May Electrical Engineering Challenge Live (Sponsor: NetBurner)

Put your electrical engineering skills to the test. The May Electrical Engineering Challenge (sponsored by NetBurner) is now live.

This month, find the error in the code posted on the Challenge webpage for a chance to win a NetBurner MOD54415 LC Development Kit ($129 value) or a Circuit Cellar Digital Subscription (1 year).

TAKE THE CHALLENGE NOW

Find the error in the schematic and submit your answer via the online Submission Form by the deadline: 2 PM EST on February 20, 2015. Two prize winners from the pool of respondents who submit the correct answer will be randomly selected.

Find the error in the code and submit your answer via the online Submission Form by the deadline: 2 PM EST on May 20, 2015. Two prize winners from the pool of respondents who submit the correct answer will be randomly selected.

PRIZES

Out of each month’s group of entrants who correctly find the error in the code or schematic, one person will be randomly selected to win a NetBurner IoT Cloud Kit and another person will receive a free 1-year digital subscription to Circuit Cellar.

  • NetBurner MOD54415 LC Development Kit: You can add Ethernet connectivity to an existing product or use it as your product’s core processor! The NetBurner Ethernet Core Module is a device containing everything needed for design engineers to add network control and to monitor a company’s communications assets. The module solves the problem of network-enabling devices with 10/100 Ethernet, including those requiring digital, analog, and serial control.NetburnerMod54415module
  • Circuit Cellar Digital Subscription (1 year): Each month, Circuit Cellar magazine reaches a diverse international readership of professional electrical engineers, EE/ECE academics, students, and electronics enthusiasts who work with embedded technologies on a regular basis.Circuit Cellar magazine covers a variety of essential topics, including embedded development, wireless communications, robotics, embedded programming, sensors & measurement, analog tech, and programmable logic.

RULES

Read the Rules, Terms & Conditions

SPONSOR

NetBurner solves the problem of network enabling devices, including those requiring digital, analog and serial control. NetBurner provides complete hardware and software solutions that help you network enable your devices.netburneroffer

NetBurner, Inc.
5405 Morehouse Dr.
San Diego, CA 92121 USA

March & April Electrical Engineering Challenge Answers (Sponsor: NetBurner)

The answers to the March and April 2015 Electrical Engineering Challenge (sponsored by NetBurner) are available. Check out the answers and winners!

PRIZES

Out of each month’s group of entrants who correctly find the error in the code or schematic, one person will be randomly selected to win a NetBurner IoT Cloud Kit and another person will receive a free 1-year digital subscription to Circuit Cellar.

  • NetBurner MOD54415 LC Development Kit: You can add Ethernet connectivity to an existing product or use it as your product’s core processor! The NetBurner Ethernet Core Module is a device containing everything needed for design engineers to add network control and to monitor a company’s communications assets. The module solves the problem of network-enabling devices with 10/100 Ethernet, including those requiring digital, analog, and serial control.NetburnerMod54415module
  • Circuit Cellar Digital Subscription (1 year): Each month, Circuit Cellar magazine reaches a diverse international readership of professional electrical engineers, EE/ECE academics, students, and electronics enthusiasts who work with embedded technologies on a regular basis.Circuit Cellar magazine covers a variety of essential topics, including embedded development, wireless communications, robotics, embedded programming, sensors & measurement, analog tech, and programmable logic.

RULES

Read the Rules, Terms & Conditions

SPONSOR

NetBurner solves the problem of network enabling devices, including those requiring digital, analog and serial control. NetBurner provides complete hardware and software solutions that help you network enable your devices.netburneroffer

NetBurner, Inc.
5405 Morehouse Dr.
San Diego, CA 92121 USA

The Internet of Things: A Very Disruptive Force

We met with Geoff Lees (Senior Vice President & General Manager of Microcontrollers, Freescale) at the 2015 Embedded World Show in Nuremberg, Germany. We asked him about the Internet of Things, the big changes on the embedded systems horizon, and what it takes to be a successful engineer.L1060979

CIRCUIT CELLAR: The Embedded World Show is one of the biggest that specifically focuses on embedded technologies, new products, and design. What makes this show special?

GEOFF: In Europe we go to the Electronica in Munich and also to this show. At Electronica, we meet up with our clients and distributors. This Embedded show has a much more technical focus. Here we meet with the individual designers and technical teams of our clients and see most in-depth technical discussions. At the Electronica show we talk business; here we talk more technology and what it can do for the client.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: Talking about individual engineers, we remember last year in your press conference you mentioned a focus on hobbyists. That’s quite remarkable for a company like Freescale. We also see there is a small “maker lab” in your booth at the show.

GEOFF: It is important to address makers and hobbyists for two reasons. First, there are the sheer numbers. At Maker Show in New York, you see there a 100,000 people showing up. At a show like this, it is 20,000 to 25,000. Here we see the engineering teams of companies. But what is interesting about the maker community is that individuals can have an idea or innovation, create and build the prototypes, but instead of having a company making this, they have the community and can even go to market.L1060983

CIRCUIT CELLAR: Sometimes we get the idea that the bigger companies are looking at the crowd-funding communities as part of—or as a replacement for—their own R&D activities. How does that work for a company like Freescale?

GEOFF: One thing that’s very clear in today’s world is speed. Sometimes an individual, with very little obstruction, can have speed that cannot be matched by companies—and someone who can respond or react to the requirements almost instantaneously has an advantage. There are so many of these. Finding and communicating with them is almost an impossible task. You really have to watch carefully. It is almost impossible to know where the next innovation is coming from.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: You call the Internet of Things, the Internet of Tomorrow?

GEOFF: The IoT is a very disruptive force. It started out as a buzz, but it is in the “nature” of microcontrollers to connect and to communicate. With new Wi-Fi concepts, low-power and IPv6 the road is clear for many new applications. To demonstrate the new technologies we have a “bigger than big” truck driving through the US. We put it in the parking lot of companies and demo not only our own products, but also their products as well as the solutions of their competitors. With a show you get the designers or marketing people. With the truck we also have CEOs and CTOs for a coffee—the guys who would not even consider visiting our website!

CIRCUIT CELLAR: But how will the IoT affect us?

GEOFF: I currently have eight apps on my phone that are all IoT controls, monitoring my house, solar panels, and vehicle. I expect that number will grow. Also, devices will talk to devices and create new independent controls. “Big Ass Fans” is a nice example of that. That company is making fans but is also playing a role in home automation. Their latest model fan talks to the NEST. Only a small difference in temperature can set the fan to work rather than your air conditioning, either by cooling down or circulating the hotter air downwards.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: Everyone knows that standards are key to making the IoT really happen. What role does Freescale have in this?

GEOFF: We joined up with the Thread Group. This initiative started with only eight companies, and that number has grown to 50 in five months, and now we see around 1,000 companies that look for information. If we see a growth from eight to 50 to 1,000, you know that there is a momentum which will result in new standards. The Thread Group uses existing (IEEE 8082.15.4) technologies and standards to build a new wireless mesh protocol that will enable to overcome the current limitations in wireless home automation. The Thread Networks will aim at the simple installation of new nodes and it can scale up to 250 and more devices in a single network. No company—whether you are Cisco or IBM or Oracle—has the power to set the standard on their own, maybe a part of it, but not all. This will go as usual, an initiative will gain critical mass, and then the momentum drives it through. This will all be about momentum.

The complete interview appears in Circuit Cellar 297 (April 2015).

RTG4 Radiation-Tolerant FPGAs for High-speed Signal Processing Applications

Microsemi Corp. today announced availability of its RTG4 high-speed, signal-processing radiation-tolerant FPGA family. The RTG4’s reprogrammable flash technology offers complete immunity to radiation-induced configuration upsets in the harshest radiation environments, requiring no configuration scrubbing, unlike SRAM FPGA technology. RTG4 supports space applications requiring up to 150,000 logic elements and up to 300 MHz of system performance.Microsemi RTG4-  3-4view

Typical uses for RTG4 include remote sensing space payloads, such as radar, imaging and spectrometry in civilian, scientific and commercial applications. These applications span across weather forecasting and climate research, land use, astronomy and astrophysics, planetary exploration, and earth sciences. Other applications include mobile satellite services (MSS) communication satellites, as well as high altitude aviation, medical electronics and civilian nuclear power plant control. Such applications have historically used expensive radiation-hardened ASICs, which force development programs to incur substantial cost and schedule risk. RTG4 allows programs to access the ease-of-use and flexibility of FPGAs without sacrificing reliability or performance.

The flexibility, reliability and performance of RTG4 FPGAs make it much easier to achieve this. RTG4 is Microsemi’s latest development in a long history of radiation-tolerant FPGAs that are found in many NASA and international space programs.

Key product features include:

  • Up to 150,000 logic elements; each includes a four-input combinatorial look-up table (LUT4) and a flip-flop with built-in single event upset (SEU) and single event transient (SET) mitigation
  • High system performance, up to 300 MHz
  • 24 serial transceivers, with operation from 1 Gbps to 3.125 Gbps
  • 16 SEU- and SET-protected SpaceWire clock and data recovery circuits
  • 462 SEU- and SET-protected multiply-accumulate mathblocks
  • More than 5 Mb of on-board SEU-protected SRAM
  • Single event latch-up (SEL) and configuration memory upset immunity
  • Total ionizing dose (TID) beyond 100 Krad

Engineering silicon, Libero SoC development software, and RTG4 development kits are available now. RTG4 FPGAs and development kits have already shipped to some of the 120+ customers engaged in the RTG4 lead customer program. Flight units qualified to MIL-STD-883 Class B are expected to be available in early 2016.

Microsemi will present more information on RTG4 FPGAs in a live webinar on May 6 and will also be hosting Microsemi Space Forum events in the U.S., India and Europe starting in June, presenting information on RTG4 FPGAs and the extensive range of Microsemi space products.

Source: Microsemi Corp.

February Electrical Engineering Challenge Live (Sponsor: NetBurner)

Put your electrical engineering skills to the test. The February Electrical Engineering Challenge (sponsored by NetBurner) is now live.

This month, find the error in the schematic posted on the Challenge webpage for a chance to win a NetBurner MOD54415 LC Development Kit ($129 value) or a Circuit Cellar Digital Subscription (1 year).

TAKE THE CHALLENGE NOW

Circuit Cellar’s technical editors purposely inserted an error in the schematic below. Find the error and submit your answer via the online Submission Form by the deadline: 2 PM EST on February 20. Circuit Cellar will randomly select 2 prize winners from the pool of respondents who submit the correct answer.

Find the error in the schematic and submit your answer via the online Submission Form by the deadline: 2 PM EST on February 20, 2015. Two prize winners from the pool of respondents who submit the correct answer will be randomly selected.

PRIZES

Out of each month’s group of entrants who correctly find the error in the code or schematic, one person will be randomly selected to win a NetBurner IoT Cloud Kit and another person will receive a free 1-year digital subscription to Circuit Cellar.

  • NetBurner MOD54415 LC Development Kit: You can add Ethernet connectivity to an existing product or use it as your product’s core processor! The NetBurner Ethernet Core Module is a device containing everything needed for design engineers to add network control and to monitor a company’s communications assets. The module solves the problem of network-enabling devices with 10/100 Ethernet, including those requiring digital, analog, and serial control.NetburnerMod54415module
  • Circuit Cellar Digital Subscription (1 year): Each month, Circuit Cellar magazine reaches a diverse international readership of professional electrical engineers, EE/ECE academics, students, and electronics enthusiasts who work with embedded technologies on a regular basis.Circuit Cellar magazine covers a variety of essential topics, including embedded development, wireless communications, robotics, embedded programming, sensors & measurement, analog tech, and programmable logic.

RULES

Read the Rules, Terms & Conditions

SPONSOR

NetBurner solves the problem of network enabling devices, including those requiring digital, analog and serial control. NetBurner provides complete hardware and software solutions that help you network enable your devices.netburneroffer

NetBurner, Inc.
5405 Morehouse Dr.
San Diego, CA 92121 USA

Electrical Engineering Crossword (Issue 293)

The answers to Circuit Cellar’s December electronics engineering crossword puzzle are now available.293-crossword-(key)

Across

  1. AMPACITY—Max electrical current
  2. HUMREDUCTION—Use a bridge rectifier driven from an 8- to 12-V transformer winding, a capacitive filter, and a three-terminal IC voltage regulator to achieve this [two words]
  3. EMI—Radiated spurious EM energy
  4. BINARY—Offs and Ons
  5. PASCAL—1 newton/cm2
  6. QUARTZ—Timing crystal
  7. ETCHING—The production of a printed circuit through the removal of unwanted areas of copper foil from a circuit board
  8. CROSSTALK—Caused when one circuit’s signal creates an unwanted effect on another
  9. BUCK—Switched-mode power supply converter
  10. BETATRON—Designed to accelerate electron
  11. BIDIRECTIONAL—Radiating toward or receiving from the front and back only
  12. CRYOTRON—Operates via superconductivity

Down

  1. STOKESSHIFT—Can reduce photon energy [two words]
  2. INPUT—Signal in
  3. ATTO—0.000000000000000001
  4. NOISECANCELLATION—Eliminates out-of-phase information [two words]
  5. MAL—10 Decimals equals?
  6. RAMP—Linearly rising signal
  7. FORCE—Newton
  8. KEYED—OOK is on/off what?
  9. BUS—Common path for several signals

Electrical Engineering Innovation & Outreach

Bill Porter is a Panama City Beach, FL-based electronics engineer working for the US Navy. When he isn’t working on unmanned systems for the Navy, he spends his time running an engineering-focused educational outreach program and working on his own projects. In this interview, Bill talks about his first designs, technical interests, and current projects.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: You’re an electronics engineer for the United States Navy. Can you describe any of the projects you’re involved with?

BILL: I work with unmanned systems, or robots that are teleoperated and/or autonomous. This includes systems that swim under water, on the surface, or across the land. The Navy is working hard to develop robots to do the jobs that are dirty, dangerous, or dull and help keep the sailor out of harm’s way. One such system is called MUSCL, or Modular Systems Craft Littoral. MUSCL is a small, man-portable surface vehicle that is used by Riverine Patrol for remote surveillance and reconnaissance. I was the lead electrical engineer for the project.

Besides robots, I am also working on a few education outreach programs that work towards getting more students interested in STEM careers.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: Tell us about The Science Brothers nonprofit outreach program. How did the program start?

BILL: The Science Brothers is my main educational outreach program run out of my Navy base. For two Fridays every month, a few of my coworkers and I will visit a local elementary school to put on a show. The script of the show centers on the dynamics of two brothers, who specialize in different fields and argue over whose science is “cooler.” The result is a fun and wacky trip exploring different premises in science, such as light, sound, and energy, with examples and demonstrations from the realms of chemistry, physics, and electricity.

Science Brothers show

Science Brothers show

The program restarted when a few coworkers and I sat down and decided to bring back an old program that had existed on the base in the ‘90s called “Dr. Science.” The goal of the program was to bring science-based experiments to the schools using equipment they otherwise were not able to afford. By wowing the students with the spectacular-looking demos, we get them excited about science and yearning to learn more.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: Your website (BillPorter.info) includes projects involving 3-D printing, motor controllers, and LEDs. What types of projects do you prefer working on and why?

BILL: I am a hardware guy. I love to fire up my favorite PCB CAD software just to get an idea out of my head and on the screen. I do not breadboard very often, as I would rather take my chances trying some new idea on a board first. Either it works, or I have an excuse to design another PCB. Thankfully, group-order PCB services have enabled my addiction tinkering at a very low cost. I wish I was stronger at mechanical CAD design to really get the full potential out of my 3-D printer, but I have done well enough without it. It really does come in handy at times, whether it is a quick project enclosure, a mount, or a part for our garden.

Bill is self-proclaimed "hardware guy"

Bill is self-proclaimed “hardware guy”

CIRCUIT CELLAR: Do you have a favorite project?

BILL: Yes! My wedding of course! I married the girl of my dreams who is just as much as a geek as I am, and as a result, we had an extremely geeky wedding over a year in the making involving many projects throughout. So much so that our theme was “Circuit and Swirls” and we carried the motif throughout.

Wedding gadgets

Wedding gadgets

We designed and made our own wedding invitations involving LEDs, a microprocessor, and a clever Easter egg. Furthermore, we 3-D-printed our centerpieces, built up our own “e-textile” wedding attire with LEDs and EL wire, and we even had a “soldering ceremony” during the event. It made our parents nervous, but in the end, everyone had a good time. Did I mention I asked her to marry me on a PCB she designed for a project?

EE-themed wedding invitations

EE-themed wedding invitations

CIRCUIT CELLAR: Are you currently working on or planning any projects? Can you tell us about them?

BILL: I have one main project that is taking up all my time at work and at home. A coworker and I are the technical directors for the first-ever Maritime RobotX Challenge. The challenge, sponsored by Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Foundation and by the Office for Naval Research (ONR), will take place this October in Singapore. It will include 15 teams of college students from five participating nations and put them to the test by challenging them to design a robot that will complete five tasks autonomously. As one of the technical directors, I have been helping design and build the interactive course elements that the teams’ robots will be facing. Find out more at Robotx.org.

CIRCUIT CELLAR: What new technologies excite you and why?

BILL: I have always been infatuated by LEDs and ways to conserve energy, so I am most excited to see how efficient LEDs are starting to take over as the new source of light in the household.

The complete interview appears in Circuit Cellar 291 (October 2014).

Electronics “Mancave”: Small-Footprint Workspace

When it comes to a workspace, more doesn’t necessarily mean better. We encourage engineers and DIYers to focus their time and money on engineering, not on acquiring new and used equipment they’ll never use.

Belgium-based Jan Cumps has a very basic yet effective workspace. It is a true workspace. That means he actually has room to work there. It isn’t a cluttered room for storing junk.

Source: Jan Cumps

Source: Jan Cumps

Cumps noted:

I’m a clean-desker. Have to share it with studying kids. All gear has to have small footprint, or must be stow-away-able. That’s why you see a 4-in-1 multimeter, power supply, frequency counter and function generator, and a 2-in-1 hot air plus solder station. Components, meters, cables and what have you are stowed a way in boxes.

His equipment:

  • Philips MP 3305 oscilloscope
  • Metex MS-9150 4-in-1
  • Micronta (Tandy) and Metrix multimeters
  • Old-school soldering gear 
Share your space! Circuit Cellar is interested in finding as many workspaces as possible and sharing them with the world. Click here to submit photos and information about your workspace. Write “workspace” in the subject line of the email, and include info such as where you’re located (city, country), the projects you build in your space, your tech interests, your occupation, and more. If you have an interesting space, we might feature it on CircuitCellar.com!

 

Freescale High-Sensitivity Accelerometer Family

Freescale recently introduced a new range of three-axis accelerometers offering high sensitivity at low power consumption. According to Freescale, the FXLN83xxQ family is capable of detecting acceleration information often missed by less accurate sensors commonly used in consumer products such as smartphones and exercise activity monitors. In conjunction with appropriate software algorithms, its improved sensitivity allows the new sensor to be used for equipment fault prognostication (for predictive maintenance), condition monitoring, and medical tamper detection applications.

Source: Freescale

Source: Freescale

The 3 mm × 3 mm chip has a bandwidth of 2.7 kHz and uses analog output signals for direct connection to a microcontroller’s ADC input. Each chip has two levels of sensitivity that can be changed on the fly. The complete family covers acceleration ranges of ±2, ±4, ±8, and ±16 g, with gains of, 229.0, 114.5, 57.25, and 28.62 mV/g, respectively. Zero g is indicated by an output level of 0.75 V.

The FXLN83xxQ family:

  • FXLN83x1Q ±2 or ±8 g range
  • FXLN83x2Q ±4 or ±16 g
  • FXLN836xQ 1.1 kHz x- and y-axis bandwidth (Z = 600 Hz)
  • FXLN837xQ 2.7 kHz x- and y-axis bandwidth (Z = 600 Hz)

The sensors operate from 1.71 to 3.6 V (at 180 µA typically, 30 nA shutdown). The company has also made available the DEMOFXLN83xxQ evaluation break-out board with a ready-mounted sensor to simplify device integration into a test and development environment.

A Wire Is an Inductor (EE Tip #126)

I’m confident you know that you should keep wires and PCB tracks as short as possible. But I’m also sure that you will underestimate this problem fairly frequently.

Remember that 1 cm of a 0.25-mm-wide PCB track is roughly equivalent to an inductance of 10 nH. If this 10 nH is paired with, say, a 10-pF capacitor, that gives a resonant frequency as low as 500 MHz, which is easily below the third or fifth harmonics of the clock frequencies commonly seen on modern high-speed digital boards. Similarly, a 1-cm-long track will jeopardize the performances of any RF system such as a 2.4-GHz transceiver. There is only one solution: keep tracks and wires as short as possible. If you can’t, then use impedance-matched tracks.

Remember this rule especially for the ground connections: any grounded pad of any part working in high frequencies should be directly connected by avia to the underlying ground plane. And this via must be as close as possible to the pad, not some millimeters away.

Just yesterday I did a design review of a customer’s RF PCB. A small 0402 inductance was grounded through a via that was 3 mm away. It was a bad idea because the inductance was as low as 1 nH. Those 3 mm changed its value completely.—Robert Lacoste, “Mixed-Signal Designs,” CC25:25th Anniversary Issue, 2013. 

Prototyping for Engineers (EE Tip #111)

Prototyping is an essential part of engineering. Whether you’re working on a complicated embedded system or a simple blinking LED project, building a prototype can save you a lot of time, money, and hassle in the long run. You can choose one of three basic styles of prototyping: solderless breadboard, perfboard, and manufactured PCB. Your project goals, your schedule, and your circuit’s complexity are variables that will influence your choice. (I am not including styles like flying leads and wire-wrapping.)PrototypeTable

Table 1 details the pros and cons associated with each of the three prototyping options. Imagine a nifty circuit caught your eye and you want to explore it. If it’s a simple circuit, you can use the solderless breadboard (“white blob”) approach. White blobs come in a variety of sizes and patterns. By “pattern” I mean the number of the solderless connectors and their layout. Each connector is a group (usually five) of tie points placed on 0.1″ centers. Photo 1 shows how these small strips are typically arranged beneath the surface.Prototype p1-4

Following the schematic, you use the tie points to connect up to five components’ leads together. Each tie point is a tiny metal pincer that grips (almost) any lead plugged into it. You can use small wires to connect multiple tie points together or to connect larger external parts (see Photo 2).

If you want something a bit more permanent, you might choose to use the perfboard (“Swiss cheese”) approach. Like the solderless breadboards, perfboards are available in many sizes and patterns; however, I prefer the one-hole/ pad variety (see Photo 3). You can often find perfboards from enclosure manufacturers that are sized to fit the enclosures (see Photo 4).

There is nothing worse than wiring a prototype PCB and finding there isn’t enough room for all your parts. So, it pays to draw a part layout before you get started just to make sure everything fits. While I’m at it, I’ll add my 2¢ about schematic and layout programs.

The staff at Circuit Cellar uses CadSoft EAGLE design software for drawing schematics. (A free version is available for limited size boards.) I use the software for creating PCB layouts, drawing schematics, and popping parts onto PCB layouts using the proper board dimensions. Then I can use the drawing for a prototype using perfboard.

The final option is to have real prototypes manufactured. This is where the CAD software becomes a necessity. If you’ve already done a layout for your hand-wired prototype, most of the work is already done (sans routing). Some engineers will hand-wire a project first to test its performance. Others will go straight to manufactured prototypes. Many prototype PCB manufacturers offer a bare-bones special—without any solder masking or silkscreen—that can save you a few dollars. However, prices have become pretty competitive. (You can get a few copies of your design manufactured for around $100.)

There are two alternatives to having a PCB house manufacture your PCBs: do-it-yourself (DIY) and routing. If you choose DIY approach, you’ll have to work with ferric chloride (or another acid) to remove unwanted copper (see Photo 5). You’ll be able to produce some PCBs quickly, but it will likely be messy (and dangerous).Prototype p5-6

Routing involves using an x-y-z table to route between copper traces to isolate them from one another (see Photo 6). You’ll need access to an x-y-z table, which can be expensive.—CC25, Jeff Bachiochi, “Electrical Engineering: Tricks and Tools for Project Success,” 2013.

This piece originally appeared in CC25 2013