Commercial Drone Design Solutions Take Flight

Chips, Boards and Platforms

The control, camera and communications electronics inside today’s commercial drones have to pack in an ambitious amount of functionality while keeping size, weight and power as low as possible.

By Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

There aren’t many areas of embedded systems these days that are as dynamic and fast-growing as commercial drones. Drones represent a vivid example of a technology that wouldn’t have been possible if not for the ever-increasing levels of chip integration driven by Moore’s law. Drones are riding that wave, enabling an amazing rate of change so that 4k HD video capture, image stabilization, new levels of autonomy and even highly integrated supercomputing is now possible on drones.


The Intel Aero Ready to Fly Drone is a pre-assembled quadcopter built for professional drone application developers. The platform features a board running an Intel 2.56 GHz quad-core Intel Atom x7-Z8750 processor.

The Intel Aero Ready to Fly Drone is a pre-assembled quadcopter built for professional drone application developers. The platform features a board running an Intel 2.56 GHz quad-core Intel Atom x7-Z8750 processor.

To get a sense of the rapid growth of drone use, just consider drones from the point of view of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Integrating commercial drones into the FAA’s mission has been a huge effort over the past couple years. To paraphrase Michael P. Huerta, Administrator of the FAA, there are over 320,000 registered manned aircraft today and it took 100 years to reach that number. In contrast, only nine months after the FAA put its drone registration process in place, there were more than 550,000 registered users—comprised of both hobbyists and commercial drone users.

Electronics for Drones

Today’s commercial/civilian drone technologies are advancing faster than most people could have imagined only a couple years ago. And drone designs will continue to reap the benefits of advances in processor / chip technologies, sensor innovations and tools that make them easier to create. Feeding those needs, chip and board vendors of all sizes have been rolling out solutions to help drone system developers create new drone products and get to market quickly. Among these vendors are large players like Intel and Qualcomm–along with a whole host of specialized technology suppliers offering video ICs, single-chip cameras and a variety of sensor solutions all aimed at drone platforms. ….

We’ve made the October 2017 issue of Circuit Cellar available as a sample issue. In it, you’ll find a rich variety of the kinds of articles and information that exemplify a typical issue of the current magazine.
Don’t miss out on upcoming issues of Circuit Cellar. Subscribe today!


QFN Socket Supports 0.65-mm Pitch Devices at High Temp Range

Ironwood Electronics has introduced a new performance QFN socket for 0.65mm pitch devices. The SS-QFN204A-01 socket, designed for a 12mm package size, operates at bandwidths up to 6.5 GHz with less than 1dB of insertion loss. Designed for up to 500,000 actuation cycles, the socket is able to dissipate up to 4 watts over a temperature range of Ironwood Electronics C16902b_highres-40 C to +150 C without the need for an additional heat sink. This is all accomplished within a 2.5mm larger border. It accommodates a chip with 204 pins plus ground pad in the center of the QFN is contacted with additional spring pins for highest bandwidth interface.

The SS-QFN204A-01 socket utilizes high endurance spring pins, which allow for product use in multiple applications including burn-in, production test, and prototype development. In addition to its wide temperature range and high endurance the pin operates with an inductance of 1.3 nH and with a capacitance to ground of 0.53 pF. Current carrying capacity is 1.5 amps per pin. Normal force for actuation is only 16gms per pin with a typical contact resistance of 82 mΩ. Pricing for the SS-QFN204A-01 socket is $1,905 at quantity 1 with reduced pricing available depending on quantity required.

Ironwood Electronics |

U-blox Modules Demo on T-Mobile’s NB-IoT Network

U‑blox featured a live Narrowband IoT (NB‑IoT or LTE Cat NB1) demo at MWC Americas in San Francisco, featuring SARA‑R410M‑02B, a configurable LTE Cat M1/NB1 multi‑mode module with worldwide coverage. NB‑IoT is a highly efficient type of spectrum and the globally preferred standard due to benefits like cost savings, extended battery life SARA-R410Mand the ability to support a large number of connected devices.

U‑blox has partnered with Bluvision, a provider of highly scalable end‑to‑end IoT platforms, to display Cold Chain Temperature Monitoring and Condition Monitoring using Bluvision’s BluCell. BluCell, a narrowband gateway that uses Bluetooth to wirelessly monitor hundreds of beacons, each measuring temperature, vibration analysis, door openings, location and movement. BluCell is connected via the U‑blox SARA‑R410M‑02B to T‑Mobile’s network, expected to be the first NB‑IoT network in North America. The module is expected to be certified and available in early 2018 for T‑Mobile’s NB‑IoT network, which is expected to launch nationwide in mid‑2018.

For the demo, Bluvision’s BEEKs beacons with sensors for temperature, vibration, magnetic fields and ambient light were attached to a cooler. The beacons transmited telemetry data, which includes real‑time and historical temperature log for the cooler and the vibration data from the compressor motor in the cooler, to the Bluzone cloud solution.

SARA‑R410M is a configurable LTE Cat M1/NB1 multi‑mode module with worldwide coverage. Measuring just 16 x 26 mm, it offers both LTE Cat M1 and Cat NB1 in a single hardware package, as well as software‑based configurability for all deployed global bands. It provides enormous efficiencies in logistics and SKU management. Customers can easily respond to changes in business or market conditions, since supported frequencies and operator configuration decisions can now be made at “zero hour” or even later in the field.

U-blox |

Multicore ARM-based SoC Targets Secure Net Acceleration

NXP Semiconductors has announced the highest performance member of its Layerscape family, the LX2160A SoC. The LX2160A is specifically designed to enable challenging high-performance network applications, network edge compute, and data center offloads. Trusted and secure execution of virtualized cloud workloads at the edge is driving new distributed computing paradigms.

LX2160AThe LX2160A features sixteen high-performance Arm Cortex-A72 cores running at over 2 GHz in a sub 30 W power envelope, supporting both the 100 Gbit/s Ethernet and PCIe Gen4 interconnect standards. In addition, it provides L2 switching at wire rate and includes acceleration for data compression and 50 Gbit/s IPSec cryptography.

NXP supports and drives the rich ARM ecosystem for virtualization, building on the foundations of open source projects for cloud and network function virtualization including Open Daylight, OpenStack, and OP-NFV. NXP Arm processors incorporate hardware for virtualization technologies such as KVM and Linux containers and hardware acceleration of network virtualization. NXP also supports industry-standard APIs for virtualization, including DPDK, OVS, and Virtio, and standard enterprise Linux distributions, such as Debian and Ubuntu. Silicon samples and a reference board will be available in Q1 2018.

NXP Semiconductors |

Ultrasonic Sensing MCUs Target Smart Water Meters

Texas Instruments has unveiled a new family of MSP430 microcontrollers with an integrated ultrasonic sensing analog front end that enables smart water meters to deliver higher accuracy and lower power consumption. In addition, TI introduced two new reference designs that make it easier to design modules for adding automated meter reading (AMR) capabilities to existing mechanical water meters. The new MCUs and reference designs support the growing demand for more accurate water meters and remote meter reading to enable efficient water resource management, accurate measurement and timely billing.

New ultrasonic MCUs and new reference designs make both electronic and mechanical water meters smarter (PRNewsfoto/Texas Instruments Incorporated)

New ultrasonic MCUs and new reference designs make both electronic and mechanical water meters smarter.

As part of the ultra-low-power MSP430 MCU portfolio for sensing and measurement, the new MSP430FR6047 MCU family lets developers add more intelligence to flow meters by taking advantage of a complete waveform capture feature and analog-to-digital converter (ADC)-based signal processing. This technique enables more accurate measurement than competitive devices, with precision of 25 ps or better, even at flow rates less than 1 liter per hour. In addition, the integrated MSP430FR6047 devices reduce water meter system component count by 50 percent and power consumption by 25 percent, enabling a meter to operate without having to charge the battery for 10 or more years. The new MCUs also integrate a low-energy accelerator module for advanced signal processing, 256 KB of ferroelectric random access memory (FRAM), a LCD driver and a metering test interface.

The MSP430 Ultrasonic Sensing Design Center offers a comprehensive development ecosystem that allows developers to get to market in months. The design center provides tools for quick development and flexibility for customization, including software libraries, a GUI, evaluation modules with metrology and DSP libraries.

TI’s new Low-Power Water Flow Measurement with Inductive Sensing Reference Design is a compact solution for the electronic measurement of mechanical flow meters with low power consumption for longer battery life. Enabled by the single-chip SimpleLink dual-band CC1350 wireless MCU, this reference design also gives designers the ability to add dual-band wireless communications for AMR networks. Designers can take advantage of the reference design’s small footprint to easily retrofit existing mechanical flow meters, enabling water utilities to add AMR capability while avoiding expensive replacement of deployed meters. The CC1350 wireless MCU consumes only 4 µA while measuring water flow rates, enabling longer product life.

A second new reference design is an ultra-low power solution based on the SimpleLink Sub-1 GHz CC1310 wireless MCU. The Low-Power Wireless M-Bus Communications Module Reference Design uses TI’s wireless M-Bus software stack and supports all wireless M-Bus operating modes in the 868-MHz band. This reference design provides best-in-class power consumption and flexibility to support wireless M-Bus deployments across multiple regions.

Texas Instruments |

Tool Solutions Emerge for Cypress Semi’s PSoC BLE 6 MCU

Cypress Semiconductor has announced the public release of the PSoC 6 BLE Pioneer Kit and PSoC Creator Integrated Design Environment (IDE) software version 4.2 that enable designers to begin development with the PSoC 6 microcontroller (MCU) for IoT applications. PSoC BLE 6 is the industry’s lowest power, most flexible MCU with built-in Bluetooth Low Energy wireless connectivity and integrated hardware-based security in a single device.

Early adopters are already using the flexible dual-core architecture of PSoC 6, using the ARM Cortex-M4 core as a host processor and the Cortex-M0+ core to manage peripheral functions such as capacitive sensing, Bluetooth Low Energy connectivity and sensor aggregation. Early adopter applications include wearables, personal medical devices and wireless speakers. Designers are also utilizing the built-in security features in PSoC 6 to help guard against unwanted access to data.

CY8CKIT-062-BLEThe PSoC BLE Pioneer Kit features a PSoC 63 MCU with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connectivity. The kit enables development of modern touch and gesture-based interfaces that are robust and reliable with a linear slider, touch buttons and proximity sensors based on the latest generation of Cypress’ industry-leading CapSense capacitive-sensing technology. Designers can also use the board to add USB Power Delivery (PD) with its Cypress EZ-PD CCG3 USB-C controller. The kit also includes a 2.7-inch E-ink Display Shield add-on board (CY8CKIT-028-EPD) with thermistor, digital mic, and 9-axes motion sensor.

Offering best-in-class flexibility and ease-of-use, the PSoC 6 MCU architecture can serve as the catalyst for differentiated, visionary IoT devices. Designers can use software-defined peripherals to create custom analog front-ends (AFEs) or digital interfaces for innovative system components such as E-ink displays. The architecture is supported by Cypress’ PSoC Creator IDE and the expansive Arm ecosystem. Designers can find more information about PSoC Creator at

The PSoC 6 BLE Pioneer Kit (CY8CKIT-062-BLE) is available for purchase for $75 at the Cypress Online Store and through select distribution partners. PSoC 6 devices are currently sampling. Production devices are expected by the end of 2017.

Cypress Semiconductor |

Two Microchip Controller Families Boast eSPI Bus Support

Microchip Technology has made available its MEC17XX and MEC14XX families of embedded controllers with enhanced Serial Peripheral Interface (eSPI). The eSPI bus is the host interface supported by the latest PC computing chip sets and is required for new, upcoming computing applications. The MEC17XX family is based on an ARM Cortex-M4F core and has advanced hardware-accelerated cryptography algorithms to efficiently support the secure boot of a computer. The family offers several additional features including two UARTS and an extended industrial operating temperature range that make the family ideal for industrial computing. In addition, Microchip’s popular MIPS-based MEC14XX family has been expanded to include functionality for supporting the new eSPI Slave Attached Flash (SAF) feature, which allows the Microchip embedded controller to be 37288858386_29fa55a67f_kdirectly connected to an SPI Flash memory using an on-board master controller.

These new embedded controllers are part of an expanded family of devices that have been an integral part in the computing industry’s transition from LPC to eSPI.  The MEC17XX adds security through cryptography functionality to advance secure boot, a security feature developed to ensure a system boots only from software that is trusted by the manufacturer. Furthermore, the addition of two UARTS and support for industrial temperature is necessary for industrial computing applications.

The latest members of the MEC14XX family add a new level of design functionality for computing engineers by adding SAF, which is an optimal solution for USB Type-C power delivery. The latest MEC1428 devices are pin and register compatible with the MEC140X and MEC141X families, which allows designers to easily add eSPI and additional features and have more flexibility in their designs. Both families retain eSPI Master Attached Flash (MAF) capability. All of Microchip’s computing embedded controllers are supported by a variety of development and debug tools and evaluation boards, plus datasheets and other documentation.

The eSPI interface has numerous benefits including allowing for multiple input/output signals to be configured to support either 3.3 V or 1.8 V, which reduces the system cost by eliminating the need for external voltage translators.  These features allow for seamless migration of intellectual property (IP) across multiple x86 computing platforms including those based on Intel’s Atom processors, Intel’s iCore processors and Ryzen processors from AMD.

The four-part MEC17XX family is available in a variety of WFBGA package options, starting at $2.59 each in 10,000 unit quantities. The family features industrial-qualified parts as well as the option of additional EEPROM memory. The MEC1428 is available today in a variety of package options, starting at $2.16 each in 10,000 unit quantities.

Microchip Technology |

Infineon Invests in Voice-Interface Tech for IoT

Infineon has made a strategic minority investment in XMOS Limited, a Bristol based fabless semiconductor company that provides voice processors for IoT devices. Infineon leads the recent $15 million Series-E funding round. According to Infineon, cars, homes, industrial plants and consumer devices are rapidly becoming connected to the Internet: 3 xcore-microphone-arrayyears from now, 30 billion devices will belong to the IoT. While today the interaction between humans and machines is mostly done by touch, the next evolutionary step of IoT will lead to the omni-presence of high-performance voice control. Infineon Technologies  wants to further develop its capabilities to shape this market segment.

Today, voice controllers, used in voice recognition systems, struggle to differentiate between speech from a person in the room, and a synthesized source such as a radio, TV; they often identify the voice of interest based on the loudest noise. Earlier in 2017 Infineon and XMOS demonstrated an enhanced solution to overcome these issues, using intelligent human-sensing microphones and gesture recognition. The solution featured a combination of Infineon’s radar and silicon microphone sensors to detect the position and the distance of the speaker from the microphones, with XMOS far field voice processing technology used to capture speech.

Infineon Technologies |


Don’t Miss Our Newsletter: Embedded Boards

Coming to your inbox tomorrow: Circuit Cellar’s Embedded Boards themed newsletter. In tomorrow’s newsletter you’ll get news about products and technology trends in the board-level embedded computer market. Embedded boards are a critical building block around which system developers can build all manor of intelligent systems. Arbor_1__EmETXe-i90U0_photo_17071013_436

The focus here is on both standard and non-standard embedded computer boards that ease prototyping efforts and let you smoothly scale up to production volumes.

Bonus: We’ve added Drawings for Free Stuff to our weekly newsletters. Make sure you’ve subscribed to the newsletter so you can participate.

Already a Circuit Cellar Newsletter subscriber? Great!
You’ll get your “Embedded Boards” themed newsletter issue tomorrow.

Not a Circuit Cellar Newsletter subscriber?
Don’t be left out! Sign up now:

Our weekly Circuit Cellar Newsletter will switch its theme each week, so look for these in upcoming weeks:

Analog & Power. This newsletter content zeros in on the latest developments in analog and power technologies including DC-DC converters, AD-DC converters, power supplies, op-amps, batteries, and more.

Microcontroller Watch. This newsletter keeps you up-to-date on latest microcontroller news. In this section, we examine the microcontrollers along with their associated tools and support products.

IoT Technology Focus. The Internet-of-Things (IoT) phenomenon is rich with opportunity. This newsletter tackles news and trends about the products and technologies needed to build IoT implementations and devices.

High-Speed RS-485 Transceivers Target IIoT Networks

Intersil, a subsidiary of Renesas Electronics, has announced two new high-speed, isolated RS-485 differential bus transceivers that provide 40 Mbps bidirectional data communication for Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) networks. The ISL32741E offers 1,000 VRMS working voltage and 6 kV of reinforced isolation, more than 2x higher than Intersil isl32740e-41e-transceiver-promocompetitive solutions. The higher working voltage and reinforced isolation is required for today’s most rigorous medical and high-speed motor control applications. The ISL32740E with 2.5kV of isolation and 600VRMS working voltage comes in a small package, enabling high channel density for programmable logic controllers (PLCs) in factory automation applications.

The ISL3274xE transceivers provide additional advantages over other isolation technologies, including ultra-low radiated emission and EMI susceptibility, support for up to 160 devices on the bus, and an extended 125°C temperature range. These devices leverage giant magneto-resistance (GMR) technology that provides galvanic isolation to keep the communication bus free from common-mode noise generated in electrically noisy factory and building automation environments. The ISL32740E and ISL32741E 40 Mbps RS-485 transceivers are available now with prices ranging from $3.79 to $4.79 depending on package type and temperature range. Evaluation boards are available for $99.

Intersil |

Microchip Adds AVR and SAM MCUs to Programming Service

Microchip Technology  has expanded its custom programming service to include AVR and SAM microcontrollers (MCUs). Users can add their custom code to MCUs from more than 30 AVR and SAM families, along with nearly all PIC MCUs and memory devices, directly from the manufacturer via microchipDIRECT.  Microchip  provides an online custom programming service to all of its clients.

Microchip’s custom programming service is available to any client regardless of their order size and can be used throughout the development process. From a7be46ac521844589d6de789549e7c153very small runs to verify that the code is working, all the way up through full-scale production runs, this cost-effective programming service offers customers the flexibility to add their code to any order size, from one device to millions. Additionally, each first verification order is complimentary and includes three free samples programmed to each client’s exact specifications.

To get started, clients choose their part number on microchipDIRECT and then add their code and other configuration settings, shown on the intuitive online form, directly into the encrypted website. The MCUs will then be programmed directly by Microchip with no need to involve a third party programming or manufacturing facility, thus eliminating the risk of code exposure during the programming process.

In addition to custom programming services, microchipDIRECT also offers value-added services such as tape and reeling, labels, ink dotting and more. With the largest inventory of Microchip products in the industry, microchipDIRECT provides a full service channel for all purchasing needs. The mobile-optimized website also offers global support in ten languages, volume pricing, live service agents, numerous payment options and order notifications for customer convenience. For more information visit

Custom programming directly from Microchip is available for nearly all PIC MCUs and more than 30 AVR and SAM families with additional device support rolling out over the next year. For more information about this custom programming service, visit:

Microchip Technology |

UBM India announces Embedded Connectivity and Tech Conference in Bangalore

To showcase emerging trends and innovations that will set the tone for the embedded systems industry in 2017 and beyond

Bangalore, (Date): UBM India announces the Embedded Connectivity and Tech Conference ( ECTC ) slated for September 28th and 29th , 2017 in Bangalore, India. ECTC will showcase emerging trends and innovations that will set the tone for the embedded systems industry in 2017 and beyond. With over 200+ attendees and numerous speakers set to meet face-to-face, ECTC is a must attend opportunity for embedded systems professionals to accelerate industry knowledge and network with national & international peers.

Embedded Connectivity and Tech Conference (ECTC) is designed over an extensive and detailed research from expert faculties and vendor market. The comprehensive tracks on each of the two days are formulated to cover ‘Engineering and Design of Hardware’, ‘Software and Systems’, ‘The Internet of Things (IoT) & Embedded Connectivity’, ‘Design tools for electronics and Embedded Systems’, ‘Safety & Security Focus’ and ‘Recent Applications in Embedded Systems’. Comprehensive insights into these trending subjects through panel discussions and hands-on workshops will help industry peers uncover solutions. The conference agenda is a mix of plenary sessions, keynotes and panel discussions and will focus on case studies, current research and cutting edge technologies.

The conference will also see participation from eminent speakers such as Prof. Subramaniam Ganesan, Director, Real Time & DSP Lab, Electrical and Computer Engineering Department ,Oakland University; Robert Oshana, VP, Microcontroller Software R&D, Security and Connectivity Business Unit, NXP; Dr. BN Suresh, President, Indian National Academy of Engineering, Delhi, Hon Distinguished Professor, ISRO HQ; Ravi Subramanian, Director, Embedded Systems and Internet of Things, GRoboMac; Bhanwar Lal Bishnoi, Head – Embedded-R&D, Larsen & Toubro; Sarat Chandra Babu N, Executive Director, C-DAC, Benguluru; Vijay Natarajan, Program Manager, Artificial Intelligence Development Group, Tata Elxsi amongst many others to discuss and exchange ideas, trends, challenges and future of Embedded Systems.

For more details, log on to or follow us on Facebook at @ECTCIndia2017

About UBM India:

UBM India is India’s leading exhibition organizer that provides the industry with platforms that bring together buyers and sellers from around the world, through a portfolio of exhibitions, content led conferences & seminars. UBM India hosts over 25 large scale exhibitions and 40 conferences across the country every year; thereby enabling trade across multiple industry verticals. A UBM Asia Company, UBM India has offices across Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai. UBM Asia is owned by UBM plc which is listed on the London Stock Exchange. UBM Asia is the leading exhibition organizer in Asia and the biggest commercial organizer in mainland China, India and Malaysia.

For further details, please visit

About UBM plc:

UBM plc is the largest pure-play B2B Events organiser in the world.  In an increasingly digital world, the value of connecting on a meaningful, human level has never been more important.  At UBM, our deep knowledge and passion for the industry sectors we serve allow us to create valuable experiences where people can succeed. At our events people build relationships, close deals and grow their businesses.  Our 3,750+ people, based in more than 20 countries, serve more than 50 different sectors – from fashion to pharmaceutical ingredients. These global networks, skilled, passionate people and market-leading events provide exciting opportunities for business people to achieve their ambitions.

For more information, go to; for UBM corporate news, follow us on Twitter at @UBM ,UBM Plc LinkedIn

Media Contact:
Roshni Mitra / Mili Lalwani /

UBM India

Emulating Legacy Interfaces

Do It with Microcontrollers

There’s a number of important legacy interface technologies—like ISA and PCI—that are no longer supported by the mainstream computing industry. In his article Wolfgang examines ways to use inexpensive microcontrollers to emulate the bus signals of legacy interconnect schemes.

By Wolfgang Matthes

Many of today’s PC users have never heard of interfaces like the ISA bus or the PCI bus. But in the realm of industrial and embedded computers, they are still very much alive. Large numbers of add-on cards and peripherals are out there. Many of them are even still being manufactured today—especially PCI cards and PC/104 modules for industrial control and measurement applications. In many cases, bandwidth requirements for those applications are low. As a result, it is possible to emulate the interfaces with inexpensive microcontrollers. That essentially means using a microcontroller instead of an industrial or embedded PC host.

Photo 1 - The PC/104 specifications relate to small modules, which can be stacked one above the other.

Photo 1 – The PC/104 specifications relate to small modules, which can be stacked one above the other.

To develop and bring up such a device is a good exercise in engineering education. But it has its practical uses too. Industrial-grade modules and cards are designed and manufactured for reliability and longevity. That makes them far superior to the kits, boards, shields and so on, that are intended primarily for educational purposes and tinkering. Moreover, a microcontroller platform can be programmed independently—without operating systems and device drivers. These industrial-grade boards can operate in environments that consume considerably less power and are free from the noise typical of the interior of personal computers. The projects depicted here are open source developments. Descriptions, schematics, PCB files and program sources are available for downloading.

Fields of Use

The basic idea is to make good use of peripheral modules and add-in cards. Photo 1 shows examples. Typical applications are based on industrial or embedded personal computers. The center of the system is the host—the PC. Peripheral modules or cards are attached to a standardized expansion interface, that is, in principle, an extended processor bus. That means the processor of the PC can directly address the registers within the devices. The programming interface is the processor’s instruction set. As a result, latencies are low and the peripheral modules can be programmed somewhat like microcontroller ports—without regard to complicated communication protocols. For example, if the peripheral was attached to communication interfaces like USB or Ethernet, that would complicate matters. Common expansion interfaces are the legacy ISA bus, the PCI bus and the PCI Express (PCIe) interface. …

We’ve made the October 2017 issue of Circuit Cellar available as a sample issue. In it, you’ll find a rich variety of the kinds of articles and information that exemplify a typical issue of the current magazine.
Don’t miss out on upcoming issues of Circuit Cellar. Subscribe today!


Declaration of Embedded Independence

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief


There’s no doubt that we’re living in an exciting era for embedded systems developers. Readers like you that design and develop embedded systems no longer have to compromise. Most of you probably remember when the processor or microcontroller you chose dictated both the development tools and embedded operating system (OS) you had to use. Today more than ever, there are all kinds of resources available to help you develop prototypes—everything from tools to chips to information resources on-line. There’s inexpensive computing modules available aimed at makers and DIY experts that are also useful for professional engineers working on high-volume end products.

The embedded operating systems market is one particular area where customers no longer have to compromise. That wasn’t always the case. Most people identify the late 90s with the bubble … and that bubble bursting. But closer to our industry was the embedded Linux start-up bubble. The embedded operating systems market began to see numerous start-ups appearing as “embedded Linux” companies. Since Linux is a free, open-source OS, these companies didn’t sell Linux, but rather provided services to help customers create and support implementations of open-source Linux. But, as often happens with disruptive technology, the establishment then pushed back. The establishment in that case were the commercial “non-open” embedded OS vendors. I recall a lot of great spirited debates at the time—both in print and live during panel discussions at industry trade shows—arguing for and against the very idea of embedded Linux. For my part, I can’t help remembering, having both written some of those articles and having sat on those panels myself.

Coinciding with the dot-com bubble bursting, the embedded Linux bubble burst as well. That’s not to say that embedded Linux lost any luster. It continued its upward rise, and remains an incredibly important technology today. Case in point: The Android OS is based on the Linux kernel. What burst was the bubble of embedded Linux start-up companies, from which only a handful of firms survived. What’s interesting is that all the major embedded OS companies shifted to a “let’s not beat them, let’s join them” approach to Linux. In other words, they now provide support for users to develop systems that use Linux alongside their commercial embedded operating systems.

The freedom not to have to compromise in your choices of tools, OSes and systems architectures—all that is a positive evolution for embedded system developers like you. But in my opinion, I think it’s possible to misinterpret the user-centric model and perhaps declare victory too soon. When you’re developing an embedded system aimed at a professional, commercial application, not everything can be done in DIY mode. There’s value in having the support of sophisticated technology vendors to help you develop and integrate your system. Today’s embedded systems routinely use millions of lines of code, and in most systems these days software running on a processor is what provides most of the functionality. If you develop that software in-house, you need high quality tools to makes sure it’s running error free. And if you out-source some of that embedded software, you have to be sure the vendor of that embedded software is providing a product you can rely on.

The situation is similar on the embedded board-level computing side. Yes, there’s a huge crop of low-cost embedded computer modules available to purchase these days. But not all embedded computing modules are created equal. If you’re developing a system with a long shelf life, what happens when the DRAMs, processors or I/O chips go end-of-life? Is it your problem? Or does the board vendor take on that burden? Have the boards been tested for vibration or temperature so that they can be used in the environment your application requires? You have to weigh the costs versus the kinds of support a vendor provides.

All in all, the trend toward a ”no compromises” situation for embedded systems developers is a huge win. But when you get beyond the DIY project level of development, it’s important to keep in mind that the vendor-customer relationship is still a critical part of the system design process. With all that in mind, it’s cool that we can today make a declaration of independence for embedded systems technology. But I’d rather think of it as a declaration of interdependence.

This appears in the October (327) issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

Not a Circuit Cellar subscriber?  Don’t be left out! Sign up today:

CENTRI Demos Chip-to-Cloud IoT Security on ST MCUs

CENTRI has announced compatibility of its IoTAS platform with the STMicroelectronics STM32 microcontroller family based on ARM Cortex-M processor cores. CENTRI successfully completed and demonstrated two proofs of concept on the STM32 platform DJDTab0VoAAB_sKto protect all application data in motion from chipset to public Cloud using CENTRI IoTAS. CENTRI Internet of Things Advanced Security (IoTAS) for secure communications was used in an application on an STM32L476RC device with connected server applications running on both Microsoft Azure and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) Clouds. The proofs of concept used wireless connections to showcase the real-world applicability of IoT device communications in the field and to highlight the value of IoTAS compression and encryption.

IoTAS uses hardware-based ID to establish secure device authentication on the initial connection. The solution features patented single-pass data encryption and optimization to ensure maximum security while providing optimal efficiency and speed of data transmissions. The small footprint of IoTAS combined with the flexibility and compute power of the STM32 platform with seamless interoperability into the world’s most popular Cloud services provides device makers a complete, secure chip-to-Cloud IoT platform. CENTRI demonstrated IoTAS capabilities at the ST Developers Conference, September 6, 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center.

STMicroelectronics |