Deadline Extended to June 22 — Vote Now!

UPDATE: We’ve extended our 2018 reader survey on open-spec Linux/Android hacker boards through this Friday, June 22.   Vote now!

Circuit Cellar’s sister website LinuxGizmos.com has launched its fourth annual reader survey of open-spec, Linux- or Android-ready single board computers priced under $200. In coordination with Linux.com, LinuxGizmos has identified 116 SBCs that fit its requirements, up from 98 boards in its June 2017 survey.

Vote for your favorites from LG’s freshly updated catalog of 116 sub-$200, hacker-friendly SBCs that run Linux or Android, and you could win one of 15 prizes.

Check out LinuxGizmos’ freshly updated summaries of 116 SBCs, as well as its spreadsheet that compares key features of all the boards.

Explore this great collection of Linux SBC information. To find out how to participate in the survey–and be entered to win a free board–click here:

GO HERE TO TAKE THE SURVEY AND VOTE

 

 

Linux Still Rules IoT, Says Survey, with Raspbian Leading the Way

By Eric Brown

The Eclipse Foundation’s Eclipse IoT Working Group has released the results of its IoT Developer Survey 2018, which surveyed 502 Eclipse developers between January and March 2018. While the sample size is fairly low—LinuxGizmos’  own 2017 Hacker Board survey had 1,705 respondents—and although the IoT technologies covered here extend beyond embedded tech into the cloud, the results sync up pretty well with 2017 surveys of embedded developers from VDC Research and AspenCore (EETimes/Embedded). In short, Linux rules in Internet of Things development, but FreeRTOS is coming on fast. In addition, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the leading cloud service for IoT.

 Eclipse IoT Developer Survey 2018 results for OS usage (top) and yearly variations for non-Linux platforms (bottom)
(Source: Eclipse Foundation)
(click images to enlarge)
 

When asked what operating systems were used for IoT, a total of 71.8% of the Eclipse survey respondents listed Linux, including Android and Android Things (see farther below). The next highest total was for Windows at 23%, a slight decrease from last year.

The open source, MCU-focused FreeRTOS advanced to 20%. Last December, the FreeRTOS project received major backing from Amazon. In fact, the Eclipse Foundation calls it an “acquisition.” This is never an entirely correct term when referring to a truly open source project such as FreeRTOS, but as with Samsung’s stewardship of Tizen, it appears to be essentially true.

Amazon collaborated with FreeRTOS technical leaders in spinning a new Amazon FreeRTOS variant linked to AWS IoT and AWS Greengrass. The significance of Amazon’s stake in FreeRTOS was one of the reasons Microsoft launched its Linux-based Azure Sphere secure IoT SoC platform, according to a VDC Research analyst.

The growth of FreeRTOS and Linux has apparently reduced the number of developers who code IoT devices without a formal OS or who use bare metal implementations. The “No OS/Bare Metal category” was second place in 2017, but has dropped sharply to share third place with FreeRTOS at 20%.

Other mostly open source RTOSes that had seen increases in 2017, such as mBed, Contiki, TinyOS, and Riot OS, dropped in 2018, with Contiki seeing the biggest dive. All these platforms led the open source Zephyr, however, as well as proprietary RTOSes like Micrium PS. The Intel-backed Zephyr may have declined in part due to Intel killing its Zephyr-friendly Curie module.

Eclipse IoT results for OS usage for constrained devices (top)
and gateways (bottom)

(Source: Eclipse Foundation)
(click images to enlarge)

When the Eclipse Foundation asked what OS was used for constrained devices, Linux still led the way, but had only 38.7%, followed by No OS/Bare Metal at 19.6%, FreeRTOS at 19.3%, and Windows at 14.1%. The others remained in the same order, ranging from Mbed at 7.7% to Riot OS at 4.7% for the next four slots.

When developers were asked about OS usage for IoT gateways, Linux dominated at 64.1% followed by Windows at 14.9%. Not surprisingly, the RTOSes barely registered here, with FreeRTOS leading at 5% and the others running at 2.2% or lower.

Eclipse IoT survey results for most popular Linux distributions
(Source: Eclipse Foundation)
(click image to enlarge)

Raspbian was the most popular Linux distro at 43.3%, showing just how far the Raspberry Pi has come to dominate IoT. The Debian based Ubuntu and more IoT-oriented Ubuntu Core were close behind for a combined 40.2%, and homegrown Debian stacks were used by 30.9%.

Android (19.6%) and the IoT-focused Android Things (7.9%) combined for 27.5%. Surprisingly, the open source Red Hat based distro CentOS came in next at 15.6%. Although CentOS does appear on embedded devices, its cloud server/cloud focus suggests that like Ubuntu, some of the Eclipse score came from developers working in IoT cloud stacks as well as embedded.

Yocto Project, which is not a distribution, but rather a set of standardized tools and recipes for DIY Linux development, came next at 14.2%. The stripped-down, networking focused OpenWrt and its variants, including the forked LEDE OS, combined for 7.9%. The OpenWrt and LEDE OS projects reunited as OpenWrt in January of this year. A version 18, due later this year, will attempt to integrate those elements that have diverged.

AWS and Azure rise, Google Cloud falls

The remainder of the survey dealt primarily with IoT software. Amazon’s AWS, which is the cloud platform used by its AWS IoT data aggregation platform and the related, Linux-based AWS Greengrass gateway and edge platform, led IoT cloud platforms with 51.8%. This was a 21% increase over the 2017 survey. Microsoft Azure’s share increased by 17% to 31.2%, followed by a combined score for private and on-premises cloud providers of 19.4%.

The total that used Google Cloud dropped by 8% to 18.8%. This was followed by Kubernetes, IBM Bluemix, and OpenStack On Premises.

Other survey findings include the continuing popularity of Java and MQTT among Eclipse developers. Usage of open source software of all kinds is increasing — for example, 93% of respondents say they use open source data base software, led by MySQL. Security and data collection/analytics were the leading developer concerns for IoT while interoperability troubles seem to be decreasing.

There were only a few questions about hardware, which is not surprising considering that Eclipse developers are primarily software developers. Cortex M3/M4 chips led among MCU platforms. For gateways there was an inconclusive mix of Intel and various Arm Cortex-A platforms. Perhaps most telling: 24.9% did not know what platform their IoT software would run on.

They did, however, know their favorite IDE. It starts with an E.

Further information

More information on the Eclipse IoT Developer Survey may be found in this blog announcement by Benjamin Cabé, which links to a slides from the full survey.

This article originally appeared on LinuxGizmos.com on April 30.

Eclipse IoT Working Group | iot.eclipse.org/working-group

SMARC Module Features Hexa-Core i.MX8 QuadMax

By Eric Brown

iWave has unveiled a rugged, wireless enabled SMARC module with 4 GB LPDDR4 and dual GbE controllers that runs Linux or Android on NXP’s i.MX8 QuadMax SoC with 2x Cortex-A72, 4x -A53, 2x -M4F and 2x GPU cores.

iW-RainboW-G27M (front)

iWave has posted specs for an 82 mm x 50 mm, industrial temperature “iW-RainboW-G27M” SMARC 2.0 module that builds on NXP’s i.MX8 QuadMax system-on-chip. The i.MX8 QuadMax was announced in Oct. 2016 as the higher end model of an automotive focused i.MX8 Quad family.

Although the lower-end, quad-core, Cortex-A53 i.MX8M SoC was not fully announced until after the hexa-core Quad, we’ve seen far more embedded boards based on the
i.MX8M , including a recent Seco SM-C12

iW-RainboW-G27M (back)

SMARC module. The only other i.MX8 Quad based product we’ve seen is Toradex’s QuadMax driven Apalis iMX8 module. The Apalis iMX8 was announced a year ago, but is still listed as “coming soon.”

 

 

i.MX8 Quad block diagram (dashed lines indicate model-specific features) (click image to enlarge)

 

Like Rockchip’s RK3399, NXP’s i.MX8 QuadMax features dual high-end Cortex-A72 cores and four Cortex-A53 cores. NXP also offers a similar i.MX8 QuadPlus design with only one Cortex-A72 core.

The QuadMax clock rates are lower than on the RK3399, which clocks to 1.8 GHz (A72) and 1.2 GHz (A53). Toradex says the Apalis iMX8’s -A72 and -A53 cores will clock to 1.6 GHz and 1.2 GHz, respectively.

Close-up of i.MX8 QuadMax on iW-RainboW-G27M

Whereas the i.MX8M has one 266 MHz Cortex-M4F microcontroller, the Quad SoCs have two. A HIFI4 DSP is also onboard, along with a dual-core Vivante GC7000LiteXS/VX GPU, which is alternately referred to as being two GPUs in one or having a split GPU design.

iWave doesn’t specifically name these coprocessors except to list features including a “4K H.265 decode and 1080p H.264 enc/dec capable VPU, 16-Shader 3D (Vec4), and Enhanced Vision Capabilities (via GPU).” The SoC is also said to offer a “dual failover-ready display controller.” The CPUs, meanwhile, are touted for their “full chip hardware virtualization capabilities.”

Inside the iW-RainboW-G27M

Like iWave’s SMARC 2.0 form factor Snapdragon 820 SOM, the iW-RainboW-G27M supports Linux and Android, in this case running Android Nougat (7.0) or higher. (Toradex’s Apalis iMX8 supports Linux, and also supports FreeRTOS running on the Cortex-M4F MCUs.)

Like Toradex, iWave is not promoting the automotive angle that was originally pushed by NXP. iWave’s module is designed to “offer maximum performance with higher efficiency for complex embedded application of consumer, medical and industrial embedded computing applications,” says iWave.

Like the QuadMax based Apalis iMX8, as well as most of the i.MX8M products we’ve seen, the iW-RainboW-G27M supports up to 4 GB LPDDR4 RAM and up to 16 GB eMMC. iWave notes that the RAM and eMMC are “expandable,” but does not say to what capacities. There’s also a microSD slot and 256 MB of optional QSPI flash.

Whereas Apalis iMX8 has a single GbE controller, iWave’s COM has two. It similarly offers onboard 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (4.1). The Microchip ATWILC3000-MR110CA module, which juts out a bit on one side, is listed by Digi-Key as 802.11b/g/n, but iWave has it as 802.11ac.

Interfaces expressed via the SMARC edge connector include 2x GbE, 2x USB 3.0 host (4-port hub), 4x USB 2.0 host, and USB 2.0 OTG. Additional SMARC I/O includes 3x UART (2x with CTS & RTS), 2x CAN, 2x I2C, 12x GPIO, and single PCIe, SATA, debug UART, SD, SPI and QSPI

Media features include an HDMI/DP transmitter, dual-channel LVDS or MIPI-DSI, and an SSI/I2S audio interface. iWave also lists HDMI, 2x LVDS, SPDIF, and ESAI separately under “expansion connector interfaces.” Other expansion I/O is said to include MLB, CAN and GPIO.

The 5 V module supports -40 to 80°C temperatures. There is no mention of a carrier board.

Further information

No pricing or availability was listed for the iW-RainboW-G27M, but a form is available for requesting a quote. More information may be found on iWave’s iW-RainboW-G27M product page.

iWave | www.iwavesystems.com

This article originally appeared on LinuxGizmos.com on March 13.

Linux and Coming Full Circle

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

JeffHeadShot

In terms of technology, the line between embedded computing and IT/desktop computing has always been a moving target. Certainty the computing power in small embedded devices today have vastly more compute muscle than even a server of 15 years ago. While there’s many ways to look at that phenomena, it’s interesting to look at it through the lens of Linux. The quick rise in the popularity of Linux in the 90s happened on the server/IT side pretty much simultaneously with the embrace of Linux in the embedded market.

I’ve talked before in this column about the embedded Linux start-up bubble of the late 90s. That’s when a number of start-ups emerged as “embedded Linux” companies. It was a new business model for our industry, because Linux is a free, open-source OS. As a result, these companies didn’t sell Linux, but rather provided services to help customers create and support implementations of open-source Linux. This market disruption spurred the established embedded RTOS vendors to push back. Like most embedded technology journalists back then, I loved having a conflict to cover. There were spirited debates on the “Linux vs. RTOS topic” on conference panels and in articles of time—and I enjoyed participating in both.

It’s amusing to me to remember that Wind River at the time was the most vocal anti-Linux voice of the day. Fast forward to today and there’s a double irony. Most of those embedded Linux startups are long gone. And yet, most major OS vendors offer full-blown embedded Linux support alongside their RTOS offerings. In fact, in a research report released in January by VDC Research, Wind River was named as the market leader in the global embedded software market for both its RTOS and commercial Linux segments.

According the VDC report, global unit shipments of IoT and embedded OSs, including free/non-commercial OSs, will grow to reach 11.1 billion units by 2021, driven primarily by ECU-targeted RTOS shipments in the automotive market, and free Linux installs on higher-resource systems. After accounting for systems with no OS, bare-metal OS, or an in-house developed OS, the total yearly units shipped will grow beyond 17 billion units in 2021 according to the report. VDC research findings also predict that unit growth will be driven primarily by free and low-cost operating systems such as Amazon FreeRTOS, Express Logic ThreadX and Mentor Graphics Nucleus on constrained devices, along with free, open source Linux distributions for resource-rich embedded systems.

Shifting gears, let me indulge myself by talking about some recent Circuit Cellar news—though still on the Linux theme. Circuit Cellar has formed a strategic partnership with LinuxGizmos.com. LinuxGizmos is a well-establish, trusted website that provides up-to-the-minute, detailed and insightful coverage of the latest developer- and maker-friendly, embedded oriented chips, modules, boards, small systems and IoT devices—and the software technologies that make them tick. As its name in implies, LinuxGizmos features coverage of open source, high-level operating systems including Linux and its derivatives (such as Android), as well as lower-level software platforms such as OpenWRT and FreeRTOS.

LinuxGizmos.com was founded by Rick Lehrbaum—but that’s only the latest of his accolades. I know Rick from way back when I first started writing about embedded computing in 1990. Most people in the embedded computing industry remember him as the “Father of PC/104.” Rick co-founded Ampro Computers in 1983 (now part of ADLINK), authored the PC/104 standard and founded the PC/104 Consortium in 1991, created LinuxDevices.com in 1999 and guided the formation of the Embedded Linux Consortium in 2000. In 2003, he launched LinuxGizmos.com to fill the void created when LinuxDevices was retired by Quinstreet Media.

Bringing things full circle, Rick says he’s long been a fan of Circuit Cellar, and even wrote a series of articles about PC/104 technology for it in the late 90s. I’m thrilled to be teaming up with LinuxGizmos.com and am looking forward to combing our strengths to better serve you.

This appears in the April (333) issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

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Circuit Cellar and LinuxGizmos.com Form Strategic Partnership

Partnership offers an expanded technical resource for embedded and IoT device developers and enthusiasts

Today Circuit Cellar is announcing a strategic partnership with LinuxGizmos.com to offer an expanded resource of information and know-how on embedded electronics technology for developers, makers, students and educators, early adopters, product strategists, and technical decision makers with a keen interest in emerging embedded and IoT technologies.

The new partnership combines Circuit Cellar’s uniquely in depth, “down-to-the-bits” technical articles with LinuxGizmos.com’s up-to-the-minute, detailed, and insightful coverage of the latest developer-  and maker-friendly, embedded oriented chips, modules, boards, small systems, and IoT devices, and the software technologies that make them tick. Additionally, as its name implies, LinuxGizmos.com’s coverage frequently highlights open source, high-level operating systems including Linux and its derivatives (e.g. Android), as well as lower-level software platforms such as OpenWRT and FreeRTOS.

Circuit Cellar is one of the electronics industry’s most highly technical information resources for professional engineers, academics, and other specialists involved in the design and development of embedded processor- and microcontroller-based systems across a broad range of applications. It gets right down to the bits and bytes and lines of code, at a level its readers revel in. Circuit Cellar is a trusted brand engaging readers every day on its website, each week with its newsletter, and each month through Circuit Cellar magazine’s print and digital formats.

LinuxGizmos.com is a free-to-use website that publishes daily news and analysis on the hardware, software, protocols, and standards used in new and innovative embedded, mobile, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.  The site is lauded for its detailed and insightful, timely coverage of newly introduced single board computers (SBCs), computer-on-modules (COMs), system-on-chips (SoCs), and small form factor (SFF) systems, along with their software platforms.

“The synergies between LinuxGizmos and Circuit Cellar are great and I’m excited to see the benefits of this partnership passed on to our combined audience,” said Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief, Circuit Cellar. “LinuxGizmos.com has the kind of rich, detail-oriented structure that I’m a fan of. Over the many years I’ve been following the site, I’ve relied on it as an important information resource, and its integrity has always impressed me.”

“I’ve been a fan of Circuit Cellar magazine since it was first launched, and wrote a series of articles for it in the late 90s about PC/104 embedded modules,” added Rick Lehrbaum, founder and Editor-in-Chief of LinuxGizmos.com. “I’m thrilled to see LinuxGizmos become associated with one of the computing industry’s pioneering publications.”

“I see this partnership as a perfect way to enhance both the Circuit Cellar and LinuxGizmos brands as key information platforms,” stated KC Prescott, President, KCK Media Corp. “In this era where there’s so much compelling technology innovation happening in the industry, our combined strengths will help inform and inspire embedded systems developers.”

Read Announcement on LinuxGizmos.com here:

Circuit Cellar and LinuxGizmos.com join forces

SBC is Drop-In Replacement for Raspberry Pi 3 Model B

A Kickstarter project by the Libre Computer Project, code name Le Potato, is designed as a drop in hardware replacement for the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B and offers faster performance, more memory, lower power, higher I/O throughput, 4K capabilities, open market components, improved media acceleration, removal of the vendor locked-in interfaces and Android 7.1 support. This platform uses the latest technologies and is built upon proven long term available chips. It is supported by upstream Linux and has a downstream development package based on Linux 4.9 LTS that offers ready-to-go 4K media decoding, 3D acceleration and more. dbedba7f6223adc66b712249125e66cb_original

It can be used to tinker with electronics, teach programming, build media centers, create digital signage solutions, play retro games, establish bi-directional video, and unlock imaginations. It is available in 1 GB and 2 GB configurations.

For connectivity I/O the board provides:

  • HDMI 2.0
  • 4 USB 2.0 Type A
  • RJ45 100Mb Fast Ethernet
  • CVBS
  • Infrared Receiver
  • S/PDIF Header
  • UART Header
  • I2S + ADC Header
  • 40 Pin Header for PWM, I2C, I2S, SPI, GPIO
  • eMMC Daughter Board Connector
  • MicroSD Card Slot with UHS Support

The board features these improvements over Raspberry Pi 3 Model B:

  • 50% Faster CPU and GPU
  • Double RAM Available
  • Lower Power Consumption
  • Better Android 7.1 and Kodi Support
  • Much Better Hardware Accelerated Codec Support
  • 4K UHD with HDR over HDMI 2.0
  • MicroSD Card UHS Support
  • eMMC Daughter Board Support
  • IR Receiver
  • ADC + I2S Headers
  • Non-Shared Bandwidth for LAN and USB

Libre Computer Project | https://libre.computer/

Radar Module for Makers

OmniPreSense Corp.’s recently unveiled radar module is capable of detecting objects 5 to 10 m away and giving electronic systems enhanced information about the world around them. Intended for the “maker” community, the $169 OPS241-A module is capable of making any Android phone supporting USB On-the-Go (OTG) into a radar gun.

OmniPreSense
The 53 mm × 59 mm OSP241-A short-range radar is capable of reporting motion, speed, and direction of objects detected in its wide field of view. You can plug it into a Raspberry Pi’s USB port to enable a variety of useful applications. An API provides direct control of the OPS241-A and allows for changes to reported units (e.g., meters/second and miles/hour), transmitted power, and other settings. Compared to PIR or ultrasonic sensors, the OPS241-A provides increased range, a wider coverage area, and immunity to noise and light, while providing enhanced information about the detected object.
Potential applications range from security motion detection to a radar gun. You can plug the OPS241-A directly into an Android phone or tablet running USB OTG and terminal program to turn them into a radar gun. When mounted on a drone, the OPS241-A can detect objects 5 to 10 m away for collision avoidance.

OmniPreSense Corp. | omnipresense.com

New Development Tool for Bluetooth 5

Nordic Semiconductor’s Bluetooth 5 developer solution for its nRF52840 SoC comprises the Nordic S140 v5.0 multi-role, concurrent protocol stack that brings Bluetooth 5’s long range and high throughput modes for immediate use to developers on the Nordic nRF52840 SoC. The Nordic nRF5 SDK offers application examples that implement this new long-range, high-throughput functionality. The existing Nordic nRF52832 SoC is also complemented with a Bluetooth 5 protocol stack.

NordicBluetooth5Board
Bluetooth 5’s high throughput mode offers not only new use cases for wearables and other applications, but also significantly improves user experience with Bluetooth products. Time on air is reduced and thus leads to faster more robust communication as well as reduced overall power consumption. In addition, with 2 Mbps, the prospect of audio over Bluetooth low energy is possible.
The new Preview Development Kit (nRF52840-PDK) is a versatile, single-board development tool for Bluetooth 5, Bluetooth low energy, ANT, 802.15.4m, and 2.4-GHz proprietary applications using the nRF52840 SoC. The kit is hardware compatible with the Arduino Uno Revision 3 standard, making it possible to use third-party-compatible shields. An NFC antenna can be connected to enable NFC tag functionality. The kit gives access to all I/O and interfaces via connectors and has four LEDs and four buttons which are user-programmable.

Nordic Semiconductor | www.nordicsemi.com

Radar Module for Makers

OmniPreSense Corp.’s recently unveiled radar module is capable of detecting objects 5 to 10 m away and giving electronic systems enhanced information about the world around them. Intended for the “maker” community, the $169 OPS241-A module is capable of making any Android phone supporting USB On-the-Go (OTG) into a radar gun.OmniPreSense

The 53 mm × 59 mm  OSP241-A short-range radar is capable of reporting motion, speed, and direction of objects detected in its wide field of view. You can plug it into a Raspberry Pi’s USB port to enable a variety of useful applications. An API provides direct control of the OPS241-A and allows for changes to reported units (e.g., meters/second and miles/hour), transmitted power, and other settings. Compared to PIR or ultrasonic sensors, the OPS241-A provides increased range, a wider coverage area, and immunity to noise and light, while providing enhanced information about the detected object. Potential applications range from security motion detection to a radar gun. You can plug the OPS241-A directly into an Android phone or tablet running USB OTG and terminal program to turn them into a radar gun. When mounted on a drone, the OPS241-A can detect objects 5 to 10 m away for collision avoidance.

Source: OmniPreSense Corp.

 

Engineering Consultant and Roboticist

Eric Forkosh starting building his first robot when he was a teenager and has been designing ever since. This NYC-based electrical engineer’s projects include everything from dancing robots to remote monitoring devices to cellular module boards to analog signals—Nan Price, Associate Editor


NAN: Tell us about your start-up company, Narobo.

forkosh

Eric Forkosh

ERIC: Narobo is essentially the company through which I do all my consulting work. I’ve built everything from dancing robots to cellular field equipment. Most recently I’ve been working with some farmers in the Midwest on remote monitoring. We monitor a lot of different things remotely, and I’ve helped develop an online portal and an app. The most interesting feature of our system is that we have a custom tablet rig that can interface directly to the electronics over just the USB connection. We use Google’s Android software development kit to pull that off.

ERIC: The DroneCell was my second official product released, the first being the Roboduino. The Roboduino was relatively simple; it was just a modified Arduino that made building robots easy. We used to sell it online at CuriousInventor.com for a little while, and there was always a trickle of sales, but it was never a huge success. I still get a kick out of seeing Roboduino in projects online, it’s always nice to see people appreciating my work.

dronecell3

The DroneCell is a cellular module board that communicates with devices with TTL UARTs.

The DroneCell is the other product of mine, and my personal favorite. It’s a cellular module board geared toward the hobbyist. A few years ago, if you wanted to add cellular functionality to your system you had to do a custom PCB for it. You had to deal with really low voltage levels, very high peak power draws, and hard-to-read pins. DroneCell solved the problem and made it very easy to interface to hobbyist systems such as the Arduino. Putting on proper power regulation was easy, but my biggest design challenge was how to handle the very low voltage levels. In the end, I put together a very clever voltage shifter that worked with 3V3 and 5 V, with some calculated diodes and resistors.

NAN: Tell us about your first project. Where were you at the time and what did you learn from the experience?

butlerrobot

Eric’s Butler robot was his first electronics project. He started building it when he was still in high school.

ERIC: The Butler robot was my first real electronics project. I started building it in ninth grade, and for a really stupid reason. I just wanted to build a personal robot, like on TV. My first version of the Butler robot was cobbled together using an old laptop, a USB-to-I/O converter called Phidgets, and old wheelchair motors I bought on eBay.

I didn’t use anything fancy for this robot, all the software was written in Visual Basic and ran on Windows XP. For motor controllers, I used some old DPDT automotive relays I had lying around. They did the job but obviously I wasn’t able to PWM them for speed control.

My second version came about two years later, and was built with the intention of winning the Instructables Robot contest. I didn’t win first place, but my tutorial “How to Build a Butler Robot” placed in the top 10 and was mentioned in The Instructables Book in print. This version was a cleaner version of everything I had done before. I built a sleek black robot body (at least it was sleek back then!) and fabricated an upside-down bowl-shaped head that housed the webcam. The electronics were basically the same. The main new features were a basic robot arm that poured you a drink (two servos and a large DC motor) and a built-in mini fridge. I also got voice command to work really well by hooking up my Visual Basic software with Dragon’s speech-to-text converter.

The Butler robot was a great project and I learned a lot about electronics and software from doing it. If I were to build a Butler robot right now, I’d do it completely differently. But I think it was an important to my engineering career and it taught me that anything is possible with some hacking and hard work.

At the same time as I was doing my Butler robot (probably around 2008), I lucked out and was hired by an entertainer in Hong Kong. He saw my Butler robot online and hired me to build him a dancing robot that was synced to music. We solved the issue of syncing to music by putting dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) tones on the left channel audio and music on the right channel. The right channel went to speakers and the left channel went to a decoder that translated DTMF tone sequences to robot movement. This was good because all the data and dance moves were part of the same audio file. All we had to do was prepare special audio files and the robot would work with any music player (e.g., iPod, laptop, CD, etc.). The robot is used in shows to this day, and my performer client even hired a professional cartoon voice actor to give the robot a personality.

NAN: You were an adjunct professor at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City. What types of courses did you teach and what did you enjoy most about teaching?

ERIC: I will be entering my senior year at Cooper Union in the Fall 2014. Two years ago, I took a year off from school to pursue my work. This past year I completed my junior year. I taught a semester of “Microcontroller Projects” at Cooper Union during my year off from being a student. We built a lot of really great projects using Arduino. One final project that really impressed me was a small robot car that parallel parked itself. Another project was a family of spider robots that were remotely controlled and could shrink up into a ball.

Cooper Union is filled with really bright students and teaching exposed me to the different thought processes people have when trying to build a solution. I think teaching helped me grow as a person and helped me understand that in engineering—and possibly in life—there is no one right answer. There are different paths to the same destination. I really enjoyed teaching because it made me evaluate my understanding about electronics, software, and robotics. It forced me to make sure I really understood what was going on in intricate detail.

NAN: You have competed in robotics competitions including RoboCup in Austria. Tell us about these experiences—what types of robots did you build for the competitions?

robocup

Eric worked with his high school’s robotics team to design this robot for a RoboCup competition.

ERIC: In high school I was the robotics team captain and we built a line-following robot and a soccer robot to compete in RoboCup Junior in the US. We won first place in the RoboCup Junior Northeast Regional and were invited to compete in Austria for the International RoboCup Junior games. So we traveled as a team to Austria to compete and we got to see a lot of interesting projects and many other soccer teams compete. I remember the Iranian RoboCup Junior team had a crazy robot that competed against us; it was built out of steel and looked like a miniature tank.

My best memory from Austria was when our robot broke and I had to fix it. Our robot was omnidirectional with four omni wheels in each corner that let it drive at any angle or orientation it wanted. It could zigzag across the field without a problem. At our first match, I put the robot down on the little soccer field to compete… and it wouldn’t move. During transportation, one of the motors broke. Disappointed, we had to forfeit that match. But I didn’t give up. I removed one of the wheels and rewrote the code to operate with only three motors functional. Again we tried to compete, and again another motor appeared to be broken. I removed yet another wheel and stuck a bottle cap as a caster wheel on the back. I rewrote the code, which was running on a little Microchip Technology PIC microcontroller, and programmed the robot to operate with only two wheels working. The crippled robot put up a good fight, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. I think we scored one goal total, and that was when the robot had just two wheels working.

After the competition, during an interview with the judges, we had a laugh comparing our disabled robot to the videos we took back home with the robot scoring goal after goal. I learned from that incident to always be prepared for the worst, do your best, and sometimes stuff just happens. I’m happy I tried and did my best to fix it, I have no regrets. I have a some of the gears from that robot at home on display as a reminder to always prepare for emergencies and to always try my best.

NAN: What was the last electronics-design related product you purchased and what type of project did you use it with?

ERIC: The last product would be an op-amp I bought, probably the 411 chip. For a current project, I had to generate a –5-to-5-V analog signal from a microcontroller. My temporary solution was to RC filter the PWM output from the op-amp and then use an amplifier with a
gain of 2 and a 2.5-V “virtual ground.” The result is that 2.5 V is the new “zero” voltage. You can achieve –5 V by giving the op-amp 0 V, a –2.5-V difference that is amplified by 2 to yield 5 V. Similarly, 5 V is a 2.5-V difference from the virtual ground, amplified by 2 it provides a 5-V output.

NAN: What do you consider to be the “next big thing” in the industry?

ERIC: I think the next big thing will be personalized health care via smartphones. There are already some insulin pumps and heart monitors that communicate with special smartphone apps via Bluetooth. I think that’s excellent. We have all this computing power in our pockets, we should put it to good use. It would be nice to see these apps educating smartphone users—the patients themselves— about their current health condition. It might inspire patients/users to live healthier lifestyles and take care of themselves. I don’t think the FDA is completely there yet, but I’m excited to see what the future will bring. Remember, the future is what you build it to be.

RS-232 Serial Adapter for Android Devices

ACCESSThe ANDROID-232 is a USB serial interface board that enables you to control legacy RS-232 devices from your Android devices. The board is well suited for POS, gaming systems, retail, hospitality, automation, kiosks, defense industries, lighting, or any other application requiring the connection of RS-232 serial devices to an Android-compatible system.

The ANDROID-232 uses the Android Open Accessory protocol to “convince” an Android device that its on-board USB port (normally limited to USB slave or OTG modes) is actually an RS-232 port. This two-way data port enables external hardware to control the Android unit or the Android unit to control external hardware.

The ANDROID-232’s key features include an Android USB 2.0 full-speed host-to-industry-standard RS-232 DB9M serial port; support for a UART interface with RX, TX, RTS, and CTS; a 5,512-byte RX buffer size; a 256-byte TX buffer size; ±15-kV ESD protection on USB data lines and all RS-232 signals; status and fault LEDs including external power, charging status, and USB status; a Type-A USB connector; a latching 5-V external power input connector with an external regulated power supply; a –40°C-to-85°C standard industrial operating temperature; and RoHS compliance.

The board includes an Android sample program with source code. This program enables you to verify proper operation of the ANDROID-232 device, including sending and receiving RS-232 data. The ANDROID-232’s Python test program can cooperate with the Android sample program to verify proper receipt of transmitted data.

The ANDROID-232 costs $139.

ACCES I/O Products, Inc.
www.accesio.com

Client Profile: Invenscience LC

Invenscience2340 South Heritage Drive, Suite I
Nibley UT, 84321

CONTACT: Collin Lewis, sales@invenscience.com
invenscience.com

EMBEDDED PRODUCTS: Torxis Servos and various servo controllers

FEATURED PRODUCT: Invenscience features a wide range of unique servo controllers that generate the PWM signal for general RC servomotors of all brands and Torxis Servos. (The Simple Slider Servo Controller is pictured.) Included in this lineup are:

  • Gamer joystick controllers
  • Conventional joystick controllers
  • Equalizer-style slider controllers
  • Android device Bluetooth controllers

All of these controllers provide power and the radio control (RC) PWM signal necessary to make servos move without any programming effort.

EXCLUSIVE OFFER: Use the promo code “CC2014” to receive a 10% discount on all purchases through March 31, 2014.

Circuit Cellar prides itself on presenting readers with information about innovative companies, organizations, products, and services relating to embedded technologies. This space is where Circuit Cellar enables clients to present readers useful information, special deals, and more.

Turn Your Android Device into an Application Tool

A few years ago, the Android Open Accessory initiative was announced with the aim of making it easier for hardware manufacturers to create accessories that work with every Android device. Future Technology Devices International (FTDI) joined the initiative and last year introduced the FTD311D multi-interface Android host IC. The goal was to enable engineers and designers to make effective use of tablets and smartphones with the Android OS, according to Circuit Cellar columnist Jeff Bachiochi.

The FTD311D “provides an instant bridge from an Android USB port(B) to peripheral hardware over general purpose input-out (GPIO), UART, PWM, I2C Master, SPI Slave, or SPI Master interfaces,” Bachiochi says.

In the magazine’s December issue Bachiochi takes a comprehensive look at the USB Android host IC and how it works. By the end of his article, readers will have learned quite a bit about how to use FTDI’s apps and the FT311D chip to turn an Android device into their own I/0 tool.

Bachiochi used the SPI Master demo to read key presses and set LED states on this SPI slave 16-key touch panel.

Bachiochi used the SPI Master demo to read key presses and set LED states on this SPI slave 16-key touch panel.

Here is how Bachiochi describes the FT311D and its advantages:

The FT311D is a full-speed USB host targeted at providing access to peripheral hardware from a USB port on an Android device. While an Android device can be a USB host, many are mobile devices with limited power. For now, these On-The-Go (OTG) ports will be USB devices only (i.e., they can only connect to a USB host as a USB device).

Since the USB host is responsible for supplying power to a USB peripheral device, it would be bad design practice to enable a USB peripheral to drain an Android mobile device’s energy. Consequently, the FT311D takes on the task of USB host, eliminating any draw on the Android device’s battery.

All Android devices from V3.1 (Honeycomb) support the Android Open Accessory Mode (AOAM). The AOAM is the complete reverse of the conventional USB interconnect. This game-changing approach to attaching peripherals enables three key advantages. First, there is no need to develop special drivers for the hardware; second, it is unnecessary to root devices to alter permissions for loading drivers; and third, the peripheral provides the power to use the port, which ensures the mobile device battery is not quickly drained by the external hardware being attached.

Since the FT311D handles the entire USB host protocol, USB-specific firmware programming isn’t required. As the host, the FT311D must inquire whether the connected device supports the AOAM. If so, it will operate as an Open Accessory Mode device with one USB BULK IN endpoint and one USB BULK OUT endpoint (as well as the control endpoint.) This interface will be a full-speed (12-Mbps) USB enabling data transfer in and out.

The AOAM USB host has a set of string descriptors the Android OS is capable of reading. These strings are (user) associated with an Android OS application. The Android then uses these strings to automatically start the application when the hardware is connected. The FT311D is configured for one of its multiple interfaces via configuration inputs at power-up. Each configuration will supply the Android device with a unique set of string descriptors, therefore enabling different applications to run, depending on its setup.

The FT311D’s configuration determines whether each application will have access to several user interface APIs that are specific to each configuration.

The article goes on to examine the various interfaces in detail and to describe a number of demo projects, including a multimeter.

Many of Bachiochi's projects use printable ASCII text commands and replies. This enables a serial terminal to become a handy user I/O device. This current probe circuit outputs its measurements in ASCII-printable text.

Many of Bachiochi’s projects use printable ASCII text commands and replies. This enables a serial terminal to become a handy user I/O device. This current probe circuit outputs its measurements in ASCII-printable text.

Multimeters are great tools. They have portability that enables them to be brought to wherever a measurement must be made. An Android device has this same ability. Since applications can be written for these devices, they make a great portable application tool. Until the AOAM’s release, there was no way for these devices to be connected to any external circuitry and used as an effective tool.

I think FTDI has bridged this gap nicely. It provided a great interface chip that can be added to any circuit that will enable an Android device to serve as an effective user I/O device. I’ve used the chip to quickly interface with some technology to discover its potential or just test its abilities. But I’m sure you are already thinking about the other potential uses for this connection.

Bachiochi is curious to hear from readers about their own ideas.

If you think the AOAM has future potential, but you want to know what’s involved with writing Android applications for a specific purpose, send me an e-mail and I’ll add this to my list of future projects!

You can e-mail Bachiochi at jeff.bachiochi@imaginethatnow.com or post your comment here.

 

The Adafruit Learning System Releases Bluetooth HID Keyboard Controller

Bluefruit2Adafruit’s Bluefruit EZ-Key enables you to create a wireless Bluetooth keyboard controller in an hour. The module acts as a Bluetooth keyboard and is compatible with any Bluetooth-capable device (e.g., Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android).

You simply power the Bluefruit EZ-Key with 3 to 16 VDC and pair it to a computer, tablet, or smartphone. You can then connect buttons from the 12 input pins. When a button is pressed, it sends a keypress to the computer. The module has been preprogrammed to send the four arrow keys, return, space, “w,” “a,” “s,” “d,” “1,” and “2” by default. Advanced users can use a Future Technology Devices International (FTDI) chip or other serial console cable to reprogram the module’s keys for a human interface device (HID) key report.

BluefruitEach Bluefruit EZ-Key has a unique identifier. More than one module can be paired to a single device. The FCC- and CE-certified, RoHS-compliant modules integrate easily into your project.

Pricing for the Bluefruit EZ-Key begins at $19.95. For more information, visit The Adafruit Learning System. Bluefruit EZ-Key tutorials are also available.

Free Webinar: Bridge Android & Your Electronics Projects

Do you want to add a powerful wireless Android device to your own projects? Now you can, and doing so is easier than you think.

With their high-resolution touchscreens, ample computing power, WLAN support, and telephone functions, Android smartphones and tablets are ideal for use as control centers in your projects. But until now, it has been difficult to connect them to external circuitry. Elektor’s AndroPod interface board, which adds a serial TTL port and an RS-485 port to the picture, changes this situation.

The Elektor AndroPod module

In a free webinar on June 21, 2012, Bernhard Wörndl-Aichriedler (codesigner of the AndroPod Interface) will explain how easy it is to connect your own circuitry to an Android smartphone using the AndroPod interface. Click here to register.

Elektor Academy and element14 have teamed up to bring you a series of exclusive webinars covering blockbuster projects from recent editions of Elektor magazine. Participation in these webinars is completely free!

Webinar: AndroPod – Bridging Android and Your Electronics Projects
Date: Thursday June 21, 2012
Time: 16:00 CET
Presenter: Bernhard Wörndl-Aichriedler (Codesigner of the Andropod Interface)
Language: English

CircuitCellar.com is an Elektor International Media publication.