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Application Engineering: An Interview with Carmen Parisi

Carmen Parisi is an applications engineer who co-hosts an engineering podcast in his spare time. In this interview, he describes his work, shares some engineering tips, and  tells us about a fun prank he played on an unsuspecting designer.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: Where are you located?

CARMEN: Currently, I’m living and working in Raleigh-Durham, NC, around the Research Triangle Park area between the two cities with my wife and new dog Sadie. Kelly and I moved down about three years ago from Buffalo, NY, and really like it here. There’s a lot of tech companies and engineers around, tons of stuff to do, and great food and beer scenes. Plus, as a hearty Northerner, I get to laugh at the “cold” winters we experience. Come summer, though, I melt into a puddle on the pavement. Snow all the way for me, but Kelly disagrees.

Carmen Parisi

Carmen Parisi

CIRCUIT CELLAR: When did you decide to pursue electrical engineering and why?

CARMEN: Ever since I was a kid I had a fascination with tools and how things worked. I would always have a toy sword and various tools stuffed into my belt and would volunteer to help my dad around the house building a deck around the pool or fixing the fence.

Once I got into high school, I took a few basic engineering courses during which time I got bit by the engineering bug. The course that really “doomed” me to a life of electronics was a Robotics course taught by my favorite teacher C, as we called him. He put me through my paces learning how to solder, reading schematics, programming in BASIC, and robbing Fort Knox using a LEGO Mindstorms robot. C’s class solidified my choice to go to college for engineering, and shortly thereafter, I picked electrical over mechanical for my major.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: When was the first time you used a microcontroller in a project?

CARMEN: If we’re counting LEGO Mindstorms, then the Robotics class in tenth grade with C where we had to build a robot to lift a golden brick and run away with it (thus “robbing Fort Knox”). I met all the individual milestones with my group for the project, but we couldn’t get the whole thing working smoothly from beginning to end. I guess that was my first time learning how to successfully fail too which has turned out to be a very useful skill.

My first real microcontroller experience was the summer after sophomore year when I took a college course at a local community college offering a few classes to high school students interested in engineering. During that course I learned more basic circuit theory, got introduced briefly to SMT soldering, and built some robots using the Parallax BOE Bot. Looking back, I’d say this was the time my analog career kicked off as I slowly started to realize that I was more interested in the circuits themselves than the overall robot.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: Tell us about your university-level schooling.

CARMEN: I still consider myself a student in that I’m always looking to learn new things and grow as an engineer, but my formal schooling is over for the foreseeable future. In 2011, I completed a combined BS/MS degree in Electrical Engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY. I initially started off interested in robotics but after working with a great analog designer on my first co-op at GE, I switched into the analog circuit and semiconductor track and never looked back.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: Can you tell us about your work in graduate school?

CARMEN: Sure thing. My graduate work was primarily with the Communications professor who needed a proof of concept built to test out a theory that looked plausible on paper. Prior to my joining the Comms Lab, my advisor and two past grad students had worked out a method of securing wireless channels using the randomness of the channel itself. There was an initial front end of sorts to test the idea out but I don’t think it was ever tested.

I looked over the circuit design, decided to scrap it and start fresh, and immediately realized I had a big job ahead of me. Cue the analog professor becoming my co-advisor. Mixing circuits, active filters, phase detectors, ADCs, and communication theory swam through my head as I slowly cajoled the circuit to life. Two PCB revisions later the circuit worked in that it took the RF input signal and spat out some bits at the other end, but after my advisor applied his algorithm to the data, we weren’t able to generate symmetric keys on different boards. Whether this was from an error in theory or with my board I never found out, as I ended the project there to focus on my full-time job leaving with a grad paper instead of a full thesis.

I still have all my old lab notebooks, schematics, and board layouts on my bookshelf at home. I think the files are sitting on a hard drive somewhere too. Looking at them now, I can spot a lot of little errors I’d like to fix due to my inexperience at the time and some maybe a few not so little errors too.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: What did you do after school?

CARMEN: After I left RIT, I moved down here to Raleigh-Durham to start my career as an Applications Engineer working on switching regulators with Intersil. Back in 2009 I had done a summer stint as an FAE at a small field office in Long Island with the company which got me interested in working in the semiconductor industry.

Life on the road as an FAE didn’t appeal to me after spending my college years constantly moving around for co-ops, so my former boss set me up with an interview here at the RTP design center. On the way down for the interview, I got stuck in Dulles for the night thanks to some bad weather in Rochester causing me to miss my connection. I wound up getting a bare 3 hours of sleep that night on an empty terminal bench. The next morning, groggy and sleep deprived, I suited up in the family restroom and flew out for six wonderful hours of technical interviews. I was absolutely wiped out by the end of the day but managed to survive the ordeal. The rest is history.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: Tell us about the work you are doing as an applications engineer for Intersil.

CARMEN: Well, for starters, being an apps engineer is exactly the rock n’ roll lifestyle I’m sure all your readers expect it to be. I roll into the office every morning and have the roadies warm up my iron for me!

In reality though, I work on buck regulators for computing applications like notebooks, tablets, ultrabooks, with maybe a bit of desktop work from time to time. Most of the parts I work on are for the primary core voltage on Intel processors. Sometimes, should the part integrate multiple regulators, I’ll work on a graphics rail or one of the other many voltage rails present on a motherboard. For each new processor tock (tick? I always confuse the two), Intel releases a laundry list of specs that have to be met in order to provide power to their CPUs and my parts are designed to those specs.

When I work apps on a brand spanking new chip, I’ll first work with the design engineers to run some feasibility studies and help define any new features for the IC. These tests range from tuning a similar part to the new Intel specs to see if the control scheme hits any corners or has stability issues to beating up some power FETs to determine if they can handle the new current requirements we have to meet. Once the chip tapes out, I’ll start work on preliminary documentation—a rough datasheet draft or early reference design based on feasibility testing and simulations—for the field to use when working with customers. During this time, I also design the evaluation board I’ll use to validate the part and send to customers for sampling.

The real meat and potatoes of my job is silicon validation. I’ve got an exhaustive spreadsheet of bench tests to do that functionally verify the IC over a wide range of corners. The first few weeks after silicon comes back I’m working full throttle, round the clock if need be, to make sure there are no show stopping bugs we need to address. I never see my office during validation. Instead I’m spending all my time in the lab hunched over the eval board or squinting at my scope.

Things calm down slightly after the initial validation, but the work is still nowhere near done. Now I’m working with design and test engineers to debug any issues that crept up during validation and implement fixes. Ideally, a board-level change is found because PCB or apps level schematic changes are much easier and cheaper than silicon spins. In conjunction with this work, I’ll also refine my reference designs and documentation as well as work with the field on initial customer designs by answering questions and checking over layouts and schematics to make sure everything’s optimal for their builds.

Up until the part releases, I’ll continue cycling through validation, debug, and customer support as needed, squeezing in documentation when I get a chance too. At any given time, I’m also supporting old parts still in production or, if I’m in a lull with my work, getting pulled onto other chips to help out other apps engineers in a jam.

The last part I released, and my first as the lead apps guy, was the ISL95813, a single phase regulator for Haswell and Broadwell systems. My next part is scheduled for release next year which I can’t talk too much about, but it’s really cool.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: During your time at Intersil, you must have learned some important lessons about professional engineering. Can you share one or two things you took from the experience?

CARMEN: Most importantly, good communication skills are key. A large chunk of my job is talking to other engineers and customers across the country and overseas. Their whole interaction with me is through the emails and reports I send out and I want to make sure they’re top notch. You don’t need to be a poet laureate by any means, but if you come across like a rock head, it will be much harder to get taken seriously and problems will drag out longer than necessary. Proofread your work; make sure you’re getting your point across clearly; and tailor your email, report, PowerPoint, whatever, to your audience’s level of technical expertise. Study up on how to make a slideshow that won’t bore your audience or read a technical writing guide. It can’t hurt.

Secondly, document, document, document—even if it’s only for your own reference. And keep it somewhat organized so you can find what you need again without too much hassle. Yes, it can help CYA, but also I’ve saved myself a ton of time not redoing the same derivations or looking back at a difficult test setup I had documented in my notebooks. It’s especially nice being able to pull up old data from past parts to see why the heck we did what we did years later.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: Tell us about your most recent electrical engineering project. What did you build and why?

CARMEN: Well, I can’t talk too much about work since all my projects at the moment are either customer related or under development, but suffice it to say I’m working on a lot of low power, multi-role chips.

Outside of work though for nearly two years now I’ve been co-hosting a podcast which keeps me plenty busy. The show’s called The Engineering Commons and it gets released every other week by myself and three other engineers scattered across the US. It was originally started by Chris Gammell and Jeff Shelton, but when Chris left the show for other projects back in 2013, I threw my hat into the ring when Jeff put the word out he was looking for new co-hosts. We discuss the engineering discipline as a whole rather than focus on any one field and some of our favorite topics include education, the value of co-ops, life in the workplace, and the stories of other engineers we bring on to interview.

The semiconductor field is pretty niche, and so through the show, I get exposed to all sorts of new ideas and philosophies, whether it’s from researching a topic when coming up with show notes or hearing the stories of engineers and professors from across the globe. Some of my favorite episodes are the ones while interviewing a guest I barely have to say anything and not just because I hate hearing my voice when I re-listen to an episode! Hearing someone get really into a story and talk about their passion I can’t help but get drawn in and become excited myself. All us engineers are alike; no matter the field once you get us going about that tricky bug we finally tracked down, the ridiculous meeting that happened the other day, or those ah-ha moments when a solution just clicks in your head we just can’t help but gush and it makes for great content. I’ve put out nearly 50 episodes with Jeff, Adam, and Brian, and I can’t wait to do the next 50!

CIRCUIT CELLAR: Tell our readers about the prank circuit gag you pulled on the designer you worked with. And can you share an image of the prank circuit?

CARMEN: A good way through the 813 development I found some problems that ended up being non-issues because I misinterpreted a spec, had a test setup issue, or made a silly component choice in my design. The designer started ribbing me a bit by immediately calling everything a board issue from that point on. This kind of back and forth goes on all the time between apps and design and it’s always good natured in tone. I didn’t take it personally and took strides to be more thorough before ringing alarm bells going forward but I couldn’t let him get way Scot-free.

Prank circuit

Prank circuit

With my boss’ permission I waited until a slow day came along and rigged up a little circuit to the bottom of the eval board that would overdrive the compensation node of our regulator, propagate through the control loop, and cause seemingly random spikes in the output voltage. I took some waveforms and sent them off to the designer explaining how I found an operational corner that affected regulation we needed to address. Since he was a thorough designer and liked to regularly pop into the apps lab I actually spent my morning running the tests he asked me to just to keep up the illusion something was wrong if he showed up.

I kept him digging through the schematics trying to find his mistake until mid-afternoon before I brought him in the lab and slowly flipped the board over while telling him I found the error was caused by a parasitic circuit. At this point a couple other engineers who were in on the gag had found reasons to be in the lab for the reveal and we all had a good laugh. The designer took it pretty well, and I even bought him a beer for being a good sport.

You can read the entire interview in Circuit Cellar 295 (February 2015).

February Electrical Engineering Challenge Live (Sponsor: NetBurner)

Put your electrical engineering skills to the test. The February Electrical Engineering Challenge (sponsored by NetBurner) is now live.

This month, find the error in the schematic posted 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

Circuit Cellar’s technical editors purposely inserted an error in the schematic below. Find the error and submit your answer via the online Submission Form by the deadline: 2 PM EST on February 20. Circuit Cellar will randomly select 2 prize winners from the pool of respondents who submit the correct answer.

Find the error in the schematic and submit your answer via the online Submission Form by the deadline: 2 PM EST on February 20, 2015. Two prize winners from the pool of respondents who submit the correct answer will be randomly selected.

PRIZES

Out of each month’s group of entrants who correctly find the error in the code or schematic, one person will be randomly selected to win a NetBurner IoT Cloud Kit and another person will receive a free 1-year digital subscription to Circuit Cellar.

  • NetBurner MOD54415 LC Development Kit: You can add Ethernet connectivity to an existing product or use it as your product’s core processor! The NetBurner Ethernet Core Module is a device containing everything needed for design engineers to add network control and to monitor a company’s communications assets. The module solves the problem of network-enabling devices with 10/100 Ethernet, including those requiring digital, analog, and serial control.NetburnerMod54415module
  • Circuit Cellar Digital Subscription (1 year): Each month, Circuit Cellar magazine reaches a diverse international readership of professional electrical engineers, EE/ECE academics, students, and electronics enthusiasts who work with embedded technologies on a regular basis.Circuit Cellar magazine covers a variety of essential topics, including embedded development, wireless communications, robotics, embedded programming, sensors & measurement, analog tech, and programmable logic.

RULES

Read the Rules, Terms & Conditions

SPONSOR

NetBurner solves the problem of network enabling devices, including those requiring digital, analog and serial control. NetBurner provides complete hardware and software solutions that help you network enable your devices.netburneroffer

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

The Future of Embedded Linux

My first computer was a Cosmac Elf. My first “Desktop” was a $6,500 HeathKit H8. An Arduino today costs $3 and has more of nearly everything—except cost and size—and even my kids can program it. I became an embedded software developer without knowing it. When that H8 needed bigger floppy disks, a hard disk, or a network, you wrote the drivers yourself—in assembler if you were lucky and machine code if your were not.

Embedded software today is on the cusp of a revolution. The cost of hardware capable of running Linux continues to decline. Raspberry Pi (RPi) can be purchased for $25. A Beagle Bone Black (BBB) costs $45. An increasing number of designers are building products such as Cubi, GumStik, and Olinuxino and seeking to replicate the achievements of the RPi and BBB, which are modeled on the LEGO-like success of Arduino.

These are not “embedded Linux systems.” They are full-blown desktops—less peripherals—that are more powerful than what I owned less than a decade ago. This is a big deal. Hardware is inexpensive, and designs like the BBB and RPi are becoming easily modifiable commodities that can be completed quickly. On the other hand, software is expensive and slow. Time to market is critical. Target markets are increasingly small, with runs of a few thousand units for a specific product and purpose. Consumers are used to computers in everything. They expect computers and assume they will communicate with their smart phones, tablets, and laptops. Each year, consumers expect more.

There are not enough bare metal software developers to hope to meet the demand, and that will not improve. Worse, we can’t move from concept to product with custom software quickly enough to meet market demands. A gigabyte of RAM adds $5 to the cost of a product. The cost of an eight-week delay to value engineer software to work in a few megabytes of RAM instead, on a product that may only ship 5,000 units per year, could make the product unviable.

Products have to be inexpensive, high-quality, and fast. They have to be on the shelves yesterday and tomorrow they will be gone. The bare metal embedded model can’t deliver that, and there are only so many software developers out there with the skills needed to breathe life into completely new hardware.

That is where the joy in embedded development is for me—getting completely new hardware to load its first program. Once I get that first LED to blink everything is downhill from there. But increasingly, my work involves Linux systems integration for embedded systems: getting an embedded Linux system to boot faster, integrating MySQL, and recommending an embedded Linux distribution such as Ubuntu or Debian to a client. When I am lucky, I get to set up a GPIO or write a driver—but frequently these tasks are done by the OEM. Today’s embedded ARMs have everything, including the kitchen sink integrated (probably two).

Modern embedded products are being produced with client server architectures by developers writing in Ruby, PHP, Java, or Python using Apache web servers and MySQL databases and an assortment of web clients communicating over an alphabet soup of protocols to devices they know nothing about. Often, the application developers are working and testing on Linux or even Windows desktops. The time and skills needed to value engineer the software to accommodate small savings in hardware costs do not exist. When clients ask for an embedded software consultant, they are more likely after an embedded IT expert, rather than someone who writes device drives, or develops BSPs.

There will still be a need for those with the skills to write a TCP/IP stack that uses 256 bytes of RAM on an 8-bit processor, but that growing market will still be a shrinking portion of the even faster growing embedded device market.

The future of embedded technology is more of everything. We’ll require larger and more powerful systems, such as embedded devices running full Linux distributions like Ubuntu (even if they are in systems as simple as a pet treadmill) because it’s the easiest, most affordable solution with a fast time to market.


LaneTTFDavid Lynch owns DLA Systems. He is a software consultant and an architect, with projects ranging from automated warehouses to embedded OS ports. When he is not working with computers, he is busy attempting to automate his house and coerce his two children away from screens and into the outdoors to help build their home.

 

Skkynet Expands Secure Cloud Service Registration for Embedded and IoT System Users

Skkynet Cloud Systems recently opened registration for its Secure Cloud Service, giving system engineers and managers of industrial, embedded, and Internet of Things (IoT) systems quick and easy access to a secure, end-to-end solution for networking data in real time. The Secure Cloud Service enables bidirectional supervisory control, integration, and sharing of data with multiple users, and real-time access to selected data sets in a web browser. The service is capable of handling over 50,000 data changes per second per client, at speeds just a few milliseconds over Internet latency.Skkynet-scs012715-01hi

First opened on a trial basis for selected customers in August 2014, the Secure Cloud Service has been used extensively, and rigorously tested for performance and security. During that time Skkynet has enhanced the system technically by increasing the range of connectable embedded devices and the number of supported data protocols, as well as automating the customer registration process.

Skkynets Secure Cloud Service allows industrial and embedded systems to securely network live data in real time from any location. Secure by design, it requires no VPN, no open firewall ports, no special programming, and no additional hardware.

Source: Skkynet 

8-MHz, 16-Bit, USB Arbitrary Waveform Generator

ACCES I/O Products has announced the release of a new USB high-speed arbitrary waveform output board with flexible ranges and configurable digital I/O lines. Industry-standard BNC connectors are used for the analog waveform output and the gate control input, while the utility digital I/O lines are accessed via a 16-pin shrouded connector.

The USB-AO-ARB1 can be used in an assortment of embedded applications, including stimulus-response, test, simulation, industrial equipment control, waveform/audio synthesis, advanced substance scanning and detection, medical imaging systems, military/mission-critical, cyber security systems, manufacturing test, and process monitoring.

Arbitrary waveform generation capability becomes increasingly necessary as CPUs are burdened with a greater abundance of complex tasks. An arbitrary waveform is a user-defined set of digital values specified point by point over time. These values are then clocked through a DAC to provide the analog output signal or generate the waveform. Virtually any waveform can easily be created using the software tools provided by ACCES and also by third-party software packages such as LabVIEW. The ARB relieves some of the load placed on the CPU by handling the waveform timing at the hardware level, using an on-board FIFO and control logic. This is especially useful in time-critical applications as outputs remain unaffected by latencies inherent in popular operating systems. High-quality analog waveforms provide for robust self-test functionality, and flexible stimulation or simulation of scientific or industrial test equipment.Acces io

Key features of the USB-AO-ARB1 include:

  • 16-bit analog output for precisely timed waveforms up to 8 MHz
  • High-speed USB 2.0 device, USB 3.0 compatible
  • Three unipolar and three bipolar output ranges
  • Start/stop hardware control via 2nd BNC connector or via software command
  • Eight lines of digital, configurable as inputs or outputs in groups of four
  • Digital lines buffered with 32-mA sink/32-mA source current
  • Jumper-selectable, 10-kΩ pull-up/pull-down resistors on DIO lines
  • USB/104 form-factor for OEM embedded applications
  • OEM version (board only) features PC/104 module size and mounting compatibility
  • Alternate micro-fit embedded USB header connector
  • Type B USB connector features industrial strength and high-retention design
  • Small (4″ × 4″ × 1″), rugged, steel industrial enclosure
  • 3V voltage logic levels and –40°C to +85°C industrial operating temperature available as factory options

The USB-AO-ARB1 was designed to be used in rugged industrial environments but is small enough to fit nicely onto any desk or testing station. The board measures just 3.550″ × 3.775″ and ships inside a steel powder-coated enclosure with an anti-skid bottom. A DIN rail mounting provision is available for installation in industrial environments. What makes the OEM USB/104 option unique is that its PCB size and pre-drilled mounting holes match the PC/104 form factor (without the bus connections). This ensures easy installation using standard standoffs inside most enclosures or systems. The board can be added to the top or bottom of any PC/104, PCI-104, or PCI/104-Express stack by connecting it to a USB port usually included on-board with embedded CPU form factors.

The USB-AO-ARB1 utilizes a high-speed custom function driver optimized for a maximum data throughput that is thousands of times faster than the USB human interface device (HID) driver used by many competing products. This approach maximizes the full functionality of the hardware along with capitalizing the advantage of high-speed USB. The USB-AO-ARB1 is supported for use in most operating systems and includes a free Windows and Linux (including Mac OS X) compatible software package. This package contains sample programs and source code in Visual Basic, Delphi, and Visual C++ for Windows. Also provided is a graphical setup program in Windows. Linux support includes installation files and basic samples for programming from user level via an open source kernel driver. Third party support includes a Windows standard DLL interface usable from the most popular application programs, and includes LabVIEW 8.5+ VIs. Embedded OS support includes Windows Xpe, WES7, etc.

The USB-AO-ARB1 costs $395.

Source: ACCES I/O Products

Radiation-Hardened QDR-II+ SRAMs Achieve QML Class V Certification

Cypress Semiconductor Corp. recently announced its radiation-hardened (RadHard) 72-Mb Quad Data Rate II+ (QDR-II+) SRAMs and 4-Mb fast asynchronous SRAMs have achieved Qualified Manufacturers List Class V and Class Q requirements—the highest standards of quality and reliability for aerospace-grade ICs.CypressSRAM

The 72-Mbit QDR-II+ SRAMs deliver industry-leading throughput performance up to 36 Gbps by leveraging the ability to read and write data simultaneously. This throughput, combined with complete random access of data and free memory controllers for FPGAs, enables reconfigurable computing platforms that allow satellites to be reprogrammed while in space. The devices also feature the industry’s lowest latency and are ideal for radar and networking applications used in space

Both new SRAM families employ Cypress’s patented RadStop technology, which enables uncompromised functionality in the face of radiation up to 300 krads. The devices are manufactured in the Cypress’s fabrication facility in Bloomington, Minnesota, which is Microelectronics Trusted Category 1A accredited.

The radiation-hardened 4-Mbit devices deliver access times of 10 ns at 85°C and 12 ns at 125°C. They are also the first 90-nm, QML-V qualified devices of their kind and are ideal for a wide range of space and military applications.

Cypress’s RadStop technology combines manufacturing process hardening and proprietary design techniques. With RadStop technology, the SRAMs deliver single event latch-up immunity and single event functional interrupt immunity at temperatures as high as 125°C.

The Rad-Hard 72-Mb QDR-II+ SRAMs are available in a 165-column grid array (CGA) package. The devices come in the following four part numbers and configurations with equivalent Defense Supply Center Columbus (DSCC) part numbers:

  • CYRS1542AV18-250GCMB (x18 bus width, burst of 2); Class V part number: 5962F1120101VXA
  • CYRS1543AV18-250GCMB (x18 bus width, burst of 4); Class V part number: 5962F1120102VXA
  • CYRS1544AV18-250GCMB (x36 bus width, burst of 2); Class V part number: 5962F1120201VXA
  • CYRS1545AV18-250GCMB  (x36 bus width, burst of 4); Class V part number: 5962F1120202VXA

The CYRS1049DV33-12FZMB (5962F1123501VXA) 4-Mb fast asynchronous SRAMs are available in a 36-pin ceramic flat package.

Source: Cypress Semiconductor

New Power MOSFET Drivers Feature Thermally Efficient, Small Packages

Microchip Technology recently announced the first power MOSFET drivers in a new product family—the MCP14A005X and MCP14A015X. The drivers feature a new driver architecture for high-speed operation.MicrochipMCP14

The new devices’ small packaging (SOT-23 and 2 mm × 2 mm DFN packages) enables higher power densities and smaller solutions, while the design targets fast transitions and short delay times that allow for responsive circuit operation. In addition, the MOSFET drivers include low input threshold voltages that are compatible with low-voltage microcontrollers (MCUs) and controllers, while still maintaining strong noise immunity and hysteresis.

 

The MCP14A005X and MCP14A015X MOSFET drivers low input threshold is compatible with various Microchip PIC microcontrollers and dsPIC Digital Signal Controllers (DSCs), even when operating at lower voltages. This enables you to design applications with MCUs operating as low as 2 V, using the MOSFET driver to boost the output signals to 18 V, reducing power loss in the controller and minimizing conduction loss in the power MOSFET. The threshold levels balance the need for noise immunity with the ability to function with a wider variety of controller products, including Microchip’s devices. These drivers are designed for use in power supply, lighting, automotive, and consumer electronics markets, including embedded power conversion, brushed DC motor, unipolar stepper motor and solenoid/relay/valve control applications, among others.

 

The MCP14A005X and MCP14A015X are available now for sampling and volume production in  SOT-23 and 2 × 2 mm DFN packages. Prices range from $0.50 to $0.61 each in 10,000-unit quantities.

Source: Microchip Technology 

Industry’s Smallest Dual 3A/Single 6A Step-Down Power Module

Intersil Corp. recently announced the ISL8203M, a dual 3A/single 6A step-down DC/DC power module that simplifies power supply design for FPGAs, ASICs, microprocessors, DSPs, and other point of load conversions in communications, test and measurement, and industrial systems. The module’s compact 9.0 mm × 6.5 mm × 1.83 mm footprint combined with industry-leading 95% efficiency provides power system designers with a high-performance, easy-to-use solution for low-power, low-voltage applications.INT0325_ISL8203M_Intersil_Power_Module The ISL8203M is a complete power system in an encapsulated module that includes a PWM controller, synchronous switching MOSFETs, inductors and passive components to build a power supply supporting an input voltage range of 2.85 to 6 V. With an adjustable output voltage between 0.8 and 5 V, you can use one device to build a single 6-A or dual output 3-A power supply.

Designed to maximize efficiency, the ISL8203M power module offers best-in-class 15° C/W thermal performance and delivers 6 A at 85°C without the need for heatsinks or a fan. The ISL8203M leverages Intersil’s patented technology and advanced packaging techniques to deliver high power density and the best thermal performance in the industry, allowing the ISL8203M to operate at full load over a wide temperature range. The power module also provides over-temperature, over-current and under-voltage lockout protection, further enhancing its robustness and reliability.

Features and specifications:
•       Dual 3-A or single 6-A switching power supply
•       High efficiency, up to 95°
•       Wide input voltage range: 2.85 to 6 V
•       Adjustable output range: 0.8 to 5 V
•       Internal digital soft-start: 1.5 ms
•       External synchronization up to 4 MHz
•       Overcurrent protection

The ISL8203M power module is available in a 9 mm × 6.5 mm, QFN package. It costs $5.97 in 1,000-piece quantities. The ISL8203MEVAL2Z evaluation costs $67.

Source: Intersil

NexFET N-Channel Power MOSFETs Achieve Industry’s Lowest Resistance

Texas Instruments recently introduced 11 new N-channel power MOSFETs to its NexFET product line, including the 25-V CSD16570Q5B and 30-V CSD17570Q5B for hot swap and ORing applications with the industry’s lowest on-resistance (Rdson) in a QFN package. In addition, TI’s new 12-V FemtoFET CSD13383F4 for low-voltage battery-powered applications achieves the lowest resistance at 84% below competitive devices in a tiny 0.6 mm × 1 mm package. TI CSD16570Q5B

The CSD16570Q5B and CSD17570Q5B NexFET MOSFETs deliver higher power conversion efficiencies at higher currents, while ensuring safe operation in computer server and telecom applications. For instance, the 25-V CSD16570Q5B supports a maximum of 0.59 mΩ of Rdson, while the 30-V CSD17570Q5B achieves a maximum of 0.69 mΩ of Rdson.

TI’s new CSD17573Q5B and CSD17577Q5A can be paired with the LM27403 for DC/DC controller applications to form a complete synchronous buck converter solution. The CSD16570Q5B and CSD17570Q5B NexFET power MOSFETs can be paired with a TI hot swap controller such as the TPS24720.

The currently available products range in price from $0.10 for the FemtoFET CSD13383F4 to $1.08 for the CSD17670Q5B and CSD17570Q5B in 1,000-unit quantities.

Source: Texas Instruments

µTrace Supports New LPC54100 Series Microcontrollers

Lauterbach has announced its support for the new NXP Semiconductors LPC54100 Series of microcontrollers. NXP recently introduced its LPC54100 series, which achieves industry leading power efficiency and is ideally suited for “always-on” sensor-based products.utrace nxp lpc54100 series microcontrollers

Lauterbach has supported the LPC54100 Series of microcontrollers since the beginning with µTrace, a proven and popular debug and trace tool for Cortex-M-based processors. The tool uses USB 3.0 for connection to the host and connects to the LPC54100 via Serial Wire Debug (SWD) interface. The developer can control the operation of the program and analyze the data in C and C++ by the use of simple and complex breakpoints. An analog probe can be connected to µTrace to read the current and voltage measurements for energy profiling, which enables developers to fine-tune their software for minimal power usage.

The LPC54100 Series features an asymmetric dual-core architecture to enable scalable active power and performance by using a Cortex-M0+ and a Cortex-M4F for different sensor-processing tasks to optimize power efficiency. µTrace fully supports this type of asymmetric multicore processing (AMP) debugging by starting an individual TRACE32 instance for each core.

Source: Lauterbach

GestIC Controller Enables One-step Design-in of 3-D Gesture Recognition

Microchip Technology recently announced a new addition to its patented GestIC family. The new MGC3030 3-D gesture controller features simplified user-interface options focused on gesture detection, enabling true one-step design-in of 3-D gesture recognition in consumer and embedded devices. Housed in an easy-to-manufacture SSOP28 package, the MGC3030 expands the use of 3-D gesture control features to high-volume, cost-sensitive applications such as audio, lighting, and toys.GestIC

The simplicity of gesture-detection integration offered by the MGC3030 is also achieved through Microchip’s free, downloadable AUREA graphical user interface (GUI) and easily configurable general-purpose IO ports that even allow for host MCU/processor-free usage. The MGC3030’s on-chip 32-bit digital signal processor executes real-time gesture processing, which eliminates the need for external cameras or controllers for host processing and allows for faster and more natural user interaction with devices.

The MGC3030 makes full use of the GestIC family development tools, such as Microchip’s Colibri Gesture Suite, which is an on-chip software library of gesture features. Intuitive and natural movements of the human hand are recognized, making the operation of a device functional, intuitive, and fun. Without the need to touch the device, features such as Flick Gestures, the Air Wheel, or the proximity detection perform commands such as changing audio tracks, adjusting volume control or backlighting, and many others. All gestures are processed on-chip, allowing manufacturers to realize powerful user interfaces with very low development effort.

Unique to GestIC technology, the programmable Auto Wake-Up On Approach feature begins operating in the range of 100-µW power consumption, enabling always-on gesture sensing in power-constrained applications. If real user interaction is detected, the system automatically switches into full sensing mode and alternates back to auto wake-up mode once the user leaves the sensing area. These combined features and capabilities provide designers with the ability to quickly integrate gesture detection features at price points that are ideal for high-volume devices.

Also available is Microchip’s Woodstar MGC3030 Development Kit (DM160226). The $139 kit is available via any Microchip sales representative, authorized worldwide distributor, or microchipDIRECT (www.microchip.com/Dev-Kit-012015a). The kit comes with the AUREA GUI, the central tool to parameterize the MGC3030 and the Colibri Suite to suit the needs of any design. AUREA is available via a free download at www.microchip.com/AUREA-GUI-012015a. The Colibri Gesture Suite is an extensive library of proven and natural 3-D gestures for hands and fingers that is preprogrammed into the MGC3030.

The MGC3030 featuring GestIC technology is available in a 28-pin SSOP package. Each unit costs under $2 each in high volumes.

Source: Microchip Technology

Reverse Engineering Electronics

Reverse engineering an electronic system can be a rewarding yet challenging endeavor. In the February 2015 edition of Circuit Cellar, engineer Fergus Dixon presents four reverse engineering projects and explains how he overcame a variety of challenges.

Dixon details the first project below:

One of my colleagues, who is the biomedical manager at a large hospital, was having issues with hospital gas panels failing and wanted a cheaper repair option. The gas panels were designed and manufactured by a local company that had gone bankrupt several years earlier. After taking a unit away to look it over, I found that the gas panel had a bright green vacuum fluorescent display with connectors for up to 24 inputs. Each input would show whether the gas supply was normal or in alarm, and thanks to some clever design would also show on the display an open or short circuit on the cable to the gas cylinder. There were 0 to 5-V analog inputs. There was a rechargeable 3.6-V battery on each gas panel to save RAM memory on power off (now this is usually done with EEPROM memory). The problem was that the gas panel would lose its memory when the battery failed or dropped below 2 V. Random characters would then appear on the screen, and the system error light would illuminate (see Photo 1).Dixon Photo 1 Hosquip Panel

The suggestion was to look at the microcontroller since this is usually where the memory was stored. The microcontroller was the popular but now obsolete Motorola 6805. A quick glance at the datasheet showed that it had no EEPROM or nonvolatile memory (i.e., memory that is not affected by a power-off cycle). Looking at the chips, one of the eight-pin chips was a Philips PCF8570 I2C memory chip with 256 bytes of memory and there were five of these making up to 1,280 bytes of memory. Since the display had one line of 40 characters and there were 24 alarm inputs each with an alarm message, a start-up message, and a normal operation message, there needed to be at least 26 messages × 40 characters or 1,040 characters, so this had to be where the message data was stored. The battery was the backup for this RAM, so it appeared the memory was battery-backed RAM (BBRAM). The memory voltage supply was held up by the battery, but when the battery failed, it dragged down the voltage supply rail. A quick inspection of the battery terminals showed some fuzziness and fine crystals indicating that it was leaking and was probably not operational any more.

To read the memory required an I2C reader. The easiest way to do this at the time was to make a prototype board using a Atmel ATmega32 and use two pins to drive the SDA and SCL lines. The output data was ported through a RS-232 converter to a computer. I wish I had more research here since I2C reader/writers are very cheap and I did not realize that the Atmel TWI port was actually an I2C port but with a different name due to the Philips trademark. Anyway, I read the datasheets for the I2C interface and made a small circuit which could read and write to one of the I2C memory chips. The I2C interface consists of Start bits, Write bits, Read bits, and Stop bits with the SCL clock line always being driven from the microcontroller but the SDA line being bidirectional (i.e., an input or an output).

After building the prototype and reading and writing to memory, the circuit managed to read and write the whole 1,280 bytes of memory in the gas panel, which was quite easy since the memory chips addresses lines were sequential (i.e., 000 001 010 011 100). The microcontroller was removed from the PLCC socket during this process to prevent any spurious I2C communications. The next part was to read the memory from a working machine since the gas panel I had was now full of corrupted data. After a few trips to the hospital later, I had the memory in a file, and straight away, the alarm messages could be seen as ASCII data. Each message was preceded by one byte which determined whether the gas alarm input was a warning, an alarm or turned off (see Photo 2).

Gas panel programmer

Gas panel programmer

The last challenge was the system error light. Even though the gas panel could now be programmed with the correct messages, the system error light remained on. A quick solution was to remove the driving resistor to this light, but then that meant any real system error would be missed. Looking through the gas alarm panel memory again showed that each alarm message had a trailing byte which looked like a checksum. The simplest checksum can be found by adding up all the bytes and this almost worked. Then I realized that the trailing spaces in the alarm messages were also used in the checksum and the game was over. Since then, a lot of gas panels have been able to repaired using the prototype circuit.

The complete article is available in Circuit Cellar 295.

AIR Module Enabled by Broadcom’s WICED Smart Bluetooth Technology

Anaren’s Wireless Group announced the release of its first AIR for Wiced Smart Bluetooth module and Atmosphere on-line developer platform as part of a strategic engagement with Broadcom Corp. This new relationship advances the goal of both companies to support designers, innovators, and end-equipment manufacturers looking for intuitive, easy-to-use developer tools, like Atmosphere, that will simplify the challenge of going wireless and speed up their time to market.AnarenDevKit

In beta trials of its new module and Atmosphere tool, customers were able to get their product “proof of concept” running in 90 minutes or less. The small, low-cost module comes pre-certified to global standards and includes comprehensive technical support to the mass market group of customers.

The Anaren’s Bluetooth Smart Development Kit’s (A20737A-MSDK1) features and advantages include:

  • Broadcom’s BCM20737 SoC
  • A20737A AIR for WICED module
  • Pre-certified to FCC/IC and ETSI compliant
  • Low power consumption
  • Works in conjunction with Anaren’s online Atmosphere development tool.
  • Generates and loads embedded code on the Multi-Sensor Development Board and creates an app that can be loaded onto a Bluetooth Smart mobile device

Source: Anaren

New Oscilloscopes with Capacitive Touch Screens, Zone Triggering

Keysight Technologies recently introduced the InfiniiVision 3000T X-Series digital-storage and mixed-signal oscilloscopes  with intuitive graphical triggering capability. This new oscilloscope series delivers capacitive touch screens and zone triggering to the mainstream oscilloscope market for the first time. The scopes help engineers overcome usability and triggering challenges and improve their problem-solving capability and productivity.

As digital speeds and device complexity continue to increase, signals under test are getting more complex, and engineers are more challenged to isolate anomalies in their devices. Intuitive graphical triggers, previously unavailable in mainstream oscilloscopes, help engineers debug and characterize their cutting-edge devices faster and more easily. With graphical triggers, engineers can use a finger to draw a box around a signal of interest on the instrument display to create a trigger.Keysight InfiniiVision

 

The new oscilloscope series offers upgradable bandwidths from 100 MHz to 1.0 GHz and several benchmark features in addition to the touch screen interface and graphical zone triggering capability. An uncompromised update rate of one million waveforms per second gives engineers visibility into subtle signal details. The series comes with six-instruments-in-one integration, including oscilloscope functionality, digital channels (MSO), protocol analysis capability, a digital voltmeter, a WaveGen function/arbitrary waveform generator, and an eight-digit hardware counter/totalizer. Finally, the 3000T X-Series delivers correlated frequency and time domain measurements using the gated FFT function for the first time in this class, to address emerging measurement challenges.

The 3000T X-Series supports a wide range of popular and emerging serial bus applications: MIL-STD 1553 and ARINC 429, I2S, CAN/CAN-FD/CAN-Symbolic, LIN, SENT, FlexRay, RS232/422/485/UART and I2C/SPI. The new gated FFT function allows engineers to correlate time and frequency domain phenomenon on a single screen. Finally, the power analysis, video analysis and hardware-based mask test option makes the 3000T X-Series a comprehensive mainstream oscilloscope.

The InfiniiVision 3000T X-Series includes 100-MHz, 200-MHz, 350-MHz, 500-MHz and 1-GHz models. The standard configuration for all models includes 4 Mpts of memory, segmented memory, advanced math, and 500-MHz passive probes. Keysight InfiniiVision 3000T X-Series oscilloscopes are now available starting at $3,350.

Source: Keysight Technologies 

Infineon Technologies Acquires International Rectifier

Infineon Technologies recently announced the closing of the acquisition of International Rectifier. As of January 13, 2015, the El Segundo-based company has become part of Infineon following the approval of all necessary regulatory authorities and International Rectifier’s shareholders.Infineon-Executive-Board

The combined company gains greater scope in product portfolio and regions, especially with small and medium enterprise customers in the US and Asia. The merger taps additional system know-how in power management. It expands the expertise in power semiconductors, also combining leading knowledge in compound semiconductors, namely Gallium Nitride. Furthermore, the acquisition will drive greater economies of scale in production, strengthening the competitiveness of the combined company.

Source: Infineon Technologies