May Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The May issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is out next week!. We’ve been hard at work laying the foundation and nailing the beams together with a sturdy selection of  embedded electronics articles just for you. We’ll soon be inviting you inside this 84-page magazine.

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Here’s a sneak preview of May 2019 Circuit Cellar:

EMBEDDED COMPUTING AT WORK

Technologies for Digital Signage
Digital signage ranks among the most dynamic areas of today’s embedded computing space. Makers of digital signage players, board-level products and other technologies continue to roll out new solutions for implementing powerful digital signage systems. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child looks at the latest technology trends and product developments in digital signage.

PC/104 and PC/104 Family Boards
PC/104 has come a long way since its inception over 25 ago. With its roots in ISA-bus PC technology, PC/104 evolved through the era of PCI and PCI Express by spinning off its wider family of follow on versions including PC/104-Plus, PCI-104, PCIe/104 and PCI/104-Express. This Product Focus section updates readers on these technology trends and provides a product gallery of representative PC/104 and PC/104-family boards.

TOOLS & TECHNIQUES FOR EMBEDDED ENGINEERING

Code Analysis Tools
Today it’s not uncommon for embedded devices to have millions of lines of software code. Code analysis tools have kept pace with these demands making it easier for embedded developers to analyze, debug and verify complex embedded software. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child explores the latest technology trends and product developments in code analysis tools.

Transistor Basics
In this day and age of highly integrated ICs, what is the relevance of the lone, discrete transistor? It’s true that most embedded systems can be solved by chip level solutions. But electronic component vendors do still make and sell individual transistors because there’s still a market for them. In this article, Stuart Ball reviews some important basics about transistors and how you can use them in your embedded system design.

Pressure Sensors
Over the years, George Novacek has done articles examining numerous types of sensors that measure various physical aspects of our world. But one measurement type he’s not yet discussed in the past is pressure. Here, George looks at pressure sensors in the context of using them in an electronic monitoring or control system. The story looks at the math, physics and technology associated with pressure sensors.

MICROCONTROLLERS DO IT ALL

Robotic Arm Plays Beer Pong
Simulating human body motion is a key concept in robotics development. With that in mind, learn how these Cornell graduates Daniel Fayad, Justin Choi and Harrison Hyundong Chang accurately simulate the movement of a human arm on a small-sized robotic arm. The Microchip PIC32 MCU-based system enables the motion-controlled, 3-DoF robotic arm to take a user’s throwing motion as a reference to its own throw. In this way, they created a robotic arm that can throw a ping pong ball and thus play beer pong.

Fancy Filtering with the Teensy 3.6
Signal filtering entails some tricky tradeoffs. A fast MCU that provides hardware-based floating-point capability eases some of those tradeoffs. In the past, Brian Millier has used the Arm-based Teensy MCU modules to serve meet those needs. In this article, Brian taps the Teensy 3.6 Arm MCU module to perform real-time audio FFT-convolution filtering.

Real-Time Stock Monitoring Using an MCU
With today’s technology, even very simple microcontroller-based devices can fetch and display data from the Internet. Learn how Cornell graduates David Valley and Saelig Khatta built a system using that can track stock prices in real-time and display them conveniently on an LCD screen. For the design, they used an Espressif Systems ESP8266 Wi-Fi module controlled by a Microchip PIC32 MCU. Our fun little device fetches chosen stock prices in real-time and displays them on a screen.

… AND MORE FROM OUR EXPERT COLUMNISTS

Attacking USB Gear with EMFI
Many products use USB, but have you ever considered there may be a critical security vulnerability lurking in your USB stack? In this article, Colin O’Flynn walks you through on example product that could be broken using electromagnetic fault injection (EMFI) to perform this attack without even removing the device enclosure.

An Itty Bitty Education
There’s no doubt that we’re living in a golden age when it comes to easily available and affordable development kits for fun and education. With that in mind, Jeff Bachiochi shares his experiences programming and playing with the Itty Bitty Buggy from Microduino. Using the product, you can build combine LEGO-compatible building blocks into mobile robots controlled via Bluetooth using your cellphone.

PIC MCU Development Board for Cloud IoT Core

Microchip Technology has announced an IoT rapid development board for Google Cloud IoT Core that combines a low-power PIC MCU, CryptoAuthentication secure element IC and fully certified Wi-Fi network controller. The solution provides a simple way to connect and secure PIC MCU-based applications. It’s designed to remove the added time, cost and security vulnerabilities that come with large software frameworks and RTOS.
As part of Microchip’s extended partnership with Google Cloud, the PIC-IoT WG Development Board enables PIC MCU designers to easily add cloud connectivity to next-generation products using a free online portal at www.PIC-IoT.com. Once connected, developers can use Microchip’s MPLAB Code Configurator (MCC) rapid development tool to develop, debug and customize their application.

The board includes:

  • eXtreme Low-Power (XLP) PICMCU with integrated Core Independent Peripherals: Well suited for battery-operated, real-time sensing and control applications, the PIC24FJ128GA705 MCU provides the simplicity of the PIC architecture with added memory and advanced analog integration. With the latest Core Independent Peripherals (CIPs) designed to handle complex applications with less code and decreased power consumption, the device provides the ideal combination of performance with extremely low power consumption.
  • Secure element to protect the root of trust in hardware: The ATECC608A CryptoAuthentication device provides a trusted and protected identity for each device that can be securely authenticated. ATECC608A devices come pre-registered on Google Cloud IoT Core and are ready for use with zero-touch provisioning.
  • Wi-Fi connectivity to Google Cloud: The ATWINC1510 is an industrial-grade, fully certified IEEE 802.11 b/g/n IoT network controller that provides an easy connection to an MCU of choice via a flexible SPI interface. The module relieves designers from needing expertise in networking protocols.

Google Cloud IoT Core provides a fully managed service that enables designers to easily and securely connect, manage and ingest data from devices at a global scale. The platform collects, processes and analyzes data in real time to enable designers to improve operational efficiency in embedded designs.

The PIC-IoT WG development board is supported by the MPLAB X Integrated Development Environment (IDE) and MCC rapid prototyping tool. The board is compatible with more than 450 MikroElektronika Click boards that expand sensors and actuator options. Developers who purchase the kit will have access to an online portal for immediate visualization of their sensors’ data being published. Supported by complete board schematics and demo code, the PIC-IoT WG development board helps get customers to market quickly with differentiated IoT end products.

The PIC-IoT WG Development Board (AC164164) is available in volume production now for $29 each.

Microchip Technology | www.microchip.com

IoT Monitoring System for Commercial Fridges

Using LoRa Technology

IoT implementations can take many shapes and forms. Learn how these four Camosun College students developed a system to monitor all the refrigeration units in a commercial kitchen simultaneously. The system uses Microchip PIC MCU-based monitoring units and wireless communication leveraging the LoRa wireless protocol.

By Tyler Canton, Akio Yasu, Trevor Ford and Luke Vinden

In 2017, the commercial food service industry created an estimated 14.6 million wet tons of food in the United States [1]. The second leading cause of food waste in commercial food service, next to overproduction, is product loss due to defects in product quality and/or equipment failure [2].

While one of our team members was working as the chef of a hotel in Vancouver, more than once he’d arrive at work to find that the hotel’s refrigeration equipment had failed overnight or over the weekend, and that thousands of dollars of food had become unusable due to being stored at unsafe temperatures. He always saw this as an unnecessary loss—especially because the establishment had multiple refrigeration units and ample space to move product around. In this IoT age, this is clearly a preventable problem.

For our Electronics & Computer Engineering Technologist Capstone project, we set forth to design a commercial refrigeration monitoring system that would concurrently monitor all the units in an establishment, and alert the chefs or managers when their product was not being stored safely. This system would also allow the chef to check in on his/her product at any time for peace of mind (Figure 1).

Figure 1
This was the first picture we took of our finished project assembled. This SLA printed enclosure houses our 10.1″ LCD screen, a Raspberry Pi Model 3B and custom designed PCB.

We began with some simple range testing using RFM95W LoRa modules from RF Solutions, to see if we could reliably transmit data from inside a steel box (a refrigerator), up several flights of stairs, through concrete walls, with electrical noise and the most disruptive interference: hollering chefs. It is common for commercial kitchens to feel like a cellular blackout zone, so reliable communication would be essential to our system’s success.

System Overview

We designed our main unit to be powered and controlled by a Raspberry Pi 3B (RPi) board. The RPi communicates with an RFM95W LoRa transceiver using Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI). This unit receives temperature data from our satellite units, and displays the temperatures on a 10.1″ LCD screen from Waveshare. A block diagram of the system is shown in Figure 2. We decided to go with Node-RED flow-based programming tool to design our GUI. This main unit is also responsible for logging the data online to a Google Form. We also used Node-RED’s “email” nodes to alert the users when their product is stored at unsafe temperatures. In the future, we plan to design an app that can notify the user via push notifications. This is not the ideal system for the type of user that at any time has 1,000+ emails in their inbox, but for our target user who won’t allow more than 3 or 4 to pile up it has worked fine.

Figure 2
The main unit can receive temperature data from as many satellite units as required. Data are stored locally on the Raspberry Pi 3B, displayed using a GUI designed by Node-RED and logged online via Google Sheets.

We designed an individual prototype (Figure 3) for each satellite monitoring unit, to measure the equipment’s temperature and periodically transmit the data to a centralized main unit through LoRa communication. The units were intended to operate at least a year on a single battery charge. These satellites, controlled by a Microchip Technology PIC24FJ64GA704 microcontroller (MCU), were designed with an internal Maxim Integrated DS18B20 digital sensor (TO-92 package) and an optional external Maxim

Figure 3
This enclosure houses the electronics responsible for monitoring the temperatures and transmitting to the main unit. These were 3D printed on Ultimaker 3 printers.

Integrated DS18B20 (waterproof stainless steel tube package) to measure the temperature using the serial 1-Wire interface.

Hardware

All our boards were designed using Altium Designer 2017 and manufactured by JLCPCB. We highly recommend JLCPCB for PCB manufacturing. On a Tuesday we submitted our order to the website, and the finished PCB’s were manufactured, shipped, and delivered within a week. We were amazed by the turnaround time and the quality of the boards we received for the price ($2 USD / 10 PCB).

Figure 4
The main unit PCB’s role is simply to allow the devices to communicate with each other. This includes the RFM95W LoRa transceivers, RPi, LCD screen and a small fan

Main Unit Hardware: As shown in Figure 4, our main board’s purpose is communicating with the RPi and the LCD. We first had to select an LCD display for the main unit. This was an important decision, as it was the primary human interface device (HID) between the system and its user. We wanted a display that was around 10″—a good compromise between physical size and readability. Shortly after beginning our search, we learned that displays between 7″ and 19″ are not only significantly more difficult to come by, but also significantly more expensive. Thankfully, we managed to source a 10.1″ display that met our budget from robotshop.com. On the back of the display was a set of female header pins designed to interface with the first 26 pins of the RPi’s GPIO pins. The only problem with the display was that we needed access to those same GPIO pins to interface with the rest of our peripherals.

Figure 5
Our main board, labeled Mr. Therm, was designed to attach directly to the LCD screen headers. RPi pins 1-26 share the same connectivity as the main board and the LCD.

We initially planned on fixing this problem by placing our circuit board between the RPi and the display, creating a three-board-stack. Upon delivery and initial inspection of the display, however, we noticed an undocumented footprint that was connected to all the same nets directly beneath the female headers. We quickly decided to abandon the idea of the three-board-stack and decided instead to connect our main board to that unused footprint in the same way the RPi connects to display (Figure 5). This enabled us to interface all three boards, while maintaining a relatively thin profile. The main board connects four separate components to the rest of the circuit. It connects the RFM95W transceiver to the RPi, front panel buttons, power supply and a small fan.

Read the full article in the April 345 issue of Circuit Cellar
(Full article word count: 3378 words; Figure count: 11 Figures.)

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Note: We’ve made the October 2017 issue of Circuit Cellar available as a free sample issue. In it, you’ll find a rich variety of the kinds of articles and information that exemplify a typical issue of the current magazine.

High-Temp Motor Control is Target for 32-Bit MCU Offerings

Renesas Electronics has announced the expansion of its RX24T and RX24U Groups of 32-bit MCUs to include new high-temperature-tolerant models for motor-control applications that require an expanded operating temperature range. The new RX24T G Version and RX24U G Version support operating temperatures ranging from −40°C to +105°C, while maintaining the high speed, high functionality and energy efficiency of the RX24T and RX24U MCUs.
As device form factors shrink, the heat challenge is growing for motor-control applications. In industrial machinery and office equipment, as well as home appliances that handle hot air and heated water, circuit boards are increasingly being mounted in high-temperature locations. In the case of home appliances such as dishwashers or induction hotplates in particular, demand for designs with larger interior capacity or heating areas is increasing, which restricts the space available for circuit boards.

The resulting shift toward circuit board design with a smaller surface area addresses the space constraints but also reduces the board’s capacity to disperse heat, causing the circuit board itself to become quite hot. To address these application needs, Renesas is adding new high-temperature-tolerant products to its MCU lineup that can operate in high-temperature spaces and on hot circuit boards. The new devices will provide greater flexibility for designers of products that operate in high-temperature environments, enabling the trend toward more compact devices to advance.

Software can be developed using the RX24T and RX24U CPU cards combined with the 24 V Motor Control Evaluation Kit which enables developers to create motor control applications in less time. The 32-bit RX24T and RX24U features a maximum operating frequency of 80 MHz. It is equipped with peripheral functions for motor control such as timers, A/D converter, and analog circuits that enable efficient control of two brushless DC motors by a single chip. Renesas has shipped 10 million units of the popular RX24T and RX24U Groups since their launch two years ago. With the addition of the G versions, all 32-bit RX MCU family products for motor-control applications now support operating temperature from −40°C to +105°C, extending the scalability of the RX Family and providing system manufacturers a rich and scalable lineup to choose from.

The RX24T G Version and RX24U G Version are available now in mass production. The RX24T covers 11 models with pin counts ranging from 64 to 100 pins and memory sizes from 128 KB to 512 KB. The RX24U covers six models with pin counts ranging from 100 to 144 pins and memory sizes from 256 KB to 512 KB.

Renesas Electronics | www.renesas.com

Flexible Embedded/IoT OS Targets 8-/16-/32-bit MCUs

Segger has introduced emPack, a complete operating system for IoT devices and embedded systems. It is delivered in source code for all 8-/16-/32-bit microcontrollers and microprocessors. emPack is optimized for high performance, and small memory footprint and easily fits onto typical MCUs without requiring expensive external memory, keeping the cost of the embedded computing system to a minimum.
emPack components are written in plain C and can be compiled by standard ANSI/ISO C compilers. The software package includes embOS, emWin, emFile, embOS/IP, emUSB- Device, emUSB-Host, emModbus, emCompress, emCrypt, emSecure, emSSL, emSSH, and SEGGER’s IoT Toolkit.

All emPack components work seamlessly together and are continuously tested on a variety of microcontrollers from different vendors. According to the company, it is very easy to get started with emPack. And it significantly reduces the time it requires to deliver a product using robust and well tested components that simply work.

Another benefit of using emPack as a platform is portability: Switching to a different microcontroller even with a different core requires minimal changes. Standardizing on emPack enables you to enhance your products when newer, more powerful processors are introduced, or can target a wider customer base with cost-optimized products using less expensive MCUs.

Because all components work together through well-defined interfaces, existing projects that already have a mandated RTOS can use emPack’s components by simply customizing a small number of OS adaptation functions. emPack has been fully tested with Amazon FreeRTOS and example configurations are available upon request.

Segger | www.segger.com