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

Embedded Intelligence for Next-Gen Tech

Bosch Sensortec  recently launched new generations of smart accelerometers and high performance gyroscopes intended for wearables, smartphones, and numerous other mobile devices. The new sensors integrate embedded intelligence functionality into standalone accelerometers, which enables innovative applications, while minimizing power consumption.Bosch BMA422

There are two new intelligent three-axis accelerometers: BMA422 and BMA455. Low current consumption extends battery life and the integrated Android 6.0 Marshmallow features simplify programming. Each device delivers outstanding accelerometer performance, low offset, low temperature coefficient offset (TCO), and low noise levels. The BMA422 accelerometer is ideally suited for standard applications. The BMA455 is intended for gaming and immersive activity-tracking.

The two new high-performance gyroscopes (BMG250 and BMG280) combine low noise, low TCO and high bias stability. They both feature low power consumption to extend battery life in mobile devices.

The BMA422 measures 2.0 × 2.0 × 0.95 mm³, while the BMA455 is 2.0 × 2.0 × 0.65 mm³. The BMG250 and BMG280 gyroscopes are both 3.0 × 2.5 × 0.83 mm³. Samples are now available.

Source: Bosch Sensortec

BittWare Joins OpenPOWER Foundation

BittWare announced that it has joined the OpenPOWER Foundation, which is an open development community based on the POWER microprocessor architecture. The OpenPOWER Foundation makes POWER hardware and software openly available and enables others to license POWER intellectual property. To learn more about OpenPOWER and to view the complete list of current members (e.g., Xilinx, Hitachi, Google, and IBM), go to openpowerfoundation.org.

Source: BittWare

NXP Announces Single-Chip, 77-GHz Radar Transceiver

NXP Semiconductors recently announced the availability of small single-chip, 77-GHz radar transceiver (7.5 × 7.5 mm) with high resolution performance. Working prototypes of the RFCMOS IC are in the hands of NXP’s lead customers. In addition, Google engineers are field testing the ICs with the self-driving cars project.NXP Short Range Radar

The chip’s key characteristics, uses, and specs:

  • About the size of a postage stamp
  • You can integrate the chip “invisibly” practically anywhere in a car.
  • Power consumption is 40% lower than traditional radar ICs.
  • Intended for safety applications (e.g., emergency braking and automated parking)

 

Source: NXP Semiconductors www.nxp.com

January 2016 Electrical Engineering Challenge Live (Sponsor: NetBurner)

Ready to put your electrical engineering skills to the test? The January 2016 Electrical Engineering Challenge (sponsored by NetBurner) is live.

This month, find the error in the code 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 this code and submit your answer by January 20 via the online challenge form.

Find the error in this code and submit your answer by January 20 via the online challenge form.

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.

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

N. Mittal’s Dorm Room-Based Workspace in Bombay

The workspaces we see in Circuit Cellar are fascinating. The engineers who open up their rooms, garages, and cellar’s normally have a lot of equipment and sufficient access to components and facilities. But what about an Indian university student’s workspace? Wisse Hettinga recently visited with Nishant Mittal, a student at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT Bombay). Mittal discussed his small workspace space in his dorm room, as well as his plans for the future.

New Digital Power Amplifiers for Car Audio

STMicroelectronics recently announced its second-generation digital audio amplifiers with internal 24-bit DAC conversion. The FDA801 and FDA801B four-channel class-D components are intended to simplify system design and lower cost for car-radio suppliers. Offering 40% power savings compared to standard class-D amplifiers, the new FDA801 and FDA801B four-channel class-D amplifiers with digital input convert the digital audio source directly into high-quality, cabin-filling sound. The digital input gives immunity to GSM noise, improves sound quality, saves component costs, and simplifies system design.STMicro - DFDA801

STMicro’s new power amplifiers combine superior audio quality and increased energy efficiency, as well as the unique real-time measurement of speaker impedance via the Digital Impedance Meter (FDA801B). The amplifiers are rated with 115-dB signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) and 110-dB dynamic range. The simplified digital input eliminates external DAC and external decoupling capacitor. The built-in Digital Impedance Meter (DIM, in FDA801B) automatically recognizes the connected speaker’s magnitude and phase and communicates it by digital bus (I2C). The FDA801 and FDA801B are now available in the LQFP64 Exposed Pad Up package.

Source: STMicroelectronics

Tiny M10578 Modules Add GPS and GNSS to Small Devices and Wearables

Antenova recently released two new modules for GPS and GNSS. The M10578-A2 and M10578-A3 provide an easy drop-in receiver solution, which is a useful way to add location capability to very small consumer devices.Antenova M10578-A2

The modules—based on the MediaTek processor—both measure 9 × 9 × 1.8 mm with low current consumption, which makes them suitable for smaller portable devices, such as smart watches, navigation devices, OBD II modules, asset tracking, personal safety, and sports cameras.

The M10578-A2 module operates with GPS, with a 1-to-5-Hz update rate. The M10578-A3 operates with GPS, GLONASS, BEIDOU, and Gallileo with an update rate of 1 to 10 Hz. Included is internal self-generated orbit prediction that uses two GNSS systems simultaneously to give a faster time to fix and a second high-quality low noise amplifier (LNA) to boost low powered satellite signals. Both modules are pin compatible. As for the antenna function, Antenova offers the small Sinica SR4G008 GNSS antenna. Built on high-grade FR4 substrates with a high density, the modules’ multilayered design places the critical RF functions in the best position for location finding and performance.

Source: Antenova

Software for Automated PAM-4 Pre-Compliance Testing, Reporting

Keysight Technologies recently announced new measurement application software for quickly and accurately measuring and quantifying pulse amplitude modulation with four amplitude levels (PAM-4) signals. The software is used with the Keysight S-Series, 90000A, V-Series, 90000 X- and Z-Series real-time oscilloscope platforms and the 86100D DCA-X Infiniium sampling oscilloscope. The new Keysight N8836A PAM-4 analysis software (for S-Series, 90000A, V-Series, 90000 X- and Z-Series oscilloscopes) and the new N1085A PAM-4 analysis software (for 86100D oscilloscopes) provide comprehensive characterization of electrical PAM-4 signals based on the Optical Internetworking Forum’s Common Electrical Interface (OIF-CEI 4.0) proposed 56G interfaces, and the IEEE 400 Gigabit Ethernet (P802.3bs) standard.PAM4 Keysight

 

The N8836A and N1085A PAM-4 measurement applications for S-Series, 90000A, V-Series, 90000 X- and Z-Series real-time oscilloscopes and 86100D DCA-X Series sampling oscilloscopes deliver measurements such as: linearity and output voltage measurements including level separation mismatch ratio (RLM); eye width (EW) and eye height (EH); jitter measurements including even-odd jitter and clock random jitter; and differential and common mode return losses performed using a Keysight time domain reflectometer (TDR) or VNA.

The N8836A and N1085A software applications cost $2,500 each.

Source: Keysight Technologies

General-Purpose System Power IC for Automotive Functional Safety

Toshiba Electronics Europe recently announced a general-purpose system power IC with multiple outputs and functional safety circuits for automotive applications. The TB9044FNG comes in an HTSSOP48-P-300-0.50 package measuring 6.1 mm × 12.5 mm × 1 mm. It integrates various failure-detection functions (e.g., a high-voltage and low-voltage detection and overheat detection) and a watchdog timer to monitor the failure detection of the external microcontroller. Also included is an initial diagnosis circuit to detect latent faults in the failure detection circuits to secure higher functional safety.Toshiba 6819A

The IC generates a 6-V output from a high-efficiency buck-boost DC-DC converter. In order to avoid problems following a voltage drop during cranking, the low-side operating voltage range is improved down to 2.7 V (minimum) with battery operation. In addition, the IC incorporates four series power supply output circuits receiving the 6-V input generated by the DC-DC converter. It also incorporates an output circuit with a 5-V constant voltage (current capacity of 400 mA) for the microcomputer, and three circuits with 5-V constant voltage output (current capacity of 100 mA) for sensors and other interfaces. Each can output a voltage independently.

Samples are now available. Mass production scheduled to begin in October 2017.

Source: Toshiba Corp.

 

New PIC32 MPLAB Harmony Ecosystem Development Program

Microchip Technology’s new MPLAB Harmony Ecosystem Program is for the developers of embedded middleware and operating systems who are seeking to unlock the business potential of the 32-bit PIC32 microcontroller customer base. Ecosystem partners also gain early and easy access to the complete and current set of MPLAB Harmony tools. MPLAB Harmony is a 32-bit microcontroller firmware development framework, which integrates licensing, resale, and support of both Microchip and third-party middleware, drivers, libraries, and RTOSes. The new Ecosystem Program builds on that framework by offering an open and structured method to become certified as “Harmony Compatible,” using the embedded-control industry’s only set of test harnesses, checklists, and reference validation points. By accessing this broader, code-compatible ecosystem when creating complimentary value-added software, developers can reduce risks and overall costs, accelerate time to market, and grow their businesses by gaining opportunities to market to thousands of PIC32 MPLAB Harmony users.MPLAB Harmony

As today’s applications get increasingly sophisticated, embedded developers need to rapidly bring complex solutions to market. Microchip’s MPLAB Harmony framework for its PIC32 microcontrollers can reduce the development time of a typical project by a minimum of 20–35%, by providing a single integrated, abstracted, and flexible source of tested, debugged, and interoperable code. Additionally, MPLAB Harmony provides a modular architecture that enables the efficient integration of multiple drivers, middleware and libraries, while offering an RTOS-independent environment. Not only does this pre-verification and integration speed development, it also increases reuse. On the hardware side, the MPLAB Harmony framework makes it even easier to port code, thereby simplifying migration among all of Microchip’s 32-bit PIC32 microcontrollers, enabling a highly profitable, multitiered end equipment offering with minimal code redevelopment. Middleware and Operating System developers who take advantage of Microchip’s Ecosystem Development Program will be better able to offer customers solutions that leverage MPLAB Harmony’s efficiency and reliability advantages.

The MPLAB Harmony Integrated Software Framework is also supported by Microchip’s free MPLAB Harmony Configurator and MPLAB XC32 Compiler v1.40, all of which operate within Microchip’s MPLAB X IDE, and all of which are available for free download. Additionally, MPLAB Harmony and the PIC32 are supported with a comprehensive set of low-cost development boards available from microchipDIRECT or by contacting one of Microchip’s authorized distribution partners.

Source: Microchip Technology

Next-Gen OPA1612 Audio Operational Amplifier

Texas Instruments recently introduced the OPA1622 audio operational amplifier (op-amp), which is the latest addition to the company’s Burr-Brown Audio line. The OPA1622 delivers high output power of up to 150 mW and extremely low distortion of –135 dB at 10 mW.

TI introduces the industry's highest-performance audio operational amplifier (PRNewsFoto/Texas Instruments)

TI introduces the industry’s highest-performance audio operational amplifier (PRNewsFoto/Texas Instruments)

The compact OPA1622’s low power consumption and low distortion can deliver high-fidelity audio in portable devices such as headphone amplifiers and smartphones. Headphone amplifier designers can take advantage of its low total harmonic distortion (THD) of –135 dB at 10-mW output power into a 32-Ω load. In addition, the OPA1622 delivers maximum output power of up to 150 mW before clipping while maintaining the lowest THD and noise (THD+N), providing a clean signal path for pro audio applications.

The OPA1622 consumes low quiescent current of 2.6-mA per channel and delivers high linear output current of 80 mARMS in a 3-mm × 3-mm DFN package. Additionally, the increased power-supply rejection ratio (PSRR) of –97/–123 dB at 20 kHz enables low distortion from switching power supplies with no LDO, thereby saving board space without compromising audio performance.

The OPA1622’s ground-referenced enable pin is directly controllable from the low-power GPIO pins without level-shifting circuits. Its pinout improves PCB layout and enables exceptional distortion performance at high output power. An enable-circuitry design limits output transients when the OPA1622 is transitioning into or out of shutdown mode, effectively eliminating audible clicks and pops.

A TINA-TI SPICE macromodel is available for the OPA1622 to help verify board-level signal-integrity requirements. The OPA1622 is available in a 3-mm × 3-mm DFN package $2.90 in 1,000-unit quantities.

Source: Texas Instruments

New Analysis Functionality to Tools for Renesas RL78

IAR Systems recently announced a new version of IAR Embedded Workbench for Renesas RL78. The new version features new functionality and increased code quality control for applications based on Renesas RL78 microcontrollers.

C-STAT—which features innovative analysis that can detect defects, bugs, and security vulnerabilities—is now supported. Static analysis enables you to find identify errors (e.g., memory leaks, access violations, arithmetic errors, etc.) early on. Also included is stack usage analysis. You can customize the analysis process to handle account constructs such as calls via function pointers and recursion. Moreover, IAR Embedded Workbench for RL78 includes code optimizations for fast, efficient code.

Included with the toolchain is Renesas AP4 for RL78. You can use the standalone tool (formerly named Applilet) to automatically generate control programs for peripheral modules in accordance with user-defined settings. Renesas AP4 for RL78 supports code generation for IAR Embedded Workbench for RL78, and the generated modules are incorporated via the IAR Project Connection mechanism.

IAR Embedded Workbench for RL78 includes the IAR C/C++ Compiler, assembler, linker, library tools and the C-SPY Debugger in an easy-to-use IDE. It is available in several editions, including a Functional Safety version.

Source: IAR Systems

3-D Image Sensor Chips for Virtual Reality

Infineon Technologies AG and pmdtechnologies gmbh recently announced the development of REAL3 3-D image sensor chips for virtual and augmented reality applications, spatial measurement, photo effects, and more. The new sensors have improved optical sensitivity and power comsumption in comparison to the previous version.REAL3_Infineon
Features and specs:

  • Specifically designed for mobile devices, where most applications only need a resolution of 38,000 pixels.
  • Small sensor chip area
  • Each sensor chip features microlenses
  • The chips operate with infrared light and use the time-of-flight (ToF) measuring principle

The IRS1125C will be available in volume as of first quarter of 2016. The IRS1645C and IRS1615C are slated for the second quarter of 2016.

Source: Infineon Technologies

21st-Century Electronics Craftsman: Meet Saar Drimer

Saar Drimer (PhD, Cambridge) runs Boldport, a London-based hardware and prototyping consultancy that specializes in circuit boards. Wisse Hettinga recently met with Drimer to discuss PCB design, electronics craftsmanship, and his various engineering projects.

Saar Drimer, electronics craftman

Saar Drimer, electronics craftman

Hettinga writes:

The Art of Electronics is a book that’s well-known by many electronic engineers all over the world. Written by Horowitz and Hill, the first edition was published in 1980 and recently, in 2015, a third edition was released. Over the past 35 years, the book has been an inspiration and resource for many engineers eager to learn about the art of designing with electronics. But there is also a real art of electronics. To discover what that is, I traveled to London to meet up with Saar Drimer. His workplace was in one of the characteristic arches underneath London Bridge Station. With the constant rumble of the trains arriving and pulling out of the station in the background, he showed me some of his work.

SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
Drimer’s designs are completely different from what we usually see on PCBs. Where most of our designs end up as small rectangles with only a few holes for the assembly screws, his boards take different shapes. Some are swirly, sometimes animal-like. At other times, he integrates components right into the board in special holes, as you can see in his Tiny Engineer Superhero Emergency Kit. Often there is no straight copper line to be found; they go all over the place and are a vital part of the total design.

Emergency kit

The Tiny Engineer Superhero Emergency kit

A PCB designed by Drimer asks for exposure and can be interesting for art’s sake only, but also for marketing purposes where drawing attention and presenting a surprise is required. One of his designs even features in the women’s magazine Marie Claire!

DESIGNING THE OTHER WAY AROUND
Where many of us try to put all the PCB and wiring in a (mostly) gray box and leave it out of sight, Drimer is doing exactly the opposite: he is trying to expose it. His end product is the PCB and that is where his art comes into the picture—in many exciting formats. In many ways, Saar is an engineer like many of us. He is extremely knowledgeable about electronics and designing. But when it comes to the latter, he is using unorthodox methods. Where we start with the schematics, Drimer starts with the form and shape of the final PCB—basically, he designs the other way around!

Working and designing in the opposite direction is not easy with existing PCB CAD programs like Eagle or Altium. They all start with a schematic and are using component libraries routing the final layout in the most effective or smallest footprint PCB. Their rigid, straightforward approach is excellent when designing for just another rectangle PCB. But if you want new and creative designs, you need to think of a different way of working and using other tools. If you want to change the way of thinking and designing, you need to be able to use free forms and the routing cannot be left to the CAD program. And that is exactly what Drimer is doing.

THE CRAFTSMAN’S TOOL
To be able to start with a different type of design, Drimer was left with no choice but to start developing his own PCB CAD design program. Unlike most of us who call ourselves “engineer,” Drimer calls himself ”craftsman”—and as a true craftsmen, he makes his own tools. PCBmodE is Drimer’s custom PCB CAD program. The “mod” in PCBmodE has a double meaning, Drimer explained. “The first is short for ‘modern’ in contrast to tired, old EDA tools. The second is a play on the familiar ‘modifications,’ or ‘mods,’ done to imperfect PCBs. Call it ‘PCB mode’ or ‘PCB mod E’, whichever you prefer,” he said.
PCBmodE is a PCB design Python script that creates an SVG from JSON input files. It then creates Gerber (the standard software to describe the PCB images: copper layers, soldering mask, legend, etc.) and Excellon files for manufacturing. With no graphical interface, PCBmodE enables you to place any arbitrary shape on any layer because it is natively vector-based. Most of the design is done in a text editor with viewing and some editing (routing) completed with Inkscape. (Inkscape is a professional vector graphics editor for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. It’s free and open source.) On his website, Drimer explains how to work with the program.

“PCBmodE was originally conceived as a tool that enables the designer to precisely define and position design elements in a text file, and not through a GUI. For practical reasons, PCBmodE does not have a GUI of its own, and uses an unmodified Inkscape for visual representation and some editing that cannot practically be done textually,” said Drimer.

A typical PCBmodE design workflow is as follows:

  • Edit JSON files with a text editor
  • “Compile” the board using PCBmodE
  • View the generated SVG in Inkscape
  • Make modifications in Inkscape
  • Extract changes using PCBmodE
  • Back to step 1 or step 2
  • Generate production files using PCBmodE

If you want to give PCBmodE a try, simply download it at www.pcbmode.com. It works with Linux, but Drimer is interested in results on other OS platforms as well. For starters, a “hello solder” design is currently available.

Hello Solder

Starter example: Hello Solder

THE CRAFTSMAN’S WORK
Examples of Drimer’s work are posted on his website, www.boldport.com. I especially like the Tiny Engineer Superhero Emergency Kit’ design where the components are integrated into the PCB itself resulting in a very flat design. You will also notice he is not using straight lines and angles for the traces. It is more of a pencil drawing; the traces flow along the lines of the PCB and components.

You might ask why on earth someone would put so much effort into all of this? Don’t ask! But, if you like, here are a few answers. First, because it is an art. Second, it is Drimer’s full-time job and he hopes to expand the business. And third, working differently from the norm tends to generate fresh ideas and exciting solutions—and that is what we need more of.

This article appears in Circuit Cellar 306 (January 2016).

Future-Proof, Next-Gen Wireless LED Lighting Solution

GreenPeak Technologies recently launched a wireless low-cost ambient lighting application based on the new GreenPeak GP651 communication chip that can support various ZigBee and IEEE 802.15.4 communication protocols. The solution can combine LED lights with smart ambient applications to provide you with the freedom to create a variety of lighting scenes. The solution supports one- , two-, and four-channel LED bulbs. You can control settings and time schedules via a Smart Home system, a smart phone, or a basic wireless switch.GreenPeak Infographic LED GP651

The GP651 is a low-cost, small footprint (QFN32), single-chip solution. Additional cost savings can be achieved because of its 125°C (257°F) spec, reducing the size of a heatsink, enabling a compact and creative product design, and reducing the complexity of manufacturing resulting in a low total BOM.

Source: GreenPeak Technologies