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

RED EXPERT Online Design Tool for Precise AC Loss Calculation

Würth Elektronik recently published RED EXPERT,  a new online tool you can use to simulate the power inductors. With just a few clicks, you can select the power inductors and calculate the complete AC losses.Wurth-RedExpert

RED EXPERT enables extremely precise loss calculation because it is not based on the known Steinmetz models with sinusoidal excitation. Instead, it is derived and validated from measurements of the power inductors in a switching controller setup.

The losses determined with RED EXPERT are based on current and voltage waveforms typical in applications. Besides the core and winding losses, they also include the losses arising from the specific geometries of the inductance, such as the air gap.

Particular highlights of the RED EXPERT AC loss model are the range of duty cycles supported from 10% to 90% and the switching frequency range of 50 kHz to 5 MHz. This gives the RED EXPERT AC loss model a previously unattained precision.

RED EXPERT is freely available in German, English, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, and Chinese at www.we-online.com/redexpert.

Source: Würth Elektronik

Two-Pin, Self-Powered Serial EEPROM for the IoT

Atmel recently announced a two-pin, single-wire EEPROM intended for the Internet of Things (IoT), wearables, and more. The self-powered devices don’t require a power source or VCC pin, with a parasitic power scheme over the data pin. They provide ultra-low power standby of 700 nA, 200 µA for write current, and 80 µA for read current at 25°C.

The AT21CS01/11 devices eliminate the need for external capacitors and rectifiers with its parasitic power scheme over a single data pin. Plus, their ultra-high write endurance capability to allow more than 1 million cycles for each memory location to meet the requirements for today’s high-write endurance applications.

The AT21CS01/11 products include a simple product identification with a plug-and-play, 64-bit unique serial number in every device. Furthermore, they deliver industry-leading electrostatic discharge (ESD) rating (IEC 61000-4-2 Level 4 ESD Compliant), so a variety of applications (e.g., cables and consumables) can tolerate exposure to the outside environment or direct human contact while still delivering high performance.

The new devices follow the I2C protocol, which enables easy migration from existing EEPROM with less overhead and the capability to connect up to eight devices on the same bus. The AT21CS01 devices offer a security register with a 64-bit factory programmed serial number and an extra 16 bytes of user-programmable and permanently lockable storag.

The AT21CS01 is intended for low-voltage applications operating at 1.7 to 3.6 V. For applications that require higher voltage ranges (e.g., Li-Ion/polymer batteries), the AT21CS11 supports a 2.7 to 4.5 V operating range.

The AT21CS01 devices are available in production quantities in three-lead SOT23, eight-lead SOIC, and four-ball WLCSP. Pricing starts at $0.32 in 5,000-piece quantities. The AT21CS11 will be available in Q4 2015.

Source: Atmel

Matrix Launches Formula AllCode Kickstarter Campaign (sponsored)

Matrix TSL has launched a Kickstarter campaign for its Formula AllCode robotics course, which features a high-specification, Bluetooth-enabled robot. You can program the robot via Python, AppBuilder, Flowcode, Matlab, LabVIEW, C, and more. It is compatible with Raspberry Pi, Android, iPhone, and Windows devices.AllCodeKickstarter

KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN

Formula AllCode is a platform for both novice or advanced electronics enthusiasts to learn and test their robotics skills. Participate in the campaign: Formula AllCode

The funds raised from this Kickstarter project will allow Matrix to take the current prototype development shown in the project videos to the next level with a technical specification to beat any other like-for-like robot buggy and subsequent manufacture of 1000 units to be launched world-wide.

By backing the  Kickstarter campaign, you are supporting a project which allows users to develop their robotics understanding on a platform of their choice. Whether your starting out with your first robotics project or you’re a fully fledged robotics developer, the Formula AllCode will work for you. The project must be funded by Sunday, September 6, 2015.AllCodeSpecs

SPECS

Inputs

  • 2 Push to make switch
  • 8 IR distance sensors
  • Light sensor
  • Microphone
  • I2C accelerometer/compass
  • 2 Line following sensors
  • Audio gain

Outputs

  • 8 LEDs (one port)
  • Speaker
  • Expansion port (8 bit)
  • 4 Servo outputs
  • E-blocks expansion port

Motors

  • Left and Right
  • Integrated gear box
  • Integrated encoders

System

  • Reset switch
  • 16-bit PIC24 microcontroller
  • USB rechargeable lithium battery
  • 4 × 40 char backlit LCD
  • Micro SD card
  • Integrated Bluetooth
  • Crystal Oscillator
  • Micro USB Socket

Q&A: Innovations in Wearables and Virtual Reality

New developments in wearable technology, virtual reality, and augment reality research are poised to change everything from healthcare to gaming. We recently asked Professor Bruce Thomas to tell us about the research in these areas taking place at the Wearable Computer lab at the University of South Australia.

Professor Bruce Thomas is the Deputy Director of the Advanced Computing Research Centre and Director of the Wearable Computer Lab at the University of South Australia. Prof. His work is focused on wearable computers, tabletop interactions, augmented reality, and user interaction.

Professor Bruce Thomas is the Director of the Wearable Computer Lab at the University of South Australia.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: In 1997, Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Tech, and MIT hosted the first IEEE International Symposium on Wearable Computers. How has research in the area changed since the late 1990s?

BRUCE: I remember the 1997 conference well. We presented one of our first wearable computer papers there. Some differences are: People do not build their own wearable computers anymore. Back then you had to hack your own system. Today you buy a smartphone and you have all the computing power you need.  We now use Mac minis, and this replaces about five or six components when we started. The research now is very focused on contextual aware computing. In 1997 the focus was on all disciplines of computer science. There is less work on garment integrated systems today. A large advantage is there are many computing and wearable platforms to start with.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: How did the Wearable Computer Lab at the University of South Australia come into being in 1998?

BRUCE: Someone in the Australian Defense Science and Technology Organization (a defense lab) showed me two Phoenix 486 belt mounted wearable computers with Private Eye head-mounted displays (HMDs). He told me this was the next big thing for defense, and he asked how I can help him out with some research. He wanted to use the new Sony Glasstron see-through displays. The first thing I thought of was, “This would be great for outdoor augmented reality.”

The ARQuake system is an interactive outdoor augmented reality collaboration system that enables users to walk around in the real world while playing the computer game Quake. The system requires a head-mounted display. (Image used with permission from Bruce H. Thomas, Wearable Computer Lab, University of South Australia)

The ARQuake system is an interactive outdoor augmented reality collaboration system that enables users to walk around in the real world while playing the computer game Quake. The system requires a head-mounted display. (Image used with permission from Bruce H. Thomas, Wearable Computer Lab, University of South Australia)

CIRCUIT CELLAR: You supervised Wayne Piekarski’s Tinminth augmented reality backpack project, which started in the late 1990s. Can you give us a brief overview of the project and how it evolved from 1998 to 2006?

BRUCE: The project went from a fixed frame for a backpack used in bush walking loaded with many devices to a belt-mounted system with just the Mac mini modified and a helmet (with many sensors and HMD). I wanted to port this onto a smartphone, but we never got there. The project had many different software architectures. The system was a research platform to support outdoor augmented reality user interaction research. The system was very flexible and robust.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: Which of the Lab’s current projects most interests you at this time?

BRUCE: We are interested in portable haptic devices. Dr. Ross Smith is leading the research effort into this. This involves layered jamming placed in a mitten to provide mobile haptic sensations to the user. This was presented at the International Symposium on Wearable Computing in 2014. We are continuing this work.

Wearable Jamming Mitten for virtual environment haptics developed by Tim Simon with Dr. Ross Smith and Professor Bruce H. Thomas (Image used with permission from Bruce H. Thomas, Wearable Computer Lab, University of South Australia)

Wearable Jamming Mitten for virtual environment haptics developed by Tim Simon with Dr. Ross Smith and Professor Bruce H. Thomas (Image used with permission from Bruce H. Thomas, Wearable Computer Lab, University of South Australia)

CIRCUIT CELLAR: Can you tell us about your most current project or projects at the Lab?

BRUCE: We have moved into large-scale projector-based augmented reality.  We are looking into tools to support designers of large spaces, but command and control rooms. We are about to start a seven year project working with Jumbo Vision International with the Innovative Manufacturing CRC.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: In an April 2015 TechTimes.com article, “Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality,” Vamien McKalin writes: “It is clear that the way things are right now, AR has the upper hand against VR, and that might not be changing anytime soon.” Do you agree?

BRUCE: It all comes down to who wins the head-mounted display wars. I think both will be winners in the near future. They solve different problems and have different uses. I can see a VR HMD attached to many games controllers, and I can see people using AR displays in their workplace.

This is a virtual reality simulation system that supports research relating to chronic neck pain therapies developed by Dr. Markus Broecker and Dr. Ross Smith. (Image used with permission from Bruce H. Thomas, Wearable Computer Lab, University of South Australia)

This is a virtual reality simulation system that supports research relating to chronic neck pain therapies developed by Dr. Markus Broecker and Dr. Ross Smith. (Image used with permission from Bruce H. Thomas, Wearable Computer Lab, University of South Australia)

CIRCUIT CELLAR: When you think about the short term (5 to 10 years), in which area do you think wearable technology will make the biggest impact: consumer, healthcare, military, or enterprise?

BRUCE: In 5 to 10 years, I think the biggest impact will be in healthcare. Wearables will go beyond fitness monitoring to health monitoring. This will enable better monitor of health issues and provide doctors much more diagnostics to help people. A second area is extending the ability for elderly people to stay in their homes. Better health monitoring and activity monitoring will allow people to safely stay at home longer.

The complete interview appears in Circuit Cellar 301 (August 2015).

New 16- and 32-Mb Advanced Low-Power SRAMs

Renesas Electronics recently introduced two new Advanced Low Power SRAMs with more than 500 times the resistance to soft errors compared to full CMOS memory cells. Fabricated using the 110-nm process, the new RMLV1616A Series of 16-Mb devices and the RMWV3216A Series of 32-Mb devices feature an innovative memory cell technology that improves reliability and leads to longer battery life.

The Advanced LP SRAM devices feature their memory cell technology that delivers soft error resistance over 500 times that of conventional full CMOS memory cells. Thus, it’s an intelligent solution for use in measurement devices, smart grid-related devices, and industrial equipment.

Features and specs:

  • Advanced LP SRAM technology for improved soft error resistance and enhanced reliability
  • Reduction of standby current tfor longer backup battery service life. Low current consumption levels are less than half the levels of comparable earlier Renesas SRAM products
  • The 16-Mb RMLV1616A Series is available in three packages: 48-ball FBGA, 48-pin TSOP, and 52-pin µTSOP
  • The 32-Mb RMWV3216A Series is available in a 48-ball FBGA package.

Samples of the RMLV1616A Series and RMWV3216A Series will be available in September. The 16-Mb RMLV1616A Series costs $16.50 per unit. The 32-Mb RMWV3216A Series is priced at $31 per unit. Mass production is scheduled to begin in October 2015.

Source: Renesas Electronics Corp.

New User-Friendly Platform for Designing Embedded Solutions

Applied Micro Circuits Corp. recently announced the availability of the HeliX 2 Development Kit to support its HeliX 2 family of 64-bit multicore processors. A complete hardware and software solution, the new kit is user-friendly platform for designing embedded systems.

The kit’s features and specs include:

  • Mini-ITX board form factor
  • Quad-core HeliX 2 processor running up to 2.0 GHz
  • Two DDR3 DIMMS
  • One PCIe 3.0 (x4) and two PCIe 3.0 (x1)
  • One SFP+ Ethernet connector to support 10 GbE
  • Four 1 GbE ports
  • One SATA 3.0 port
  • Support for USB 3.0, I2C, SPI, SDIO and UARTs
  • SMP Linux and full suite of development tools
  • On-board JTAG connector interfaces to third party tools for run-time debugging

The HeliX 2 Development Kit is available via AppliedMicro’s channel partners.

Source: Applied Micro Circuits Corporation

 

Advantech Offers Full Support of Microsoft Windows 10 IoT

Advantech now supports Windows 10 IoT (Internet of Things), which is intended to power a wide variety of intelligent connected devices, such as mobile point-of-sale units, robots, and medical equipment. Windows 10 IoT is designed to connect through Azure IoT Services and to provide enterprise-grade security along with machine-to-machine and machine-to-cloud connectivity.AdvantechWin10

Advantech offers diverse platforms with Windows 10 IoT preinstalled, including boards, systems, and gateways. Advantech WISE-PaaS Platform as a Service supports Windows 10 IoT with Core, Mobile, and Industry versions through Universal Windows Apps structure to offer Cloud Services. With it, developers can rapidly build applications and easily and deploy IoT cloud solutions.

Source: Advantech Corp.

August Electrical Engineering Challenge Live (Sponsor: NetBurner)

Ready to put your electrical engineering skills to the test? The August Electrical Engineering Challenge (sponsored by NetBurner) is live.

This month, find the error in the schematic posted below (and 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 code and submit your answer via the online Submission Form by the deadline: 2 PM EST on July 20, 2015. Two prize winners from the pool of respondents who submit the correct answer will be randomly selected.

Find the error in the schematic and submit your answer via the online Submission Form by the deadline: 2 PM EST on August 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

Trends in Custom Peripheral Cores for Digital Sensor Interfaces

Building ever-smarter technology, we perpetually require more sensors to collect increasing amounts of data for our decision-making machines. Power and bandwidth constraints require signals from individual sensors to be aggregated, fused and condensed locally by sensor hubs before being passed to a local application processor or transmitted to the cloud.

FPGAs are often used for sensor hubs because they handle multiple parallel data paths in real time extremely well and can be very low power. ADC parallel interfaces and simple serial shift register interfaces are straightforward to implement in FPGA logic. However, interfacing FPGAs with more complex serial devices—which are becoming more common as analog and digital circuitry are integrated—or serializing collected data is often less straightforward. Typically, serial interfaces are implemented in FPGA fabric as a state machine where a set of registers represents the state of the serial interface, and each clock cycle, logic executes depending on the inputs and state registers. For anything but the most trivial serial interface, the HDL code for these state machines quickly balloons into a forest of parallel if-elseif-else trees that are difficult to understand or maintain and take large amounts of FPGA fabric to implement. Iterating the behavior of these state machines requires recompiling the HDL and reprogramming the FPGA for each change which is frustratingly time consuming.

Custom soft cores offer an alternate solution. Soft cores, sometimes known as IP cores, are not new in FPGA development, and most FPGA design tools include a library of cores that can be imported for free or purchased. Often these soft cores take the form of microcontrollers such as the Cortex M1, Microblaze, lowRISC, etc., which execute a program from memory and enable applications to be implemented as a combination of HDL (Verilog, VHDL, etc.) and procedural microcode (assembly, C, C++, etc.).

While off-the-shelf soft core microprocessors are overkill and too resource intensive for implementing single serial interfaces, we can easily create our own custom soft cores when we need them that use fewer resources and are easier to program than a state machine. For the purpose of this article, a custom soft core is a microcontroller with an instruction set, registers, and peripheral interfaces created specifically to efficiently accomplish a given task. The soft core executes a program from memory on the FPGA, which makes program iteration rapid because the memory can be reprogrammed without resynthesizing or reconfiguring the whole FPGA fabric. We program the soft core procedurally in assembly, which mentally maps to serial interface protocols more easily than HDL. Sensor data is made available to the FPGA fabric through register interfaces, which we also define according to the needs of our application.

Having implemented custom soft cores many times in FPGA applications, I am presently developing an open-source example/template soft core that is posted on GitHub (https://github.com/DanielCasner/i2c_softcore). For this example, I am interfacing with a Linear Technology LTC2991 sensor that has internal configuration, status, and data registers, which must be set and read over I2C (which is notoriously difficult to implement in HDL). The soft core has 16-bit instructions defined specifically for this application and executes from block ram. The serial program is written in assembly and compiled by a Python script. I hope that this example will demonstrate how straightforward and beneficial creating custom soft cores can be.

While I have been discussing soft cores for FPGAs in this article, an interesting related trend in microprocessors is the inclusion of minion cores, sometimes also called programmable real-time units (PRUs) or programmable peripherals. While not fully customizable as in FPGA fabric, these cores are very similar to the soft cores discussed, as they have limited instruction sets optimized for serial interfaces and are intended to have simple programs that execute independently of the application to interface with sensors and other peripherals. By freeing the main processor core of direct interface requirements, they can improve performance and often simplify development. In the future, I would expect more and more MCUs to include minion cores among their peripherals.

As the amount of data to be processed and efficiently requirements increase, we should expect to see heterogeneous processing in FPGAs and microcontrollers increasing and be ready to shift our mental programming models to take advantage of the many different paradigms available.

Daniel Casner is a robotics engineer at Anki, co-founder of Robot Garden, hardware start-up adviser, and embedded systems consultant. He is passionate about building clever consumer devices, adding intelligence to objects, and smart buildings or any other cyber-physical system. His specialties include: design for manufacture and salable production; cyber-physical security; reverse engineering; electronics and firmware; signal processing; and prototype development.

This essay appears in Circuit Cellar 301.

Embedded Security & IP Protection

Infineon Technologies’s new OPTIGA Trust E offers an easy-to-use solution for protecting manufacturers’ valuable IP in industrial automation equipment, medical systems, and more. Since encrypting software isn’t enough to product your systems, the OPTIGA Trust E offers enhanced authentication and secured storage of software codes and product data.Infineon OPTIGA-Trust-E

The OPTIGA Trust E’s features include:

  • Advanced pre-programmed security controller
  • Complete system integration support
  • Extended temperature range of -40° to +85 C
  • Standardized I²C interface
  • Small USON-10 footprint
  • Supports authentication of products that rely on the USB Type-C standard
  • The OPTIGA Trust E is already available in volume quantities.

Source: Infineon 

Test Adapter for 0.5-mm Pitch LGA20

Ironwood Electronics recently introduced the PB-LGA20A-Z-01 Socket Probe Adapter, which is intended for the high-speed testing of LGA devices while accessing the signals using testers via header pins. The socket probe adapter is designed to interface with 0.5-mm pitch Fine pitch Land Grid Array (LGA) packages.C14646a Ironwood

The PB-LGA20A-Z-01’s features include:

  • shortest possible trace length for maximum speed
  • low inductance
  • low capacitance
  • blind and buried via PCB design technology

The PB-LGA20A-Z-01 test adapter costs $1,499. The LGA socket is also available individually.

Source: Ironwood Electronics

New CAN FD and FlexRay Trigger and Decode Options for WaveSurfer 3000

Teledyne LeCroy recently announced CAN FD and FlexRay, which are two new trigger and decode options for the WaveSurfer 3000 oscilloscope. You now have the necessary tools for analyzing and debugging automotive systems with the CAN FD and FlexRay serial data communication standards.TELEDYNE-CANFD

You can use the CAN FD and FlexRay trigger to isolate Frame IDs, specific data packets, remote frames, and error frames. The decodes use a color-coded overlay that enables you to identify different parts of the CAN FD and FlexRay data.

 

Both the WS3K-CAN FDbus TD and WS3K-FlexRaybus TD packages for the WaveSurfer 3000 cost $990.

Source: Teledyne LeCroy

Circuit Cellar August Issue Live

CC-2015-08-Issue-301The August 2015 issue of Circuit Cellar (#301) is now available. The issue comprises articles on the following topics: simple embedded serial communications, recording .3GPP files, image processing, wearable tech innovation, ground loops, PSoC programmable logic, embedded wireless systems, vintage electronic calculators, laser sensor exploration, and custom peripheral cores for digital sensor interfaces.

Robots with a Vision

Machine chine vision is a field of electrical engineering that’s changing how we interact with our environment, as well as the ways by which machines communicate with each other. Circuit Cellar has been publishing articles on the subject since the mid-1990s. The technology has come a long way since then. But it’s important (and exciting) to regularly review past projects to learn from the engineers who paved the way for today’s ground-breaking innovations.

In Circuit Cellar 92, a team of engineers (Bill Bailey, Jon Reese, Randy Sargent, Carl Witty, and Anne Wright) from Newton Labs, a pioneer in robot engineering, introduced readers to the M1 color-sensitive robot. The robot’s main functions were to locate and carry tennis balls. But as you can imagine, the underlying technology was also used to do much more.

The engineering team writes:

Machine vision has been a challenge for AI researchers for decades. Many tasks that are simple for humans can only be accomplished by computers in carefully controlled laboratory environments, if at all. Still, robotics is benefiting today from some simple vision strategies that are achievable with commercially available systems.

In this article, we fill you in on some of the technical details of the Cognachrome vision system and show its application to a challenging and exciting task—the 1996 International AAAI Mobile Robot Competition in Portland, Oregon… In 1996, the contest was for an autonomous robot to collect 10 tennis balls and 2 quickly and randomly moving, self-powered squiggle balls and deliver them to a holding pen within 15 min.

In M1’s IR sensor array, each LED is fired in turn and detected reflections are latched by the 74HC259 into an eight-bit byte.

In M1’s IR sensor array, each LED is fired in turn and detected reflections are latched by the 74HC259 into an eight-bit byte.

At the time of the conference, we had already been manufacturing the Cognachrome for a while and saw this contest as an excellent way to put our ideas (and our board) to the test. We outfitted a general-purpose robot called M1 with a Cognachrome and a gripper and wrote software for it to catch and carry tennis balls… M1 follows the wall using an infrared obstacle detector. The code drives two banks of four infrared LEDs one at a time, each modulated at 40 kHz.

The left half of M1’s infrared sensor array is composed of a Sharp GP1U52X infrared detector sandwiched between four infrared LEDs

The left half of M1’s infrared sensor array is composed of a Sharp GP1U52X infrared detector sandwiched between four infrared LEDs

Two standard Sharp GP1U52X infrared remote-control reception modules detect reflections. The 74HC163/74HC238 combination fires each LED in turn, and the ’HC259 latches detected reflections. This system provides reliable obstacle detection in the 8–12″ range.

The figure above shows the schematic. The photo shows the IR sensors.

The system provides only yes/no information about obstacles in the eight directions around the front half of the robot. However, M1 can crudely estimate distance to large obstacles (e.g., walls) via patterns in the reflections. The more adjacent directions with detected reflections, the closer the obstacle probably is.

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