'

You also need ddd. This program is platform independent, so you can use the version that comes with your distribution.

Normally brickOS is compiled without the `-g' debugging flag. So to get symbolic information in brickOS and your own programs apply Makefile.diff, which comes with the brickemu distribution. Then rebuild brickOS and reinstall (if you have followed the instruction above you have already applied the patch).

You have to load the brickOS firmware as coff file as described above. Build your own programs with `.a' ending instead of `.lx'; the extra rule is already in Makefile.user if you applied the patch:

make program.a

You can load .a files to the emulated brick via the brickOS menu. Select Debug from the file menu, which will start ddd (telling it where it can find the brick via .gdbinit). This will also freeze the brick until you select `continue' in the debugger. You can now debug the program similarly as you debug programs on your PC. There are a few differences though, e.g. the debugger cannot start or stop the program. Before seleting `continue', you should set a break point, e.g. on the main function. Now press the run button on the virtual RCX and wait until the break-point is reached.

screenshot of ddd

When the emulator detects illegal memory access it will also be reported to the debugger. If no debugger is running brickemu waits until one connects. You can also force entering debugging mode by pressing Ctrl + Backslash or sending a QUIT signal to the emu process. Or you can start the emulator with "./emu -d". When it waits for the debugger you can start it in another window like this:

h8300-hitachi-hms-gdb brickos.coff
(gdb) target remote localhost:<debugger port nr printed by emu>
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Brickemu profiles your program and operating systems while running it. After you closed brickemu you should have a look at profile.txt. It contains the number of cycles spent in each function and which functions it called (functions marked with I are interrupts). go next top of page go back


Copyright (c) 2003-2005 Jochen Hoenicke

This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation; either version 2, or (at your option) any later version.

This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the GNU General Public License for more details.

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