June Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The June issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is out next week!. We’ve been tending our technology crops to bring you a rich harvest of in-depth embedded electronics articles. We’ll have this 84-page magazine brought to your table very soon..

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

TOOLS AND CONCEPTS FOR ENGINEERS

Integrated PCB Design Tools
After decades of evolving their PCB design tool software packages, the leading tool vendors have the basics of PCB design nailed down. In recent years, these companies have continued to come up with new enhancements to their tool suites, addressing a myriad of issues related to not just the PCB design itself, but the whole process surrounding it. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child looks at the latest integrated PCB design tool solutions.

dB for Dummies: Decibels Demystified
Understanding decibels—or dB for short—may seem intimidating. Frequent readers of this column know that Robert uses dB terms quite often—particularly when talking about wireless systems or filters. In this article, Robert Lacoste discusses the math underlying decibels using basic concepts. The article also covers how they are used to express values in electronics and even includes a quiz to help you hone your decibel expertise.

Understanding PID
As a means for implementing feedback control systems, PID is an important concept in electronics engineering. In this article, Stuart Ball explains how PID can be applied and explains the concept by focusing on a simple circuit design.

DESIGNING CONNECTED SYSTEMS

Sensor Connectivity Trends
While sensors have always played a key role in embedded systems, the exploding Internet of Things (IoT) phenomenon has pushed sensor technology to the forefront. Any IoT implementation depends on an array of sensors that relay input back to the cloud. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child dives into the latest technology trends and product developments in sensors with an emphasis on their connectivity aspects.

Bluetooth Mesh (Part 3)
In this next part of his article series on Bluetooth mesh, Bob Japenga looks at how to create secure provisioning for a Bluetooth Mesh network without requiring user intervention. He takes a special look at an attack which Bluetooth’s asymmetric key encryption is vulnerable to called Man-in-the-Middle.

PONDERING POWER AND ENERGY

Product Focus: AC-DC Converters
To their peril, embedded system developers often treat their choice of power supply as an afterthought. But choosing the right AC-DC converter is critical to the ensuring your system delivers power efficiently to all parts of your system. This Product Focus section updates readers on these trends and provides a product album of representative AC-DC converter products.

Energy Monitoring (Part 1)
The efficient use of energy is a topic moving ever more front and center these days as climate change and energy costs begin to affect our daily lives. Curious to discover how efficient his own energy consumption was, George Novacek built an MCU-based system to monitor his household energy. And, in order to make sure this new device wasn’t adding more energy use, he chose to make the energy monitoring system solar-powered.

Building a PoE Power Subsystem
Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) allows a single cable to provide both data interconnection and power to devices. In this article, Maxim Integrated’s  and Maxim Integrated’s Thong Huynh and Suhei Dhanani explore the key issues involved in implementing rugged PoE systems. Topics covered include standards compliance, interface controller selection, DC-DC converter choices and more.

Taming Your Wind Turbine
While you can buy off-the-shelf wind power generators these days, they tend to get bad reviews from users. The problem is that harnessing wind energy takes some “taming” of the downstream electronics. In this article, Alexander Pozhitkov discusses his characterization project for a small wind turbine. This provides a guide for designing your own wind energy harvesting system.

MORE PROJECT ARTICLES WITH ALL THE DETAILS

Windless Wind Chimes (Part 1)
Wind chimes make a pleasant sound during the warm months when windows are open. But wouldn’t it be nice to simulate those sounds during the winter months when your windows are shut? In part 1 of this project article, Jeff Bachiochi builds a device that simulates a breeze randomly playing suspended wind chimes. Limited to the standard 5-note pentatonic chimes, this device is based on a Microchip PIC18 low power microcontroller.

GPS Guides Robotic Car
In this project article, Raul Alvarez-Torrico builds a robotic car that navigates to a series of GPS waypoints. Using the Arduino UNO for a controller, the design is aimed at robotics beginners that want to step things up a notch. In the article, Raul discusses the math, programing and electronics hardware choices that went into this project design.

Haptic Feedback Electronic Travel Aid
Time-of-flight sensors have become small and affordable in the last couple years. In this article, learn how Cornell graduates Aaheli Chattopadhyay, Naomi Hess and Jun Ko detail creating a travel aid for the visually impaired with a few time-of-flight sensors, coin vibration motors, an Arduino Pro Mini, a Microchip PIC32 MCU, a flashlight and a sock.

Ultra96-V2 SBC adds Certified Wi-Fi and Industrial Temp Support

By Eric Brown

Avnet has unveiled a minor upgrade to its open-spec, 96Boards CE form-factor Ultra96 SBC. The Ultra96-V2 retains the $249 price and core features of the Ultra96, including the Arm/FPGA hybrid Xilinx Zynq UltraScale+ MPSoC, but it also makes a few key additions.

The biggest touted improvement is a new Microchip wireless module with the same 802.11n Wi-Fi capability, but with Bluetooth improving to 5.0 BLE. The major advantage here is that the module is said to be pre-certified in 75 countries.


 
Ultra96-V2 (left) and Ultra96-V1
(click images to enlarge)
Avnet has also “updated all components on the Ultra96-V2 to allow industrial temperature grade options so that the board can operate in harsh industrial applications.” We saw no details, however, on the specifics of the standard and industrial options. The term “industrial temperature” usually refers to -40 to 85°C.

Other new features include an Infineon power management IC (PMIC) and dedicated headers for UART and JTAG. The product page suggests that the previous I2C header has been removed, with I2C now being available only on the 40-pin low-speed header, but the block diagram indicates otherwise. There also appear to be four new LEDs.

Like the original, the Ultra96-V2 runs PetaLinux on the Zynq UltraScale+ MPSoC with a 1.5GHz quad-core, Cortex-A53 CPU block, a Mali-400 MP2 GPU, and a ZU3EG A484 FPGA — one of the lower-end UltraScale+ FPGA options. The SoC also features 2x 600MHz Cortex-R5 MCUs with vector FPUs and memory protection units for improved real-time processing. Avnet recently released a MSC SM2S-ZUSP module billed as the world’s first Zynq UltraScale+ based SMARC module.


Ultra96-V2 block diagram
(click image to enlarge)
As before, the SBC provides 2GB of Micron LPDDR4, and boots from a 16GB Delkin microSD card pre-loaded with Xilinx’s PetaLinux. Major ports include mini-DP, 2x USB 3.0, and single USB 2.0 host and micro-USB 3.0 ports.

Specifications listed for the Ultra96-V2 include:

  • Processor — Xilinx Zynq UltraScale+ MPSoC ZU3EG A484 (4x Cortex-A53 @ 1.5GHz); FPGA with 154K logic cells, 141K flip-flops, and 70K LUTs; Mali-400 MP2 GPU; 2x Cortex-R5 MCUs
  • Memory/storage:
    • 2GB LPDDR4 RAM (“512M x 32” Micron).
    • MicroSD slot with 16GB Delkin card pre-loaded with PetaLinux
  • Wireless — Microchip 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 5 BLE (certified in 75 countries)
  • Other I/O:
    • Mini-DisplayPort
    • 2x USB 3.0 host ports
    • USB 2.0 host port
    • Micro-USB 3.0 “upstream” port
    • I2C, UART, and JTAG headers
    • 40-pin low-speed connector
    • 60-pin high-speed connector
  • Other features — 4x LEDs; optional USB-to-JTAG/UART pod
  • Operating temperature — industrial temp version available
  • Power — 12V input; Infineon PMIC
  • Dimensions — 85 x 54mm; 96Boards CE
  • Operating system — PetaLinux; voucher for Xilinx SDSoC license

Further information

The Ultra96-V2 is available for pre-order at $249, with shipments due by May, according to the announcement and June 4 per the shopping page. More information may be found on Avnet’s Ultra96-V2 product page.

This article originally appeared on LinuxGizmos.com on March 27.

Avent | www.avnet.com

Solar Powered BLE Sensor Platform Offers Battery-Less IoT Solution

ON Semiconductor has introduced its RSL10 Multi-Sensor Platform powered only with a solar cell. This complete solution supports the development of IoT sensors using continuous solar energy harvesting to gather and communicate data through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), without the need for batteries or other forms of non-renewable energy.

The combination of ultra-low-power wireless communications, small form-factor solar cell and low duty cycle sensing applications makes it possible to develop and deploy totally maintenance-free IoT sensor nodes. The RSL10 Solar Cell Multi-Sensor Platform is enabled by the RSL10 SIP, a complete System-in-Package (SiP) solution featuring the RSL10 radio, integrated antenna and all passive components.

The platform combines the RSL10 SIP with a solar cell and a host of low power sensors from Bosch Sensortec, including the BME280 all-in-one environmental sensor (pressure, temperature, humidity) and the BMA400 ultra-low-power 3-axis accelerometer. Together, they will allow developers and manufacturers to create complete IoT nodes that are entirely powered through renewable energy or energy harvested from the sensor’s surroundings.

There are a growing number of IoT sensor applications where the duty cycle is low enough to support intermittent communications, allowing the energy needed to support operation to be harvested using renewable sources. The energy efficiency of the RSL10 is augmented by the highly efficient power management system and the ultra-low-power sensors implemented in the platform. Applications are expected to include smart home and building automation such as HVAC control, window/door sensors and air quality monitoring. Asset tracking including package open/close detection, shock monitoring, and temperature and humidity data logging are also possible applications.

For easy development, the platform is supplied with all design files (Gerber, schematic and BoM) and customizable source code as part of a CMSIS software package. The RSL10 Solar Cell Multi-Sensor Platform is available now from ON Semiconductor.

ON Semiconductor | www.onsemi.com

 

ST and Virscient Team Up for Connected-Car Effort

STMicroelectronics has teamed up with Virscient to help system designers build automotive solutions using ST’s Telemaco3P secure telematics and connectivity processors. Virscient offers support to ST customers in the development and delivery of advanced automotive applications based on the ST Modular Telematics Platform (MTP). MTP is a comprehensive development and demonstration platform incorporating ST’s Telemaco3P telematics and connectivity microprocessor.

MTP enables the rapid prototyping and development of smart-driving applications, including vehicle connectivity to back-end servers, road infrastructure, and other vehicles. Virscient brings a deep understanding of wireless connectivity technologies and protocols ideal for architecting connected-car systems that rely on technologies such as GNSS (Precise Positioning), LTE/cellular modems, V2X technologies, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).

The Telemaco3P incorporates dual Arm Cortex-A7 processors with an embedded Hardware Security Module (HSM), an independent Arm Cortex-M3 subsystem, and a rich set of connectivity interfaces. With security at its core, and considerable flexibility in both hardware and software configurations, the Telemaco3P provides an excellent platform for connectivity within the vehicular environment.

ST’s Telemaco3P system-on-chip is designed as a solution for ensuring a secure connection between the vehicle and the Cloud. Its asymmetric multi-core architecture provides powerful application processors as well as an independent CAN control subsystem with optimized power management. Its ISO 26262 silicon design, its embedded Hardware Security Module, and automotive-grade qualification up to 105°C ambient temperature make it well suited for implementing a wide range of secure telematics applications supporting high-throughput wireless connectivity and over-the-air firmware upgrades.

STMicroelectronics | www.st.com
Virscient | www.virscient.com

 

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.

Not a Circuit Cellar subscriber?  Don’t be left out! Sign up today:

 

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.

Low-Power Wireless MCUs Provide Real-Time Performance

STMicroelectronics (ST) has announced its latest Bluetooth offering, its STM32WBx5 dual-core wireless MCUs. The devices come with Bluetooth 5, OpenThread and ZigBee 3.0 connectivity combined with ultra-low-power performance. Fusing features of ST’s STM32L4 Arm Cortex-M4 MCUs and in-house radio managed by a dedicated Cortex-M0+, the STM32WBx5 is power-conscious yet capable of concurrent wireless-protocol and real-time application execution. It is well suited to remote sensors, wearable trackers, building automation controllers, computer peripherals, drones and other IoT devices.
Security features of the STM32WBx5 MCUs include Customer Key Storage (CKS), Public Key Authorization (PKA), and encryption engines for the radio MAC and upper layers. The MCUs have up to 1 MB of on-chip flash and a Quad-SPI port for efficient connection to external memory, if needed. Additional features include crystal-less Full-Speed USB, 32 MHz RF oscillator with trimming capacitors, a touch-sense controller, LCD controller, analog peripherals and multiple timers and watchdogs. The balun for antenna connection is also integrated.

Leveraging ultra-low-power technologies of the STM32L4 line, STM32WBx5 MCUs feature multiple power-saving modes including 13 nA shutdown mode, adaptive voltage scaling, and the adaptive real-time (ART) accelerator to maximize energy efficiency and ensure long-lasting performance in self-powered applications. The integrated radio transmitter is optimized for high RF performance and low power consumption to maximize battery runtime. The RF output power is programmable up to +6 dBm in 1 dB increments, and the MCU draws only 5.2 mA when transmitting at 0 dB. Receive sensitivity is -96 dBm for BLE communication at 1mbps. Designed for a link budget of 102 dB, the radio ensures robust communication over long connection distances and includes support for an external Power Amplifier (PA).

STMicroelectronics | www.st.com

 

IoT Smart Water Care System Leverages Nordic’s BLE SoC

Nordic Semiconductor has announced that ConnectedYard has selected Nordic’s nRF51822 Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) SoC to provide the wireless connectivity for pHin, a smart water care solution designed to simplify the care and maintenance of backyard swimming pools and hot tubs. pHin combines an nRF51822 SoC- and Wi-Fi-enabled smart monitor and smartphone app that monitors water chemistry and temperature around the clock and notifies customers when they need to take action.
The pHin Smart Monitor floats in the pool or hot tub and continuously monitors water temperature and water chemistry—including pH and oxidation reduction potential (ORP)—and then wirelessly sends the water chemistry data over the Nordic SoC-enabled Bluetooth LE connection to the pool owner’s Bluetooth 4.0 (or later) smartphone and the ‘pHin WiFi bridge’. The data is also available via the pHin Partner Portal, which allows retailers, service technicians, and pool builders to remotely monitor water conditions and provides features that help drive consumers back to their local retailer for chemicals and other products. pHin uses a coin cell battery to achieve over two years of battery life between replacement, thanks in part to the ultra low power consumption of the nRF51822 SoC.

Nordic’s nRF51822 is ideally suited for Bluetooth LE and 2.4GHz ultra low power wireless applications. The nRF51822 is built around a 32-bit Arm® Cortex M0 CPU, 2.4GHz multiprotocol radio, and 256kB/128kB Flash and 32kB/16kB RAM. The SoC is supplied with Nordic’s S130 SoftDevice, a Bluetooth 4.2 qualified concurrent multi-link protocol stack. Nordic’s software architecture includes a clear separation between the RF protocol software and the application code, simplifying development for ConnectedYard’s engineers and ensuring the SoftDevice doesn’t become corrupted when developing, compiling, testing and verifying application code.

Nordic Semiconductor | www.nordicsemi.com

Low-Power Bluetooth MCUs Deliver Mesh Networking

Cypress Semiconductor has announced it is sampling two low-power, dual-mode Bluetooth 5.0 and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) MCUs that include support for Bluetooth mesh networking for the Internet of Things (IoT). The new CYW20819 and CYW20820 MCUs each provide simultaneous Bluetooth 5.0 audio and BLE connections.

The CYW20819 Bluetooth/BLE MCU has the ability to maintain Serial Port Profile (SPP) protocol connections and Bluetooth mesh connections simultaneously. The CYW20820 offers the same features and integrates a power amplifier (PA) with up to 10 dBm output power for long-range applications up to 400 m and whole-home coverage. This provides classic Bluetooth tablet and smartphone connections while enabling a low-power, standards-compliant mesh network for sensor-based smart home or enterprise applications.

Both MCUs embed the Arm Cortex-M4 core. It enables operation at 60% lower active power for connected 200-ms beacons compared to current solutions—delivering up to 123 days of battery life from a CR2032 coin cell battery. Previously, users needed to be in the immediate vicinity of a Bluetooth device to control it without an added hub. Using Bluetooth mesh networking technology, combined with the high-performance integrated PA in the CYW20820, the devices within a network can communicate with each other.

Cypress Semiconductor | www.cypress.com

BLE Multicore MCUs Embed Arm Cortex M33 CPU

Dialog Semiconductor has announced its SmartBond DA1469x family of Bluetooth low energy SoCs, a range of multi-core MCUs for wireless connectivity. The devices’ three integrated cores have each been carefully chosen for their capabilities to sense, process and communicate between connected devices, says Dialog. To provide the devices’ processing power, the DA1469x product family is the first wireless MCU in production with a dedicated application processor based on the Arm Cortex-M33 CPU, according to Dialog.

The M33 is aimed at compute intensive applications, such as high-end fitness trackers, advanced smart home devices and virtual reality game controllers. The DA1469x devices have a new integrated radio that offers double the range compared to its predecessor together with an Arm Cortex-M0+ based software-programmable packet engine that implements protocols and provides full flexibility for wireless communication.

On the connectivity front, an emerging application is for manufacturers to deploy accurate positioning through the Angle of Arrival and Angle of Departure features of the newly introduced Bluetooth 5.1 standard. With its world-class radio front end performance and configurable protocol engine, the DA1469x complies with this new version of the standard and opens new opportunities for devices that require accurate indoor positioning such as building access and remote keyless entry systems.

To enhance the sensing functionality of the DA1469x, the M33 application processor and M0+ protocol engine is complemented with a Sensor Node Controller (SNC), which is based on a programmable micro-DSP that runs autonomously and independently processes data from the sensors connected to its digital and analog interfaces, waking the application processor only when needed. In addition to this power-saving feature, a state-of-the-art Power Management Unit (PMU) provides best-in-class power management by controlling the different processing cores and only activating them as needed.

The SoCs feature up to 144 DMIPS, 512 KB of RAM, memory protection, a floating-point unit, a dedicated crypto engine to enable end-to-end security and expandable memories, ensuring a wide range of advanced smart device applications can be implemented using the chipset family and supporting a range of key value-add interfaces to extend functionality even further.

The PMU also provides three regulated power rails and one LDO output to supply external system components, removing the requirement of a separate power management IC (PMIC). Additionally, the DA169x product family come equipped with a range of key value-add interfaces including a display driver, an audio interface, USB, a high-accuracy ADC, a haptic driver capable of driving both ERM and LRA motors as well as a programmable stepping motor controller.

Developers working with the DA1469x product family can make use of Dialog’s software development suite – SmartSnippets – which gives them the tools they need to develop best-in-class applications on the new MCUs. The DA1469x variants will start volume production in the first half of 2019. Samples and development kits are available now.

Dialog Semiconductor | www.dialog-semiconductor.com

 

Rugged Touch Panel Computer Targets Railway System Designs

ADLINK Technology has released its latest Driver Machine Interface (DMI) touch panel computer, the DMI-1210, designed specifically for train control and driver information display. Powered by the Intel Atom x5-E3930 processor (formerly Apollo Lake) and featuring a 12.1” (4:3) high resolution color display, 5-wire resistive touch screen and securable I/O interface, the DMI-1210 can be deployed as an HMI unit for driver’s desks, control panel for passenger information systems, surveillance system control/display unit or in railway diagnostics and communications applications.
The DMI-1210 is an EN 50155 certificated, cost-effective, commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) driver interface that offers train radio display, electronic timetable, and diagnostic display functions and additional functionality such as train data recorder. The DMI-1210 supports full range DC power input from +16.8 V to +137.5 V DC. Optional MVB, GNSS, 3G/LTE, WLAN and Bluetooth through add-on modules give system integrators the necessary tools to expand use case possibilities.

With ADLINK’s built-in Smart Embedded Management Agent (SEMA) management and status LEDs on the front panel, the DMI-1210 provides easy and effective health monitoring and system maintenance. In addition, system robustness and reliability are provided by careful component selection for extended temperature operation, isolated I/Os, conformal coated circuit boards, securable I/O connectors and high ingress protection rating (IP65 front, IP42 rear).

ADLINK Technology | www.adlinktech.com

 

April Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The April issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is out next week (March 20th)!. We’ve worked hard to cook up a tasty selection of in-depth embedded electronics articles just for you. We’ll be serving them up to in our 84-page magazine.

Not a Circuit Cellar subscriber?  Don’t be left out! Sign up today:

 

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

VIDEO AND DISPLAY TECHNOLOGIES IN ACTION

Video Technology in Drones
Because video is the main mission of the majority of commercial drones, video technology has become a center of gravity in today’s drone design decisions. The topic covers everything including single-chip video processing, 4k HD video capture, image stabilization, complex board-level video processing, drone-mounted cameras, hybrid IR/video camera and mesh-networks. In this article, Circuit Cellar’s Editor-in-Chief, Jeff Child, looks at the technology and trends in video technology for drones.

Building an All-in-One Serial Terminal
Many embedded systems require as least some sort of human interface. While Jeff Bachiochi was researching alternatives to mechanical keypads, he came across the touchscreen display products from 4D Systems. He chose their inexpensive, low-power 2.4-inch, resistive touch screen as the basis for his display subsystem project. He makes use of the display’s Espressif Systems ESP8266 processor and Arduino IDE support to turn the display module into a serial terminal with a serial TTL connection to other equipment.

MICROCONTROLLERS ARE EVERYWHERE

Product Focus: 32-Bit Microcontrollers
As the workhorse of today’s embedded systems, 32-bit microcontrollers serve a wide variety of embedded applications-including the IoT. MCU vendors continue to add more connectivity, security and I/O functionality to their 32-bit product families. This Product Focus section updates readers on these trends and provides a product album of representative 32-bit MCU products.

Build a PIC32-Based Recording Studio
In this project article, learn how Cornell students Radhika Chinni, Brandon Quinlan, Raymond Xu built a miniature recording studio using the Microchip PIC32. It can be used as an electric keyboard with the additional functionality of recording and playing back multiple layers of sounds. There is also a microphone that the user can use to make custom recordings.

WONDERFUL WORLD OF WIRELESS

Low-Power Wireless Comms
The growth in demand for IoT solutions has fueled the need for products and technology to do wireless communication from low-power edge devices. Using technologies including Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE), wireless radio frequency technology (LoRa) and others, embedded system developers are searching for ways to get efficient IoT connectivity while drawing as little power as possible. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child explores the latest technology trends and product developments in low-power wireless communications.

Bluetooth Mesh (Part 2)
Continuing his article series on Bluetooth mesh, this month Bob Japenga looks at the provisioning process required to get a device onto a Bluetooth mesh network. Then he examines two application examples and evaluates the various options for each example.

Build a Prescription Reminder
Pharmaceuticals prescribed by physicians are important to patients both old and young. But these medications will only do their job if taken according to a proper schedule. In this article, Devlin Gualtieri describes his Raspberry-Rx Prescription Reminder project, a network-accessible, the Wi-Fi connected, Raspberry Pi-based device that alerts a person when a particular medication should be administered. It also keeps a log of the actual times when medications were administered.

ENGINEERING TIPS, TRICKS AND TECHNIQUES

The Art of Current Probing
In his February column, Robert Lacoste talked about oscilloscope probes—or more specifically, voltage measurement probes. He explained how selecting the correct probe for a given measurement, and using it as it properly, is as important as having a good scope. In this article, Robert continues the discussion with another common measurement task: Accurately measuring current using an oscilloscope.

Software Engineering
There’s no doubt that achieving high software quality is human-driven endeavor. No amount of automated code development can substitute for best practices. A great tool for such efforts is the IEEE Computer Society’s Guide to the Software Engineering Body of Knowledge. In this article, George Novacek discusses some highlights of this resource, and why he has frequently consulted this document when preparing development plans.

HV Differential Probe
A high-voltage differential probe is a critical piece of test equipment for anyone who wants to safely examine high voltage signals on a standard oscilloscope. In his article, Andrew Levido describes his design of a high-voltage differential probe with features similar to commercial devices, but at a considerably lower cost. It uses just three op amps in a classic instrumentation amplifier configuration and provides a great exercise in precision analog design.

i.MX6-Based SBC Offers Global Cellular Expansion

VersaLogic has announced the Swordtail SBC that features models with either the NXP i.MX6 Quad (quad core), or the i.MX6 DualLite (dual core) processors. The SBC includes on-board Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a cellular plug-in socket. At home in hostile environments the compact 95 mm x 95 mm computer board is rated for operation at full industrial temperature range (-40° to +85°C). Unlike many Arm-based “modules”, VersaLogic’s new Arm-based products are complete board-level computers. They do not require additional carrier cards, companion boards, connector break-out boards, or other add-ons to function.

Swordtail boards have been designed to enable transmission of maintenance or diagnostic information without the need for a wired connection. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios are included on board, and a NimbleLink Skywire socket supports a wide range of optional cellular and other wireless plug-ins. The Swordtail embedded computer board is suited for deployment into demanding industrial, smart city and transportation applications requiring rugged, long-life, power efficient and industrial temperature rated solutions.

Both Swordtail models feature soldered-on memory, and a variety of I/O connections. In addition to wireless capability, the on-board I/O includes a Gbit Ethernet port with network boot capability, two USB 2.0 Ports, serial I/O (RS-232), CAN Bus, microSD socket, and I2C interface. The boards can accommodate up to 32 GB of on-board flash storage.

Designed for COTS and MCOTS users, Swordtail can be modified for specific applications in quantities as low as 100 pieces. Many applications that require lower power or lower heat dissipation also need very high levels of reliability. Designed and tested for industrial temperature (-40° to +85°C) operation, VersaLogic’s Swordtail also meets MIL-STD-202H specifications to withstand high impact and vibration. Carefully engineered and validated, Swordtail excels in unforgiving environments.

Like other VersaLogic products, the Swordtail is designed for long-term availability (10+ year typical production lifecycle). The Swordtail single board computers (EPC-2702), will be available Q2 2019 from both VersaLogic and Digi-Key. OEM pricing starts at $236.

VersaLogic | www.versalogic.com

Wi-Fi 6 / Bluetooth Combo Chips Enhance Automotive Infotainment

Cypress Semiconductor has announced a trio of new products, including Wi-Fi / Bluetooth combo chipsets and supporting software serve as application development platforms that enable multiple users to connect and seamlessly stream unique content to as many as 10 mobile devices simultaneously. The new infotainment platforms include a Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Bluetooth combo solution that features Cypress’ Real Simultaneous Dual Band (RSDB) architecture. RSDB has become the de facto standard for premium connected infotainment experiences, enabling two unique data streams to run at full throughput simultaneously by integrating two complete Wi-Fi subsystems into a single chip. Wi-Fi 6 enables gigabit-level throughput and improves reliability for content streaming to multiple devices at once.
Cypress also added two Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and Bluetooth combo solutions to its portfolio, empowering car makers and automotive system suppliers with a scalable platform solution to address a wide range of vehicles with a uniform software architecture that minimizes development and system integration costs.

According to Cypress, premium infotainment systems require high-throughput, multi-role, concurrent operation to implement wireless mirroring for applications such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Mirrorlink. Cypress’ Wi-Fi and Bluetooth combo solutions meet these needs and also offer simultaneous Wi-Fi Hotspot and content access, and multi-band/multi-radio coexistence for video and Bluetooth audio. The Cypress CYW89650 2×2 plus 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 combo solution delivers more than 1G bps throughput, and the RSDB architecture enables concurrent operation for these use cases in high-performance infotainment systems without audio or video degradation.

The new CYW89459 2×2 Wi-Fi 5 and Bluetooth 5.0 combo with RSDB builds on the success of Cypress’ existing automotive Wi-Fi 5 solutions, enabling more connected devices to the head unit and including emerging features such as WPA3 security, Wi-Fi Location and Wi-Fi Aware. Together with the new cost-effective CYW89373 1×1 Wi-Fi 5 and Bluetooth 5.0 combo, the portfolio provides mass market to luxury class vehicles with advanced wireless performance and medium coexistence management for an uninterrupted entertainment experience.

Cypress’ automotive wireless solutions are fully automotive qualified with AEC-Q100 grade-3 validation. Cypress’ existing solutions have been designed in by numerous top-tier car OEMs and automotive suppliers and are in production vehicles today supporting infotainment and telematics applications such as smartphone screen-mirroring, content streaming and Bluetooth voice connectivity in car kits.

Cypress Semiconductor | www.cypress.com

 

 

Guitar Video Game Uses PIC32

Realism Revamp

While music-playing video games are fun, their user interfaces tend to leave a lot to be desired. Learn how these two Cornell students designed and built a musical video game that’s interfaced using a custom-built wireless guitar controller. The game is run on a Microchip PIC32 MCU and has a TFT LCD display to show notes that move across the screen toward a strum region.

By Jake Podell and Jonah Wexler

While many popular video games involve playing a musical instrument, the controllers used by the player are not the greatest. These controllers are often made of cheap plastic, and poorly reflect the feeling of playing the real instrument. We have created a fun and competitive musical video game, which is interfaced with using a custom-built wireless guitar controller (Figure 1 and Figure 2). The motivation for the project was to experiment with video game interfaces that simulate the real-world objects that inspired them.

Figure 1
Front of the guitar controller. Note the strings and plectrum.

Figure 2
Back of the guitar controller

The video game is run on a Microchip PIC32 microcontroller [1]. We use a thin-film-transistor LCD display (TFT) to display notes that move across the screen toward a strum region. The user plays notes on a wireless mock guitar, which is built with carbon-impregnated elastic as strings and a conducting plectrum for the guitar pick. The game program running on the PIC32 produces guitar plucks and undertones of the song, while keeping track of the user’s score. The guitar is connected to an Arduino Uno and Bluetooth control center, which communicates wirelessly to the PIC32.

The controller was designed to simulate the natural motion of playing a guitar as closely as possible. We broke down that motion on a real guitar into two parts. First, users select the sound they want to play by holding the appropriate strings down. Second, the users play the sound by strumming the strings. To have a controller that resembled a real guitar, we wanted to abide by those two intuitive motions.

Fret & Strum Circuits

At the top of the guitar controller is the fret board. This is where the users can select the sounds they want to play. Throughout the system, the sound is represented as a nibble (4 bits), so we use 4 strings to select the sound.

Each string works as an active-low push-button. The strings are made of carbon-impregnated elastic, which feels and moves like elastic but is also conductive. Each string was wrapped in 30-gauge copper wire, to ensure solid contact with any conductive surfaces. The strings are each connected to screws that run through the fret board and connect the strings to the fret circuit (Figure 3).

Figure 3
Complete controller circuit schematic (on guitar).

The purpose of the fret circuit is to detect changes in voltage across four lines. Each line is branched off a power rail and connected across a string to an input pin on an Arduino Uno. Current runs from the power rail across each string to its respective input pin, which reads a HIGH signal. To detect a push on the string, we grounded the surface into which the string is pushed. By wrapping the fret board in a grounded conductive pad and pushing the string into the fret board, we are able to ground our signal before it can reach the input pin. When this occurs, the associated pin reads a LOW signal, which is interpreted as a press of the string by our system.

Along with the fret circuit, we needed a way to detect strums. The strum circuit is similar in its use of a copper-wrapped, carbon-impregnated elastic string. The string is connected through the fret board to an input pin on the Arduino, but is not powered. Without any external contact, the pin reads LOW. When voltage is applied to the string, the pin reads HIGH, detecting the strum. To mimic the strumming motion most accurately, we used a guitar pick to apply the voltage to the string. The pick is wrapped in a conductive material (aluminum foil), which is connected to the power rail. Contact of the pick applies voltage to the string, which on a rising edge denotes a strum.

Figure 4
Shown here is a block diagram of the controller signals.

As shown in Figure 4, the direct user interface for the player is the guitar controller. The physical interaction with the guitar is converted to an encoded signal by an Arduino mounted to the back of the guitar. The Arduino Uno polls for a signal that denotes a strum, and then reads the strum pattern across the four strings. The signal is sent over USB serial to a Bluetooth control station, which uses a Python script to broadcast the signal to an Adafruit Bluetooth LE module. The laptop that we used as a Bluetooth control station established a link between the controller and the Bluetooth receiver, and was paramount to the debugging and testing of our system. Finally, the Bluetooth module communicated over UART with the PIC, which interpreted the user’s signal in the context of the game [2].  …

Read the full article in the March 344 issue of Circuit Cellar
(Full article word count: 3271 words; Figure count: 10 Figures.)

Watch the project video here:

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March Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The March issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is out next week!. We’ve rounded up an outstanding selection of in-depth embedded electronics articles just for you, and rustled them all into our 84-page magazine.

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

POWER MAKES IT POSSIBLE

Power Issues for Wearables
Wearable devices put extreme demands on the embedded electronics that make them work—and power is front and center among those demands. Devices spanning across the consumer, fitness and medical markets all need an advanced power source and power management technologies to perform as expected. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child examines how today’s microcontroller and power electronics are enabling today’s wearable products.

Power Supplies for Medical Systems
Over the past year, there’s been an increasing trend toward new products that have some sort of application or industry focus. That means supplies that include either certifications, special performance specs or tailored packaging intended for a specific application area such as medical. This Product Focus section updates readers on these technology trends and provides a product gallery of representative medical-focused power supplies.

DESIGN RESOURCES, ISSUES AND CHALLENGES

Flex PCB Design Services
While not exactly a brand-new technology, flexible printed circuit boards are a critical part of many of today’s challenging embedded system applications from wearable devices to mobile healthcare electronics. Circuit Cellar’s Editor-in-Chief, Jeff Child, explores the Flex PCB design capabilities available today and whose providing them.

Design Flow Ensures Automotive Safety
Fault analysis has been around for years, and many methods have been created to optimize evaluation of hundreds of concurrent faults in specialized simulators. However, there are many challenges in running a fault campaign. Mentor’s Doug Smith presents an improved formal verification flow that reduces the number of faults while simultaneously providing much higher quality of results.

Cooling Electronic Systems
Any good embedded system engineer knows that heat is the enemy of reliability. As new systems cram more functionality at higher speeds into ever smaller packages, it’s no wonder an increasing amount of engineering mindshare is focusing on cooling electronic systems. In this article, George Novacek reviews some of the essential math and science around cooling and looks are several cooling technologies—from cold pates to heat pipes.

MICROCONTROLLER PROJECTS WITH ALL THE DETAILS

MCU-Based Solution Links USB to Legacy PC I/O
In PCs, serial interfaces have now been just about completely replaced by USB. But many of those interfaces are still used in control and monitoring embedded systems. In this project article, Hossam Abdelbaki describes his ATSTAMP design. ATSTAMP is an MCS-51 (8051) compatible microcontroller chip that can be connected to the USB port of any PC via any USB-to-serial bridge currently available in the market.

Pet Collar Uses GPS and Wi-Fi
The PIC32 has proven effective for a myriad of applications, so why not a dog collar? Learn how Cornell graduates Vidya Ramesh and Vaidehi Garg built a GPS-enabled pet collar prototype. The article discusses the hardware peripherals used in the project, the setup, and the software. It also describes the motivation behind the project, and possibilities to expand the project in the future.

Guitar Video Game Uses PIC32
While music-playing video games are fun, their user interfaces tend leave a lot to be desired. Learn how Cornell students Jake Podell and Jonah Wexler designed and built a musical video game that’s interfaced with using a custom-built wireless guitar controller. The game is run on a Microchip PIC32 MCU and uses a TFT LCD display to show notes that move across the screen towards a strum region.

… AND MORE FROM OUR EXPERT COLUMNISTS

Non-Evasive Current Sensor
Gone are the days when you could do most of your own maintenance on your car’s engine. Today they’re sophisticated electronic systems. But there are some things you can do with the right tools. In his article, By Jeff Bachiochi talks about how using the timing light on his car engine introduced him to non-contact sensor technology. He talks about the types of probes available and how to use them to read the magnitude of alternating current (AC

Impedance Spectroscopy using the AD5933
Impedance spectroscopy is the measurement of a device’s impedance (or resistance) over a range of frequencies. Brian Millier has designed many voltammographs and conductivity meters over the years. But he recently came across the Analog Devices AD5933 chip made by which performs most all the functions needed to do impedance spectroscopy. In this article, explores the technology, circuit design and software that serve these efforts.

Side-Channel Power Analysis
Side-channel power analysis is a method of breaking security on embedded systems, and something Colin O’Flynn has covered extensively in his column. This time Colin shows how you can prove some of the fundamental assumptions that underpin side-channel power analysis. He uses the open-source ChipWhisperer project with Jupyter notebooks for easy interactive evaluation.