Connected Padlock Uses U-Blox BLE and Cellular Modules

U‑blox has announced their collaboration with India‑based Play Inc. on a connected GPS padlock for industrial applications. The lock, which doubles as a location tracker, features a U‑blox M8 GNSS receiver, MAX‑M8Q, and uses the u‑blox CellLocate service to extend positioning to indoor locations. U‑blox Bluetooth low energy with NINA‑B112, and 2G, 3G and 4G U‑blox cellular communication modules, including some that are ATEX certified, enable communication between users and the lock.
According to the company, In many industrial settings, locks are an unwelcome bottleneck. They typically require the physical presence of a person with a key to open them, they need to be checked periodically for signs of tampering, and when they are forced open, owners typically find out too late. Play Inc’s i‑Lock combines physical toughness and wireless technology to address these challenges. Offering a variety of access methods, including physical keys and keyless approaches using remote GPRS and SMS passwords as well as Bluetooth low energy or cloud‑based communication via mobile device apps, the i‑Lock lets plant managers or other customers flexibly grant authorization to access the goods that are under lock. And in the event that the padlock is forcefully opened, they are immediately alerted via a server or, optionally, SMS texting.

In addition to securing mobile and stationary goods, the lock’s GNSS receiver lets users track goods in transit. The i‑Lock supports a variety of tracking modes to optimize power consumption for increased autonomy. Location‑awareness further enables geofence restricted applications, in which the i‑Lock can only be open if it is within predefined geographical bounds—for example a petroleum filling station.

The security lock was designed to endure both physical attempts of tampering and cyberattacks. Its fiberglass reinforced enclosure withstands temperatures from -20 to +80 degrees C. The lock features Super Admin, Admin, and User access levels, 128-bit AES encryption, user‑configurable passwords, and a secure protocol to ensure data‑transmission accuracy.

The i‑Lock will be presented at The IoT Solutions Congress Barcelona on October 16‑18, 2018.

U-blox | www.u-blox.com

IoT Module Family Features Ultra-Compact Form Factor

Telit has announced the xE310 family of miniature IoT modules. With initial models planned in LTE-M, NB-IoT and European 2G, the new form factor will enable Telit to meet growing demand for ultra-small, high-performance modules for wearable medical devices, fitness trackers, industrial sensors, smart metering, and other mass-production, massive deployment applications. Telit will start shipping xE310 modules in Q4 this year.
Telit claims the xE310 family is one of the smallest LGA form factors available in the market with a flexible perimeter footprint supporting various sizes from compact to smaller than 200 mm2. The xE310’s 94 pads include spares to provide Telit the flexibility to quickly deliver support for additional features as technologies, applications and markets evolve. Spares can be used for modules supporting Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or enhanced location technologies—in addition to cellular—while maintaining compatibility with cellular only models. They can also be used for additional connections that may be required for new 5G-enabled features.

The new form factor also gives OEMs greater flexibility, efficiency and yield during design and manufacturing. The xE310 family provides easy PCB routing while minimizing manufacturing process issues such as planarity and bending. The unique circular pad facilitates correct package orientation for automated assembly.

To learn more about the new xE310 family, visit the Telit stand 431 at IoT Solutions World Congress in Barcelona, Spain on October 16-18.

For a look at how this new design is enabling smart metering applications, register for the Telit webinar on November 15: “From 2G to 5G: 5 things you need to know for smarter utilities”: https://www.smart-energy.com/industry-sectors/data_analytics/webinar-15-november-5-things-you-need-to-know-for-smarter-utilities/.

Telit | www.telit.com

2G Cellular Module Smooths Upgrade Path to LPWA

U‑blox has announced the SARA‑G450, a cost‑optimized 2G cellular module for machine‑to‑machine (M2M) applications, such as utility metering and tracking systems. Provided in the industry‑proven SARA form factor, the SARA‑G450 quad‑band GSM/GPRS module lets product developers easily migrate their products to 3G, LTE, or LPWA technology to meet a broad range of environmental and technological requirements.

2G cellular technology offers reliable performance for mobile applications and broad geographical coverage. Until recently, this made it the technology of choice for machine type connectivity such as fleet management, metering and tracking. While some regions are currently phasing out their 2G network infrastructure (most notably the USA), 2G continues to be a viable and popular option for M2M solutions in regions still lacking NB‑IoT and LTE Cat M1 networks or where coverage is spotty. The SARA‑G450 is an ideal solution for cost and space‑sensitive applications in these markets.

Thanks to its pin‑compatibility with the entire u‑blox cellular line‑up product designers can use a single platform and PCB design to enable solutions for a variety of air interface technologies, including  2G, 3G, LPWA (LTE Cat M1 and NB1), and high speed LTE. This also means that product developers can anticipate future upgrades of their applications to move to LTE Cat M1 and NB1 connectivity as soon as they become available in their target markets.

SARA‑G450 is a standard grade quad‑band GSM/GPRS module that is power‑optimized for IoT applications. It offers the flexibility to combine with a variety of best‑in‑class u‑blox GNSS or Bluetooth modules for solutions that integrate positioning, short range and cellular communication. An embedded internet suite facilitates the development of a wide range of M2M devices.

Samples will be available at the end of August with production starting end of September.

U-blox | www.u-blox.com

Development Kit Rolls for Cellular LTE-M Smart Modem

Digi International has announced the availability of the Digi XBee3 Cellular LTE-M development kits, featuring Digi’s next-generation smart cellular modem. This LTE-M certification, to be followed by the certification of Digi XBee3 Cellular NB-IoT in October 2018, allows Digi to claim having one of the first LPWA, software-defined technology-agile modems capable of offering Cat-M or NB-IoT on a single, compact footprint. Designed to be configurable, developers can easily standardize and future-proof their IoT designs by simply changing modems and SIMs to leverage different wireless protocols without having to redesign hardware for different regions or applications.
The new Digi XBee3 Cellular LTE-M smart modem is integrated into the development kit via a 20-pin Digi XBee socket, ultimately allowing for solution connectivity via millions of sockets already deployed around the globe. The module can also be easily configured and controlled from a centralized platform such as the Digi Remote Manager..

Digi International is an AWS Advanced Technology Partner in the AWS Partner Network (APN),  and the Digi XBee3 Cellular LTE-M is a smart cellular modem supported by AWS IoT Core. With built-in Digi TrustFence security, the module’s identity and data privacy features use more than 175 controls to protect against new and evolving cyber threats. It also provides the tools to secure connected devices, including data in motion with TLS 1.2 encryption and bi-directional authentication, required for AWS IoT connectivity.

Digi XBee3 Cellular LTE-M Smart Modem Capabilities

  • FCC certified and carrier end-device certified
  • Integrated MicroPython programmability
  • Up to 180 days of free cellular service with development kits*
  • Excellent coverage and building penetration
  • Low power consumption optimized for long battery life
  • Direct USB provides easy PPP integration option
  • Enhanced with Digi TrustFence security framework
  • Manage and configure with XCTU and Digi Remote Manager
  • Digi XBee Transparent and API modes simplify design
  • Reduced hardware complexity with only one antenna required
  • Development Kit Availability

The Digi XBee3 Cellular LTE-M smart modem development kit is now available for evaluation and testing. The kit includes one Digi XBee3 Cellular LTE-M embedded modem, one XBee3 development board, one active SIM, up to six months of free cellular service*, antennas and power supply, and Digi’s full library of documentation and examples.

Digi International | www.digi.com

Cellular/Wi-Fi Gateway Targets In-Vehicle Intelligent Systems

Kontron has introduced the EvoTRAC G103 In-Vehicle Rugged Cellular and Wi-Fi Gateway that provides broad connectivity capabilities that enable a new range of in-vehicle management, remote access and cloud-based applications. Providing the mobile connectivity and onboard recording device storage needed for a new generation of more intelligent systems, the EvoTRAC G103 features a WiFi and 4G Advanced Pro+ LTE module, and includes 64 GB eMMC for onboard storage as well as optionalfixed storage capacity.

The EvoTRAC G103 is a flexible open-architecture building block platform that supports fast access to actionable information from its integrated dual Gigabit Ethernet and dual CAN bus interface that supports 2.0 A and B, along with two USB 2.0 interface. With the explosion of data generated by today’s commercial vehicles, implementing a robust gateway such as the EvoTRAC G103 offloads important information operators can use to keep drivers safe, lower fuel consumption and effectively manage maintenance costs.

Tested to survive extreme temperature (-40° C to +80° C) and other demanding on and off-road vehicle conditions (shock, vibration, humidity, salt fog), the EvoTRAC™ G103 Gateway leverages Kontron’s hardened Type 6 COMe E3845 COM Express® CPU module coupled with a ruggedized Carrier Board, all packaged in a natural convection, sealed IP67 enclosure. Extremely rugged and mechanically compact, this gateway is based on the efficient, low-power Intel Atom processor, and incorporates protection from water and dust ingress, as well as CISPR25 emissions and ISO 11452-2 susceptibility.

Kontron | www.kontron.com

Wireless Standards and Solutions for IoT

Protocol Choices Abound

One of the critical enabling technologies making the Internet-of-Things possible is the set of well-established wireless standards that allow movement of data to and from low-power edge devices. These standards are being implemented in a variety of chip- and module-based solutions.

By Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

Connecting the various nodes of an IoT implementation can involve a number of wired and wireless network technologies. It’s rare that an IoT system can be completely hardwired end to end. That means most IoT systems of any large scale depend on a variety of wireless technologies including everything from device-level technologies to Wi-Fi to cellular networking.

IoT system developers have a rich set of wireless standards to choose from. And these can be implemented from the gateway and the device side using a variety of wireless IoT solutions in both module and chip form. Some of these are available from the leading microcontroller vendors, but a growing number are IoT-specialist chip and module vendors. Many of today’s solutions combine multiple protocols on the same device, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth LE (BLE) for example. We’ll look at each of the major wireless standards appropriate to IoT, along with representative interface solutions for each.

LoRaWAN

Managed by the LoRa Alliance, the LoRaWAN specification is a Low Power, Wide Area (LPWA) networking protocol designed to wirelessly connect battery operated ‘things’ to the internet in regional, national or global networks. It meets key IoT requirements such as bi-directional communication, end-to-end security, mobility and localization services.

The networking architecture of LoRaWAN is deployed in a star-of-stars topology in which gateways relay messages between end devices and a central network server. Gateways are connected to the network server via standard IP connections and act as a transparent bridge, simply converting RF packets to IP packets and vice versa. The wireless communication takes advantage of the Long Range characteristics of the LoRa physical layer, allowing a single-hop link between the end-device and one or many gateways. All modes are capable of bi-directional communication, and support is included for multicast addressing groups to make efficient use of spectrum during tasks such as Firmware Over-The-Air (FOTA) upgrades or other mass distribution messages.

In a recent LoRaWAN product example, Cypress Semiconductor in June announced its teaming up with Semtech on a compact, two-chip LoRaWAN-based module deployed by Onethinx. The highly-integrated Onethinx module is well-suited for smart city applications that integrate multiple sensors and are in harsh radio environments (Figure 1). Using Cypress’ PSoC 6 MCU hardware-based Secure Element functionality and Semtech’s LoRa devices and wireless radio frequency technology (LoRa Technology), the solution enables a multi-layer security architecture that isolates trust anchors for highly protected device-to-cloud connectivity. In addition, the PSoC 6 MCU’s integrated Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connectivity provides a simple, low-power, out-of-band control channel. Cypress claims the PSoC 6 device as the industry’s lowest power, most flexible Arm Cortex-M dual-core MCU with a power slope as low as 22-μA/MHz active power for the Cortex-M4 core. The device works well with Semtech’s latest LoRa radio chip family, which offers 50% power savings in receive mode and 20% longer range over previous-generation devices.

Figure 1
Using Cypress’ PSoC 6 MCU hardware-based Secure Element functionality and Semtech’s LoRa devices and wireless radio frequency technology (LoRa Technology), the Onethinx module enables a multi-layer security architecture that isolates trust anchors for highly protected device-to-cloud connectivity.

The Onethinx module uses the integrated Secure Element functionality in the PSoC 6 MCU to give each LoRaWAN-based device a secret identity to securely boot and deliver data to the cloud application. Using its mutual authentication capabilities, the PSoC 6 MCU-based, LoRa-equipped device can also receive authenticated over-the-air firmware updates. Key provisioning and management services are provided by IoT security provider and member of the Bosch group, ESCRYPT, for a complete end-to-end, secure LoRaWAN solution. The module, offered by Cypress partner Onethinx, connects to Bosch Sensortec’s Cross Domain Development Kit (XDK) for Micro-Electromechanical Systems (MEMS) sensors and to the provisioning system from ESCRYPT to securely connect.

Wi-Fi (802.11)

In systems where power is less of a constraint, the ubiquitous standard
Wi-Fi 802.11 is also a good method of IoT connectivity—whether leveraging off of existing Wi-Fi infrastructures or just using Wi-Fi hubs and routers in a purposed-built network implementation. As mentioned earlier, Wi-Fi is often available integrated with other wireless protocols such as Bluetooth. …

Read the full article in the July 336 issue of Circuit Cellar

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Texting and IoT Embedded Devices (Part 1)

Fun with the ESP8266 SoC

Can texting be leveraged for use in IoT Wi-Fi devices? Jeff has been using Wi-Fi widgets for a lot of IoT projects lately. This month Jeff lays the groundwork for describing a project that will involve texting. He starts off with a look at Espressif System’s ESP8266EX SoC.

By Jeff Bachiochi

Believe it or not, texting while driving as of this writing is still legal in a few states. About 10% of all motor vehicles deaths in the US can be traced back to distracted drivers. Granted that includes any distraction—however cell phone distraction has quickly become a serious issue. While hazards exist for any technology, common sense should tell you this is a dangerous act.

When the technology is used correctly, texting can deliver essential information quickly—without requiring both (or many) parties to be active at the same time. This allows you to make better use of your time. I still use email for much of my correspondence, however it’s great to be able to send your spouse a text to add milk to the grocery list—after they’ve already left for the store! And even though I chuckle when I see two people sitting next to each other texting, it is a sad commentary on emerging lifestyles.

I’ve been using Wi-Fi widgets for a lot of IoT projects lately. The cost to enter the fray is low, and with free tools it’s easy to get started. This month’s article is a about a project that will involve text, even though that may not be apparent at first. Let’s start off slowly, laying the groundwork for those who have been thinking about building this kind of project. We’ll then quickly build from this foundation into crafting a useful gadget.

A Look at the ESP8266EX

The innovative team of chip-design specialists, software/firmware developers and marketers at Espressif System developed and manufactures the ESP8266EX system-on-chip (SoC). This 32-bit processor runs at 80 MHz and embeds 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi functionality—802.11 b/g/n, supporting WPA/WPA2—as well as the normal gamut of general-purpose I/O and peripherals. It has a 64 KB boot ROM, 64 KB instruction RAM and 96 KB data RAM. Their WROOM module integrates the ESP8266 with a serial EEPROM and an RF front end with a PCB antenna for a complete IoT interface.

Anyone who has ever used a dial-up modem is most likely familiar with the term AT command set. The Hayes command set is a specific command language originally developed in 1981 by Dennis Hayes for the Hayes 300 baud Smartmodem. Each command in the set begins with the letters AT+ followed by a command word used for high-level control of internal functions. For the modem these enabled tasks like dialing the phone or sending data. As an application for the WROOM, an AT command set seemed like a perfect match. This allows an embedded designer to use the device to achieve a goal without ever having to “get their hands dirty.”

This photo shows the ESP-01 and ESP-07 modules along with the FTDI 232 USB-to-serial converter used for programming either module.

I first learned of the ESP8266 years ago and purchased the ESP-01 on eBay. It was around $5 at the time (Photo 1). I used it along with the MEGA 2560—my favorite Arduino module because of its high number of I/Os and multiple hardware UARTs. With the ESP-01 connected to a serial port on an Arduino, an application could directly talk with the ESP-01 and get the Arduino connected to your LAN. From this point, the world is under your control thanks to the AT Wi-Fi and TCP commands.

The ESP8266 literature states the Wi-Fi stack only requires about 20% of the processing power. Meanwhile, 80% is still available for user application programming and development.
So why not eliminate the Arduino’s Atmel processor altogether and put your Arduino code right in the 8266? Espressif Systems has an SDK and while it provides a development and programming environment, the Arduino IDE is comfortable for many. And it offers the installation of third-party platform packages using the Boards Manager. That means you can add support for the ESP8266EX and use much of the code you’ve already written.

Using the ESP-01

Since the ESP-01 has only 8 pins, adding the necessary hardware is pretty simple. This low power device runs on 2.5 V to 3.6 V, so you must make appropriate level corrections if you wish to use it with 5 V devices like Arduino boards. …

Read the full article in the March 332 issue of Circuit Cellar

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IoT: From Device to Gateway

Modules for the Edge

Connecting to the IoT edge requires highly integrated technology, blending wireless connectivity and intelligence. Feeding those needs, a variety of IoT modules have emerged that offer pre-certified solutions that are ready to use.

By Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

he Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the most dynamic areas of embedded systems design today. Opportunities are huge as organizations large and small work to develop IoT implementations. IoT implementations are generally comprised of three main parts: the devices in the field, the cloud and the network (gateways) linking them together. This article focuses on the “things” side—in other words, the smart, connected edge devices of the IoT. For more on IoT gateways, see “IoT Gateway Advances Take Diverse Paths“ (Circuit Cellar 328, November 2017).

Because this sub-segment of technology is growing and changing so fast, it’s impossible to get a handle on everything that’s happening. The scope that comprises IoT edge devices includes a combination of embedded processors and microcontrollers that provide intelligence. It also includes various wireless, cellular and other connectivity solutions to connect to the network. And it includes sensors to collect data and battery technologies to keep the devices running.

Connecting the various nodes of an IoT implementation can involve a number of wired and wireless network technologies. But it’s rare that an IoT system can be completely hardwired end to end. Most IoT systems of any large scale depend on a variety of wireless technologies including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee and even cellular networking.

What’s most interesting among all that, are not those individual pieces themselves, but rather an emerging crop of modular IoT products that combine intelligence and connectivity, while also taking on the vital certifications needed to get IoT implementations up and running. With all that in mind, the last 12 months have seen an interesting mix of module-based products aimed directly at IoT.

Certified IoT Modules

Exemplifying those trends, in September 2017, STMicroelectronics (ST)introduced the SPBTLE-1S, a ready-to-use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) module that integrates all the components needed to complete the radio subsystem (Photo 1). The BLE module integrates ST’s proven BlueNRG-1 application-processor SoC and balun, high-frequency oscillators and a chip antenna.

Photo 1
The SPBTLE-1S is a BLE module that integrates all the components needed to complete the radio subsystem. It’s BQE-approved, and FCC, IC and CE-RED certified to simplify end-product approval for North America and EU markets.

Developers can use this module to bypass hardware design and RF-circuit layout challenges. The SPBTLE-1S is BQE-approved, and FCC, IC and CE-RED (Radio Equipment Directive) certified to simplify end-product approval for North America and EU markets. ST’s Bluetooth 4.2 certified BLE protocol stack is included, and the supporting Software-Development Kit (SDK) contains a wide range of Bluetooth profiles and sample application code.

The device is packaged in a space-efficient 11.5 mm x 13.5 mm outline and has a wide supply-voltage range of 1.7 V to 3.6 V. The SPBTLE-1S module is well suited for small, battery-operated objects powered by various types of sources such as a primary button cell or rechargeable Li-ion battery. High RF output power of +5 dBm and good receiver sensitivity help to maximize communication range and reliability.

The BlueNRG-1 SoC at the heart of the SPBTLE-1S implements the complete BLE physical layer (PHY), link layer and network/application-processing engine comprising a low-power ARM Cortex-M0 core with 160 KB flash, 24 KB RAM with data retention and a security co-processor. The SoC also implements smart power management, with a DC/DC converter capable of powering the SPBTLE-1S module to ensure optimum energy efficiency. Users can leverage an extensive set of interfaces, including a UART, two I²C ports, SPI port, single-wire debug and 14 GPIOs, as well as peripherals including two multifunction timers, a 10-bit ADC, watchdog timer and real-time clock and a DMA controller. There is also a PDM stream processor interface, which is ideal for developing voice-controlled applications.

IoT Module for Development

Riding the IoT wave, all the major microcontroller vendors have beefed up their module-based IoT solutions in order to make it easier for developers to design in their MCUs. One example along those lines is the LPC54018 IoT module, developed by NXP in partnership with Embedded Artists. …

Read the full article in the March 332 issue of Circuit Cellar

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March Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The March issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is coming soon. And we’ve got a healthy serving of embedded electronics articles for you. Here’s a sneak peak.

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TECHNOLOGY FOR THE INTERNET-OF-THINGS

IoT: From Device to Gateway
The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the most dynamic areas of embedded systems design today. This feature focuses on the technologies and products from edge IoT devices up to IoT gateways. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child examines the wireless technologies, sensors, edge devices and IoT gateway technologies at the center of this phenomenon.

Texting and IoT Embedded Devices
Texting has become a huge part of our daily lives. But can texting be leveraged for use in IoT Wi-Fi devices? Jeff Bachiochi lays the groundwork for describing a project that will involve texting. In this part, he gets into out the details for getting started with a look at Espressif System’s ESP8266EX SoC.

Exploring the ESP32’s Peripheral Blocks
What makes an embedded processor suitable as an IoT or home control device? Wi-Fi support is just part of the picture. Brian Millier has done some Wi-Fi projects using the ESP32, so here he shares his insights about the peripherals on the ESP32 and why they’re so powerful.

MICROCONTROLLERS HERE, THERE & EVERYWHERE

Designing a Home Cleaning Robot (Part 4)
In this final part of his four-part article series about building a home cleaning robot, Nishant Mittal discusses the firmware part of the system and gets into the system’s actual operation. The robot is based on Cypress Semiconductor’s PSoC microcontroller.

Apartment Entry System Uses PIC32
Learn how a Cornell undergraduate built a system that enables an apartment resident to enter when keys are lost or to grant access to a guest when there’s no one home. The system consists of a microphone connected to a Microchip PIC32 MCU that controls a push solenoid to actuate the unlock button.

Posture Corrector Leverages Bluetooth
Learn how these Cornell students built a posture corrector that helps remind you to sit up straight. Using vibration and visual cues, this wearable device is paired with a phone app and makes use of Bluetooth and Microchip PIC32 technology.

INTERACTING WITH THE ANALOG WORLD

Product Focus: ADCs and DACs
Makers of analog ICs are constantly evolving their DAC and ADC chips pushing the barriers of resolution and speeds. This new Product Focus section updates readers on this technology and provides a product album of representative ADC and DAC products.

Stepper Motor Waveforms
Using inexpensive microcontrollers, motor drivers, stepper motors and other hardware, columnist Ed Nisley built himself a Computer Numeric Control (CNC) machines. In this article Ed examines how the CNC’s stepper motors perform, then pushes one well beyond its normal limits.

Measuring Acceleration
Sensors are a fundamental part of what make smart machines smart. And accelerometers are one of the most important of these. In this article, George Novacek examines the principles behind accelerometers and how the technology works.

SOFTWARE TOOLS AND PROTOTYPING

Trace and Code Coverage Tools
Today it’s not uncommon for embedded devices to have millions of lines of software code. Trace and code coverage 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 trace and code coverage tools.

Manual Pick-n-Place Assembly Helper
Prototyping embedded systems is an important part of the development cycle. In this article, Colin O’Flynn presents an open-source tool that helps you assemble prototype devices by making the placement process even easier.

January Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The January issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is coming soon. And it’s got a robust selection of embedded electronics articles for you. Here’s a sneak peak.

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Here’s a sneak preview of January 2018 Circuit Cellar:

 

                                     IMPROVING EMBEDDED SYSTEM DESIGNS

Special Feature: Powering Commercial Drones
The amount of power a commercial drone can draw on has a direct effect on how long it can stay flying as well as on what tasks it can perform. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child examines solar cells, fuel cells and other technology options for powering commercial drones.

CC 330 CoverFPGA Design: A Fresh Take
Although FPGAs are well established technology, many embedded systems developers—particularly those used the microcontroller realm—have never used them before. In this article, Faiz Rahman takes a fresh look a FPGAs for those new to designing them into their embedded systems.

Product Focus: COM Express boards
COM Express boards provide a complete computing core that can be upgraded when needed, leaving the application-specific I/O on the baseboard. This brand new Product Focus section updates readers on this technology and provides a product album of representative COM Express products.

TESTING, TESTING, 1, 2, 3

LF Resonator Filter
In Ed Nisley’s November column he described how an Arduino-based tester automatically measures a resonator’s frequency response to produce data defining its electrical parameters. This time he examines the resultsand explains a tester modification to measure the resonator’s response with a variable series capacitance.

Technology Spotlight: 5G Technology and Testing
The technologies that are enabling 5G communications are creating new challenges for embedded system developers. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child explores the latest digital and analog ICs aimed at 5G and at the test equipment designed to work with 5G technology.

                                     MICROCONTROLLERS IN EVERYTHING

MCU-based Platform Stabilizer
Using an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), two 180-degree rotation servos and a Microchip PCI MCU, three Cornell students implemented a microcontroller-based platform stabilizer. Learn how they used a pre-programmed sensor fusion algorithm and I2C to get the most out of their design.

Designing a Home Cleaning Robot (Part 2)
Continuing on with this four-part article series about building a home cleaning robot, Nishant Mittal this time discusses the mechanical aspect of the design. The robot is based on Cypress Semiconductor’s PSoC microcontroller.

Massage Vest Uses PIC32 MCU
Microcontrollers are being used for all kinds of things these days. Learn how three Cornell graduates designed a low-cost massage vest that pairs seamlessly with a custom iOS app. Using the Microchip PIC32 for its brains, the massage vest has sixteen vibration motors that the user can control to create the best massage possible.

AND MORE FROM OUR EXPERT COLUMNISTS:

Five Fault Injection Attacks
Colin O’Flynn returns to the topic of fault injection security attacks. To kick off 2018, he summarizes information about five different fault injection attack stories from 2017—attacks you should be thinking about as an embedded designer.

Money Sorting Machines (Part 2)
In part 1, Jeff Bachiochi delved into the interesting world of money sort machines and their evolution. In part 2, he discusses more details about his coin sorting project. He then looks at a typical bill validator implementation used in vending systems.

Overstress Protection
Last month George Novacek reviewed the causes and results of electrical overstress (EOS). Picking up where that left off, in this article he looks at how to prevent EOS/ESD induced damage—starting with choosing properly rated components.

Antenna Measurement Made Easy

For web Lacoste Lead Image

Covering the Basics

If you’re doing any kind of wireless communications application, that probably means including an antenna in your design. The science of antennas is complex. But here Robert shows how the task of measuring an antenna’s performance is less costly and exotic than you’d think.

By Robert Lacoste

Now that wireless communications is ubiquitous, chances are you’ll be using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cellular, LoRa, MiWi or other flavor of wireless interface in your next design. And that means including an antenna. Unfortunately, antenna design is not an easy topic. Even very experienced designers sometimes have had to wrestle with unexpected bad performances by their antennas. Case in point: Google “iPhone 4 antenna problem” and you will get more than 3 million web pages! In a nutshell, Apple tried to integrate a clever antenna in that model that was threaded around the phone. They didn’t anticipate that some users would put their fingers exactly where the antenna was the most sensitive to detuning. Was it a design flaw? Or a mistake by the users? It was hotly debated, but this so-called “Antennagate” probably had significant impact on Apple’s sales for a while.

I already devoted an article to antenna design and impedance matching (“The Darker Side: Antenna Basics”, Circuit Cellar 211, February 2008). Whether you include a standard antenna or design your own, you will never be sure it is working properly until you measure its actual performance. Of course, you could simply evaluate how far the system is working. But how do you go farther if the range is not enough? How do you figure out if the problem is coming from the receiver, the transmitter, propagation conditions or the antenna itself? My personal experience has been that the antenna is very often the culprit. With that in mind, it really is mandatory to measure whether or not an antenna is behaving correctly. Take a seat. This month, I will explain how to easily measure the actual performance of an antenna. You will see that the process is quite easy and that it won’t even need costly or exotic equipment.

SOME ANTENNA BASICS

Let’s start with some basics on antennas. First, all passive antennas have the same performance whether transmitting or receiving. For this article, I’ll consider the antenna as transmitting because that’s easier to measure. Let’s consider an antenna that we inject with a given radio frequency power Pconducted into its connector. Where will this power go? First off, impedance matching should be checked. If the impedance of the antenna is not well matched to the impedance of the power generator, then a part of the power will be reflected back to the generator. This will happen in particular when the transmit frequency is not equal to the resonant frequency of the antenna. In such a case, a part of Pconducted will be lost.  That is known as mismatch losses: Pavailable= Pconducted – MismatchLosses. While that itself is a very interesting subject, I have already discussed impedance matching in detail in my February 2008 article. I also devoted another article to a closely linked topic: standing waves. Standing waves appear when there is a mismatch. The article is “The Darker Side: Let’s play with standing waves” (Circuit Cellar 271, February 2013).

For the purpose of discussion here, I will for now assume that there isn’t any mismatching—and therefore no mismatch loss. …

Read the full article in the October 327 issue of Circuit Cellar

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Small Plug-In Embedded Cellular Modem

Skywire plug-in modem

Skywire plug-in modem

The Skywire is a small plug-in embedded cellular modem. It uses a standard XBee form factor and 1xRTT CDMA operating mode to help developers minimize hardware and network costs. Its U.FL port ensures antenna flexibility.

The Skywire modem features a Telit CE910-DUAL wireless module and is available with bundled CDMA 1xRTT data plans from leading carriers, enabling developers to add fully compliant cellular connectivity without applying for certification. Future versions of the Skywire will support GSM and LTE. Skywire is smaller than many other embedded solutions and simple to deploy due to its bundled carrier service plans.

Skywire is available with a complete development kit that includes the cellular modem, a baseboard, an antenna, a power supply, debug cables, and a cellular service plan. The Skywire baseboard is an Arduino shield, which enables direct connection to an Arduino microcontroller.

Skywire modems cost $129 individually and $99 for 1,000-unit quantities. A complete development kit including the modem costs $262.

NimbeLink, LLC
www.nimbelink.com