About Circuit Cellar Staff

Circuit Cellar's editorial team comprises professional engineers, technical editors, and digital media specialists. You can reach the Editorial Department at editorial@circuitcellar.com, @circuitcellar, and facebook.com/circuitcellar

May Electrical Engineering Challenge Live (Sponsor: NetBurner)

Put your electrical engineering skills to the test. The May Electrical Engineering Challenge (sponsored by NetBurner) is now live.

This month, find the error in the code posted on the Challenge webpage for a chance to win a NetBurner MOD54415 LC Development Kit ($129 value) or a Circuit Cellar Digital Subscription (1 year).

TAKE THE CHALLENGE NOW

Find the error in the schematic and submit your answer via the online Submission Form by the deadline: 2 PM EST on February 20, 2015. Two prize winners from the pool of respondents who submit the correct answer will be randomly selected.

Find the error in the code and submit your answer via the online Submission Form by the deadline: 2 PM EST on May 20, 2015. Two prize winners from the pool of respondents who submit the correct answer will be randomly selected.

PRIZES

Out of each month’s group of entrants who correctly find the error in the code or schematic, one person will be randomly selected to win a NetBurner IoT Cloud Kit and another person will receive a free 1-year digital subscription to Circuit Cellar.

  • NetBurner MOD54415 LC Development Kit: You can add Ethernet connectivity to an existing product or use it as your product’s core processor! The NetBurner Ethernet Core Module is a device containing everything needed for design engineers to add network control and to monitor a company’s communications assets. The module solves the problem of network-enabling devices with 10/100 Ethernet, including those requiring digital, analog, and serial control.NetburnerMod54415module
  • Circuit Cellar Digital Subscription (1 year): Each month, Circuit Cellar magazine reaches a diverse international readership of professional electrical engineers, EE/ECE academics, students, and electronics enthusiasts who work with embedded technologies on a regular basis.Circuit Cellar magazine covers a variety of essential topics, including embedded development, wireless communications, robotics, embedded programming, sensors & measurement, analog tech, and programmable logic.

RULES

Read the Rules, Terms & Conditions

SPONSOR

NetBurner solves the problem of network enabling devices, including those requiring digital, analog and serial control. NetBurner provides complete hardware and software solutions that help you network enable your devices.netburneroffer

NetBurner, Inc.
5405 Morehouse Dr.
San Diego, CA 92121 USA

Client Profile: LS Research

Since 1980, companies spanning a wide range of industries have trusted LSR to help develop solutions that exceed their customers’ expectations. LSR provides an unmatched suite of both embedded wireless products and integrated services that improve speed to market and return on your development investment.SaBLE-x-Ruler-V2-275x275

LSR’s SaBLE-x Bluetooth Smart module, based on TI’s new SimpleLink CC2640 MCU, offers industry-leading RF and power performance along with LSR’s renowned support and developer tools.

LSR’s TiWi-C-W is a stand-alone WLAN (IEEE 802.11 b/g/n) module that simplifies and accelerates the work of adding Wi-Fi connectivity to your products. The TiWi-C-W module is also a cloud agent for LSR’s end-to-end IoT platform, TiWiConnect.

LSR’s all-new SaBLE-x Bluetooth Smart module, based on TI’s new SimpleLink CC2640 MCU, offers industry-leading RF and power performance along with LSR’s renowned developer support and broad country certifications. The SaBLE-x can be utilized in either stand-alone mode or with an external host, and the SaBLE Tool Suite provides developers with intuitive tools that accelerates development time in integrating BLE into your products.

SPECIAL OFFER FROM LSR
Win a FREE Development Kit for the SaBLE-x Bluetooth Smart module! Register to win and ONE Circuit Cellar reader will receive LSR’s SaBLE-x Development Kit ($199 value). Go to: http://info.lsr.com/sable-x-exclusive-offer

The Future of Intelligent Robots

Robots have been around for over half a century now, making constant progress in terms of their sophistication and intelligence levels, as well as their conceptual and literal closeness to humans. As they become smarter and more aware, it becomes easier to get closer to them both socially and physically. That leads to a world where robots do things not only for us but also with us.

Not-so-intelligent robots made their first debut in factory environments in the late ‘50s. Their main role was to merely handle the tasks that humans were either not very good at or that were dangerous for them. Traditionally, these robots have had very limited sensing; they have essentially been blind despite being extremely strong, fast, and repeatable. Considering what consequences were likely to follow if humans were to freely wander about within the close vicinity of these strong, fast, and blind robots, it seemed to be a good idea to isolate them from the environment by placing them in safety cages.

Advances in the fields of sensing and compliant control made it possible to get a bit closer to these robots, again both socially and physically. Researchers have started proposing frameworks that would enable human-robot collaborative manipulation and task execution in various scenarios. Bi-manual collaborative manufacturing robots like YuMi by ABB and service robots like HERB by the Personal Robotics Lab of Carnegie Mellon University[1] have started emerging. Various modalities of learning from/programming by demonstration, such as kinesthetic teaching and imitation, make it very natural to interact with these robots and teach them the skills and tasks we want them perform the way we teach a child. For instance, the Baxter robot by Rethink Robotics heavily utilizes these capabilities and technologies to potentially bring a teachable robot to every small company with basic manufacturing needs.

As robots gets smarter, more aware, and safer, it becomes easier to socially accept and trust them as well. This reduces the physical distance between humans and robots even further, leading to assistive robotic technologies, which literally “live” side by side with humans 24/7. One such project is the Assistive Dexterous Arm (ADA)[2] that we have been carrying out at the Robotics Institute and the Human-Computer Interaction Institute of Carnegie Mellon University. ADA is a wheelchair mountable, semi-autonomous manipulator arm that utilizes the sliding autonomy concept in assisting people with disabilities in performing their activities of daily living. Our current focus is on assistive feeding, where the robot is expected to help the users eat their meals in a very natural and socially acceptable manner. This requires the ability to predict the user’s behaviors and intentions as well as spatial and social awareness to avoid awkward situations in social eating settings. Also, safety becomes our utmost concern as the robot has to be very close to the user’s face and mouth during task execution.

In addition to assistive manipulators, there have also been giant leaps in the research and development of smart and lightweight exoskeletons that make it possible for paraplegics to walk by themselves. These exoskeletons make use of the same set of technologies, such as compliant control, situational awareness through precise sensing, and even learning from demonstration to capture the walking patterns of a healthy individual.

These technologies combined with the recent developments in neuroscience have made it possible to get even closer to humans than an assistive manipulator or an exoskeleton, and literally unite with them through intelligent prosthetics. An intelligent prosthetic limb uses learning algorithms to map the received neural signals to the user’s intentions as the user’s brain is constantly adapting to the artificial limb. It also needs to be highly compliant to be able to handle the vast variance and uncertainty in the real world, not to mention safety.

Extrapolating from the aforementioned developments and many others, we can easily say that robots are going to be woven into our lives. Laser technology used to be unreachable and cutting-edge from an average person’s perspective a couple decades ago. However, as Rodney Brooks says in his book titled Robot: The Future of Flesh and Machines, (Penguin Books, 2003), now we do not know exactly how many laser devices we have in our houses, and more importantly we don’t even care! That will be the case for the robots. In the not so distant future, we will be enjoying the ride in our autonomous vehicle as a bunch of nanobots in our blood stream are delivering drugs and fixing problems, and we will feel good knowing that our older relatives are getting some great care from their assistive companion robots.

[1] http://www.cmu.edu/herb-robot/
[2] https://youtu.be/glpCAdKEWAA

Tekin Meriçli, PhD, is a well-rounded roboticist with in-depth expertise in machine intelligence and learning, perception, and manipulation. He is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, where he leads the efforts on building intuitive and expressive interfaces to interact with semi-autonomous robotic systems that are intended to assist elderly and disabled. Previously, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) and the Personal Robotics Lab of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. He received his PhD in Computer Science from Bogazici University, Turkey.

This essay appears in Circuit Cellar 298, May 2015.

Cost-Effective, Long-Range, Low-Power Internet of Things Connectivity

SIGFOX and Texas Instruments  recently announced that they’re working together to increase Internet of Things (IoT) deployments using the Sub-1 GHz spectrum. Customers can use the SIGFOX network with TI’s Sub-1 GHz RF transceivers to deploy wireless sensor nodes that are lower cost and lower power than 3G/cellular connected nodes, while providing long-range connectivity to the IoT.TI - SIGFOX

Targeting a wide variety of applications ranging from environmental sensors to asset tracking, the SIGFOX and TI collaboration maximizes the benefits of narrowband radio technology. It also reduces barriers to entry for manufacturers interested in connecting their products to the cloud. Using the SIGFOX infrastructure reduces the cost and effort to get sensor data to the cloud and TI’s Sub-1 GHz technology provides years of battery life for less maintenance and up to 100 km range.

SIGFOX’s two-way network is based on an ultra-narrowband (UNB) radio technology for connecting devices, which is key to providing a scalable, high-capacity network with very low energy consumption and unmatched spectral efficiency. That is essential in a network that will handle billions of messages daily.

TI’s CC1120  Sub-1 GHz RF transceiver uses narrowband technology to deliver the longest-range connectivity and superior coexistence to SIGFOX’s network with strong tolerance of interference. Narrowband is the de facto standard for long-range communication due to the high spectral efficiency, which is critical to support the projected high growth of connected IoT applications. The CC1120 RF transceiver also provides years of battery lifetime for a sensor node, which reduces maintenance and lowers the cost of ownership for end users.

Sub-1 GHz networks operate in region-specific industrial scientific and medical (ISM) bands below 1 GHz including 169, 315, 433, 500, 868, 915 and 920 MHz. The networks are proprietary by nature and provide a more robust IoT connection, which is why the technology has been used for smart metering, security and alarm systems and other sensitive industrial systems. Additionally, the technology is low power, enabling years of battery life to reduce service and maintenance requirements.

Availability

SIGFOX-certified modules based on TI’s CC1120 were demonstrated at Mobile World Congress 2015 and are currently available.

Source: Texas Instruments; SIGFOX

 

F-RAM Expands the Density Range of Energy-Efficient Nonvolatile RAMs

Cypress Semiconductor Corp. today introduced a family of 4Mb serial Ferroelectric Random Access Memories (F-RAMs), which are the industry’s highest density serial F-RAMs. The 4-Mb serial F-RAMs feature a 40-MHz SPI, a 2-to-3.6-V operating voltage range and are available in industry-standard, RoHS-compliant package options. All Cypress F-RAMs provide 100 trillion read/write cycle endurance with 10-year data retention at 85˚C and 151 years at 65˚C.Cypress 4Mb Serial F-RAM

Cypress F-RAMs are ideal solutions for applications requiring continuous and frequent high-speed reading and writing of data with absolute data security. The 4-Mb serial F-RAM family addresses mission-critical applications such as industrial controls and automation, industrial metering, multifunction printers, test and measurement equipment, and medical wearables.

The 4-Mb serial F-RAMs are currently sampling in industry-standard 8EIAJ and 8TDFN packages. Production expected in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Source: Cypress Semiconductor

 

New AC Source with Power Line Disturbance Simulator

B&K Precision recently introduced the 9801 AC power source, which is a compact 19″ half-rack, single-phase AC source that outputs up to 300 VA and measures AC power characteristics. You can operate the AC source in a 0-to-300-V continuous sweep range or 150-V/300-V auto-switching range with adjustable start and stop phase angle control. With a built-in power line disturbance (PLD) simulator, list, sweep, and dimmer mode, the 9801 is suitable for simulating various AC power conditions. It provides a complete solution for manufacturing, R&D, and precompliance testing applications.9801_front-B&K

For certain compliance testing applications, manufacturers may need an AC source to simulate various AC power line outlets and disturbances. This includes evaluating a product’s immunity to less than ideal input voltage situations such as dips, surges, and dropouts. Therefore, programmable AC sources with built-in power line disturbance simulation functions can be an invaluable tool for testing devices under these conditions.

The 9801 features a low distortion, single-phase AC output with programmable RMS voltage up to 300 V, maximum RMS current up to 3 A, and adjustable frequency from 45 to 500 Hz. The power source is also capable of delivering up to 12-A peak current.

Provided on the front panel is a universal AC output socket and an easy-to-use rotary knob to set AC waveform parameters. The bright VFD display continuously displays the output voltage, peak and RMS current, frequency, power factor, apparent/true power, and elapsed time. The rear includes an additional AC output terminal block for wire connection and an external BNC connector for output On/Off control and monitoring, external triggering, and synchronization. Users will also benefit from the 9801’s standard RS-232, USBTMC-compliant USB, and LAN interfaces for remote control and programming.

Built-in simulation functions include list mode with PLD simulator, sweep, and phase-cut dimming output. The simulation modes allow users to program varying steps of voltage, frequency, width, slope, and disturbances, sweep the output voltage and frequency, and control the phase cut-off of the AC sine wave’s leading or trailing edge. For pre-compliance testing, voltage fluctuations and frequency simulations can be set up according to IEC61000-4-11, IEC61000-4-14, and IEC61000-4-28.

Furthermore, the 9801 provides several protection features: overvoltage (OVP), overcurrent (OCP), overpower (OPP), and overtemperature (OTP) protection, settable voltage and frequency limits, key lock function, and RMS/peak current protection settings to shut off the output when a load exceeds the set current.

B&K Precision’s 9801 AC power source costs $1,995.

Source: B&K Precision

 

 

Streamlined Touchscreen Design with Application Builder and COMSOL Server

Cypress Semiconductor R&D engineers are creating simulation apps that streamline their touchscreen design processes. To do so, they’re sharing their simulation expertise with colleagues using the Application Builder and COMSOL Server, released with COMSOL Multiphysics simulation software version 5.COMSOL_5.1_COMSOL_Server

With the Application Builder, engineers can create ready-to-use simulation applications that can be implemented across departments, including by product development, sales, and customer service. The Application Builder enables simulation experts to build intuitive simulation apps based on their models directly within the COMSOL environment. COMSOL Server lets them share these apps with colleagues and customers around the globe.

To incorporate advances into touchscreen technology and embedded system products, Cypress simulation engineers use COMSOL for research and design initiatives. Their touchscreens are used in phones and MP3 devices, industrial applications, and more.

Source: COMSOL

 

March & April Electrical Engineering Challenge Answers (Sponsor: NetBurner)

The answers to the March and April 2015 Electrical Engineering Challenge (sponsored by NetBurner) are available. Check out the answers and winners!

PRIZES

Out of each month’s group of entrants who correctly find the error in the code or schematic, one person will be randomly selected to win a NetBurner IoT Cloud Kit and another person will receive a free 1-year digital subscription to Circuit Cellar.

  • NetBurner MOD54415 LC Development Kit: You can add Ethernet connectivity to an existing product or use it as your product’s core processor! The NetBurner Ethernet Core Module is a device containing everything needed for design engineers to add network control and to monitor a company’s communications assets. The module solves the problem of network-enabling devices with 10/100 Ethernet, including those requiring digital, analog, and serial control.NetburnerMod54415module
  • Circuit Cellar Digital Subscription (1 year): Each month, Circuit Cellar magazine reaches a diverse international readership of professional electrical engineers, EE/ECE academics, students, and electronics enthusiasts who work with embedded technologies on a regular basis.Circuit Cellar magazine covers a variety of essential topics, including embedded development, wireless communications, robotics, embedded programming, sensors & measurement, analog tech, and programmable logic.

RULES

Read the Rules, Terms & Conditions

SPONSOR

NetBurner solves the problem of network enabling devices, including those requiring digital, analog and serial control. NetBurner provides complete hardware and software solutions that help you network enable your devices.netburneroffer

NetBurner, Inc.
5405 Morehouse Dr.
San Diego, CA 92121 USA

Engineering “Moonshot” Projects

In 2009, Andrew Meyer, an MIT-trained engineer and entrepreneur, co-founded LeafLabs, a Cambridge, MA-based R&D firm that designs “powerful physical computing devices for control and communication among smart machines (including humans).” We recently asked Andrew to tell us about his background, detail some of his most intriguing projects, tell us about his contributions to Project Ara, and share his thoughts on the future of electrical engineering.AndrewMeyerLeaflabs

CIRCUIT CELLAR: How did you become interested in electronics? Did you start at a young age?

ANDREW: Yes, actually, but I am not sure I really got anywhere fooling around as a kid. I had a deep love of remote control cars and airplanes in middle school. I was totally obsessed with figuring out how to build my own control radio. This was right before the rise of Google, and I scoured the net for info on circuits. In the end, I achieved a reasonable grasp on really simple RC type circuits but completely failed in figuring out the radio. Later in high school I took some courses at the local community college and built an AM radio and got into the math for the first time – j and omega and all that.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: What is Leaflabs? How did it start? Who comprises your team today?

ANDREW: LeafLabs is an R&D firm specializing in embedded and distributed systems. Projects start as solving specific problems for a client, but the idea is to turn those relationships into product opportunities. To me, that’s what separates R&D from consulting.

LeaflabsOffice

The LeafLabs Office (Source: LeafLabs)

I started LeafLabs with a handful of friends in 2009. It was an all MIT cast of engineers, and it took four or five years before I understood how much we were holding ourselves back by not embracing some marketing and sales talent. The original concept was to try and design ICs that were optimized for running certain machine learning algorithms at low power. The idea was that smartphones might want to do speech to text some day without sending the audio off to the cloud. This was way too ambitious for a group of 22 year olds with no money.

Our second overly ambitious idea was to try and solve the “FPGA problem.” I’m still really passionate about this, but it too was too much for four kids in a basement to take a big bite off. The problem is that FPGAs vendors like Xilinx and Altera have loads of expertise in silicon, but great software is just not in their DNA. Imagine if x86 never published their instruction set. What if Intel insisted on owning not just the processors, but the languages, compilers, libraries, IDEs, debuggers, operating systems, and the rest of it? Would we ever have gotten to Linux? What about Python? FPGAs have enormous potential to surpass even the GPU as a completely standard technology in computer systems. There should some gate fabric in my phone. The development tools just suck, suck, suck. If any FPGA executives are reading this: Please open up your bitstream formats, the FSF and the rest of the community will get the ball rolling on an open toolchain that will far exceed what you guys are doing internally. You will change the world.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: How did the Maple microcontroller board come about?

ANDREW: Arduino was really starting to come up at the time. I had just left Analog, where we had been using the 32-bit Cortex M3. We started asking “Chips like the STM32 are clearly the way of the future, why on earth is Arduino using a chip from the ‘90s?” Perry, another LeafLabs founder, was really passionate about this. ARM is taking over the world, the community deserves a product that is as easy to use as Arduino, but built on top of modern technology.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: Can you give a general overview of your involvement with Project Ara?

ANDREW: We got into Ara at the beginning as subcontractors to the company that was leading a lot of the engineering, NK Labs. Since then our role has expanded quite a bit, but we are still focused on software and firmware development. Everyone understood that Ara was going to require a lot of firmware and FPGA work, and so we were a natural choice to get involved. One of the first Ara prototypes actually used the Maple software library, libmaple, and had eight FPGAs in it! For your readers that are interested in Ara, please to check out projectara.com and https://github.com/projectara/greybus/.

LeafLabs is focused on firmware development. What’s really exciting to me about the project is the technology under the hood. Basically, what we have done is built a network on a PCB. The first big problem with embedded linux devices is that they are completely centered around the SoC. Change the SoC and you are in for ton of software development, for instance, to bring your display driver back to life. Similarly, changes to the design, such as incorporating a faster Wi-Fi chip, might force you to change the SoC. This severe coupling between everything keeps designers from iterating. You have this attitude of “OK, no one touch this design for the next 5 years, we finally got it working.” If we have learned anything from SaaS and App companies it’s that quickly iterating and continuous deployment are key to great products. If your platform inhibits iteration, you have a big problem.

The other problem with embedded systems is that there are so many protocols! SDIO, USB, DSI, I2C, SPI, CSI, blah blah blah. Do we really need so many!? Think how much mileage we get out of TCP/IP. The protocol explosion just adds impedance to the entire design process, and forces engineers to be worrying about bits toggling on traces rather than customer facing features.

The technology being developed for Ara, called Greybus, solves both these problems. The centerpiece of our phone is a switch, and the display, Wi-Fi, audio, baseband, etc all hang off the switch as network devices. Even the processor is just another module hanging off this network. All modules speak the same “good enough” protocol called UniPro (Unified Protocol). The possibilities here are absolutely tantalizing. To learn more about Greybus, see here: https://github.com/projectara/greybus/.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: Can you define “minimalist data acquisition” for our readers? What is it and why does it interest you?

ANDREW: More and more fields, but particularly in neuroscience, are having to deal with outrageously huge real-time data sets. There are 100 billion neurons in the human brain. If we want to listen to just 1,000 of them, we are already talking about ~1 Gbps. Ed Boyden, a professor at MIT, asked us if we could build some hardware to help handle the torrent. Could we scale to 1 Tbps? Could we build something that researchers on a budget could actually afford and that mere mortals could use?

The Willow (Source: LeafLabs)

The Willow (Source: LeafLabs)

Willow is a hardware platform for capturing, storing, and processing neuroscience data at this scale. We had to be “minimalist” to keep costs down, and ensure our system is easy to use. Since we need to use an FPGA anyway to interface with a data source (like a bank of ADCs, or an array of image sensors), we thought, “Why not use the same chip for interfacing to storage?” With a single $150 FPGA and a couple of $200 SSD drives, we can record at 12 Gbps, put guarantees on throughput, and record for a couple of hours!

CIRCUIT CELLAR: What are you goals for LeafLabs for the next 6 to 12 months?

ANDREW: Including our superb remote contractors, our team is pushing 20. A year from now, it could be double that. This is a really tricky transition—where company culture really starts to solidify, where project management becomes a first-order problem, and where people’s careers are on the line. My first goal for LeafLabs is make sure we nail this transition and build off of a really solid foundation. Besides that, we are always looking for compelling new problems to work on and new markets to play in. Getting into neuroscience has been an absolute blast.

The complete interview appears in Circuit Cellar 298 (May 2015).

Ultra-Compact Lightweight Audio/Video Processing Engine

Sensoray announces the new 2960 Dragon, which is an ultra-compact lightweight board with extreme computing power and flexible architecture for HD/SD video and audio processing systems. Using the 2960 Dragon as a building block, Sensoray experts collaborate with customers to create complex custom-configured audiovisual processing systems with extremely short development times. Fully customized solutions can be delivered with little or no nonrecurring engineering (NRE) costs, even when only modest volumes are required.  Sensoray-2960

The 2960 Dragon is only 1.9″ × 1″ and weighs in at 0.22 oz (6.2 g). It captures up to 1920 × 1200 video at 30 fps and JPEG snapshots at up to 4096 × 3104.

Packed onto its tiny footprint is a powerful, highly flexible, and configurable audio/video processing engine. The 2960 Dragon features a controller and stream router, SD card interface, six GPIOs, USB (device or host mode), Ethernet, serial COM, and I2C communication interfaces. It is also equipped with one input and one output for HD/SD digital video, a stereo digital audio input and output, and a composite NTSC/PAL output. If the USB interface operates in device mode, the board can be completely powered from USB.

Sensoray develops fully customized solutions by designing firmware and integrating it with a carrier board that holds the 2960 Dragon, the connectors, and any other circuitry specified.

Source: Sensoray

 

HITFET+ Family of Protected Low-Side Switches

Infineon Technologies recently announced the HITFET+ family of protected low-side switches. The HITFET+ family (High Integrated Temperature protected MOSFET) offers a handy feature-set with its diagnosis function, digital status feedback and short-circuit robustness, and controlled slew rate adjustment for easily balancing switching losses and EMC compliance. The HITFET+ family will comprise at least 16 members varying in R DS(on) (10 to 800 MΩ), feature set (i.e., with and without status feedback), and package size (D-PAK with 5 or 3 pins, DSO with 8 pins). HITFET+ products of one package size are completely scalable. You don’t need to change either software or PCB layout to drive various loads. The BTF3050TE is already available in high-volume.Infineon HITFETplus

HITFET+ products are suitable as protected drivers in industrial applications, including solar power modules, printers, and vending machines.

As for use in automotive systems, the HITFET+ products can drive solenoids for valve control with PWM up to 20 kHz. They are also a good fit for automotive light-dimming applications. In addition, the HITFET+ family can be useful in a variety other automotive applications, such as the following:

  • mid-size and small-size electric motor drives for door locks or a parking brake
  • injection valves for alternative fuel (LPG, CNG)
  • flaps driving in HVAC
  • rear wheel steering applications

The BTF3050TE is now available in a lead-free TO-252 package (D-PAK 5-pin) in high volume. Additional HITFET+ products are scheduled to be released toward the end of 2015.

Source: Infineon Technologies

EtherCAT Slave Controller with Integrated PHYs for the Internet of Things

Microchip Technology’s LAN9252 is a stand-alone EtherCAT slave controller with two 10/100 PHYs. Its dual 10/100 Ethernet transceivers support both fiber and copper, along with cable diagnostics capabilities. In addition, the LAN9252 supports traditional Host Bus and SPI/SQI communication, along with standalone digital I/O interfaces, enabling you to select from a wide range of microcontrollers when implementing the real-time EtherCAT communications standard. Additionally, the LAN9252 reduces system complexity and cost for developers using EtherCAT in factory-automation, process-control, motor/motion-control and Internet of Things (IoT) industrial-Ethernet applications.Microchip LAN9252 EtherCAT

The LAN9252 EtherCAT slave controller includes 4 KB of Dual-Port RAM (DPRAM) and three Fieldbus Memory Management Units (FMMUs). It also includes cable diagnostics support that allows field service technicians to rapidly and effectively diagnose line faults and provides for fiber connectivity. This EtherCAT slave controller is available in commercial, industrial and extended industrial temperature ranges, in low pin count and small body size QFN and QFP-EP packages.

To enable development with the LAN9252, two Microchip evaluation boards supporting various system architectures are available. The systems demonstrate how to interface to the LAN9252 through basic I/O connections or to microcontrollers such as the 32-bit PIC32MX family via serial communications. A Software Development Kit (SDK) is also available. The boards—EVB-LAN9252-HBI and EVB-LAN9252-DIGIO—cost $300 each.

The LAN9252 EtherCAT slave controller is available for sampling in 64-pin QFN and QFP-EP packages, starting at $7.01 each, in 10,000-unit quantities.

Source: Microchip Technology

Compact 20A Hot Swap Controller Integrates MOSFET & Current Sensing

Linear Technology Corp. recently announced the LTC4234, a 20A Hot Swap controller with integrated MOSFET and current sensing, which provides a small footprint hot-plug solution for high-density circuit boards. The LTC4234 ensures safe board insertion and removal from live 2.9-to-15-V backplanes by controlling an internal N-channel power MOSFET to gently power up bulk capacitors and avoid sparks, connector damage and system glitches. By integrating the two most critical and largest Hot Swap components-power MOSFET and sense resistor, the LTC4234 reduces design time and saves board area. The internal, production-tested MOSFET’s safe operating area (SOA) is specified to ensure a rugged hot-plug solution, especially for space-constrained boards and cards in servers, network routers and switches, solid-state drives, and industrial systems.Linear LTC4234

Upon insertion, the LTC4234 waits for connector contact bounce to finish before soft-starting the output. A ground-referenced signal proportional to the load current is provided for monitoring with an external analog-to-digital converter (ADC). The current limit can be reduced from its 22.5A default with a single resistor, affording quick adjustment for dynamic load changes and various applications. For higher current applications, two LTC4234s are easily paralleled for a 40A solution. During overcurrent conditions, the controller limits MOSFET power dissipation by folding back its current limit for an adjustable timeout period. Undervoltage and overvoltage thresholds protect downstream loads against voltages outside a valid window, preventing circuit malfunction and damage.

The LTC4234’s features:

  • Enables safe board insertion
  • Integrated 4-mΩ MOSFET with sense resistor
  • Guaranteed safe operating area
  • Wide operating voltage range of 2.9 to 15 V
  • Current limit for overcurrent fault protection
  • Current and temperature monitor, power good & fault outputs
  • –40°C to 125°C Operating temperature range
  • 38-Pin 5 mm × 9 mm QFN Ppackage

The LTC4234 starts at $4.95 each in 1,000-piece quantities. Device samples and evaluation circuit boards are available online or from your local Linear Technology sales office.

Source: Linear Technology

 

 

Editors’ Pick: Adafruit’s Limor Fried on the DIY Electronics Revolution

The proliferation of open-source hardware and software has made do-it-yourself electronics accessible to both professional electrical engineers and newbies. Today we’re just at the start of an exciting DIY revolution that promises innovation, adventure, and new social, creative, and business opportunities. How will you get involved? In this essay, Adafruit founder Limor Fried offers her thoughts on the present and future of open-source technology.

I’m an MIT-trained electrical engineer and founder of Adafruit Industries, an open-source hardware (OSH) company in New York City. Normally, I tell people that we design and manufacture electronic gadgets—mostly kits and parts for students who are learning to become engineers—or project packs for people who didn’t realize that they wanted to get into electronics. But really what we do is teach, and we do that by creating OSH. Every design we make is fully documented and given away for free—to anyone, for any purpose. But we also sell completely assembled designs as products. Most people just buy from the Adafruit store or from one of our many distributors, but there are still thousands who look at what we create as points of origin for their own businesses or products.

Another way to put it: we’re basically like a test kitchen with a restaurant attached to it. We come up with new dishes, write the recipes up for others to follow at home (or in their own restaurants), and also serve up the dishes to those who don’t have all the equipment and ingredients—they just want to chow down. Other aspiring chefs look at our videos and recipes and adapt them for their own kitchens all over the world. And, once in a while, those same cooks turn around and give away one of their techniques or recipes to the community. Not everyone gives back, but that’s OK. Enough people contribute to create a vibrant culture of sharing.cloud

The best part about talking about OSH is how easy it is. So much has happened with OSH in the last few years that it’s not like I need to sell a pipe dream. It’s not some “experimental future” or “speculative fiction” about what could occur. OSH is already happening, so all I have to do to predict its future is to accurately describe what’s going on right now. But first, a brief introduction.

Open-Source 101

Nearly everyone knows about open-source software (OSS). Sure, you may not be a coder, but you’ve used the Internet, which is pretty much fully made of OSS: websites running the ubiquitous Apache webserver software, displaying customized sites written in Ruby or PHP, drawing on pools of data stored in MySQL databases all running on server computers running the open-source Linux operating system.

The fantastic thing about all this free OSS is how it has helped proliferate the Internet, improving the functionality of the web through rapid mutations in code (that’s the free-as-in-speech part) and driving down the cost to commodity levels (that’s the free-as-in-beer part). The commodification of the Internet—that is, the marginal cost of an blog or email account is so low that it’s essentially free—and indeed nearly all computer software and hardware would not be possible without OSS.

OK, so that’s the state of the Internet as of circa 1995. Although the details have evolved, the essence of OSS is the same. But something interesting started happening a few years ago in the hardware world (i.e., atoms instead of bits): stuff started getting both complex and cheap. Suddenly, everything had a microcomputer inside of it, and if you had a microcomputer, you needed data to crunch. The market for sensors—what would normally be shoved into extremely expensive military hardware—started ballooning. (When I was in college, a triple-axis accelerometer motion sensor would cost $60. Now it costs less than $1.) Once low-cost sensors and easily reprogrammable logic chips started flooding the market, online communities of engineering geeks started to take notice. Engineers start using what they had learned at work to build hobby projects. The parts were finally cheap enough. And as a result, they started laying down the groundwork: compilers, simulators, and toolchains. That was the mid-1990s. Soon thereafter, geek artists started taking a look and liked what they saw. They started designing interactive art, building on some of the great electronic art concepts of the 1970s. And finally, non-geeks had a crack at it. Complex electronics and electrical engineering went from something requiring years of differential equations to weekend fun.

While all this was happening, something cool began occurring. Just as code geeks created OSS to help commodify the Internet, solder geeks decided to apply the same principles to the creation of hardware (both mechanical and electronic). They started sharing schematics, CAD files, and layouts on social websites. Today, designers use a variety of sites (e.g., Instructables.com, Thingiverse.com, and LetsMakeRobots.com) and via various social services (e.g., Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+) to give away inventions and post tutorials and instructions for free.

The Proliferation of OSH

The first response we can have is this: OK. Free and OSS erased the costs of software while also increasing demand (and thus lowering the price) for desktop computers. Then followed laptops (say, OLPC, which runs exclusively OSS) and finally cell phones (e.g., Android). So, we’ll also see OSH reduce costs and simultaneously speed up iterations of new and better devices by separating the IP control (say, patents) from the ability to manufacture.

There’s also another response we can take to the proliferation of OSH. Not only is it making it easier than ever to design and manufacture original products to fit a group’s needs, it’s also providing a broad curriculum to the world. Someone who has the desire to learn how to build and repair electronics will not learn much by taking apart a modern cell phone—everything is too small, poorly documented, and hidden. But with OSH, documentation is an essential part of the process—describing why a certain component is chosen and possible alternatives gives insight. The student is empowered to trace the design from thought-process to mathematical analysis to specifications to fabrication.

OSH Projects

Let’s consider some examples of what is happening in OSH right now. First of all, I’m sure you’ve already heard about 3-D printing from MakerBot. It used to be a technology only available to high-end prototyping houses that could spend the tens of thousands of dollars on both machinery and upkeep. But then about five years ago, a few different groups such as Fab@Home and RepRap decided they wanted create low-cost home versions as well as make the projects OSH. So they gave away all the plans with the hopes that others would build, improve, and proliferate the basic plan of low-cost 3-D printing. Now there are over 100 low-cost 3-D printer design variations available for anyone to make. In addition, a massive community is constantly improving the quality, lowering the price, and simplifying things. It’s possible that within a few years we could see 3-D printers that cost $100 and are built of common hardware store parts.

Another example that has promise is the Global Village Construction Set, which is a “manual” of simple, easy-to-repair construction equipment. Instead of high-cost specialized tools from John Deere or Caterpillar, each of a dozen machines can be fabricated using basic steel welding, electrical wiring, and some basic common components. The hope is not that it would replace the many powered tools already available, but that it would enable people to approach the design of new tools without fear that they had nowhere to start from. That is to say, by being broad and simple, it can encourage specialization when needed, whereas most equipment manufacturers would not be interested in selling something unless they had tens of thousands of customers.

Finally, one of my favorite projects is the Dili Village Telco project. There are no phone lines in the East Timor village. There is a cell network, but it’s expensive and not very useful for making calls within the village. David Rowe, a telephony engineer, designed a sort of “micro cell” so that the Timorese in the village could use regular phones to call each other, basically like a little version of AT&T. Rowe designed the very complex hardware, which not only has to work but also has to work well in the difficult environment of a village without cables or consistent power. What I thought was most interesting about the project is how he was giving  away the years’ worth of work, posting up schematics, DSP code, filters, and more with the hope that some company would come by and rip him off. The best thing that could happen for the project is to have the design mass manufactured because then he could get on with the work of deploying and configuring the network boxes instead of figuring out how to get them made.

The Speed & Power of OSH

Now I’ll share personal example of the speed and power of open-source hardware and software. About a year ago, I was mucking about with trying to design a low-cost, high-efficiency solar battery charger. Solar panels are really annoying to deal with, and although there are lots of off-the-shelf solutions for big solar panels—say, over 50 W—there isn’t a lot available for 5 W or under. I ended up designing what I thought was a pretty clever battery charger that used off-the-shelf parts and then began selling it in the Adafruit store. A few months later, I got an e-mail from a fellow who had designed a solar-powered cell phone charger and liked the design and efficiency. He had a Kickstarter going to sell them, and just wanted me to know that he had taken the design and remixed it. Some people would consider such a scenario a nightmare: I spent months in the sun tweaking the design and some guy just rips it off to make money. But I thought it was great. In fact, nothing would make me happier than to hear that every design I’ve worked on and published was used to create a useful product.

Share Knowledge, Share Success

So, on to the future! One thing that makes me most excited is the proliferation of low-cost cell phones that are easy to program (Android in particular). Once you take a programmable cell phone and connect ultra-low-cost sensors, you’ve got a global sensor network—a very powerful tool that enables anyone to measure and monitor the environment.

More sensors, more things talking. You’ll hear about the “Internet of Things” a lot more in the future. A lot of OSH makers cross-pollinate from hobbyist projects to manufacturer products to other industries. For instance, you’ll see medical devices get smarter. Quickly being able to pull from a library of open-source projects and make a Kickstarter or some other crowd-funded service will lower the entry barrier for many engineers and makers. Sure, there are challenges once you actually get the funding, but it’s never been a better time to work on OSH and get your designs out there. Previously, capital needed to be raised via venture capitalists, loans, or friends and family.

What I like about the future of electronics—and DIY electronics in particular—is that it’s more than just about the physical bits. The OSH movement has a built-in cause: sharing knowledge. If we can all provide a little more value when we make something, we can develop more things by standing on each other’s shoulders and make more engineers who share the same values.

FriedLimor Fried founded Adafruit Industries in 2005. She earned a Bachelor’s in EECS and a Master’s of Engineering from MIT This essay first appeared in CC25 (2011).

Power Monitoring IC for High-Accuracy Power Measurement

Microchip Technology recently expanded its power-monitoring IC portfolio with the addition of the MCP39F511. The highly integrated and accurate single-phase power-monitoring IC is designed for the real-time measurement of AC power. It combines the most popular power calculations with unique advanced features, making it well suited for use in high-performance commercial and industrial products (e.g., lighting systems, smart plugs, power meters, and AC/DC power supplies).

Source: Microchip Technology

Source: Microchip Technology

To address industry requirements for better accuracy across current loads, additional power calculations, and event monitoring of various power conditions, the MCP39F511 power-monitoring IC provides all of the popular standard power calculations combined with advanced features. The import and export of active energy accumulation, four-quadrant reactive energy accumulation, zero-crossing detection and dedicated PWM output have now been integrated on-chip, along with the ability to measure active, reactive and apparent power, RMS current and RMS voltage, line frequency, and power factor.

Allowing for more accurate power measurements, which is critical to higher-performance designs, this new device is capable of just 0.1 % error across a wide 4000:1 dynamic range. Additionally, its 512 bytes of EEPROM allow operating-condition storage. The MCP39F511 also includes two 24-bit delta-sigma ADCs with 94.5 dB of SINAD performance, a 16-bit calculation engine, and a flexible two-wire interface. A low-drift voltage reference, in addition to an internal oscillator, is integrated to reduce implementation costs. This unique combination of features and performance allows designers to add highly accurate power-monitoring functions to their end applications with minimal firmware development, speeding development time.

The MCP39F511 is supported by Microchip’s MCP39F511 Power Monitor Demonstration Board (ADM00667), which costs $150. The MCP39F511 is available now for sampling and volume production, in a 28-lead, 5 × 5 mm QFN package. It costs $1.82 each in 5,000-unit quantities.

Source: Microcchip Technology