Commell Launches its First ARM-Based Pico-ITX

By Eric Brown

Commell has announced the LP-150, a Rockchip RK3128 based Pico-ITX SBC that appears to be its first ARM-based embedded board of any kind. The 100 mm x 72 mm LP-150 is the only ARM-based SBC out of the many dozens of mostly Intel-based boards listed on Commell’s SBC page.

Shipping with Android 4.4.4, but also supporting Linux, the LP-150 is intended primarily for imaging, machine vision and digital signage applications. Other Commell Pico-ITX SBCs include its Intel Braswell based LP-176.

Commell LP-150

Rockchip’s quad-core, Cortex-A7 RK3128 hasn’t seen as much uptake in the embedded world as the quad -A17 RK3288, which is found on hacker boards such as the Firefly-RK3288 Reload or the high-end, hexa-core RK3399, which has appeared on numerous recent products such as OpenEmbed’s em3399 module or Aaeon’s RICO-3399 PICO-ITX SBC. The only RK3128-based SBC we can recall is the open spec Firefly-FirePrime S.

The LP-150 SBC has a fairly modest feature set, with only 512 MB DDR3. Yet, it offers a few features you don’t typically find on x86 Pico-ITX SBCs like eMMC storage (8GB) and built-in Wi-Fi. Media features include an HDMI 1.4 port limited to HD resolution and an LVDS interface with capacitive touchscreen support. You also get CVBS inputs and outputs and audio I/O headers.

The LP-150 is further equipped with a GbE port and USB 2.0 host and OTG ports. There is also an RTC with battery, and a smattering of RS-232, UART, and GPIO interfaces.

Specifications listed for the Commell LP-150 include:

  • Processor — Rockchip RK3128 (4x Cortex-A7 @ 1.3 GHz); Mali-400 MP2 GPU with OpenGL ES1.1 and 2.0, OpenVG1.1
  • Memory — 512 MB DDR3
  • Storage — 8 GB eMMC; microSD slot
  • Display:
    • HDMI 1.4 port for up to 1080p
    • Single-channel 18/24-bit LVDS for up to 1280 x 720 displays or up to 1024 x 600 cap. touchscreens
    • LCD/LVDS panel and inverter connectors
    • CVBS in/out
  • Wireless — Wi-Fi with SMA antenna
  • Networking — Gigabit Ethernet port (RTL8211E)
  • Other I/O:
    • USB 2.0 host port with support for 4-port hub
    • USB 2.0 OTG port
    • 2x RS232 interfaces
    • 3x UART
    • Audio line-out, mic-in headers (Rockchip codec)
    • GPIO header
  • Other features — Power, recovery, reset buttons; RTC with lithium battery; LED
  • Operating temperature — 0 to 70°C
  • Power — DC input 5 V
  • Dimensions — 100 mm x 72 mm (Pico-ITX)
  • Operating system — Android 4.4.4; Linux also supported

Further information

No pricing or availability information was provided for the LP-150. More information may be found on Commell’s LP-150 product page.

Commell |  www.commell.com.tw

This article originally appeared on LinuxGizmos.com on March 6.

Movidius AI Acceleration Technology Comes to a Mini-PCIe Card

By Eric Brown

UP AI Core (front)

As promised by Intel when it announced an Intel AI: In Production program for its USB stick form factor Movidius Neural Compute Stick, Aaeon has launched a mini-PCIe version of the device called the UP AI Core. It similarly integrates Intel’s AI-infused Myriad 2 Vision Processing Unit (VPU). The mini-PCIe connection should provide faster response times for neural networking and machine vision compared to connecting to a cloud-based service.

UP AI Core (back)

The module, which is available for pre-order at $69 for delivery in April, is designed to “enhance industrial IoT edge devices with hardware accelerated deep learning and enhanced machine vision functionality,” says Aaeon. It can also enable “object recognition in products such as drones, high-end virtual reality headsets, robotics, smart home devices, smart cameras and video surveillance solutions.”

 

 

UP Squared

The UP AI Core is optimized for Aaeon’s Ubuntu-supported UP Squared hacker board, which runs on Intel’s Apollo Lake SoCs. However, it should work with any 64-bit x86 computer or SBC equipped with a mini-PCIe slot that runs Ubuntu 16.04. Host systems also require 1GB RAM and 4GB free storage. That presents plenty of options for PCs and embedded computers, although the UP Squared is currently the only x86-based community backed SBC equipped with a Mini-PCIe slot.

Myriad 2 architecture

Aaeon had few technical details about the module, except to say it ships with 512MB of DDR RAM, and offers ultra-low power consumption. The UP AI Core’s mini-PCIe interface likely provides a faster response time than the USB link used by Intel’s $79 Movidius Neural Compute Stick. Aaeon makes no claims to that effect, however, perhaps to avoid

Intel’s Movidius
Neural Compute Stick

disparaging Intel’s Neural Compute Stick or other USB-based products that might emerge from the Intel AI: In Production program.

It’s also possible the performance difference between the two products is negligible, especially compared with the difference between either local processing solutions vs. an Internet connection. Cloud-based connections for accessing neural networking services suffer from reduced latency, network bandwidth, reliability, and security, says Aaeon. The company recommends using the Linux-based SDK to “create and train your neural network in the cloud and then run it locally on AI Core.”

Performance issues aside, because a mini-PCIe module is usually embedded within computers, it provides more security than a USB stck. On the other hand, that same trait hinders ease of mobility. Unlike the UP AI Core, the Neural Compute Stick can run on an ARM-based Raspberry Pi, but only with the help of the Stretch desktop or an Ubuntu 16.04 VirtualBox instance.

In 2016, before it was acquired by Intel, Movidius launched its first local-processing version of the Myriad 2 VPU technology, called the Fathom. This Ubuntu-driven USB stick, which miniaturized the technology in the earlier Myriad 2 reference board, is essentially the same technology that re-emerged as Intel’s Movidius Neural Compute Stick.

UP AI Core, front and back

Neural network processors can significantly outperform traditional computing approaches in tasks like language comprehension, image recognition, and pattern detection. The vast majority of such processors — which are often repurposed GPUs — are designed to run on cloud servers.

AIY Vision Kit

The Myriad 2 technology can translate deep learning frameworks like Caffe and TensorFlow into its own format for rapid prototyping. This is one reason why Google adopted the Myriad 2 technology for its recent AIY Vision Kit for the Raspberry Pi Zero W. The kit’s VisionBonnet pHAT board uses the same Movidius MA2450 chip that powers the UP AI Core. On the VisionBonnet, the processor runs Google’s open source TensorFlow machine intelligence library for neural networking, enabling visual perception processing at up to 30 frames per second.

Intel and Google aren’t alone in their desire to bring AI acceleration to the edge. Huawei released a Kirin 970 SoC for its Mate 10 Pro phone that provides a neural processing coprocessor, and Qualcomm followed up with a Snapdragon 845 SoC with its own neural accelerator. The Snapdragon 845 will soon appear on the Samsung Galaxy S9, among other phones, and will also be heading for some high-end embedded devices.

Last month, Arm unveiled two new Project Trillium AI chip designs intended for use as mobile and embedded coprocessors. Available now is Arm’s second-gen Object Detection (OD) Processor for optimizing visual processing and people/object detection. Due this summer is a Machine Learning (ML) Processor, which will accelerate AI applications including machine translation and face recognition.

Further information

The UP AI Core is available for pre-order at $69 for delivery in late April. More information may be found at Aaeon’s UP AI Core announcement and its UP Community UP AI Edge page for the UP AI Core.

Aaeon | www.aaeon.com

This article originally appeared on LinuxGizmos.com on March 6.

STMicroelectonics Sensors Achieve Validation for Alibaba IoT OS

STMicroelectronics has announced the validation of its LSM6DSL 6-axis inertial sensor and LPS22HB pressure sensor for Alibaba IoT’s ecosystem, which enables users to create complete IoT nodes and gateway solutions with better time to market.

Announced last year, AliOS Things is a light-weight embedded operating system for IoT, developed by Alibaba. The company recently announced the release of AliOS Things v1.2, which includes a sensor-based component called uData. The ST sensors that have passed the AliOS validation have been integrated in uData. The two companies are cooperating on the development of IoT systems that aim to improve end-user experiences.

The LSM6DSL (shown) is a system-in-package featuring a 3D digital accelerometer and a 3D digital gyroscope that operates at 0.65 mA in high-performance mode and enables always-on low-power features for an optimal motion experience for the consumer. High robustness to mechanical shock makes the LSM6DSL well suited for the creation and manufacturing of reliable products. The LSM6DSL supports main OS requirements, offering real, virtual and batch sensors with 4 KB for dynamic data batching.

STMicroelectronics has announced the validation of its LSM6DSL 6-axis inertial sensor and LPS22HB pressure sensor for Alibaba IoT’s ecosystem, which enables users to create complete IoT (Internet-of-Things) nodes and gateway solutions with better time to market.

The LPS22HB is an ultra-compact piezoresistive absolute pressure sensor that functions as a digital output barometer. Dust-free and water-resistant by design, the sensor enables high accuracy and low-power operation. It is available in full-mold package with silicon cap and six 20µm holes guaranteeing sensor moisture resistance, relative accuracy of pressure measurement 0.1 mbar, and very low power consumption (12 µA in low-noise mode).

STMicroelectronics | www.st.com

IoT: From Gateway to Cloud

Starting Up, Scaling Up

In this follow on to our March “IoT: From Device to Gateway” Special Feature, here we look at technologies and solutions for the gateway-to-cloud side of IoT. These solutions ease the way toward getting a cloud-connected system up and running.

By Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

After exploring the edge device side of the Internet-of-Things (IoT) last month, now we’ll look at cloud side the equation. Even though the idea of Internet-linked embedded devices has been around for decades, multiple converging technology trends have brought us to the IoT phenomenon of today. The proliferation of low cost wireless technology has coincided with significant decrease in the costs of computing, data storage and sensor components. Meanwhile, that same computing and storage are now widely available as cloud-based platforms that can scale linearly.

Much attention has been focused on the size of the growing IoT market in terms of revenue and number of devices. But another interesting metric is the number of IoT developers working on IoT-based systems. According to analysts, that number will approach 10 million within the next few years and a lot of that growth will be among smaller firms starting from the ground up or adding IoT to their infrastructure for the first time. For those smaller organizations the process of getting started with cloud-connected infrastructure can be a hurdle. And even after that step, there’s the issue of scaling up as the need arises to expand their IoT implementation.

Feeding both those needs, a number of companies ranging from IoT specialists to embedded software vendors to microcontroller vendors have over the past six months, rolled out a variety of solutions to help developers get started with their cloud-connected IoT system and scale that system to larger numbers of IoT edge nodes and increased cloud-based service functionality.

IoT for the Masses

With both those trends in mind, Atmosphere IoT positions itself as focused on the mass market of IoT developers. Formerly part of Anaren, Atmosphere IoT Corp. was previously Anaren’s IoT Group before Anaren divested that division in January into the newly formed Atmosphere IoT Corp. For its Atmosphere IDE product, the company provides an interesting business model. Atmosphere IDE is available for free—anyone can log on and use it. Once you get over 5 connected things and want to have Atmosphere IoT store more data and manage more things, you start paying incrementally. The idea is to make it easy for developers to generate code and get prototype systems and a limited pilot program up and running. When users are ready to scale up or when they find commercial success, they can scale linearly because all of Atmosphere’s software is built on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud.

Photo 1
The Cloud View part of Atmosphere IDE lets developers use cloud elements to quickly connect their projects to Atmosphere Cloud, sending data from an embedded system to the cloud for a cohesive sensor-to-cloud solution.

 

Using the IDE, developers can create either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth Smart projects and choose between supported platforms including Anaren hardware and the Intel Curie module. On the cloud development side, the Atmosphere IDE provides easy cloud connectivity access, connecting IoT devices to the cloud application to take advantage of data hosting, analysis, reporting, real-time monitoring and much more. The Cloud View (Photo 1) part of the IDE lets developers use cloud elements to quickly connect their projects to Atmosphere Cloud, sending data from an embedded system to the cloud for a cohesive sensor-to-cloud solution.

Industry 4.0 Solution

For its Industry 4.0 IoT solution, Mentor in February introduced its Mentor Embedded IoT Framework (MEIF). MEIF is a comprehensive, cloud vendor-agnostic embedded software framework designed to help developers create, secure and manage “cloud-ready” smart devices for Industry 4.0 applications. MEIF features well-defined interfaces engineered to complement and extend cloud vendor embedded software development kit (SDK) APIs. …

 

Read the full article in the April 333 issue of Circuit Cellar

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Rugged COM Express Module Sports AMD V1000

MEN Micro has announced the CB71C, a rugged COM Express module for rail, public transportation and industry applications like data acquisition, infotainment, transcoding and live 3D. It is 100% compatible with COM Express Type 6 pin-out and conforms to the VITA 59 standard, which specifies robust mechanics to ensure reliable operation even under the harshest environmental conditions.

The CB71C is based on AMD’s V1000 APU family. It is equipped with a Radeon Vega next-generation 3D graphics engine with up to 11 compute units, and supports up to 4 displays with a resolution of up to 4k without the need for additional graphics hardware. With up to four high-performance processor cores, the CB71C is also suitable for virtualization. Based on the Rugged COM Express standard, the CB71C is embedded in a closed aluminum frame, which ensures optimum EMC protection and efficient conduction cooling supporting a temperature range of -40°C to +85°C. To withstand serious shock and vibration, only soldered components are used.

The CB71C can be equipped with a wide range of long-term available processors with scalable performance, all supporting ECC. Passive cooling is possible with low-power versions. The CB71C can also be equipped with up to 32 GB of directly soldered DDR4 main memory and a 16 GB eMMC. Available high-speed interfaces include PCI Express 3.0 links, DDI (DP, eDP, HDMI), SATA 3.0, Gbit Ethernet and USB 3.0.

The board features an advanced board management controller with monitoring functions for safety-relevant applications. In addition, the CB71C has a Trusted Platform Module and supports hardware memory encryption, providing protection against both physical and inter-VM storage attacks. This is essential for security-critical applications such as payment and ticketing terminals, fleet management or monitoring.

MEN Micro | www.menmicro.com

Raspberry Pi IoT SBC Leverages Cypress Wi-Fi/Bluetooth SoC

Cypress Semiconductor has announced its Wi-Fi and Bluetooth combo solution is used on the new Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ IoT single board computer. The Cypress CYW43455 single-chip combo provides high-performance 802.11ac Wi-Fi for faster Internet connections, advanced coexistence algorithms for simultaneous Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) operations such as audio and video streaming, and low-power BLE connections to smartphones, sensors and Bluetooth Mesh networks. The combo’s high-speed 802.11ac transmissions enable superior network performance, faster downloads and better range, as well as lower power consumption by quickly exploiting deep sleep modes. The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ board builds on the success of existing Raspberry Pi solutions using Cypress’ CYW43438 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth combo SoC.

Wi-Fi networks powered by 802.11ac simultaneously deliver low-latency and high-speed with secure device communication, making it the ideal wireless technology for connecting products directly to the cloud. The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ board with the highly-integrated Cypress CYW43455 combo SoC allows developers to quickly prototype industrial IoT systems and smart home products that leverage the benefits of 802.11ac.

The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ board features a 64-bit, quad-core processor running at 1.4 GHz, 1 GB RAM, full size HDMI, 4 standard USB ports, Gbit Ethernet over USB2, Power over Ethernet capability, CSI camera connector and a DSI display connector. The platform’s resources, together with its 802.11ac wireless LAN and Bluetooth/BLE wireless connectivity, provide a compact solution for intelligent edge-connected devices.

The Cypress CYW43455 SoC features a dual-band 2.4- and 5-GHz radio with 20-, 40- and 80-MHz channels with up to 433 Mbps performance. This fast 802.11ac throughput allows devices to get on and off of the network more quickly, preventing network congestion and prolonging battery life by letting devices spend more time in deep sleep modes. The SoC includes Linux open source Full Media Access Control (FMAC) driver support with enterprise and industrial features enabled, including security, roaming, voice and locationing.

Cypress’ CYW43455 SoC and other solutions support Bluetooth Mesh networks—low-cost, low-power mesh network of devices that can communicate with each other, and with smartphones, tablets and voice-controlled home assistants, via simple, secure and ubiquitous Bluetooth connectivity. Bluetooth Mesh enables battery-powered devices within the network to communicate with each other to easily provide coverage throughout even the largest homes, allowing a user to conveniently control all of the devices from the palm of their hand. The SoC is also supported in Cypress’ all-inclusive, turnkey Wireless Internet Connectivity for Embedded Devices (WICED) software development kit (SDK), which streamlines the integration of wireless technologies for IoT developers.

Cypress Semiconductor | www.cypress.com

Raspberry Pi Foundation | www.raspberrypi.org

Linux and Coming Full Circle

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

JeffHeadShot

In terms of technology, the line between embedded computing and IT/desktop computing has always been a moving target. Certainty the computing power in small embedded devices today have vastly more compute muscle than even a server of 15 years ago. While there’s many ways to look at that phenomena, it’s interesting to look at it through the lens of Linux. The quick rise in the popularity of Linux in the 90s happened on the server/IT side pretty much simultaneously with the embrace of Linux in the embedded market.

I’ve talked before in this column about the embedded Linux start-up bubble of the late 90s. That’s when a number of start-ups emerged as “embedded Linux” companies. It was a new business model for our industry, because Linux is a free, open-source OS. As a result, these companies didn’t sell Linux, but rather provided services to help customers create and support implementations of open-source Linux. This market disruption spurred the established embedded RTOS vendors to push back. Like most embedded technology journalists back then, I loved having a conflict to cover. There were spirited debates on the “Linux vs. RTOS topic” on conference panels and in articles of time—and I enjoyed participating in both.

It’s amusing to me to remember that Wind River at the time was the most vocal anti-Linux voice of the day. Fast forward to today and there’s a double irony. Most of those embedded Linux startups are long gone. And yet, most major OS vendors offer full-blown embedded Linux support alongside their RTOS offerings. In fact, in a research report released in January by VDC Research, Wind River was named as the market leader in the global embedded software market for both its RTOS and commercial Linux segments.

According the VDC report, global unit shipments of IoT and embedded OSs, including free/non-commercial OSs, will grow to reach 11.1 billion units by 2021, driven primarily by ECU-targeted RTOS shipments in the automotive market, and free Linux installs on higher-resource systems. After accounting for systems with no OS, bare-metal OS, or an in-house developed OS, the total yearly units shipped will grow beyond 17 billion units in 2021 according to the report. VDC research findings also predict that unit growth will be driven primarily by free and low-cost operating systems such as Amazon FreeRTOS, Express Logic ThreadX and Mentor Graphics Nucleus on constrained devices, along with free, open source Linux distributions for resource-rich embedded systems.

Shifting gears, let me indulge myself by talking about some recent Circuit Cellar news—though still on the Linux theme. Circuit Cellar has formed a strategic partnership with LinuxGizmos.com. LinuxGizmos is a well-establish, trusted website that provides up-to-the-minute, detailed and insightful coverage of the latest developer- and maker-friendly, embedded oriented chips, modules, boards, small systems and IoT devices—and the software technologies that make them tick. As its name in implies, LinuxGizmos features coverage of open source, high-level operating systems including Linux and its derivatives (such as Android), as well as lower-level software platforms such as OpenWRT and FreeRTOS.

LinuxGizmos.com was founded by Rick Lehrbaum—but that’s only the latest of his accolades. I know Rick from way back when I first started writing about embedded computing in 1990. Most people in the embedded computing industry remember him as the “Father of PC/104.” Rick co-founded Ampro Computers in 1983 (now part of ADLINK), authored the PC/104 standard and founded the PC/104 Consortium in 1991, created LinuxDevices.com in 1999 and guided the formation of the Embedded Linux Consortium in 2000. In 2003, he launched LinuxGizmos.com to fill the void created when LinuxDevices was retired by Quinstreet Media.

Bringing things full circle, Rick says he’s long been a fan of Circuit Cellar, and even wrote a series of articles about PC/104 technology for it in the late 90s. I’m thrilled to be teaming up with LinuxGizmos.com and am looking forward to combing our strengths to better serve you.

This appears in the April (333) issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

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Drones Ascend to New Heights: Bringing Unique Perspective to Broadening Markets

Fewer emerging technologies have captured the imagination as dramatically as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or as they are more commonly referred to, drones. The same technological innovations that have brought us smartphones, IoT and wearables have brought us an explosion of drones. See what expanding horizons of application development await.

NXP IoT Platform Links ARM/Linux Layerscape SoCs to Cloud

By Eric Brown

NXP’s “EdgeScale” suite of secure edge computing device management tools help deploy and manage Linux devices running on LSx QorIQ Layerscape SoCs, and connects them to cloud services.

NXP has added an EdgeScale suite of secure edge computing tools and services to its Linux-based Layerscape SDK for six of its networking oriented LSx QorIQ Layerscape SoCs. These include the quad-core, 1.6 GHz Cortex-A53 QorIQ LS1043A, which last year received Ubuntu Core support, as well as the octa-core, Cortex-A72 LS2088a (see farther below).



Simplified EdgeScale architecture
(click image to enlarge)
The cloud-based IoT suite is designed to remotely deploy, manage, and update edge computing devices built on Layerscape SoCs. EdgeScale bridges edge nodes, sensors, and other IoT devices to cloud frameworks, automating the provisioning of software and updates to remote embedded equipment. EdgeScale can be used to deploy container applications and firmware updates, as well as build containers and generate firmware.

The technology leverages the NXP Trust Architecture already built into Layerscape SoCs, which offers Hardware Root of Trust features. These include secure boot, secure key storage, manufacturing protection, hardware resource isolation, and runtime tamper detection.

The EdgeScale suite provides three levels of management: a “point-and-click” dashboard, a Command-Line-Interface (CLI), and the RESTful API, which enables “integration with any cloud computing framework,” as well as greater UI customization. The platform supports Ubuntu, Yocto, OpenWrt, or “any custom Linux distribution.”


Detailed EdgeScale architecture (above) and feature list (below)
(click images to enlarge)
EdgeScale supports cloud frameworks including Amazon’s AWS Greengrass, Alibaba’s Aliyun, Google Cloud, and Microsoft’s Azure IoT Edge. The latter was part of a separate announcement released in conjunction with the EdgeScale release that said that all Layerscape SoCs were being enabled with “secure execution for Azure IoT Edge computing running networking, data analytics, and compute-intensive machine learning applications.”

A year ago, NXP announced a Modular IoT Framework, which was described as a set of pre-integrated NXP hardware and software for IoT, letting customers mix and match technologies with greater assurance of interoperability. When asked how this was related to EdgeScale, Sam Fuller, head of system solutions for NXP’s digital networking group, replied: “EdgeScale is designed to manage higher level software that could have a role of processing the data and managing the communication to/from devices built from the Modular IoT Framework.”


LS102A block diagram
(click image to enlarge)
The EdgeScale suite supports the following QorIQ Layerscape processors:

  • LS102A — 80 0MHz single-core, Cortex-A53 with 1 W power consumption found on F&S’ efus A53LS module
  • LS1028A — dual-core ARMv8 with Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN)
  • LS1043A — 1.6 GHz quad-core, Cortex-A53 with 1 0GbE support, found on the QorIQ LS1043A 10G Residential Gateway Reference Design and the X-ES XPedite6401 XMC/PrPMC mezzanine module
  • LS1046A — quad-core, Cortex-A72 with dual 10 GbE support (also available in dual-core LS1026A model)
  • LS1088a — 1.5 GHz octa-core, Cortex-A53 with dual 10 GbE support, which is also supported on the XPedite6401
  • LS2088a — 2.0 GHz octa-core, Cortex-A72 with 128-bit NEON-based SIMD engine for each core, plus a 10GbE XAUI Fat Pipe interface or 4x 10GBASE-KR — found on X-ES XPedite6370 SBC.

Further information

NXP’s EdgeScale will be available by the end of the month. More information may be found on its EdgeScale product page.

NXP Semiconductors | www.nxp.com

This article originally appeared on LinuxGizmos.com on March 16.

Next Newsletter: Embedded Boards

Coming to your inbox tomorrow: Circuit Cellar’s Embedded Boards newsletter. Tomorrow’s newsletter content focuses 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.

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

Analog & Power. (4/3) 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. (4/10) 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. (4/17) Covers what’s happening with Internet-of-Things (IoT) technology–-from devices to gateway networks to cloud architectures. This newsletter tackles news and trends about the products and technologies needed to build IoT implementations and devices.

BLE-Wi-Fi Module Solution Enables Compact IoT Gateways

Nordic Semiconductor announced that InnoComm Mobile Technology has employed Nordic’s nRF52832 Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth LE) System-on-Chip (SoC) for its CM05 BLE-Wi-Fi Module. The CM05 is a compact module that combines Nordic’s Bluetooth LE solution with Wi-Fi and is designed to ease the development of IoT gateways. By combining these wireless technologies into one device, the developer eliminates the cost and complexity of working with separate Bluetooth LE and Wi-Fi modules.

A CM05-powered IoT gateway enables Bluetooth LE-equipped wireless products to connect to the Internet (via the Wi-Fi technology’s TCP/IP functionality), a key advantage for smart home and smart industry applications. The compact module enables developers to reduce gateway size, decrease production costs and speed time to market.

The Nordic SoC’s powerful 64 MHz, 32-bit Arm Cortex M4F processor provides ample processing power to both the Nordic’s S132 SoftDevice (a Bluetooth 5-certifed RF software protocol (“stack”)) and the Wi-Fi TCP/IP stack, eliminating the cost, space requirements and power demands of an additional processor. In addition, the Nordic SoC’s unique software architecture, which cleanly separates the SoftDevice from the developer’s application code, eases the development process. And when the gateway is deployed in the field, the solution enables rapid, trouble-free Over-the-Air Device Firmware Updates (OTA-DFU).

Nordic’s nRF52832 Bluetooth LE SoC supports Bluetooth 5, ANT and proprietary 2.4GHz RF protocol software and delivers up to 60 per cent more generic processing power, offering 10 times the Floating Point performance and twice the DSP performance compared to competing solutions. The SoC is supplied with the S132 SoftDevice for advanced Bluetooth LE applications. The S132 SoftDevice features Central, Peripheral, Broadcaster and Observer Bluetooth LE roles, supports up to twenty connections, and enables concurrent role operation.

Nordic Semiconductor | www.nordicsemi.com

 

Obsolescence-Proof Your UI (Part 1)

(Photo 1)
Web Server Strategy

After years of frustration dealing with graphical user interface technologies that go obsolete, Steve decided that web browser technology could help this problem. With that in mind, he built a web server that could perform common operations that he needed on the IEEE-488 bus—and it is basically obsolescence-proof.

By Steve Hendrix

My consulting business is designing custom embedded electronics. Many such systems are size-constrained, but still need some type of user interface. For portable devices, the battery is usually the biggest point of discussion. For wireless designs, it’s the antenna. But for virtually every design, the user interface figures prominently in the concept discussions.

I’ve been involved with one particular design for some 20 years now. When I took it over from the client’s in-house designer, the internal structure was very shaky. Unfortunately, they were not willing to change it due to the re-certification efforts that would be required for a major change. The design’s user interface used a graphic LCD with a touchscreen overlay. I have just completed the latest revision to replace an obsolete part—the latest in a long series of revisions caused by the display panel or the touchscreen going obsolete. This usually happens just about the time the whole product gets through final certification. In this case, we jumped through a lot of hoops to avoid disturbing the core of the product so we wouldn’t require a a big recertification effort. We did so by building a daughterboard that emulates the original touchscreen. A web browser interface would be so much easier!

In a similar vein, I recently purchased a spectrum analyzer to replace a failed unit. The only way to get a screen dump into my PC is via the IEEE-488 bus. That standard is sometimes known as GPIB (General Purpose Interface Bus) or HPIB (Hewlett-Packard Interface Bus). Because this bus has mostly fallen out of favor, instruments that use it are inexpensive. The solutions that purport to interface the IEEE-488 bus to a PC are themselves badly dated. In addition to requiring a cable big enough to flip an instrument off the bench, several other pieces are needed. You need to buy a board that goes inside the PC for four figures, and software to run it for well up into four figures, and hope your PC and operating system are old enough to be compatible. Alternatively, numerous USB interfaces are available. All of those interfaces require a custom driver in your PC, and most of those drivers require older versions of Windows.

Photo 2
(a) A close-up view of the finished unit, which fits comfortably within a standard IEEE-488 connector backshell. This unit is ready for the final application of the label showing its permanently-assigned MAC address. (b) A peek under the hood, showing the microcontroller, the IEEE-488 bus termination resistor packs, and most of the power supply. The mini-USB connector makes no data connection, but only provides power to the unit. Such power supplies have become such ubiquitous commodity products that they are the most cost-effective way to get 5 V power to the unit.Many years ago, I worked for a company who specialized in IEEE-488 interfaces. Although I’d forgotten some of the nuances that make it such a pain to work with directly, I remembered enough to know that the Microchip PIC18F97J60 microcontroller could directly drive the bus lines for a single instrument. The PIC would need buffering to deal with the full 14 instruments that can be on the bus per the specification, but I just wanted to interface a single instrument. Best of all, I already had experience with building a web server in this chip from my solar power controller discussed in the July 2014 and August 2014 issues (Circuit Cellar 288 and Circuit Cellar 289.) The microcontroller and all required electronics could fit inside the backshell of a standard IEEE-488 connector. The lead article photo (Photo 1) shows the very tidy end result—note the MAC addresses printed on each label. Photo 2 shows a close-up view of the exterior and interior.

I’m sure that HTTP and web browsers will someday go the way of buggy whips. However, given their use today in everything from PCs to laptops to tablets to smart phones, I’m thinking web browsers are likely to be around for a while. With that in mind, I chose to build a web server that could perform common operations that I need on the IEEE-488 bus, and ultimately built it into a product available for sale to others with similar needs. By using a web browse the user interface, the device is accessible via anything from a desktop computer to an iPod—and it’s pretty much obsolescence -proof, at least within my lifetime! …

Author′s Note: I offer a special discount on KISS-488 to Circuit Cellar readers. Contact me at SteveHx@HxEngineering.com for details!

Read the full article in the April 333 issue of Circuit Cellar

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IoT Security Solution for NXP MCUs

NXP Semiconductors has introduced its new A71CH Secure Element (SE), a trust anchor, ready-to-use security solution for next-generation IoT devices, such as edge nodes and gateways. Designed to secure peer-to-peer or cloud connections, the chip comes with the required credentials pre-injected for autonomous cloud onboarding and peer-to-peer authentication. The solution is a Root of Trust (RoT) at the silicon level, with security functionalities such as encrypted key storage, key generation and derivation to protect private information and credentials for mutual authentication.

Unique to the chip, is its ‘Plug & Trust” approach supporting easy integration of security and cloud onboarding. It does this using host libraries and a development kit compatible to different NXP microcontrollers (MCU and MPU) platforms such as Kinetis and i.MX. Also, example code and various application notes are available to streamline the design process.

Thanks to the collaboration with Data I/O, embedded systems developers further benefit from an easy personalization service on the A71CH for any quantities in addition to NXP’s trust provisioning service. As a result, the new security IC gives developers, even those with limited security expertise, freedom to innovate and deploy secure solutions.

The A71CH provides the following set of key features:

  • Protected access to credentials
  • Encrypted/authenticated interface to host processor
  • Certificate-based TLS set-up (NIST P-256)
  • TLS set-up using pre-shared secret (TLS-PSK)
  • Connectionless message authentication (HMAC)
  • ECC key generation & signature verification
  • Symmetric key derivation
  • Encrypted vault for product master secrets (key wrapping, derivation, locking)
  • Encrypted key injection

 

NXP Semiconductors | www.nxp.com

Target Boards for Renesas RX 32-bit MCUs

Renesas Electronics has announced three new Target Boards for the RX65N, RX130 and RX231 Microcontroller (MCU) Groups, each designed to help engineers jump start their home appliance, building and industrial automation designs. Priced below $30, the Target Boards lower the price threshold for engagement, allowing more system developers to make use of Renesas’ broad-based 32-bit RX MCU family.

The RX Target Boards provide an inexpensive entry point for embedded designers to evaluate, prototype and develop their products. Each board kit features an on-chip debugger tool that enables application design without requiring further tool investments. Through-hole pin headers provide access to all MCU signals pins, making it easy for users to interconnect to standard breadboards for fast prototyping.

The RX Target Board evaluation concept reuses the same PCB for all MCU variations. Since each member of the Renesas RX MCU Family has a common pin assignment, users experience a smooth transition between different RX Groups and RX Series using the same package version. In the case of the RX Target Boards, the widely used 100-pin LQFP package is on board.

The RX Target Boards offer everything designers need to start board and demo development, including a board circuit diagram and bill of materials, demo source code, user manual, and application notes. Additional Target Board variations will be released soon that will provide full coverage of the entire RX Family, from the low-power RX100 Series to the high-performance RX700 Series.

The RX65N MCU Group combines an enhanced RX CPU core architecture and 120 MHz operation to achieve processing performance of 4.34 CoreMark/MHz. The MCUs include an integrated Trusted Secure IP, enhanced, trusted flash functionality, and a human-machine interface (HMI) for industrial and network control systems operating at the edge of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The RX65N MCUs also include an embedded TFT controller and integrated 2D graphic accelerator with advanced features ideal for TFT displays designed into IIoT edge devices or system control applications. In addition, the RX65N MCUs include embedded communication-processing peripherals such as Ethernet, USB, CAN, SD host/slave interface and quad SPI.

The RX130 MCU Group provides 32 MHz operation with flash memory sizes up to 512 KB, and package sizes up to 100-pins to provide higher performance and compatibility with the RX231/RX230 Group of touch MCUs. The ultra-low power, low-cost RX130 Group adds higher responsiveness and functionality for touch-based applications requiring 3V or 5V system control and low power consumption. Featuring a new capacitive touch IP with improved sensitivity and robustness, and a comprehensive device evaluation environment, the new 32-bit RX130 MCUs are an ideal fit for devices designed with challenging, non-traditional touch materials, or required to operate in wet or dirty environments, such as a kitchen, bath or factory floor.

The RX Target Boards are available now through Renesas Electronics’ worldwide distributors with a recommended resale price below $30.

Renesas Electronics | www.renesas.com

In-Circuit Programming/Debugging Tool Supports PIC MCUs

Microchip Technology has introduced the MPLAB PICkit 4 In-Circuit Debugger. This low-cost PICkit 4 in-circuit programming and debugging development tool is meant to replace the popular PICkit 3 programmer by offering five times faster programming, a wider voltage range (1.2 V to 5 V), improved USB connectivity and more debugging interface options. In addition to supporting Microchip’s PIC microcontrollers (MCUs) and dsPIC Digital Signal Controllers (DSCs), the tool also supports debugging and programming for the CEC1702 family of hardware cryptography-enabled devices.

This low-cost programming and debugging solution is well suited for those designing in the 8-bit space, but it is also perfectly suited for 16- and 32-bit development due, in part, to its 300 MHz, high-performance ATSAME70Q21B microcontroller on board. The benefits of faster programming time are less waiting and better productivity during development. This is especially important when designing with 32-bit microcontrollers with larger memory capacities.

The PICkit 4 development tool enables debugging and programing using the graphical user interface of MPLAB X Integrated Development Environment (IDE). The tool connects to the design engineer’s computer using a Hi-Speed USB 2.0 interface and can be connected to the target via an 8-pin single inline header that supports advanced interfaces such as 4-wire JTAG and serial wire debug with streaming data gateway. It is also backward compatible for demo boards, headers and target systems using 2-wire JTAG and In-Circuit Serial Programming (ICSP) compatibility.

The new interfaces make this low-cost tool compatible with Microchip’s CEC1702 hardware cryptography-enabled devices. This low-power, but powerful, 32-bit MCU offers easy-to-use encryption, authentication and private and public key capabilities. CEC1702 users can now benefit from using Microchip’s development tools and support rather than being required to invest in third-party tools for programming and debugging. The MPLAB PICkit 4 (PG164140) development tool is available today for $47.95.

Microchip Technology | www.microchip.com