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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

60-V, 7-A Step-Down µModule Regulator

Linear Technology’s LTM8064 is a step-down DC/DC µModule (power module) regulator with a 6-to-58-V (60 VMAX) input voltage range and adjustable load current control with ±10% accuracy at 7 A. You can use it as a point-of-load step-down regulator operating from 24, 36, and 48 V voltage rails in test equipment, high-end computers, test equipment, avionics, and more. It also operates as a constant current source to precisely regulate and control (adjust) the load current up to 7 A when sourcing and 9.1 A when sinking. Among the  applications requiring precision load current control are Peltier devices for cooling/heating and  battery and supercapacitor chargers.Linear 8064

The LTM8064 includes DC/DC controller, MOSFETs, inductor, and supporting components. Two resistors, bulk input capacitors, and output capacitors are needed to complete the design. Housed in a 16 mm × 11.9 mm × 4.92 mm BGA package, the LTM8064 has an adjustable output voltage range of 1.2 to 36 V. The switching frequency is adjustable by one external resister from 100 kHz to 1 MHz or it can be synchronized to an external clock from 120 kHz to 1 MHz.

The LTM8064’s main features:

  • Operates from –40°C to 125°C
  • Wide input voltage range: 6 to 58 V
  • 1.2-to-36-V Output voltage
  • Constant-voltage, constant-current (CVCC)
  • Two-Quadrant: Sources and Sinks Output Current
  • Parallelable for increased output current, even from different voltage sources
  • Adjustable output current up to 7 A when sourcing or 9.1 A when sinking
  • Selectable switching frequency: 100 kHz to 1 MHz
  • Programmable soft-start
  • Tiny 16 mm × 11.9 mm × 4.92 mm surface-mount BGA package

Pricing starts at $16.50 each in 1,000-unit quantities.

Source: Linear Technology

The Future of Robotics Technology

Advancements in technology mean that the dawn of a new era of robotics is upon us. Automation is moving out of the factory and in to the real world. As this happens, we will see significant increases in productivity as well as drastic cuts in employment. We have an opportunity to markedly improve the lives of all people. Will we seize it?

For decades, the biggest limitations in robotics were related to computing and perception. Robots couldn’t make sense of their environments and so were fixed to the floor. Their movements were precalculated and repetitive. Now, however, we are beginning to see those limitations fall away, leading to a step-change in the capabilities of robotic systems. Robots now understand their environment with high fidelity, and safely navigate through it.

On the sensing side, we’re seeing multiple order of magnitude reductions in the cost of 3-D sensors used for mapping, obstacle avoidance, and task comprehension. Time of flight cameras such as those in the Microsoft Kinect or Google Tango devices are edging their way into the mainstream in high volumes. LIDAR sensors commonly used on self-driving cars were typically $60,000 or more just a few years ago. This year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), however, two companies, Quanergy and Velodyne, announced new solid-state LIDAR devices that eliminate all moving parts and carry a sub-$500 price point.

Understanding 3-D sensor data is a computationally intensive task, but advancements in general purpose GPU computing have introduced new ways to quickly process the information. Smartphones are pushing the development of small, powerful processors, and we’re seeing companies like NVIDIA shipping low cost GPU/CPU combos such as the X1 that are ideal for many robotics applications.

To make sense of all this data, we’re seeing significant improvements in software for robotics. The open-source Robot Operating System (ROS), for example, is widely used in industry and at 9 years old, just hit version 2.0. Meanwhile advances in machine learning mean that computers can now perform many tasks better than humans.

All these advancements mean that robots are moving beyond the factory floor and in to the real world. Soon we’ll see a litany of problems being solved by robotics. Amazon already uses robots to lower warehousing costs, and several new companies are looking to solve the last mile delivery problem. Combined with self-driving cars and trucks this will mean drastic cost reductions for the logistics industry, with a ripple effect that lowers the cost of all goods.

As volumes go up, we will see cost reductions in expensive mechanical components such as motors and linkages. In five years, most of the patents for metal 3-D printers will expire, which will bring on a wave of competition to lower costs for new manufacturing methods.
While many will benefit greatly from these advances, there are worrying implications for others. Truck driver is the most common job in nearly every state, but within a decade those jobs will see drastic cuts. Delivery companies like Amazon Fresh and Google Shopping Express currently rely on fleets of human drivers, as do taxi services Uber and Lyft. It seems reasonable that those companies will move to automated vehicles.

Meanwhile, there are a great number of unskilled jobs that have already reduced workers to near machines. Fast food restaurants, for example, provide clear cut scripts for workers to follow, eliminating any reliance on human intelligence. It won’t be long before robots are smart enough to do those jobs too. Some people believe new jobs will be created to replace the old ones, but I believe that at some point robots will simply surpass low-skilled workers in capability and become more desirable laborers. It is my deepest hope that long before that happens, we as a society take a serious look at the way we share the collective wealth of our Earth. Robots should not simply replace workers, but eliminate the need for humans to work for survival. Robots can so significantly increase productivity that we can eliminate scarcity for all of life’s necessities. In doing so, we can provide all people with wealth and freedom unseen in human history.

Making that happen is technologically simple, but will require significant changes to the way we think about society. We need many new thinkers to generate ideas, and would do well to explore concepts like basic income and the work of philosophers like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, among others. The most revolutionary aspect of the change robotics brings will not be the creation of new wealth, but in how it enables access to the wealth we already have.

Taylor Alexander is a multidisciplinary engineer focused on robotics. He is founder of Flutter Wireless and works as a Software Engineer at a secretive robotics startup in Silicon Valley. When he’s not designing for open source, he’s reading about the social and political implications of robotics and writing for his blog at tlalexander.com.

This essay appears in Circuit Cellar 308, March 2016.

The Future of Wireless: Imagination Drives Innovation

Wireless system design is one of the hottest fields in electrical engineering. We recently asked 10 engineers to prognosticate on the future of wireless technology. Alexander Popov, a Bulgaria-based engineer, writes:

These days, we are constantly connected to the Internet.5 Popov orange People expect quality service both at home and on the go. Cellular networks are meeting this demand with 4G and upcoming 5G technologies. A single person now uses as much bandwidth as an entire Internet provider 20 years ago. We are immersed in a pool of information, but are no longer its sole producers. The era of Internet of Things is upon us, and soon there will be more IoT devices than there are people. They require quite a different ecosystem than we people use. Тheir pattern of information flow is usually sporadic, with small chunks of data. Connecting to a generic Wi-Fi or cellular network is not efficient. IoT devices utilize well established protocols like Bluetooth LE and ZigBee, but dedicated ones like LPWAN and 6LoWPAN are also being developed and probably more will follow. We will see more sophisticated and intelligent wireless networks, probably sharing resources on different layers to form a larger WAN. An important aspect of IoT devices is their source of power. Energy harvesting and wireless power will evolve to become a standard part of the “smart” ecosystem. Improved technologies in chip manufacturing processes aid hardware not only by lowering power consumption and reducing size, but also with dedicated embedded communication stack and chip coils. The increased amount and different types of information will allow software technologies like cloud computing and big data analysis to thrive. With information so deep in our personal lives, we may see new security standards offering better protection for our privacy. All these new technologies alone will be valuable, but the possibilities they offer combined are only limited by our imaginations. Best be prepared to explore and sketch your ideas now! — Alexander Popov, Bulgaria (Director Product Management, Minerva Networks)

Innovative Tech at Embedded World 2016

Attendance at the recent Embedded World 2016 conference in Nuremberg, Germany, increased 17% (30,063 trade visitors) over 2015. Wisse Hettinga was in attendance and took notes on some of the more interesting technologies on display. He writes:

Controllino: Open-Source PLC

Say “ino” and most engineers and electronics enthusiasts will think, “Arduino.” That also goes for “Controllino,” which is a programmable logic controller (PLC) based on Arduino hardware and software. Marco Riedesser started developing this new product after he repaired a coffee machine with parts he designed. His Controllino is intended for the new generation of automation experts who grew up with the Arduino platform. The Controllino is 100% compatible with the Arduino platform and makes use of the SDK. And, perhaps most importantly, it is an open development system. For more information, visit http://controllino.cc.controllino


NXP Semiconductors knows that innovative new technologies don’t appearing out of the blue, which is why it created the Hexiwear wearable development platform. Along with MikroElektronika, NXP is promoting this new piece of hardware to the design community via a Kickstarter campaign. hexiwear

Due to its compact design, you can use the Hexiwear as a watch or, if you need more functionality, you can click it onto the developer’s main board. The open-source Hexiwear’s features and specs include:

  • NXP Kinetis K64 MCU (ARM Cortex-M4, 120 MHz, 1M Flash, 256K SRAM)
  • BLE NXP Kinetis KW40Z multimode radio SoC (ARM Cortex-M0+, Bluetooth Low Energy & 802.15.4 Wireless MCU)
  • NXP FXOS8700CQ 3-D accelerometer and 3-D magnetometer
  • NXP FXAS21002 three-axis digital gyroscope
  • NXP MPL3115A2R1 absolute digital pressure sensor
  • NXP MC34671 600-mA, single-cell li-ion/li-polymer battery charger
  • TAOS TSL2561 light-to-digital converter
  • MEAS HTU21D digital humidity and temperature sensor
  • Maxim MAX3010x heart-rate sensor
  • Haptic feedback engine
  • 190-mAh 2C li-po battery
  • Capacitive touch interface
  • 1.1″ full color OLED display
  • 8 MB of additional flash memory

Intel Edison, What Did You Make?

When the Edison board was launched in 2014, it drew quite some attention from the community of makers. The board was heavy specified, wearable, and IoT ready. It allowed quick prototyping and the close connections with the Arduino world promised a smooth introduction into the world of designers and entrepreneurs with great ideas for the future. The module also came with seriously high price tag.edison

In the first months after the launch, there was a lot of interest. Some projects made it to the headlines, but things eventually quieted down around the platform. Was it the price, or was it the fact that the world of the x86 is different from the world of AVR or ARM? Or perhaps you need Linux knowledge to dig deeper into the system?

Embedded World 2016 in Nuremberg was a good opportunity to learn about the board’s status. According to Intel’s Ken Caviasca (VP in the IoT Group and GM of platform engineering and development), it is clear that Intel is still serious about addressing the makers community with the Edison module. A new board was announced on the Intel Developers Conference and the initiative is alive and well. Intel’s main objective for the Edison board is to get designers involved and to pick up new interest in the x86. Caviasca  confirmed that the Edison project is on target and many makers are using the platform for their designs. With a confident Intel about the future of  Edison, a big question remains: What will you make with it?

Raspberry Pi 3

The Raspberry Pi Foundation recently announced the availability of the Raspberry Pi 3, which is a $35 credit card-sized computer that is about 50% faster than the Raspberry Pi 2 and has around 10× the performance capabilities of the Raspberry Pi 1.RPi3

The Raspberry Pi 3’s specs and features include:

  • 1.2-GHz BCM2837 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU
  • Integrated 802.11n wireless LAN and Bluetooth 4.1
  • USB power supply
  • Four USB ports
  • 40 GPIO pins
  • Ethernet port
  • HDMI port
  • 3.5 mm audio jack
  • Camera interface (CSI) and display interface (DSI)
  • Push-pull Micro SD card slot
  • VideoCore IV 3-D graphics core
  • Support for Bluetooth Low Energy and Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Compatibility with Raspberry Pi 1 and 2

Source: Raspberry Pi Foundation

Low-Power 12 DOF Bluetooth Smart Sensor Development Platform

Dialog Semiconductor now offers a small, low-power 12 Degrees-of-Freedom (DOF) wireless smart sensor development kit for Internet of Things (IoT) applications, such as wearables, virtual reality, 3-D indoor mapping, and navigation. The DA14583 SmartBond Bluetooth Smart SoC is combined with Bosch Sensortec’s gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, and environmental sensors. A 16 mm × 15 mm PCB is supplied as a dongle in a plastic housing. Current consumption is only 1.3 mA (typical) when streaming sensor data; it’s less than 110 µA in advertising mode and under 11 µA in power-save mode.Dialog DS025

The complementary software development kit (SDK) includes Dialog’s SmartFusion smart sensor library for data acquisition, auto-calibration, and sensor data fusion. It runs on the DA14583’s embedded Cortex M0 processor. The DA14583 has an ARM Cortex-M0 baseband processor with an integrated ultra-low power Bluetooth Smart radio. The development kit includes the following Bosch sensors: a BMI160 six-axis inertial measurement unit, a BMM150 three-axis geomagnetic field sensor, and a BME280 integrated environmental unit, which measures pressure, temperature, and humidity.

Source: Dialog Semiconductor

The Future of Wireless: Global Internet Network

Advances in wireless technologies are driving innovation in virtually every industry, from automobiles to consumer electronics. We recently asked 10 engineers to prognosticate on the future of wireless technology. Eileen Liu, a software engineer at Lockheed Martin, writes:10 Liu

Wireless technology has become increasingly prevalent in our daily lives. It has become commonplace to look up information on smartphones via invisible networks and to connect to peripheral devices using Bluetooth connections. So what should we expect to see next in the world of wireless technology? One of the major things to keep an eye on is the effort for a global Internet network. Facebook and Google are potentially collaborating, working on drones and high-altitude helium balloons with router-like payloads. These solar-powered payloads make a radio link to a telecommunications network on Earth’s surface and broadcast Internet coverage downwards. Elon Musk and Greg Wyler are both working on a different approach, using flotillas of low-orbiting satellites. With such efforts, high-speed Internet access could become possible for the most remote locations on Earth, bringing access to the 60% of the world’s population that currently do not have access. Another technology to look out for is wireless power transfer. This technology allows multiple devices to charge simultaneously without a tether and without a dependency on directionality. Recent developments have mostly been in the realm of mobile phones and laptops, but this could expand to other electronic devices and automobiles that depend on batteries. A third technology to look out for is car-to-car communications. Several companies have been developing autonomous cars, using sensor systems to detect road conditions and surrounding vehicles. These sensors have shown promise, but have limited range and field-of-view and can easily be obstructed. Car-to-car communications allow vehicles to broadcast position, speed, steering-wheel position, and other data to surrounding vehicles with a range of several hundred meters. By networking cars together wirelessly, we could be one step closer to safe autonomous driving. — Eileen Liu, United States (Software Engineer, Lockheed Martin)

Accel32 for Linux Software Supports 4.xx Kernel

Microstar Laboratories recently released version 3.00 of the Accel32 for Linux software. The software compiles a Loadable Kernel Module (LKM) for the GNU/Linux system, extending capabilities for control of the Data Acquisition Processor (DAP) boards to systems using GNU/Linux operating systems with kernel versions in the 4.xx series.

Photo caption: Real time acquisition on generic platforms: Accel32 for Linux v.3.0 supports GNU/Linux 4.xx kernels. Penguin: Julien Tromeur/Shutterstock.com

Real-time acquisition on generic platforms: Accel32 for Linux v.3.0 supports GNU/Linux 4.xx kernels. Penguin: Julien Tromeur/Shutterstock.com

Accel32 for Linux is offered under the BSD license for free download. DAP boards provide an Intel x86-family embedded processor to support operation of the embedded DAPL 2000 system and data acquisition hardware devices. The DAPL 2000 system is part of the DAPtools software, which Microstar Laboratories provides for free for operating the DAP boards. The DAPL 2000 system provides the configuration scripting and the multitasking real-time control of data acquisition hardware devices. A host system must provide PCI or PCI-X (extended) I/O bus slots to host the DAP boards. This software runs under 32-bit versions of the GNU/Linux system, which you can install on 32- or 64-bit hardware platforms.

Source: Microstar Laboratories

Radiation-Tolerant, 5-V Multiplexers for Space Flight Systems

Intersil Corp. recently expanded its suite of radiation-tolerant multiplexers with two new, single-supply, 5-V devices—the 16-channel ISL71830SEH and 32-channel ISL71831SEH. The new multiplexers provide data acquisition systems quality ESD protection and signal processing performance. In addition, the 5-V multiplexers also offer faster propagation delays, which improve signal processing response time. The enhanced 5-kV ESD protection feature makes it unnecessary to use costly external protection diodes on the input pins. In addition, both multiplexers have reduced RON of 120 Ω and propagation delays of less than 100 ns to increase the overall performance and accuracy of telemetry signals processed and multiplexed into an analog-to-digital converter’s (ADC) input.Intersil ISL71830SEH

Features and specifications:

  • 3 to 5.5 V single supply operation with adjustable logic threshold control
  • Delivers 5-kV human body model ESD protection
  • Rail-to-rail switch input provides wide dynamic range for extra design flexibility
  • Over-voltage shutoff protects upstream/downstream devices when a switch goes 1 to 2 V past the rails
  • Cold sparing and analog overvoltage range from –0.4 to 7 V
  • Switch input off leakage of 120 nA and low RON of 120 Ω reduces power consumption, and improves signal integrity
  • Single event transient (SET) performance of 10 µs maximum transient duration and 75 mV maximum transient magnitude at 60 MeV.cm2/mg and at 5.5 V supplies eliminates the need for output filtering to achieve optimal performance
  • Low dose rate (0.01 rad(Si)/s) radiation tolerance of 75 krad(Si)
  • SEL/SEB LETTH immune up to 60 MeV.cm2/mg


Source: Intersil

New COM Express Module Supports Intel 6th Generation Core i7/i5/i3 Processors

WIN Enterprises recently launched the MB-73430 COM Express module, which features Type 6 pin-outs and supports Intel’s 6th Generation Core i7/i5/i3 SoC processors. Intended for systems designed for future upgrades, the COM Express modules are well suited for medical, industrial automation, and gaming applications. The MB-73434 offers up to 32-GB dual-channel DDR4 memory. In addition, it enables a variety of voltage inputs for mobile, embedded, counter top, and desktop environments.WIN MB-73430

The MB-73434 delivers enhanced HD graphics. Featuring three DDI channels and a LVDS, it supports up to three independent displays and Intel Gen9 HD Graphics with HEVC (H.265). It can be used for high-density streaming applications and optimized 4K video conferencing with HEVC (8-bit), VP8, VP9, and VDENC encoding, decoding, and transcoding.

Source: WIN Enterprises

$50 Off Two Vyper Single-Channel Motor Controls

Exclusive for Circuit Cellar readers:  $50 off when you buy two Vyper single-channel motor controllers. Normally $500, get a pair for only $450 – a 10% discount! Contact Chris at Robot Power and mention the Circuit Cellar offer. This offer expires March 31, 2016.



The Robot Power Vyper is a powerful compact single channel motor control.  Featuring low-resistance MOSFETs and up to 42 V operating voltage, the Vyper can handle 120 A of continuous current with peaks over 250 A. The Vyper features RC servo and voltage/pot inputs for flexible control.  Unlike most competing units the Vyper is safe to use with bench power supplies and will not over discharge Lithium batteries.

The MegaMoto line of motor controllers for Arduino stack neatly on top of an Arduino Uno, Mega or compatible to provide high current motor control to the Arduino developer. The MegaMoto family consists of three units with current capacity ranging from 12 A to 65 A peak and a 28-V operating maximum. The MegaMoto and MegaMoto Plus allow up to three units to be stacked on a single Arduino Uno while the MegaMoto GT offers 35 A continuous current capability and includes a cooling fan.

Robot Power products allow you to control motors much larger than the “toy”-sized motors driven by most hobby and educational controllers. We allow you to complete “human scale” projects for transportation, robotics and whatever you can dream up. The Vyper controller was used by many of the competitors (including the champion) in the 2015 ABC TV show BattleBots. We also offer consulting services to customize the exact motor driver you need to complete your project or product. Give us a call or email to discuss your latest world changing invention. All Robot Power motor controls are proudly made in the USA.

Robot Power | www.robotpower.com | 2745 Martin Way E, Suite D | Olympia, WA 98506 USA 

The Future of Wireless: Deployment Matters

Each day, wireless technology becomes more pervasive as new electronics systems hit the market and connect to the Internet. We recently asked 10 engineers to prognosticate on the future of wireless technology. Penn State Professor Chris Coulston writes:9 Coulston green

With the Internet of Things still the big thing, we should expect exciting developments in embedded wireless in 2016 and beyond. Incremental advances in speed and power consumption will allow manufactures to brag about having the latest and greatest chip. However, all this potential is lost unless you can deploy it easily. The Futurelec FT-232 serial-to-USB bridge is a success because it trades off some of the functionality of a complex protocol for a more familiar, less burdensome, protocol.  The demand for simplified protocols should drive manufacturers to develop solutions making complex protocols more accessible. Cutting the cord means different things to different people. While Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) has allowed a wide swath of gadgets to go wireless, these devices still require the presence of some intermediary (like a smart phone) to manage data transfer to the cloud. Expect to see the development of intermediate technologies enabling BLE to “cut the cord” to smart phones. Security of wireless communication will continue to be an important element of any conversation involving new wireless technology. Fortunately, the theoretical tools need to secure communication are well understood. Expect to see these tools trickle down as standard subsystems in embedded processors. The automotive industry is set to transform itself with self-driving cars. This revolution in transportation must be accompanied by wireless technologies allowing our cars to talk to our devices, each other and perhaps the roadways. This is an area that is ripe for some surprising and exciting developments enabling developers to innovate in this new domain. We live in interesting times with embedded systems playing a large role in consumer and industrial systems. With better and more accessible technology in your grasp, I hope that you have great and innovative 2016! — Chris Coulston, United States (Associate Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Penn State Erie)

New Si827x ISOdriver Family Provides High Noise Immunity for Power Supplies, & More

Silicon Labs recently launched a family of isolated gate drivers that solves a critical need for modern power supply designs. Offering high noise immunity, the Si827x ISOdriver family is intended for power supplies, solar power inverters, chargers for electric vehicles, and more.Silicon Labs Si827x

The Si827x family offers single- and dual-isolated drivers with either two independent input controls or a single input for power converter applications. The drivers operate from 2.5  to 5.5 V input VDD and a maximum drive supply voltage of 30 V. The lower VDDI voltage capability of 2.5 V enables you to design systems with a low-voltage power supply that consumes less power and is compatible with low-power microcontrollers.

The Si827x family’s features and specs:

  • Industry’s highest noise immunity (200 kV/µs) and latch-up immunity (400 kV/µs)
  • Operate down to 2.5 V VDD to reduce power consumption
  • 30 ns delay with 10× shorter propagation delay and 20× lower skew than competing gate drivers
  • EN pin (instead of DIS pin)
  • Accurate timing including dead-time control to maximize system efficiency and safety
  • Stable operation over a long lifetime (up to 60 years or 10× longer than opto-based solutions)

Samples and production quantities of the Si827x isolated gate drivers are available in narrow-body SOIC and compact 5 mm × 5 mm LGA packages. Si827x family pricing in 10,000-unit quantities starts at $1.19. Evaluation kits ($29) are also available: Si8273ISO-KIT, Si8274ISO-KIT, and Si8275ISO-KIT.

Source: Silicon Labs

Isolated RS-485 Transceivers for Industrial Automation

With Maxim’s MAX14853/MAX14855 and MAX14943/MAX14949 highly integrated RS-485 transceivers, engineers can easily design efficient industrial automation equipment, programmable logic controllers, HVAC, and power meter applications. The integration of the transceivers with transformer drivers and an LDO regulator simplifies power- and data-isolated designs. The MAX14943 isolated RS-485/PROFIBUS DP transceiver and the MAX14949 transceiver offer up to 80% efficiency at 150 mA load. Available in full- or half-duplex isolated RS-485 transceivers, the family supports up to 5 kVRMS and allows for robust communication up to 25 Mbps.MAX14853-55-Maxim

The transceivers are available in a 16-pin W-SOIC package (11 mm × 11 mm). They are  specified over the –40°C to 105°C temperature range. Evaluation kits are currently available:

Source: Maxim Integrated

Henrik Forsten’s Workspace for Evolutionary Algorithms, Circuit Design, & Academics in Espoo, Finland

For many young innovators, getting a blinking LED on a Arduino is the ultimate success. For others that is clearly not enough. Take Henrik Forsten, a graduate student studying electrical engineering in Espoo, Finland. He is pushing himself to do some hard stuff by making his own radars and doing experiments on circuit design with evolutionary algorithms. Now we are talking!