Declaration of Embedded Independence

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

JeffHeadShot

There’s no doubt that we’re living in an exciting era for embedded systems developers. Readers like you that design and develop embedded systems no longer have to compromise. Most of you probably remember when the processor or microcontroller you chose dictated both the development tools and embedded operating system (OS) you had to use. Today more than ever, there are all kinds of resources available to help you develop prototypes—everything from tools to chips to information resources on-line. There’s inexpensive computing modules available aimed at makers and DIY experts that are also useful for professional engineers working on high-volume end products.

The embedded operating systems market is one particular area where customers no longer have to compromise. That wasn’t always the case. Most people identify the late 90s with the dot.com bubble … and that bubble bursting. But closer to our industry was the embedded Linux start-up bubble. The embedded operating systems market began to see numerous start-ups appearing as “embedded Linux” companies. Since Linux is a free, open-source OS, these companies didn’t sell Linux, but rather provided services to help customers create and support implementations of open-source Linux. But, as often happens with disruptive technology, the establishment then pushed back. The establishment in that case were the commercial “non-open” embedded OS vendors. I recall a lot of great spirited debates at the time—both in print and live during panel discussions at industry trade shows—arguing for and against the very idea of embedded Linux. For my part, I can’t help remembering, having both written some of those articles and having sat on those panels myself.

Coinciding with the dot-com bubble bursting, the embedded Linux bubble burst as well. That’s not to say that embedded Linux lost any luster. It continued its upward rise, and remains an incredibly important technology today. Case in point: The Android OS is based on the Linux kernel. What burst was the bubble of embedded Linux start-up companies, from which only a handful of firms survived. What’s interesting is that all the major embedded OS companies shifted to a “let’s not beat them, let’s join them” approach to Linux. In other words, they now provide support for users to develop systems that use Linux alongside their commercial embedded operating systems.

The freedom not to have to compromise in your choices of tools, OSes and systems architectures—all that is a positive evolution for embedded system developers like you. But in my opinion, I think it’s possible to misinterpret the user-centric model and perhaps declare victory too soon. When you’re developing an embedded system aimed at a professional, commercial application, not everything can be done in DIY mode. There’s value in having the support of sophisticated technology vendors to help you develop and integrate your system. Today’s embedded systems routinely use millions of lines of code, and in most systems these days software running on a processor is what provides most of the functionality. If you develop that software in-house, you need high quality tools to makes sure it’s running error free. And if you out-source some of that embedded software, you have to be sure the vendor of that embedded software is providing a product you can rely on.

The situation is similar on the embedded board-level computing side. Yes, there’s a huge crop of low-cost embedded computer modules available to purchase these days. But not all embedded computing modules are created equal. If you’re developing a system with a long shelf life, what happens when the DRAMs, processors or I/O chips go end-of-life? Is it your problem? Or does the board vendor take on that burden? Have the boards been tested for vibration or temperature so that they can be used in the environment your application requires? You have to weigh the costs versus the kinds of support a vendor provides.

All in all, the trend toward a ”no compromises” situation for embedded systems developers is a huge win. But when you get beyond the DIY project level of development, it’s important to keep in mind that the vendor-customer relationship is still a critical part of the system design process. With all that in mind, it’s cool that we can today make a declaration of independence for embedded systems technology. But I’d rather think of it as a declaration of interdependence.

This appears in the October (327) issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

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Wi-Fi MCU Platform Update Targets Smart Home

Cypress Semiconductor has announced an updated version of its turnkey development platform for the IoT that simplifies the integration of wireless connectivity into smart home applications. The Wireless Internet Connectivity for Embedded Devices (WICED) Studio platform now adds iCloud remote access support for Wi-Fi-based accessories that support Apple HomeKit. Developers can leverage iCloud support in the WICED software Cypress WICED IoT Development Kit_0development kit (SDK) and Cypress’ CYW43907 Wi-Fi MCU to create hub-independent platforms that connect directly to Siri voice control and the Apple Home app remotely. Developers can access the WICED Studio platform, ecosystem and community at www.cypress.com/wicedcommunity.

Using Cypress’ WICED development platform and ultra-low power CYW20719 Bluetooth/BLE MCU, developers can integrate HomeKit support into products such as smart lighting devices, leverage Siri voice control and connect to the Apple Home app seamlessly. WICED Studio provides a single development environment for multiple wireless technologies, including Cypress’ world-class Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and combo solutions, with an easy-to-use application programming interface in the world’s most integrated and interoperable wireless SDK. The kit includes broadly deployed and rigorously tested Wi-Fi and Bluetooth protocol stacks, and it offers simplified application programming interfaces that free developers from needing to learn about complex wireless technologies. The SDK also supports Cypress’ high-performance 802.11ac Wi-Fi solutions that use high-speed transmissions to enable IoT devices with faster downloads and better range, as well as lower power consumption by quickly exploiting deep sleep modes.

The Cypress CYW43907 SoC integrates dual-band IEEE 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi with a 320-MHz ARM Cortex-R4 RISC processor and 2 MB of SRAM to run applications and manage IoT protocols. The SoC’s power management unit simplifies power topologies and optimizing energy consumption. The WICED SDK provides code examples, tools and development support for the CYW43907.

 WICED Studio IoT Development Platform

The WICED platform supports a broad range of other popular cloud services and eliminates the need for developers to implement the various protocols to connect to them, reducing development time and costs. The WICED Studio SDK enables cloud connectivity in minutes with its robust libraries that uniquely integrate popular cloud services such as iCloud, Amazon Web Services, IBM Bluemix, Alibaba Cloud, and Microsoft Azure, along with services from private cloud partners and China’s Weibo social media platform.

In line with the IoT trend toward dual-mode connectivity, the kit supports Cypress’ Wi-Fi and Bluetooth combination solutions and its low-power Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) combination solutions. The SDK features a single installer package for multiple wireless technologies with an Eclipse-based Integrated Development Environment (IDE) that runs on multiple operating systems, including Windows, MacOS and Linux.

Cypress’ WICED Studio connectivity suite is microcontroller (MCU)-agnostic and provides ready support for a variety of third-party MCUs to address the needs of complex IoT applications. The platform also enables cost efficient solutions for simple IoT applications by integrating MCU functionality into the connectivity device. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth protocol stacks can run transparently on a host MCU or in embedded mode, allowing for flexible platform architectures with common firmware.

Cypress Semiconductor | www.cypress.com

Embedded Analytics Firm Makes ‘Self-Aware Chip’ Push

UltraSoC has announced a significant global expansion to address the increasing demand for more sophisticated, ‘self-aware’ silicon chips in a range of electronic products, from lightweight sensors to the server farms that power the Internet. The company’s growth plans are centering on shifts in applications such as server optimization, the IoT, and UltraSoC_EmbeddedAnalyticsautomotive safety and security, all of which demand significant improvements in the intelligence embedded inside chips.

UltraSoC’s semiconductor intellectual property (SIP) simplifies development and provides valuable embedded analytic features for designers of SoCs (systems on chip). UltraSoC has developed its technology—originally designed as a chip development tool to help developers make better products—to now fulfill much wider, pressing needs in an array of applications: safety and security in the automotive industry, where the move towards autonomous vehicles is creating unprecedented change and risk; optimization in big data applications, from Internet search to data centers; and security for the Internet of Things.

These developments will be accelerated by the addition of a new facility in Bristol, UK, which will be home to an engineering and innovation team headed by Marcin Hlond, newly appointed as Director of System Engineering. Hlond will oversee UltraSoC’s embedded analytics and visualization products, and lead product development and innovation. He has over two decades of experience as system architect and developer, most recently at Blu Wireless, NVidia and Icera. He will focus on fulfilling customers’ needs for more capable analytics and rich information to enable more efficient development of SoCs, and to enhance the reliability and security of a broad range of electronic products. At the same time, the company will continue to expand engineering headcount at its headquarters in Cambridge, UK.

UltraSoC | www.ultrasoc.com

Fresenius Taps Eurotech Gear for Medical IoT Project

Eurotech announced that Fresenius Medical Care has chosen Eurotech’s IoT Gateways, IoT device middleware ESF and integration platform Everyware Cloud as the hardware and software building blocks for their IoT project to connect globally deployed medical everyware_server_M2M_clouddevices. Given the confidentiality agreements in force, no further financial details were disclosed. Fresenius Medical Care and Eurotech have been collaborating closely to integrate Eurotech’s IoT technologies with both Fresenius Medical Cares’ products on the field and Fresenius Medical Cares’ software applications on the IT side, with the goal of zero changes on both the products and the applications.

According to  Eurotech, the successful result is a solution that enables, in a very secure and effective way, to carry out technical services of Fresenius Medical Care medical devices installed in dialysis clinics worldwide. The challenges associated with the global deployment and servicing of intelligent medical devices are manifold and require the highest levels of flexibility when it comes to the software at the edge. A IoT architecture for distributed medical devices has to offer solid end-to-end security and has to provide local processing capabilities to enable functionality like access to technical data of medical devices and their configuration management. This is achieved by leveraging both ESF andEveryware Cloud in combination with Eurotech’s ReliaGATE Multi-service IoT Gateway.

The IoT device application framework ESF (Everyware Software Framework), speeds up the development and deployment of the specific application or business logic on the IoT edge device. ESF is a commercial, enterprise-ready edition of Eclipse Kura, the popular open source Java/ OSGi middleware for IoT multi-service gateways and smart devices.

Everyware Cloud, the IoT/M2M integration platform interfaces easily with existing enterprise IT infrastructures, offering simple access through standard APIs to real-time and historical data from devices. In addition, this IoT Integration Platform also enables effective remote device management as well as the device life cycle features that ensure a smooth deployment and management of these devices in the field. This IoT/M2M integration platform is also available for on-premises and private cloud deployment.

Eurotech | www.eurotech.com

CENTRI Demos Chip-to-Cloud IoT Security on ST MCUs

CENTRI has announced compatibility of its IoTAS platform with the STMicroelectronics STM32 microcontroller family based on ARM Cortex-M processor cores. CENTRI successfully completed and demonstrated two proofs of concept on the STM32 platform DJDTab0VoAAB_sKto protect all application data in motion from chipset to public Cloud using CENTRI IoTAS. CENTRI Internet of Things Advanced Security (IoTAS) for secure communications was used in an application on an STM32L476RC device with connected server applications running on both Microsoft Azure and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) Clouds. The proofs of concept used wireless connections to showcase the real-world applicability of IoT device communications in the field and to highlight the value of IoTAS compression and encryption.

IoTAS uses hardware-based ID to establish secure device authentication on the initial connection. The solution features patented single-pass data encryption and optimization to ensure maximum security while providing optimal efficiency and speed of data transmissions. The small footprint of IoTAS combined with the flexibility and compute power of the STM32 platform with seamless interoperability into the world’s most popular Cloud services provides device makers a complete, secure chip-to-Cloud IoT platform. CENTRI demonstrated IoTAS capabilities at the ST Developers Conference, September 6, 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center.

CENTRI |

STMicroelectronics | www.st.com

Cloud Platform Supports BeagleBone Black Dev Kit

Anaren IoT Group has announced the release of version 2.1 of its innovative Anaren Atmosphere online development platform. Atmosphere affords embedded, mobile and cloud developers an exceptionally fast way to create IoT applications with an easy-to-use IoT development environment. The new version of Atmosphere 2.1, now offers support for the BeagleBone Black Embedded Linux Development Kit, as well as a new cloud-only project type that allows users to build libraries for C#/.Net, C/C++, and Python to enable connections to their own embedded solutions in Atmosphere Cloud.

AtmosphereIntroCloudMonitor

As with version 2.0, users of Atmosphere 2.1 are able to simultaneously create and deploy corresponding hosted web applications. All design functions, including cloud visualization, use a drag-and-drop approach that does not require the need for command line coding – although code can be customized if desired. Atmosphere 2.1 also provides access to a large and growing library of sensors and other IoT elements for easy application creation. Atmosphere’s unique approach immediately accelerates design cycles, lowers risk, while removing cost in the development process as no specialized knowledge in hardware embedded coding, mobile application creation or web development is needed.

Atmosphere 2.1 can also host device and sensor data in its cloud-based environment and offers a highly customizable web-based user interface. The Atmosphere Cloud™ hosting option allows each user to host up to five devices at once – free of charge. The Atmosphere toolset is ideal for a variety of developers – from those who are simply looking to record single sensor data to those developing rich, complex device monitoring and control applications.

Anaren IoT | www.anaren.com/iot

Don’t Wait for IoT Standards

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

JeffHeadShot

I’ll admit it. When the phrase “Internet-of-Things” started to gain momentum some years ago, I was pretty dismissive of it. In the world of embedded systems technology that I’ve been covering for decades, the idea of network-connected embedded devices was far from new. At that point, I’d seen numerous catch phrases come and go—few of them ever sticking around. Fast forward to today, and boy was my skepticism misplaced! Market analysts vary in how they slice up the IoT market, but the general thinking puts the gowth range at several trillion dollars by the year 2020. IoT cuts across several market areas with industrial, transportation, smart homes and energy segments growing fastest. Even when you exclude PCs, phones, servers and tablets—concentrating on embedded devices using processors, microcontrollers, connectivity and high-level operating systems—we’re still talking billions of units.

Now that I’m sold that the hype around IoT is justified, I’m intrigued with this question: What specific IoT standards and protocols are really necessary to get started building an IoT implementation? From my point of view, I think there’s perhaps been too much hesitation on that score. I think there’s a false perception among some that joining the IoT game is some future possibility—a possibility waiting for standards.

Over the past couple years, major players like Google, GE, Qualcomm and others have scrambled to come up with standards suited for broad and narrow types of IoT devices. And those efforts have all helped move IoT forward. But in reality, all the pieces—from sensors to connectivity standards to gateway technologies to cloud infrastructures—all exist today. Businesses and organizations can move forward today to build highly efficient and scalable IoT infrastructures. They can make use of the key connectivity technologies that are usable today, rather than get too caught up with “future” thinking based on nascent industry standards.

In terms of the basic connectivity technologies for IoT, the industry is rich with choices. It’s actually rather rare that an IoT system can be completely hardwired end-to-end. As a result, 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. At the device-level, the ISM 802.15.4 is a popular standard for low power kinds of gear. 802.15.4 is the basis for established industrial network schemes like ZigBee, and can be used with protocols like 6LoWPAN to add higher layer functions using IP technology. Where power is less of a constraint, the standard Wi-Fi 802.11 is also a good method of IoT activity—whether leveraging off of existing Wi-Fi infrastructures or just using Wi-Fi hubs and routers in a purpose-built network implementation.

Another attractive IoT edge connectivity technology is Bluetooth LE (low energy) or BLE. While it was created for applications in healthcare, fitness, security and home entertainment, Bluetooth LE offers connectivity for any low power device. It’s especially useful in devices that need to operate for more than a year without recharging. If cellular networks make sense as a part of your IoT architecture, virtual networking platforms are available via all the major carriers—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless.

IoT is definitely having an impact in the microcontroller-based embedded design space that’s at the heart of Circuit Cellar’s coverage. Not to overstate the matter, IoT systems today make up less than a tenth of the microcontroller application market. MCUs are used in a myriad of non-IoT systems. But, according to market research done by IHS in 2015, IoT is growing at a rate of 11% in the MCU space, while the overall MCU market is expected to grow at just 4% through 2019.

IoT requires the integration of edge technologies where data is created, connectivity technologies that move and share data using Internet and related technologies and then finally aggregating data where it can be processed by applications using Cloud-based gateways and servers. While that sounds complex, all the building blocks to implement such IoT installations are not future technologies. They are simply an integration of hardware, software and service elements that are readily available today. In the spirit of Circuit Cellar’s tag line “Inspiring the Evolution of Embedded Design,” get inspired and start building your IoT system today.

This appears in the September (326) issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

The Future of Circuit Design

The cloud is changing the way we build circuits. In the near future we won’t make our own symbols, or layout our own traces, review our own work, or even talk to our manufacturers. We are moving from a world of desktop, offline, email-based engineering into a bold new world powered by collaborative tools and the cloud.

I know that’s a strong statement, so let me try to explain. I think a lot about how we work as engineers. How our days are filled, how we go about our tasks, and how we accomplish our missions. But also how it’s all changing, what the future of our work looks like, and how the cloud, outsourcing, and collaboration are changing everything.Homuth schem

For the past five years I’ve been a pioneer. I started the first company to attempt to build a fully-cloud circuit design tool. That was years before anyone else even thought it was possible. It was before Google docs went mainstream, and before Github became the center of the software universe. I didn’t build it because I have some love affair with the cloud (though I do now), or because deep down inside I wanted to make CAD software (eek!), I did it because I believed in a future of work that required collaboration.

So how does it work? Well, instead of double clicking an icon on your desktop, you open your web-browser and navigate to upverter.com. Then, instead of opening a file on your harddrive, you open one of your designs stored in the cloud. It loads, looks, and feels exactly the same as your existing design tools. You make your changes, and it automatically saves a new version, work some more, and ultimately export your Geber files in exactly the same way as you would with a desktop tool.

The biggest difference is that instead of working alone, instead of creating every symbol yourself, or emailing files, you are part of an ecosystem. You can request parts, and invite your teammates or your manufacturer to participate in the design. They can make comments and recommendations—right there in the editor. You can share your design by emailing a URL. You can check part inventory and pricing in real-time. You get notified when your colleagues do work, when changes get made, and when parts get updates. It feels a lot like how it’s supposed to work and maybe the best yet, it’s cheaper too.

Let me dispel a few myths.

The cloud is insecure: Of course it is. Almost every system has a flaw. But what you need to ask instead is relative security. Is the cloud any less secure than your desktop? And the answer shouldn’t surprise you. The cloud is about 10× MORE secure than your office desktop (let alone your phone or laptop). It turns out when companies employ people to worry about security they do a better job than the IT guys at your office park.

The cloud is slow: Not true. Web browsers have gotten so fast over the past decade that today compiled C code is only 3× faster thana JavaScript. In that same time your computer got 5× faster than it used to be, and that desktop software you’re running was written in the 90s (that’s a bad thing). And there is more compute power, available to the cloud that anywhere on Earth. All of which adds up to most cloud apps actually running faster than the desktop apps they replace.

Collaboration is for teams: True. But even if you feel like you’re on a team of one, no one really works alone these days. You order parts from a vendor, someone else did your reference design, you don’t manufacture your boards yourself. There could be as many as a dozen people supporting you that you don’t even realize. Imagine if they had the full context of what you’re building? Imagine if you could truly collaborate instead of putting up with emails and phone calls.

I believe the future of hardware design, and the future of circuits, is in the cloud. I believe that working together is such a superpower that everyone will have to do it. It will change the way we work, the way we engineer, and the way we ship product. Hardware designed in the future, is hardware designed in the cloud.

Zak Homuth is the CEO and co-founder of Upverter, as well as a Y Combinator alumni. At Upverter, Zak has overseen product development and design from the beginning, including the design toolchain, collaborative community and ondemand simulators. Improving the rate of innovation in hardware engineering, including introducing collaboration and sharing, has been one of his central interests for almost a decade, stemming from his time as an hardware engineer working on telecommunication hardware. Prior to Upverter, Zak founded an electronics manufacturing service, and served as the company’s CEO. Before that, he founded a consulting company, which provided software and hardware services. Zak has worked for IBM, Infosys, and Sandvine and attended the University of Waterloo, where he studied Computer Engineering before taking a leave of absence.

Client Profile: Digi International, Inc

Contact: Elizabeth Presson
elizabeth.presson@digi.com

Featured Product: The XBee product family (www.digi.com/xbee) is a series of modular products that make adding wireless technology easy and cost-effective. Whether you need a ZigBee module or a fast multipoint solution, 2.4 GHz or long-range 900 MHz—there’s an XBee to meet your specific requirements.

XBee Cloud Kit

Digi International XBee Cloud Kit

Product information: Digi now offers the XBee Wi-Fi Cloud Kit (www.digi.com/xbeewificloudkit) for those who want to try the XBee Wi-Fi (XB2B-WFUT-001) with seamless cloud connectivity. The Cloud Kit brings the Internet of Things (IoT) to the popular XBee platform. Built around Digi’s new XBee Wi-Fi
module, which fully integrates into the Device Cloud by Etherios, the kit is a simple way for anyone with an interest in M2M and the IoT to build a hardware prototype and integrate it into an Internet-based application. This kit is suitable for electronics engineers, software designers, educators, and innovators.

Exclusive Offer: The XBee Wi-Fi Cloud Kit includes an XBee Wi-Fi module; a development board with a variety of sensors and actuators; loose electronic prototyping parts to make circuits of your own; a free subscription to Device Cloud; fully customizable widgets to monitor and control connected devices; an open-source application that enables two-way communication and control with the development board over the Internet; and cables, accessories, and everything needed to connect to the web. The Cloud Kit costs $149.