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We describe the development of a set of embedded system building blocks, known as eBlocks. An eBlock network can be viewed as a basic form of sensor network that can be developed by non-programming engineers, scientists, and others. Each eBlock has a defined function, either one of a few predefined combinational or sequential functions, a custom-programmed function defined by an automated tool, or by user with programming skills. A user creates an application simply by connecting blocks, and possibly performing simple configuration via dials and switches. We have built over 100 physical eBlock prototypes, and tested their usability with over 100 non-programming users to date. We will describe the architecture of the blocks, including design tradeoffs we considered and the benefit of an exploration tool that we developed to help optimize the power and performance of the design. We have also built a graphical eBlock simulator that users can utilize to quickly build and test systems before deployment, and that we have used in experiments with over 300 non-programming users to help us define intuitive block functions and interfaces. We will describe the simulator architecture, as well as a tool that automatically converts a user's eBlock network into a much smaller network of programmable blocks with accompanying automatically generated programs.
Date of Conference: 15 April 2005