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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

Handy Four-Channel, High-Resolution Oscilloscope

TiePie engineering recently introduced a new four-channel, high-resolution, USB 3.0 oscilloscope. Featuring TiePie engineering’s SafeGround technology, the Handyscope HS6 DIFF is available in models with sampling rates from 50 MSps up to 1 GSps. SafeGround enables you to use the oscilloscope inputs both as single ended and as differential. When SafeGround is active and you accidentally create a short circuit, SafeGround disconnects the ground of the input channel without damaging the oscilloscope or PC.TiePie Handyscope

The Handyscope HS6 DIFF’s features, benefits, and specs:

  • 1 GSps sampling and a flexible resolution of 8 to 16 bit
  • Four input channels with up to 250-MHz analog bandwidth
  • Highly accurate 1 ppm time base
  • DC accuracy of 0.25 % and 0.1 % typical
  • 200-MSps USB streaming data logger
  • Up to 256 mega-sample memory per channel
  • SureConnect connection test on all channels
  • Spectrum analyzer with 32 million bins

Source: TiePie

New Advanced Bus Converter for High-Power Applications

Ericsson’s PKB4413DA is a low-profile, 408-W DC/DC converter module well suited for high-power, high-performance applications. Intended to provide point-of-load (POL) DC/DC converters with tightly regulated 12-V output at up to 34 A, the PKB4413DA’s five-pin, 1/8-brick footprint is compatible with the Distributed-power Open Standards Alliance’s (DOSA) standard. In addition, it has a full 36 to 75 V telecom input range. This combination makes it ideal for intermediate bus conversion in information and communication technologies (ICT) applications.Ericsson PKB4413DA

The PKB4413DA’s features, benefits, and specs:

  • Hybrid Regulated Ratio (HRR) technology minimizes power losses
  • Efficiency can be up to 96% with a 48-V input and 12-V output at half-load.
  • Standard eighth-brick format (2.30 × 0.89 × 0.52″)
  • I/O protection and operational features (e.g., input under-voltage shutdown, monotonic start-up, remote control, output over-voltage, over-temperature, and output short-circuit protection
  • Calculated MTBF of 8.5 million hours
  • Meets IEC/EN/UL60950-1 safety requirements

The PKB4413DA costs $36.15 in OEM quantities of 1,000 or more.

Source: Ericsson

New Wi-Fi Hardware and Device Platform

Texas Instruments recently announced its next generation of Wi-Fi hardware and the new SimpleLink MCU platform. The products include the SimpleLink Wi-Fi CC3220 wireless MCU and CC3120 wireless network processor. Designed with security in mind, the CC3220 products are built with two separate execution environments within a single chip.ti simplelink

Promoted as the “new standard for IoT developers,” The SimpleLink MCU Platform offers you the following:

  • 100% code compatibility across SimpleLink MCU portfolio
  • Encryption-enabled security features
  • TI Drivers offers standardized set of functional APIs for integrated peripherals
  • Integrated TI-RTOS, a robust, intelligent kernel for complete, out-of-the-box development
  • POSIX-compatible APIs offer flexible OS/kernels support
  • IoT stacks and plugins to add functionality to your design

Source: Texas Instruments

Electrical Engineering Crossword (Issue 321)

The answers to Circuit Cellar 321‘s crossword are now available.321 crossword

Across

  1. EMPTYSET—Null [2 words]
  2. STATOR—Nonrotating portion of a motor
  3. EXBI—Ei
  4. BPS—Data rate
  5. PLESIOCHRONOUS—Not quite synchronized
  6. RING—Devices connected in a circle; topology
  7. AMBIENT—Air temperature around a system
  8. DYNE—10-5 N
  9. ENUMERATION—ENUM
  10. RECTIFIER—Converts alternating current to direct current

Down

  1. ELICITATION—Collect system requirements
  2. MACTEL—Mac OS + Intel processor
  3. FEMPTOSECOND—1/1,000,000,000,000,000 s
  4. MICROFARAD—1,000,000 pF
  5. REPETITIVE—Iterative
  6. PEAKTOPEAK—Alterations between high and low values [3 words]
  7. MANHATTAN—Los Alamos; Oppenheimer
  8. FIRSTQUARTILE—25th percentile [2 words]
  9. MESON—One quark, one antiquark
  10. TRACE—The blanking process makes it invisible

The Future of Embedded Computing

Although my academic background is in cybernetics and artificial intelligence, and my career started out in production software development, I have been lucky enough to spend the last few years diving head first into embedded systems development. There have been some amazing steps forward in embedded computing in recent years, and I’d like to share with you some of my favorite recent advances, and how I think they will progress.

While ever-decreasing costs of embedded computing hardware is expected and not too exciting, I think there have been a few key price points that are an indicator of things to come. In the last few months, we have seen the release of Application Processor development boards that are below $10. Tiny gigahertz-level processors that are Linux-ready for an amazingly low price. The most well-known is the Raspberry Pi Zero, which is created by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, who I believe will continue to push this impressive level of development capability into schools, really giving the next generation of engineers (and non-engineers) some hands-on experience. Perhaps a less well known release is C.H.I.P, the new development platform from Next Thing Co. The hardware is like the Pi Zero, but the drive behind the company is quite different. We’ll discuss this more later.

While the hobbyist side of embedded computing is not new, the communities and resources that are being built are exciting. Most of you will have heard of Arduino and Raspberry Pi. The Pi is a low-cost, easy-to-use Linux computer. Arduino is an open-source platform consisting of a super-simple IDE, tons of libraries, and a huge range of development boards. These have set a standard for member of the maker community who expect affordable hardware, open-source designs, and strong community support, and some companies are stepping up to this.

Next Thing Co. has the goal of creating things to inspire creativity. In addition to developing low-cost hardware, they try to remove the pain from the design process and only open-source, well-documented products will do. This ethos is embodied in their C.H.I.P Pro, which is not just an open-source Linux System-on-Module. It’s built around their own GR8 IC, which contains an Allwinner 1-GHz ARM Cortex-A8, as well as 256 MB of DDR3 built in, accompanied with an open datasheet requiring no NDA, and with a one-unit minimum order quantity. This really eliminates the headaches of high-speed routing between DDR3 and the processor, and it reduces the manufacturing complexities of creating a custom Linux ready PCB. Innovation and progress like this provide a lot more value than the many other companies just producing insufficiently documented breakout boards for existing chips. I think that this will be a company to watch, and I can’t wait to see what their next ambitious project will be.

 
We’ve all been witnessing the ever-increasing performance of embedded systems, as successive generations of smart phones and tablets are released, but when I talk about high performance I don’t refer to a measly 2+GHz Octa-core system with a few Gig of RAM, I’m talking about embedded supercomputing!

As far as I’m concerned, the one to watch here is NVIDIA. Their recent Tegra series sees them bringing massively parallel GPU processing to affordable embedded devices. The Tegra 4 had a quadcore CPU and 72 GPU cores. The TK1 has a quadcore CPU and 192 GPU cores, and the most recent TX1 has an octacore CPU and a 256 GPU cores that provide over 1 Teraflops of processing power. These existing devices are very impressive, but NVIDIA are not slowing down development, with the Xavier expected to appear at the end of 2017. Boasting 512 GPU cores and a custom octacore CPU architecture, the Xavier claims to deliver 20 trillion operations per second for only 20-W power consumption.

NVIDIA is developing these systems with the intent for them to enable embedded artificial intelligence (AI) with a focus on autonomous vehicles and real-time computer vision. This is an amazing goal, as AI has historically lacked the processing power to make it practical in many applications, and I’m hoping that NVIDIA is putting an end to that. In addition to their extremely capable hardware, they are providing great software resources and support for developing deep learning systems.

We are on the horizon of some exciting advancements in the field of embedded computing. In addition to seeing an ever-growing number of IoT and smart devices, I believe that during the next few years we’ll see embedded computing enable great advancements in AI and smart cities. Backyard developers will be enabled to create more impressive and advanced systems, and technical literacy will become more widespread.

This essay appears in Circuit Cellar 321.

 

Steve Samuels (steve@think-engineer.com) is a Cofounder and Prototype Engineer at Think Engineer LLP, a research, development and prototyping company that specializes in creating full system prototypes and proof-of-concepts for next-generation products and services. Steve has spent most of his career in commercial research and development in domains such as transportation, satellite communications, and space robotics. Having worked in a lot of different technical areas, his main technical interests are embedded systems and machine learning.

eMCOS Scalable POSIX-Compliant RTOS

eSOL recently released eMCOS POSIX, which is a POSIX-compliant profile for eMCOS. The eMCOS POSIX accelerates R&D and shortens product development time with Linux software assets and engineering resources, including open source software (OSS) such as the Robot Operating System (ROS) framework for robotic control and the Autoware software for autonomous driving systems.

eMCOS POSIX provides superior real-time capabilities for embedded systems that require a high level of computing power and operate on an autonomous and distributed basis. Applications include autonomous driving systems, industrial IoT systems, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), AI, and computer vision.

eMCOS is a POSIX-compliant RTOS that complies with POSIX 1003.13 PSE 53. It provides full support for multiple processes and threads, loadable processes, and shared libraries. It also offers a multiprocessing environment for multicore systems with distributed memory, allowing the use of POSIX inter-process communications (IPC) for communication with different scheduling clusters and hardware clusters.

Conventional RTOSs use a single kernel to manage multiple cores. In contrast, the eMCOS employs a distributed microkernel architecture with a separate microkernel installed on each core. Thus, it can support different numbers of cores as well as heterogeneous hardware configurations with a variety of device architectures (e.g., FPGAs, GPUs, and microcontrollers with on-chip flash memory). Along with eMCOS POSIX, eMCOS is made up of a number of profiles, including the eMCOS AUTOSAR profile for AUTOSAR. By selecting the appropriate profile to suit system requirements, it is easy to configure distributed systems that combine POSIX and AUTOSAR applications running on separate processors. Supported devices include the Kalray MPPAR-256 and Renesas Electronics RH850 series. Because eMCOS is not designed for particular processor architectures or instruction sets, support for other processors will be added in the future.

Source: eSOL 

Aurora Software for Evaluation of ArcticPro eFPGA IP

QuickLogic Corp. recently announced the release of its new Aurora software, which enables SoC developers to evaluate the integration of embedded FPGA (eFPGA) IP into devices designed for different Global Foundries process nodes. The Aurora eFPGA development tool supports design implementation from RTL through place and route. It enables SoC developers to determine the amount of eFPGA resources needed to support a design (including logic cell count, clock network requirements, and routing utilization) and also provide the estimated eFPGA die area associated with those resources. The current version of the tool supports GF’s 40-nm node. Support for the 65-nm node and 22FDX (FD-SOI) platform will be released in the future.

Source: QuickLogic Corp.

Chip Antennas for the New NB-IoT Standard

Antenova Ltd recently announced a new Narrow Band IoT (NB-IoT) standard.The compact 20 × 11 × 1.6 mm antenna is easy to integrate onto a small PCB.SR4C033The Latona SR4C033  chip antenna is a member of Antenova’s lamiiANT antenna family. The embedded NB-IoT antennas are designed to be easily integrated onto a host PCB for a wide variety of IoT projects.

Source: Antenova

Lightweight Systems and the Future of Wireless Technology

Last November, we published engineer Alex Bucknall’s essay “Taking the ‘Hard’ Out of Hardware.” We recently followed up with him to get his thoughts on the future of ‘Net-connected wireless devices and the Internet of Things (IoT).

BucknallAs we enter an age of connected devices, sensors, and objects (aka the Internet of Things), we’re beginning to see a drive for lightweight systems that allow for low power, low complexity, and long-distance communication protocols. More of the world is becoming connected and not all of these embedded devices can afford high-capacity batteries or to be connected to mains power. We’ll see a collection of protocols that can provide connectivity with just a few milliwatts of power that can be delivered through means of energy harvesting such as solar power. It’ll become essential for embedded sensors to communicate from remote locations where current standards like Wi-Fi and BLE fall behind due to range constraints. Low-Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) will strive to fill this gap with protocols such as Sigfox, LoRa, NB-IoT, and others stepping up to the plate. The next hurdle will be the exciting big data challenge as we start to learn more about our world via the Internet of Things! — Alex Bucknall (Developer Evangelist, Sigfox, France)

World’s Smallest Bluetooth Chip

The Swatch Group recently introduced the smallest Bluetooth chip on the market. Designed by EM Microelectronic, Swatch Group R & D, and the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM), the compact chip is well suited for portable devices and IoT applications.Swatch_005

The IC’s features, specs, and benefits:

  • Smallest Bluetooth chip on the market.
  • Low energy consumption
  • High-speed start-up capability
  • Officially qualified to meet the latest Bluetooth standard, version 5.0.
  • Consists of more than 5 million transistors on a surface of about 5 mm2.
  • Works alone or in conjunction with various sensors

Source: EM Microelectronic

100-V No-Opto Flyback Regulator

Linear Technology recently announced H-grade versions of the LT8304/-1 monolithic flyback regulators with guaranteed operation for junction temperatures as high as 150°C. By sampling the isolated output voltage directly from the primary-side flyback waveform, it requires no opto-coupler or third winding for regulation.Linear LT8304HThe LT8304H/-1’s features, specs, and benefits:

  • VIN Range from 3 to 100 V
  • Up to 24 W of output power
  • LT8304-1 Capable of output voltages up to 1 kV
  • Onboard 2-A, 150-V integrated DMOS power switch
  • Off-the-shelf power transformers
  • No opto-coupler or transformer third winding required for voltage feedback
  • 116-µA Quiescent current
  • Boundary mode operation
  • Accurate input enable & undervoltage lockout with hysteresis
  • Output diode temperature compensation
  • H Grades: –40°C to 150°C operating junction temperature

Source: Linear Technology

vSound Violin Digital Processor

Saelig Company recently introduce the Cambrionix ThunderSync16, which provides 16  USB2.0 ports and a Thunderbolt host connection capable of transfer speeds of up to 20 Gbps to allow large data transfer in the shortest possible time. For data syncing requirements, the Thunderbolt’s data transfer speed delivers a greatly increased data transfer rate between a host Thunderbolt connection and 16 attached devices than a USB2.0 connection.saelig

The ThunderSync 16’s features, specs, and benefits:

  • Speeds up situations needing large data transfer (e.g., video file uploading or operating system updates) when the data is required to be loaded in the fastest possible time.
  • Supports universal, intelligent charging of USB ports at up to 2.4 A simultaneously.
  • It can be daisy-chained via the dual Thunderbolt ports.
  • Allows for the charging of multiple device types simultaneously (e.g., mobile phones, MP3 players, e-readers, etc.)
  • Preprogrammed Very Intelligent Charging protocol ensures the correct charging profile is used for the specific product, maintaining battery performance and extending battery life
  • Operates with the complementary Cambrionix LiveView app
  • Supplied software displays the charging status in detail.
  • An API is also provided for software automation scripting, essential for software QA and mobile phone remarketing companies.

The ThunderSync 16 is well suited for industrial, defense, security, software QA, and wearable camera applications requiring large-scale charging and data transfer. It is powered by an internal universal power supply, and is Intel Certified, CE Marked, UL Listed, and EMC FCC tested

Source: Saelig Company

The Future of Automation

The robot invasion isn’t coming. It’s already here. One would be hard-pressed to find anything in modern “industrialized” society that doesn’t rely on a substantial level of automation during its life cycle—whether in its production, consumption, use, or (most probably) all of the above. Regardless of the definition du jour, “robots” are indeed well on their way to taking over—and not in the terrifying, apocalyptic, “Skynet” kind of way, but in a way that will universally improve the human condition.

Of course, the success of this r/evolution relies on an almost incomprehensible level of compounding innovations and advancements accompanied by a mountain of associated technical complexities and challenges. The good news is many of these challenges have already been addressed—albeit in a piecemeal manner—by focused professionals in their respective fields. The real obstacle to progress, therefore, ultimately lies in the compilation and integration of a variety of technologies and techniques from heterogeneous industries, with the end goal being a collection of cohesive systems that can be easily and intuitively implemented in industry.

Two of the most promising and critical aspects of robotics and automation today are human-machine collaboration and flexible manufacturing. Interestingly (and, perhaps, fortuitously), their problem sets are virtually identical, as the functionality of both systems inherently revolves around constantly changing and wildly unpredictable environments and tasks. These machines, therefore, have to be heavily adaptable to and continuously “aware” of their surroundings in order to maintain not only a high level of performance, but also to consistently perform safely and reliably.

Not unlike humans, machines rely on their ability to collect, analyze, and act on external data, oftentimes in a deterministic fashion—in other words, certain things must happen in a pre-defined amount of time for the system to perform as intended. These data can range from the very slow and simple (e.g., calculating temperature by reading the voltage of a thermocouple once a second) to the extremely fast and complex (e.g., running control loops for eight brushless electric motors 25,000-plus times a second). Needless to say, giving a machine the ability to perceive—be it through sight, sound, and/or touch—and act on its surroundings in “real time” is no easy task.


Read more Tech the Future essays and get inspired!


Computer vision (sight and perception), speech recognition (sound and language), and precision motion control (touch and motor skills) are things most people take for granted, as they are collectively fundamental to survival. Machines, however, are not “born” with—nor have they evolved—these abilities. Piling on additional layers of complexity like communication and the ability to acquire knowledge/learn new tasks, and it becomes menacingly apparent how substantial the challenge of creating intelligent and connected automated systems really is.

While the laundry list of requirements might seem nearly impossible to address, fortunately the tools used for integrating these exceedingly complex systems have undergone their own period of hyper growth in the last several years. In much the same way developers, researchers, engineers, and entrepreneurs have picked off industry- and application-specific problems related to the aforementioned technical hurdles, as have the people behind the hardware and software that make it possible for these independently developed, otherwise standalone solutions to be combined and interwoven, thus resulting in truly world-changing innovations.

For developers, only in the last few years has it become practical to leverage the combination of embedded technologies like the power-efficient, developer-friendly mobile application processor with the flexibility and raw “horsepower” of programmable logic (i.e., field-programmable gate arrays, which have historically been reserved for the aerospace/defense and telecommunication industries) at scales never previously imagined. And with rapidly growing developer communities, the platforms built around these technologies are directly facilitating the advancement of automation, and doing it all under a single silicon “roof.” There’s little doubt that increasing access to these new tools will usher in a more nimble, intelligent, safe, and affordable wave of robotics.

Looking forward, automation will undoubtedly continue to play an ever-increasingly central role in day-to-day life. As a result, careful consideration must be given to facilitating human-machine (and machine-machine) collaboration in order to accelerate innovation and overcome the technical and societal impacts bred from the disruption of the status quo. The pieces are already there, now it’s time to assemble them.


This article appears in Circuit Cellar 320.


Ryan Cousins is cofounder and CEO of krtkl, Inc.http://krtkl.com/ (“critical”), a San Francisco-based embedded systems company. The krtkl team created snickerdoodle—an affordable and highly reconfigurable platform for developing mechatronic, audio/video, computer vision, networking, and wireless communication systems. Ryan has a BS in mechanical engineering from UCLA.  He has experience in R&D, project management, and business development in the medical and embedded systems industries. Learn more at krtkl.com or snickerdoodle.io.

Programming-Free LCD User Interface for Embedded Applications

LCDTERM.com recently launched a new programming-free LCD user interface, which allows for seamless and code-free integration onto any embedded platform. Eliminating the need to write software to control the display, the LCDTERM user interface does not require LCD programming knowledge, so you can focus more on desired functionality rather than writing device drivers. Its three-button keyboard allows developers to implement a full user interface without having to worry about reading buttons, debouncing, or programming resources on the host embedded system.LCD term

The LCDTERM interface includes all control firmware and uses a speedy ARM M0 processor. It comes with a free API. Included font and user-defined bitmaps allows for addition of 64K color displays to any embedded system. Display sizes begin at 1.77″ and are ready to ship immediately in high quantities. Larger sizes of 2.8″ and 5″ are also available. LCDTERM.com can scale for custom sizes, and it is equipped to enter into OEM arrangements. Free demo kits are available for applications via the website.

Source: LCDTERM.com

STMicroelectronics To Manufacture USound’s Patented Thin-Film Piezo-Electric MEMS Micro-Speaker Technology

STMicroelectronics and Austrian company USound GmbH announced their collaboration on the industrialization and production of the world’s first miniature piezoelectric MEMS actuators for smart audio systems in portable devices. The patented micro-speaker technology from USound aims to replace commonly used balanced-armature and electrodynamic receivers for handsets with a small piezo-MEMS actuator.STMicro USoundSpeakerMEMS

Manufactured using STMicroelectronics’s industry-leading thin-film piezoelectric (TFP) technology, these actuators will improve scalability and cost while assuring lower power consumption and heat dissipation in hearables and smartphones devices, without compromising audio quality.

USound and STMicroelectronics anticipate the piezoelectric MEMS actuator will move into production in Q3 of this year and will be shipping in consumer products by the end of the year.

Source: STMicroelectronics