Evaluating My Options for ESP32 Development

Once I decided I could use ESP32 as a micro Sawppy rover brain, the next decision is how I intend to write my code to run on an ESP32. Since it’s such a popular microcontroller, I have many options that I’ve narrowed down to top three candidates: ESP-IDF, Arduino, and MicroPython.

The lowest level option is ESP-IDF: Espressif IoT Development Framework. This is the software development kit released by the same people who made the ESP32 hardware. All sample code in Espressif documentation will be targeted to ESP-IDF, so this is the best option if I’m working from the official reference sources. This is important when working with less-popular features like the MCPWM module designed for motor control: I can be confident the feature will be supported.

The mid-level option is Arduino adapted for the ESP32 hardware. Setting up the Arduino IDE for ESP32 development is a very simple process compared to the setup procedures for ESP-IDF. It also allows access to the huge catalog of Arduino libraries that exist out there. Or at least the subset that don’t have hardware dependencies. Code that is hard-coded for ATmega328P won’t run on an ESP32, but that problem is shared with other non-AVR Arduino compatibles like Teensy or even the newer Arduino boards. Architecturally this is a translation layer on top of ESP-IDF, so non-ATmega328P features like MCPWM can be accessible as long as the proper header declarations are in place. Which, in the case of MCPWM, they appear to be.

The high-level option is MicroPython for ESP32. Where the user doesn’t even really need to install anything on their computer: anything that can open a serial terminal will do. The Python language itself is much more beginner friendly than the C language used by Arduino and ESP-IDF. However, a search for MCPWM support found that it is currently a work-in-progress, eliminating it from consideration for this project.

With that elimination my choices are between using ESP-IDF directly versus the Arduino translation layer, I favor direct usage because I saw it as eliminating a variable. When my code doesn’t work, I won’t have to wonder if it’s a bug in my code or in ESP32 Arduino core. While not a huge concern in the well-trodden paths, it is a worry when I venture to less popular sections like MCPWM. And since I’m using an ESP32-specific peripheral, this code won’t run on any other Arduino-compatible boards anyway. Might as well go straight to the source.

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