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The Future of Flexible Circuitry

The flexible circuit market has been growing steadily for the last three decades. This trend will continue into the foreseeable future as flexible circuitry supports many of the same industries and many of the same applications that have been around for more than 30 years. Past and current industries include military and avionics with most of these applications being high layer count, high-density rigid flex, and also consumer electronics, telecom, and automotive applications with flex circuit designs that are typically less complex than those of mil/aero. Medical diagnostic applications will continue to grow as new equipment is developed and older equipment is refurbished or redesigned. But if I had to sum up an answer to the question “where is flex going in the near future?” my answer would be simply “on you.”

The wearable electronics market has absolutely exploded in the last few years with new applications emerging almost daily. If an electronic device is going to be worn on the body comfortably, it has to be flexible. So what better way to provide interconnects for these types of devices than a flex circuit? Here are just a few of the current and emerging wearable products that contain flexible circuitry.

Wrist-Worn Activity and Body Function Monitors: Electronic watches were some of the first wearable electronics, so it was just a natural progression to include more advanced functionality than just time keeping. Wrist-worn activity monitors are light weight and use multiple axis accelerometers and other sensors to detect motion and body functions. They can capture and record daily activity levels as well as sleep cycles. This data is stored in on-board memory in the device until it can be downloaded to the user’s mobile phone. Since the human hand is larger than the wrist, these monitoring bands need to be able to expand when the user is putting it on or taking it off. Flexible circuits allow the band to flex while maintaining connectivity across flexing sections.

Foot-Worn Sensors: I have seen a lot of applications recently for electronics that are worn on the foot or inside the shoe. Foot-worn electronics monitor everything from steps taken when running or walking to stride irregularities that can contribute to back problems. These sensors need to be very thin in order to be comfortable and also very robust to survive in what I would consider a pretty hostile environment. Flexible circuitry is thin enough to lay on the sole of a shoe and be almost undetectable to the wearer.

Wearable Baby Monitors: Baby monitors are one of the newer products in the wearable electronics market. New parents no longer have to rely on a simple walkie talkie system to keep tabs on their little ones while they sleep. These monitors can be worn on the baby’s leg or in their clothing and can keep track of breathing, heartbeat, body temperature, etc. If the device senses that there is a problem, an alert is sent to the parents phone to wake them. It is almost like having a private nurse watching the child all night long.

Medical Sensors: This is an area that has been growing rapidly, and I predict that the trend will continue at an accelerated rate. With today’s push to get patients out of the hospital as quickly as possible, electronic home monitoring of the patient is going to be necessary. There are currently sensors that can be worn by the patient for several days at a time, while keeping tabs on heart functions continuously during this time. Just like the baby monitor referred to earlier, these devices can send alerts to the patient’s physician if any abnormalities are detected. These devices will allow a patient to recover from heart attack or surgery in the comfort of their own home while still having continuous monitoring of their state of health.

Pet Monitors: Even Rover gets to wear electronics these days. Training collars have been around for a while, but now thanks to shrinking electronics there are collars that contain GPS and mobile phone capabilities. Today a lost pet can use the GPS to figure out where he is and call his owner for a ride home! Not really, but if your pet is wearing one of these devices he is never truly lost. The mobile phone module is used to transmit the GPS coordinates to tracking service, where the owner can log on and track the pet’s location to within a few feet.

Clothing Worn Electronics: This is an area that is just starting to emerge, and new technology is being developed to support these applications. Standard flex circuitry is constructed from a combination of polyimide film, thermo-setting film adhesive, and copper foil. Unfortunately, flex circuits fabricated with these materials will not survive the crumpling that they would be exposed to in a washing machine. I have seen several applications where flex has been incorporated into clothing that does not need to be machine washed (e.g., flexible heaters in winter gloves). The key to making this type of wearable application machine washable is to make the flex circuit not only flexible, but also stretchable. This means that both conductors and dielectrics must be developed that will allow the finished product to stretch and still maintain electrical continuity. This technology is not mainstream yet, but it is on its way.

These examples are just a small sampling of the applications that are currently on the market, and there are many others in development. As more and more of these applications emerge, flexible circuitry will continue to be the interconnect method of choice.


Mark Finstad is a Senior Application Engineer at Flexible Circuit Technologies in Minneapolis, MN. He is a nationally recognized expert in the design, fabrication, and test of flexible and rigid flex printed circuits with more than 30 years of experience in the flexible PCB industry.

This article appears in Circuit Cellar 296 (March 2015).

Advances in Haptics Research

Katherine J. Kuchenbecker is an Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics at the University of Pennsylvania, with a secondary appointment in Computer and Information Science. She directs the Penn Haptics Group, which is part of the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing, and Perception (GRASP) Laboratory. In this interview, she tells us about her research, which centers on the design and control of haptic interfaces for applications such as robot-assisted surgery, medical simulation, stroke rehabilitation, and personal computing.

Katherine J. Kuchenbecker

Katherine J. Kuchenbecker

CIRCUIT CELLAR: When did you first become interested in haptics and why did you decide to pursue it?

KATHERINE: I chose to become an engineer because I wanted to create technology that helps people. Several topics piqued my interest when I was pursuing my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at Stanford, including mechatronics, robotics, automotive engineering, product design, human-computer interaction, and medical devices. I was particularly excited about areas that involve human interaction with technology. Haptics is the perfect combination of these interests because it centers on human interaction with real, remote, or virtual objects, as well as robotic interaction with physical objects.

My first exposure to this field was a “haptic paddle” lab in a Stanford course on system dynamics, but that alone wouldn’t have been enough to make me fall in love with this field. Instead, it was conversations with Günter Niemeyer, the professor who advised me in my PhD at Stanford. I knew I wanted a doctorate so that I could become a faculty member myself, and I was inspired by the work he had done as an engineer at Intuitive Surgical, Inc., the maker of the da Vinci system for robotic surgery. Through my early research with Günter, I realized that it is incredibly satisfying to create computer-controlled electromechanical systems that enable the user to touch virtual objects or control a robot at a distance. I love demonstrating haptic systems because people make such great faces when they feel how the system responds to their movements. Another great benefit of studying haptics is that I get to work on a wide variety of applications that could potentially impact people in the near future: robotic surgery, medical training, stroke rehabilitation, personal robotics, and personal computing, to name a few.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: What is haptography? What are its benefits?

KATHERINE: I coined the term “haptography” (haptic photography) to proclaim an ambitious goal for haptics research: we should be able to capture and reproduce how surfaces feel with the same acuity that we can capture and reproduce how surfaces look.

When I entered the field of haptics in 2002, a lot of great research had been done on methods for letting a user feel a virtual three-dimensional shape through a stylus or thimble. Essentially, the user holds on to a handle attached to the end of a lightweight, back-drivable robot arm; the 3D Systems Touch device is the most recent haptic interface of this type. A computer measures the motion that the person makes and constantly outputs a three-dimensional force vector to give the user the illusion that they are touching the object shown on the screen. I was impressed with the haptics demonstrations I tried back in 2002, but I was also deeply disappointed with how the virtual surfaces felt. Everything was soft, squishy, and indistinct compared to how real objects feel. That’s one of the benefits of being new to a field; you’re not afraid to question the state of the art.

I started working to improve this situation as a doctoral student, helping invent a way to make hard virtual surfaces like wood and metal feel really hard and realistic. The key was understanding that the human haptic perceptual system keys in on transients instead of steady-state forces when judging hardness. I had to write a research statement to apply for faculty positions at the end of 2005, so I wrote all about haptography. Rather than trying to hand-program how various surfaces should feel, I wanted to make it all data driven. The idea is to use motion and force sensors to record everything a person feels when using a tool to touch a real surface. We then analyze the recorded data to make a model of how the surface responds when the tool moves in various ways. As with hardness, high-frequency vibration transients are also really important to human perception of texture, which is a big part of what makes different surfaces feel distinct. Standard haptic interfaces weren’t designed to output high-frequency vibrations, so we typically attach a voice-coil actuator (much like an audio speaker) to the handle, near the user’s fingertips. When the user is touching a virtual surface, we output data-driven tapping transients, friction forces, and texture vibrations to try to fool them into thinking they are touching the real surface from which the model was constructed.

After many years of research by my PhD students Heather Culbertson and Joe Romano, we’ve been able to create the most realistic haptic surfaces in the world. My work in haptography is motivated by a belief that there are myriad applications for highly realistic haptic virtual surfaces.

One exciting use is in recording what doctors and other clinical practitioners feel as they use various tools to care for their patients, such as inserting an epidural needle or examining teeth for decay (more on this below). Haptography would enable us to accurately simulate those interactions so that trainees can practice critical perceptualmotor skills on a computer model instead of on a human patient.

Another application that excites us is adding tactile feedback to online shopping. We’d love to use our technology to let consumers feel the fabrics and surfaces of products they’re considering without having to visit a physical store. Touch-mediated interaction plays an important role in many facets of human life; I hope that my team’s work on haptography will help bring highly realistic touch feedback into the digital domain.


Read Circuit Cellar’s interviews with other engineers, academics, and innovators.


CIRCUIT CELLAR: Which of the Penn Haptics Group’s projects most interest you at this time?

KATHERINE: That’s a hard question! I’m excited about all of the projects we are pursuing. There are a few I can’t talk about, because we’re planning to patent the underlying technology once we confirm that it works as well as we think it does. Two of those that are in the public domain have been fascinating me recently. Tactile Teleoperation: My lab shares a Willow Garage PR2 (Personal Robot 2) humanoid robot with several of the other faculty in Penn’s GRASP Lab. Our PR2’s name is Graspy.

This wearable device allows the user to control the motion of the PR2 robot’s hand and also feel what the PR2 is feeling. The haptic feedback is delivered via a geared DC motor and two voice-coil actuators.

This wearable device allows the user to control the motion of the PR2 robot’s hand and also feel what the PR2 is feeling. The haptic feedback is delivered via a geared DC motor and two voice-coil actuators.

While we’ve done lots of fun research to enable this robot to autonomously pick up and set down unknown objects, I’d always dreamed of having a great system for controlling Graspy from a distance. Instead of making the operator use a joystick or a keyboard, we wanted to let him or her control Graspy using natural hand motions and also feel what Graspy was feeling during interactions with objects.

My PhD student Rebecca Pierce recently led the development of a wearable device that accomplishes exactly this goal. It uses a direct drive geared DC motor with an optical encoder to actuate and sense a revolute joint that is aligned with the base joint of the operator’s index finger. Opening and closing your hand opens and closes the robot’s paralleljaw gripper, and the motor resists the motion of your hand if the robot grabs onto something. We supplement this kinesthetic haptic feedback with tactile feedback delivered to the pads of the user’s index finger and thumb. A voice coil actuator mounted in each location moves a platform into and out of contact with the finger to match what the robot’s tactile sensors detect. Each voice coil presses with a force proportional to what the corresponding robot finger is feeling, and the voice coils also transmit the high-frequency vibrations (typically caused by collisions) that are sensed by the MEMS-based accelerometer embedded in the robot’s hand. We track the movement of this wearable device using a Vicon optical motion tracking system, and Graspy follows the movements of the operator in real time. The operator sees a video of the interaction taking place. We’re in the process of having human participants test this teleoperation setup right now, and I’m really excited to learn how the haptic feedback affects the operator’s ability to control the robot.

high-bandwidth MEMS-based accelerometer records the sensations a dentist feels as she probes an extracted human tooth. Feeling these recordings lets dental trainees practice diagnosing dental decay before they treat live patients.

The high-bandwidth MEMS-based accelerometer records thesensations a dentist feels as she probes an extracted human tooth. Feeling these recordings lets dental trainees practice diagnosing dental decay before they treat live patients.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: In your TEDYouth talk, you describe a project in which a dental tool is fitted with an accelerometer to record what a dentist feels and then replay it back for a dental student. Can you tell us a bit about the project?

KATHERINE: This project spun out of my haptography research, which I described above. While we were learning to record and model haptic data from interactions between tools and objects, we realized that the original recordings had value on their own, even before we distilled them into a virtual model of what the person was touching. One day I gave a lab tour to two faculty members from the Penn School of Dental Medicine who were interested in new technologies. I hit it off with Dr. Margrit Maggio, who had great experience in teaching general dentistry skills to dental students. She explained that some dental students really struggled to master some of the tactile judgments needed to practice dentistry, particularly in discerning whether or not a tooth surface is decayed (in popular parlance, whether it has a cavity). A few students and I went over to her lab to test whether our accelerometer-based technology could capture the subtle details of how decayed vs. healthy tooth tissue feels. While the recordings are a little creepy to feel, they are super accurate. We refined our approach and conducted several studies on the potential of this technology to be used in training dental students. The results were really encouraging, once again showing the potential that haptic technology holds for improving clinical training.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: What is the “next big thing” in the field of haptics? Is there a specific area or technology that you think will be a game changer?

KATHERINE: Of course this depends on where you’re looking. While cell phones and game controllers have had vibration alerts for a long time, I think we’re just starting to see highquality haptic feedback emerge in consumer products. Haptics can definitely improve the user experience, which will give haptic products a market advantage, but their cost and implementation complexity need to be low enough to keep the product competitive. On the research side, I’m seeing a big move toward tactile feedback and wearable devices. Luckily there are enough interesting open research questions to keep my students and me busy for 30 more years, if not longer!

The complete interview appears in Circuit Cellar 296 (March 2015).

Gecko Bluetooth Smart Solutions for Low-Power Wireless Connectivity

Silicon Labs today has launched a Bluetooth Smart solutions portfolio intended to minimize the energy consumption, cost, and complexity of wireless Internet of Things (IoT) designs. Silicon Labs’s new Blue Gecko solutions include ultra-low-power wireless system-on-chip (SoC) devices, embedded modules, and Bluegiga’s software development kit (SDK) and Bluetooth Smart software stack. Blue Gecko wireless SoCs and modules help you simplify design and speed time to market for a wide range of applications (e.g., connected home, wearable, and automotive).

The Blue Gecko portfolio addresses the largest, fastest-growing low-power wireless connectivity opportunity in the IoT market. It provides developers with the flexibility to begin development with modules and transition to SoCs when needed with little to no system redesign.SiliconLabs-Blue-Gecko

The first in a family of wireless SoCs optimized for IoT applications, Blue Gecko SoCs combine Silicon Labs’ energy-friendly EFM32 Gecko MCU technology with an ultra-low-power Bluetooth Smart transceiver. This innovative, single-die solution provides industry-leading energy efficiency, the fastest wake-up times, superior RF sensitivity and no-compromise MCU features combined with the Bluegiga Bluetooth Smart software stack to help developers reduce system power, cost and time to market. Unlike other Bluetooth Smart IC alternatives, a Blue Gecko SoC can transmit +10 dBm or higher output power with its fully integrated power amplifier and balun, further reducing design complexity.

Blue Gecko SoCs are based on the ARM Cortex-M3 and M4 cores and offer 128- to 256-KB flash sizes and 16- to 32-KB RAM sizes. The SoCs integrate an array of low-energy peripherals as well as Silicon Labs’s Peripheral Reflex System (PRS) for autonomous peripheral operation. The Blue Gecko SoC family also offers a roadmap of enhanced flash and RAM memory sizes and additional package options to meet future application needs.

Bluegiga modules based on Blue Gecko SoCs are designed to help developers accelerate time to market and reduce development costs and compliance risks by providing a precertified, plug-and-play RF design. Bluegiga Bluetooth Smart modules incorporate all features of Blue Gecko SoCs and are certified for use in all key markets including North America, Europe, Japan and South Korea. Bluegiga modules include the Bluegiga Bluetooth Smart software stack and profile toolkit and come with 256 kB flash and 32 kB RAM, providing ample available memory for onboard applications. Flexible hardware interfaces enable easy connection to a variety of peripherals and sensors, and an integrated antenna makes RF operation consistent and straightforward for the design engineer. Bluegiga Bluetooth Smart modules provide very low power operation, enabling wireless system designs to be powered from a standard 3-V coin cell battery or two AAA batteries.

Samples of Bluegiga modules based on Blue Gecko SoCs are scheduled to be available in late Q2 2015. Samples of Blue Gecko wireless SoCs are planned to be available in early Q3 in 5 mm × 5 mm QFN32 and 7 mm × 7 mm QFN48 packages. Pricing for Blue Gecko-based Bluegiga modules starts at $4.99 in 10,000-unit quantities. Blue Gecko SoC start at $0.99 in 100,000-unit quantities. The Bluegiga SDK and Bluetooth Smart software stack will be available to Silicon Labs customers at no charge.

Source: Silicon Labs

Next-Generation 6½, 7½ Digit Performance Digital Multimeters

Keysight Technologies recently announced the availability of two Truevolt Series digital multimeters (DMMs)—the 34465A DMM (6½ digit) and the Keysight 34470A DMM (7½ digit). The new DMMs help engineers visualize measurement data in multiple ways, quickly obtain actionable information, and easily document their results. Truevolt DMMs’ advanced graphical capabilities, such as trend and histogram charts, enable you to achieve greater insights faster. Both models offer three acquisition modes: continuous running for typical measurements, data logging for easier trend analysis, and a digitizing for capturing transients.keysight truevolt

The Keysight 34465A DMM offers engineers a new, higher-performance 6½ digit class of DMM, and provides higher speed, better accuracy and more memory. The 7½ digit 34470A DMM is a new product category of DMMs for Keysight and provides even greater resolution and accuracy, a requirement for today’s most challenging devices. Both DMMs offer deeper memory for data storage than previous generation DMMs. They also provide the ability to measure very low current, 1 µA range with picoamp resolution, for measurements on very low power devices.

Most DMMs show results on a low-resolution numeric display. With the Keysight Truevolt Series, engineers get a 4.3″, high-resolution color display to view numerical readings, measurement trends, histograms and statistical data. They also can save and recall their measurement states and display preferences.

The DMMs Easy File Access feature provides simple USB connectivity between the Keysight Truevolt DMMs and a PC using standard USB media transfer protocol. In addition, the DMMs include drag and drop measurement data capability, adjust instrument settings, and the ability to send screen images to PC applications without additional software.

BenchVue lets engineers control, capture and view Keysight’s DMMs simultaneously with other Keysight bench instruments and with no additional programming. With a single click, engineers can transfer data to a PC via USB, LAN or GPIB for additional viewing and analysis.

Real signals are never clean or noise free. They often have an AC component from power line noise or other environmental noise such as electromagnetic interference. How well a DMM deals with these extraneous factors and eliminates them from the true measurement makes a big difference to its accuracy. Using patented analog-to-digital converter technology, Keysight Truevolt Series DMMs account for measurement errors created by these common factors, so engineers can be confident in their measurements.

  • Keysight Truevolt DMMs have less than 30 percent of the amount of injected current attributed to the meter compared with DMMs made by other vendors.
  • In typical measurement situations, input currents create measurement errors, adding voltages to DMM results. Truevolt DMMs take care of input bias current. Other vendors’ DMMs offer 20 percent less performance (some are too noisy to get reliable measured results).
  • In the 6½ and 7½ digit class of meters, only Keysight uses digital direct sampling techniques to make AC rms measurements. This results in a true RMS calculation and avoids the slow response of analog RMS converters used in all other vendor’s 6½ and 7½ and digit DMMs, allowing for crest factors up to 10 without additional error terms.
  • The new 7½ digit 34470A DMM has the best combination of speed and resolution as well as greater accuracy and better linearity, offering the best value in its class.

Keysight Truevolt Series DMMs are currently available. The 34465A costs $1,395. The 34470A is $2,890.

TrueTouch Capacitive Touchscreen Controllers with Advanced Features

Cypress Semiconductor has introduced the TrueTouch CYTT21X/31X capacitive touchscreen controller family, which is intended to enable smartphones, e-readers, and low-cost tablets to offer several advanced features. The CYTT31X supports input from a passive stylus with a tip as thin as 2.5 mm, which is essential for writing in languages that require enhanced character recognition for reliable text input (e.g., Chinese, Korean and Japanese). The CYTT21X controller supports a face detection feature that prevents unintended touches from accidentally hanging up a call. This feature eliminates the need for IR proximity sensors by using the touchscreen sensor to detect a face 25-mm away.cypress truetouch

The CYTT21X/31X controllers enable ultra-thin form factors by leveraging Cypress’s Single-Layer Independent Multi-touch (SLIM) sensor structures. The controllers provide best-in-class accuracy and linearity for fingers of different sizes and gloves of various materials and thicknesses up to 5 mm, including ski gloves. In addition, they automatically switch between glove, stylus, and finger tracking without requiring you to switch settings. The family offers water rejection and wet finger tracking with immunity to electronic noise generated by aftermarket chargers and displays. The CYTT21X/31X controllers include up to 48 I/Os with an I2C interface and up to 44 I/Os with an I2C and SPI.

The CYTT21X/31X controllers deliver robust immunity to charger noise of up to 35 VPP. The controllers are based on a 32-bit ARM Cortex M-Core processor that is known for high-efficiency MIPS/mW. With Cypress’s DualSense technology to execute both self-capacitance and mutual-capacitance measurements in the same device, TrueTouch solutions offer water rejection and wet finger tracking for seamless performance in real-world conditions, including the presence of rain, condensation, or sweat.

The TrueTouch CYTT21X/31X controllers are currently sampling, with production expected in the second quarter of 2015. The controllers are available in mobile-friendly 44-pin, 48-pin and 56-pin QFN packages.

Source: Cypress Semiconductor

New Microcontrollers Feature Advanced Analog & Digital Integration

Microchip Technology recently announced a new family of 8-bit PIC microcontrollers (MCUs) with the PIC16(L)F1769 family, which is the first to offer up to two independent closed-loop channels. This is achieved with the addition of the Programmable Ramp Generator (PRG), which automates slope and ramp compensation, increases stability and efficiencies in hybrid power conversion applications. The PRG provides real-time responses to a system change, without CPU interaction for multiple independent power channels. This allows customers the ability to reduce latency and component counts while improving system efficiency.Microchip PIC16(L)F1769

The PIC16(L)F1769 family includes intelligent analog and digital peripherals, including tristate op-amps, 10-bit ADCs, 5- and 10-bit DACs, 10- and 16-bit PWMs, and high-speed comparators, along with two 100-mA, high-current I/Os. The combination of these integrated peripherals help support the demands of multiple independent closed-loop power channels and system management, while providing an 8-bit platform that simplifies design, enables higher efficiency and increase performance while helping eliminate many discrete components in power-conversion systems.

In addition to power-conversion peripherals, these PIC MCUs have a unique hardware-based LED dimming control function enabled by the interconnections of the Data Signal Modulator (DSM), op amp and 16-bit PWM. The combination of these peripherals creates a LED-dimming engine synchronizing switching control eliminating LED current overshoot and decay. The synchronization of the output switching helps smooth dimming, minimizes color shifting, increases LED life and reduces heat. This family also includes Core Independent Peripherals (CIPs), such as the Configurable Logic Cell (CLC), Complementary Output Generator (COG), and Zero Cross Detect (ZCD). These CIPs take 8-bit PIC MCU performance to a new level, as they are designed to handle tasks with no code or supervision from the CPU to maintain operation, after initial configuration. As a result, they simplify the implementation of complex control systems and give designers the flexibility to innovate. The CLC peripheral allows designers to create custom logic and interconnections specific to their application, reducing interrupt latency, saving code space and adding functionality. The COG peripheral is a powerful waveform generator that can generate complementary waveforms with fine control of key parameters, such as phase, dead-band, blanking, emergency shut-down states, and error-recovery strategies. It provides a cost-effective solution, saving both board space and component cost. The ZCD senses when high voltage AC signal crosses through ground, ideal for TRIAC control functions.

These new 8-bit PIC MCUs provide the capability for multiple independent, closed loop power channels and system management making these products appealing to various power supply, battery management, LED lighting, exterior/interior automotive lighting and general-purpose applications. Along with all these features, the family offers EUSART, I2C/SPI and eXtreme Low Power (XLP) Technology, which are all offered in small form-factor packages, ranging from 14- to 20-pin packages.

The PIC16(L)F1769 family is supported by Microchip’s standard suite of world-class development tools, including the MPLAB ICD 3 (part # DV164035, $199.95) and PICkit 3 (part # PG164130, $47.95) and MPLAB Code Configurator, which is a plug-in for Microchip’s freeMPLAB X IDE provides a graphical method to configure 8-bit systems and peripheral features, and gets you from concept to prototype in minutes by automatically generating efficient and easily modified C code for your application.

The PIC(L)F1764, PIC(L)F1765, PIC16(L)F1768, and PIC(L)F1769 are available now for sampling in 14- and 20-pins in PDIP, SOIC, SSOP, TSSOP, and QFN packages. Pricing for the family starts at $0.87 each, in 10,000-unit quantities.

Source: Microchip Technology

Two Source/Measure Units for N6700 Modular Power Systems

Keysight Technologies recently added two source/measure units (SMUs) to its N6700 Series modular power systems. The N6785A two-quadrant SMU is for battery drain analysis. The N6786A two-quadrant SMU is for functional test. Both SMUs provide power output up to 80 W.

The two new SMUs expand the popular N6780A Series SMU family by offering up to 4× more power than the previous models. The new models offer superior sourcing, measurement, and analysis so engineers can deliver the best possible battery life in their devices. The N6785A and N6786A SMUs allow engineers to test devices that require current up to 8 A, such as tablets, large smartphones, police/military handheld radios, and components of these devices.keysight N6700

The N6780A Series SMUs eliminate the challenges of measuring dynamic currents with a feature called seamless measurement ranging. With seamless measurement ranging, engineers can precisely measure dynamic currents without any glitches or disruptions to the measurement. As the current drawn by the device under test (DUT) changes, the SMU automatically detects the change and switches to the current measurement range that will return the most precise measurement.

When combined with the SMU’s built-in 18-bit digitizer, seamless measurement ranging enables unprecedented effective vertical resolution of ~28-bits. This capability lets users visualize current drain from nA to A in one pass. All data needed is presented in a single picture, which helps users unlock insights to deliver exceptional battery life.

The new SMUs are a part of the N6700 modular power system, which consists of the N6700 low-profile mainframes for ATE applications and the N6705B DC power analyzer mainframe for R&D. The product family has four mainframes and more than 30 DC power modules, providing a complete spectrum of solutions, from R&D through design validation and manufacturing.

Source: Keysight Technologies 

New IoT-Enabled Product Portfolio and Services

Wind River recently announced that it has enhanced and expanded its Wind River Helix product portfolio to address the system-level opportunities and challenges of the Internet of Things (IoT). In addition, the company has created an IoT professional services offering to assist customers with the creation and deployment of IoT applications.WR101_WR_Helix

Wind River has added application and data services in the cloud to its industry-leading operating systems and IoT software platform via Wind River Edge Management System, its recently launched cloud-based technology stack that is an integral part of the Intel IoT Platform. The Edge Management System agent has been integrated with VxWorks real-time operating system (RTOS), Wind River Linux, and Wind River Intelligent Device Platform.

The agents bring secure cloud connectivity to Wind River products to facilitate data capture, rules-based data analysis and response, configuration, and file transfer. Specifically, these integrations provide device-level execution capabilities, remote management and provisioning capabilities at the gateway, as well as cloud-based delivery of software updates.  This allows for seamless interaction with edge devices and simplified device-side application development.

To complement its new IoT-enabled product portfolio, Wind River now has an IoT professional services offering to bring IoT concepts to critical infrastructure and other markets where safety and security are imperatives. The new offering will assist customers in configuring IoT systems and getting them to market faster with reduced risk and lower cost of ownership. Services include an IoT startup package, device agent configuration, application/agent interfacing, cloud applications development, and IoT safety and security requirements support.

Further expanding its operating system suite, Wind River has also announced the availability of Microkernel Profile for VxWorks. The microkernel profile is a tiny-footprint RTOS to facilitate the creation of IoT-ready differentiated devices, such as sensor hubs, microcontrollers, and wearables, as well as High Performance Embedded Computing (HPEC) platforms to address intensive data processing. It is based on proven digital signal processing RTOS technology deployed in countless applications.

These product additions and enhancements are the latest in a series of IoT-related updates to the company’s operating system suite, which include Security Profile for VxWorks, Virtualization Profile for VxWorks, and Security Profile for Wind River Linux.

Source: Wind River

4-PLL Clock Generators for Next-Gen Consumer and Networking Products

Cypress Semiconductor Corp. has announced a new high-performance programmable clock generator family that’s intended to simplify the design of consumer and networking systems. The new CY27410 4-PLL (phase-locked loop) clock generator can generate up to 12 programmable output frequencies on a single chip with superior jitter performance. The clock reduces both board space and BOM costs by consolidating system components to provide a flexible, low-cost solution.CY27410 4-PLL Clock Generator

With support for frequencies up to 700 MHz and RMS phase jitter of 0.7 ps, the CY27410 family supports reference clocks for PCIe 1.0/2.0/3.0, SATA1.0/2.0, 10GbE, and USB1.0/2.0/3.0 peripherals. The devices support on-board programming using I2C interface, adding to design flexibility. They can also store up to eight different configuration settings that are selectable using external digital control pins. The family supports 12 single-ended clock outputs, as well as eight differential output pairs that can be configured as HCSL, LVPECL, LVDS, CML, or LVCMOS outputs. The devices also integrate a unique combination of value-added features that simplify design, including VCXO, glitch-free outputs, EMI-reduction, configurability as a zero or nonzero delay buffer, early/late clocks and PLL cascading.

The CY27410 clocks come with the CY3679 evaluation kit and CyClockWizard 2.0 programming software to help designers create their desired frequencies and to easily check device performance.

The CY27410 clock generators are currently sampling. Production expected in Q2 2015. The devices are available in a 48-pin QFN package.

Source: Cypress Semiconductor

 

New Motion Module for Easy Motion Monitoring

Microchip Technology announced at the Embedded World conference in Germany the MM7150 Motion Module, which combines Microchip’s SSC7150 motion co-processor combined with nine-axis sensors. Included in compact form factor are an accelerometer, magnetometer, and gyroscope.  With a simple I2C connection to most MCUs/MPUs, embedded applications and Internet of Things (IoT) systems can easily tap into the module’s advanced motion and position data.Microchip MM7150

The SSC7150 motion co-processor is preprogrammed with sensor fusion algorithms that intelligently filter, compensate, and combine the raw sensor data to provide highly accurate position and orientation information.  The small module self-calibrates during operation utilizing data from the prepopulated sensors—Bosch BMC150 (six-axis digital compass) and the BMG160 (three-axis gyroscope).

The single-sided MM7150 motion module is easily soldered down during the manufacturing process. You can develop motion applications for a variety of products with Microchip’s MM7150 PICtail Plus Daughter Board.  The MM7150 Motion Module is well suited for a wide range of applications: embedded (e.g., portable devices and robotics), industrial (e.g., commercial trucks, industrial automation, and patient tracking), and consumer electronics (e.g., IoT, remote controls, and wearable devices).

The MM7150 is supported by the MM7150 PICtail Plus Daughter Board (AC243007, $50) that plugs directly  into Microchip’s Explorer 16 Development Board (DM240001, $129) to enable quick and easy prototyping utilizing Microchip’s extensive installed base of PIC microcontrollers.

The 17 mm × 17 mm MM7150 is priced at $26.76 each in 1,000-unit quantities.

Source: Microchip Technology www.microchip.com

 

 

 

 

Fuzzy Logic for Embedded Microcontrollers

Fuzzy logic doesn’t necessarily need lots of horsepower. Many embedded applications that use more traditional control schemes can benefit from the use of fuzzy logic. Back in 1995, Jim Sibigtroth explained how to keep things simple and speedy.

In Circuit Cellar 56, Sibigtroth writes:

After describing basic fuzzy logic concepts, this article explains how to implement fuzzy-inference algorithms in a general-purpose embedded controller. The examples, written in assembly language, are for an MC68HC11, but the algorithms could be adapted for any general-purpose microcontroller. Code size is surprisingly small and execution time is fast enough to make fuzzy logic practical even in small embedded applications.

Perhaps because of its strange sounding name, fuzzy logic is still having trouble getting accepted as a serious engineering tool in the United States. In Japan and Europe, the story is quite different. The Japanese culture seems to respect ambiguity, so it is considered an honor to have a product which includes fuzzy logic. Japanese consumers understand fuzzy logic as intelligence similar to that used in human decisions.

In the US, engineers typically take the position that any control methodology without precise mathematical models is unworthy of serious consideration. In light of all the fuzzy success stories, this position is getting hard to defend.

I think the European attitude is more appropriate. It recognizes fuzzy logic as a helpful tool and uses it. They regard the difficulties of the nomenclature as a separate problem. Since the term “fuzzy” has negative connotations, they simply don’t advertise that products include fuzzy logic.

Figure l--Traditional sets are simply defined by their endpoints. Fuzzy sets add a second dimension to express fhe degree of truth (on the y-axis), which allows sets to be defined with gradual boundaries between false and true.

Figure l: Traditional sets are simply defined by their endpoints. Fuzzy sets add a second dimension to express the degree of truth (on the y-axis), which allows sets to be defined with gradual boundaries between false and true.

Curiously, the results produced by fuzzy-logic systems are as precise and repeatable as those produced by respected traditional methods. Instead of indicating lack of precision, the term “fuzzy” more accurately refers to the way real-world sets have gradual boundaries.

When we say “the temperature is warm,” there is not a specific temperature at which this expression goes from completely false to completely true. Instead, there is a gradual or fuzzy boundary, which requires a nonbinary description of truth. In fact, the fuzzy logic definition for a set contains more information than the conventional binary definition of a set.

In conventional systems, the range of an input parameter is broken into sets that begin and end at specific values. For example, a temperature range described as warm might include the temperatures 56-84°F (see Figure la). The trouble with this thinking is that the temperature 84.01”F suddenly stops being considered warm. This abrupt change is not the way humans think of concepts like “temperature is warm.”

Read the entire article, which appeared in Circuit Cellar 56, 1995.

SIMPLE SWITCHER Nano Modules

Texas Instruments has introduced four new SIMPLE SWITCHER nano power modules for space-constrained applications. The compact 17- and 5-V modules expand TI’s SIMPLE SWITCHER module portfolio to address 100-mA to 2-A industrial designs, such as servers, factory automation, test and measurement, and network security cameras.TI-Nano2jpg

TI’s 17-V, 0.65-A LMZ21700 and 1-A LMZ21701—as well as the 5-V, 1-A LMZ20501 and 2-A LMZ20502 DC/DC power modules—achieve an overall solution size of up to 40% smaller than a discrete implementation. The modules combine high efficiency with high density and reduce EMI, even while operating at low power. All four modules enable designers to easily add more features and functionality to their systems in a smaller form factor, while speeding time to market.Watch a demonstration on how to create a high-density, multi-output design.

Key features and benefits:

  • Small solution sizes reduces board space by 40% when compared to discrete solutions.
  • Low component count simplifies design and increases system reliability.
  • Modules provide effective power management over the entire operating range.
  • Low output ripple at less than 10 mVPP for noise sensitive rails.
  • Low EMI complies with the CISPR 22 (Class B) radiated and conducted electromagnetic interference standard.
  • Modules enable easy implementation of multiple power rail sequencing using Power Good pin.

The four nano modules are available now in volume production. The LMZ21700 and LMZ21701 cost $1.55 and $1.75, respectively, in 1,000-unit quantities. The LMZ20501 and LMZ20502 cost $1.55 and $1.90, respectively, in 1,000-unit quantities.

Source: Texas Instruments

3.3-V/5-V 4-Mbps CAN Transceiver

Linear Technology Corporation introduces the LTC2875, an exceptionally rugged, high-voltage-tolerant controller area network (CAN) transceiver to greatly reduce field failures without the need of costly external protection devices. In practical CAN systems, installation cross-wiring faults, ground voltage faults or lightning induced surge voltages can cause overvoltage conditions that exceed absolute maximum ratings of typical transceivers. The LTC2875 features ±60-V overvoltage fault and ±25-kV HBM ESD protection on the data transmission lines, protecting bus pins during operation and shutdown. Whether a circuit is transmitting, receiving or powered off, the LTC2875 tolerates any voltage within ±60 V without damage, increasing the robustness of typical CAN networks.Linear LTC2875

CAN bus systems are becoming increasingly popular in industrial controls, instrumentation networks and automotive electronics. The CAN bus has a well defined protocol stack, with support for standalone controllers, FPGAs and ASICs, making implementation easier over alternative interfaces, such as RS-485. The LTC2875 provides the flexibility to be powered from a 3.3-V or 5-V rail, which is very useful in industrial applications where a 5V rail may not be present. In addition to the high fault and ESD protection, the device features a low electromagnetic emission (EME) driver with a transmit data (TXD) dominant timer to prevent faulty controllers from clamping the bus, as well as a high electromagnetic immunity (EMI) receiver with an extended ±36-V common mode range to enable operation in electrically noisy environments and in the presence of ground loops. The LTC2875 features a high speed data rate of 4 Mbps with an adjustable slew rate for data rates as low as 1 kbps. A shutdown mode brings all of the LTC2875’s outputs to high impedance and reduces power consumption to 1 µA.

The LTC2875 is offered in commercial, industrial, automotive and military (–55°C to 125°C) temperature grades and is available in 3 mm × 3 mm DFN-8 and SO-8 packages, with industry-standard pinouts.

Pricing starts at $1.72 each in 1,000-piece quantities.

Source: Linear Technology

New ENA Vector Network Analyzer Advances Performance & Speed

Keysight Technologies recently announced the E5080A ENA vector network analyzer (VNA), which offers a valuable combination of RF measurement performance and speed, enabling a  10× improvement in test time. The new ENA uses the Keysight PNA- and PXI-Series software architecture, making it easier for engineers to take measurements across multiple Keysight VNAs. The ENA also offers a large color touchscreen display with fast access to basic measurements.Keysight-E5080A-image002_high

The E5080A sets the new standard in RF component testing for R&D and manufacturing environments. The E5080A offers comprehensive functionalities for measuring active and passive component such as amplifiers, mixers, antennas, and cables, including balanced DUTs.

Compared to the popular E5071C ENA, the E5080A offers performance advantages including more than 10 dB wider dynamic range (typically 147 dB) and up to 10× faster measurement speed in real-world test scenarios. These enhancements improve precision and throughput in the testing of RF components such as filters with deep rejection bands.

Keysight is the first VNA vendor to provide a software platform that spans benchtop and PXI-based VNAs. This universal platform uses the best attributes and capabilities of the ENA and PNA families and delivers familiar functionality across all Keysight VNAs. With the new touch-based GUI capabilities, including tabbed softkeys and drag-and-drop operations, the E5080A streamlines measurement flow and helps engineers get better results in less time.

The E5080A ENA series vector network analyzers are available now worldwide. The analyzer can be configured with two or four ports and frequency coverage from 9 kHz to 4.5, 6.5, or 9 GHz. Prices are as follows:

  • E5080A-245 2-port test set, 9 kHz to 4.5 GHz with bias tees: $31,695
  • E5080A-265 2-port test set, 9 kHz to 6.5 GHz with bias tees: $35,219
  • E5080A-295 2-port test set, 9 kHz to 9 GHz with bias tees: $39,619
  • E5080A-445 4-port test set, 9 kHz to 4.5 GHz with bias tees: $52,070
  • E5080A-465 4-port test set, 9 kHz to 6.5 GHz with bias tees: $54,402
  • E5080A-495 4-port test set, 9 kHz to 9 GHz with bias tees: $57,728

Source: Keysight Technologies

Pre-Compliance EMC Probe Kits

Saelig Company recently announced the availability of the TBPS01-TBWA2 EMC Probe Kit (Singapore-based Tekbox Digital Solutions), which includes investigative near-field probes and a wideband amplifier to increase the versatility of economical spectrum analyzers to identify EMC issues. The TBPS01-TBWA2 EMC Probe Kit comprises four rubber-handled near-field probes (three H-field and one E-field), a 20- or a 40-dB wideband amplifier, and associated cables. The shielded probes have built-in ferrites and insulated rubber handles to insure that measurements are insensitive to the human hand.    Saelig-emcprobekit

The H- or E-field probes are useful for detecting radiated emissions when placed near potential sources of electromagnetic radiation, and can help locate and identify interference issues in electronic assemblies and PCBs. Scanning the probe over the surface of a PCB assembly or housing quickly identifies locations which emit electromagnetic radiation. The probes act as wide bandwidth antennas, picking up radiated emissions from components, PCB traces, housing openings, or gaps—and from any other parts that could be emitting unwanted RF signals. The probes are usually connected to a spectrum analyzer but may also be used (less effectively) with the FFT capability of a digital oscilloscope. By changing to a probe with smaller size, the origination of the emissions can be further narrowed down.

Engineers usually have to rely on experience and best-practice methods in order to design an EMC-compliant product. But when it comes time for compliance testing at an authorized test house many products fail first time through. Failing is expensive, and retesting costs are high too. The project schedule gets delayed and market introduction targets are missed. Therefore, it is essential for an engineer to do pre-compliance testing in-house to increase the chances of success when it comes time to book space in an anechoic chamber. One of the key components of an in-house pre-compliance test set-up is a spectrum analyzer. Entry-level models are now very affordable but the near-field antennas often are not. The TBPS01-TBWA2 EMC Probe Kit is an affordable antenna kit and amplifier that will enable any spectrum analyzer to be used to localize the origin of emissions or immunity compromises. Scanning the board with these hand-held probes will help identify problem areas, as well as the subsequent effectiveness of experimental solutions. An additional use of the probe kit with a signal generator is to identify PCB areas that are susceptible to RF interference by locally transmitting signals from the probes.

The included USB-5V-powered TBWA2 Wideband Amplifier, housed in a compact metal box (1.9″ × 2.6″ × 1″) provides either 20- or 40-dB amplification (depending on model) with a flat response from 10 MHz to 3 GHz, increasing the sensitivity of near-field probe measurements when attached to a spectrum analyzer.

Applications include radiated EMC measurements,  contactless (load free) relative measurement of RF signal chains, contactless (load free) relative measurement of oscillators, modulators, RF immunity testing (by feeding a RF signal into the probe and radiating it into potentially susceptible circuit sections), noninvasive measurement of RF building blocks such as modulators or oscillators, and more.

Source: Saelig