Displays Fit Diverse Embedded System Needs

Many Sizes and Solutions

The types of displays available for embedded applications are as diverse as embedded applications themselves. Whether your requirement is for small, smart, rugged or rain-proof, there’s probably a display solution that suits your system design needs.

By Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

Long gone are the days when the Graphics Processor Unit (GPU) market was filled with many semiconductor vendors jockeying for position. A combination of chip integration: graphics function moving inside microprocessors—and business consolidation: graphics chip vendors getting acquired, has narrowed the technology space down to mostly Intel, AMD and NVIDIA. And while these vendors tailor their products for high-volume markets, embedded applications must adapt those same GPUs to their needs.

With that in mind, makers of displays for embedded applications are constantly evolving their products to keep pace with the latest GPU technologies and both new and legacy display interface standards. Technologies range from small e-paper displays to rugged sunlight readable displays for the outdoors to complete Panel PC solutions that embed PC functionality as part of the display.

Mobile Dominates GPU Market

Although this article is focused on displays in embedded systems, it’s helpful to first understand the larger markets that are driving GPU technology. For its part, Jon Peddie Research (JPR), a market research and consulting firm focused on graphics and multimedia saw mobile devices as the dominate market when they did their annual review of GPU developments for 2017. In spite of the slow decline of the PC market overall, PC-based GPU sales (which include workstations) have been increasing, according to the review. In the mobile market, integrated GPUs have risen at the same rate as mobile devices and the SoCs in them. The same is true for the console market where integrated graphics are in every console and they too have increased in sales over the year.

Nearly 28% of the world’s population bought a GPU device in 2017, and that’s in addition to the systems already in use. And yet, probably less than half of them even know what the term GPU stands for, or what it does. To them the technology is invisible, and that means it’s working—they don’t have to know about it.

The market for, and use of, GPUs stretches from supercomputers and medical devices to gaming machines, mobile devices, automobiles and wearables. Just about everyone in the industrialized world has at least a half-dozen products with a GPU, and technophiles can easily count a dozen or more. The manufacturing of GPUs approaches science fiction with features that will move below 10 nm next year and have a glide-path to 3 nm—and some think even 1 nm.

Innovative Adaptations

Throughout 2017 JPR saw a few new, and some clever adaptations of GPUs that show the path for future developments and subsequent applications. 2017 was an amazing year for GPU development driven by games, eSports, AI, crypto currency mining and simulations. Autonomous vehicles started to become a reality, as did augmented reality. The over-hyped, consumer-based PC VR market explosion didn’t happen—and had little to no impact on GPU developments or sales. Most of the participants in VR already had a high-end system and the head-mounted display (HMD) was just another display to them.

Mobile GPUs, exemplified by products from Qualcomm, ARM and Imagination Technologies, are key to amazing devices with long battery life and screens at or approaching 4K. And in 2017 people started talking about and showing High dynamic range (HDR). JPR’s review says that many, if not all, the developments we will see in 2018 were started as early as 2015, and that three to four-year lead time will continue.

Lead times could get longer as semiconductor engineers learn how to deal with chips constructed with billions of transistors manufactured at feature sizes smaller than X-rays. Ironically, buying cycles are also accelerating ensuring strong competition as players try to leap-frog each other in innovation. According to JPR, we’ll see considerable innovation in 2018, with AI being the leading application that will permeate every sector of our lives. The JPR GPU Developments in 2017 Report is free to all subscribers of JPR. Individual copies of the report can be purchased for $100.

Photo 1.
The Internet of Displays is a range of miniature displays that offer small color displays with integrated Wi-Fi and a microSD/HDC slot.

Internet of Displays

Focusing on the small side of the display spectrum, in November 4D Systems announced the latest addition to its Internet-of-Display module family with its smallest LCD display yet. At 0.9-inch and powered by the Wi-Fi enabled ESP8266, it is well suited for miniature IoT projects. The Internet of Displays is the company’s range of miniature feature rich displays that offer small color displays with integrated Wi-Fi and a microSD/HDC slot (Photo 1). …

Read the full article in the April 333 issue of Circuit Cellar

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Obsolescence-Proof Your UI (Part 1)

(Photo 1)
Web Server Strategy

After years of frustration dealing with graphical user interface technologies that go obsolete, Steve decided that web browser technology could help this problem. With that in mind, he built a web server that could perform common operations that he needed on the IEEE-488 bus—and it is basically obsolescence-proof.

By Steve Hendrix

My consulting business is designing custom embedded electronics. Many such systems are size-constrained, but still need some type of user interface. For portable devices, the battery is usually the biggest point of discussion. For wireless designs, it’s the antenna. But for virtually every design, the user interface figures prominently in the concept discussions.

I’ve been involved with one particular design for some 20 years now. When I took it over from the client’s in-house designer, the internal structure was very shaky. Unfortunately, they were not willing to change it due to the re-certification efforts that would be required for a major change. The design’s user interface used a graphic LCD with a touchscreen overlay. I have just completed the latest revision to replace an obsolete part—the latest in a long series of revisions caused by the display panel or the touchscreen going obsolete. This usually happens just about the time the whole product gets through final certification. In this case, we jumped through a lot of hoops to avoid disturbing the core of the product so we wouldn’t require a a big recertification effort. We did so by building a daughterboard that emulates the original touchscreen. A web browser interface would be so much easier!

In a similar vein, I recently purchased a spectrum analyzer to replace a failed unit. The only way to get a screen dump into my PC is via the IEEE-488 bus. That standard is sometimes known as GPIB (General Purpose Interface Bus) or HPIB (Hewlett-Packard Interface Bus). Because this bus has mostly fallen out of favor, instruments that use it are inexpensive. The solutions that purport to interface the IEEE-488 bus to a PC are themselves badly dated. In addition to requiring a cable big enough to flip an instrument off the bench, several other pieces are needed. You need to buy a board that goes inside the PC for four figures, and software to run it for well up into four figures, and hope your PC and operating system are old enough to be compatible. Alternatively, numerous USB interfaces are available. All of those interfaces require a custom driver in your PC, and most of those drivers require older versions of Windows.

Photo 2
(a) A close-up view of the finished unit, which fits comfortably within a standard IEEE-488 connector backshell. This unit is ready for the final application of the label showing its permanently-assigned MAC address. (b) A peek under the hood, showing the microcontroller, the IEEE-488 bus termination resistor packs, and most of the power supply. The mini-USB connector makes no data connection, but only provides power to the unit. Such power supplies have become such ubiquitous commodity products that they are the most cost-effective way to get 5 V power to the unit.Many years ago, I worked for a company who specialized in IEEE-488 interfaces. Although I’d forgotten some of the nuances that make it such a pain to work with directly, I remembered enough to know that the Microchip PIC18F97J60 microcontroller could directly drive the bus lines for a single instrument. The PIC would need buffering to deal with the full 14 instruments that can be on the bus per the specification, but I just wanted to interface a single instrument. Best of all, I already had experience with building a web server in this chip from my solar power controller discussed in the July 2014 and August 2014 issues (Circuit Cellar 288 and Circuit Cellar 289.) The microcontroller and all required electronics could fit inside the backshell of a standard IEEE-488 connector. The lead article photo (Photo 1) shows the very tidy end result—note the MAC addresses printed on each label. Photo 2 shows a close-up view of the exterior and interior.

I’m sure that HTTP and web browsers will someday go the way of buggy whips. However, given their use today in everything from PCs to laptops to tablets to smart phones, I’m thinking web browsers are likely to be around for a while. With that in mind, I chose to build a web server that could perform common operations that I need on the IEEE-488 bus, and ultimately built it into a product available for sale to others with similar needs. By using a web browse the user interface, the device is accessible via anything from a desktop computer to an iPod—and it’s pretty much obsolescence -proof, at least within my lifetime! …

Author′s Note: I offer a special discount on KISS-488 to Circuit Cellar readers. Contact me at SteveHx@HxEngineering.com for details!

Read the full article in the April 333 issue of Circuit Cellar

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NAVIGATING THE INTERNET-OF-THINGS

IoT: From Gateway to Cloud
In this follow on to our March “IoT: Device to Gateway” feature, this time we look at technologies and solutions for the gateway to cloud side of IoT.  Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child examines the tools and services available to get a cloud-connected IoT implementation up and running.

Texting and IoT Embedded Devices (Part 2)
In Part 1, Jeff Bachiochi laid the groundwork for describing a project involving texting. He puts that into action this, showing how to create messages on his Espressif System’s ESP8266EX-based device to be sent to an email account and end up with those messages going as texts to a cell phone.

Internet of Things Security (Part 2)
In this next part of his article series on IoT security, Bob Japenga takes a look at side-channel attacks. What are they? How much of a threat are they? And how can we prevent them?

Product Focus: 32-Bit Microcontrollers
As the workhorse of today’s embedded systems, 32-bit microcontrollers serve a wide variety of embedded applications—including the IoT. This Product Focus section updates readers on these trends and provides a product album of representative 32-bit MCU products.

GRAPHICS, VISION AND DISPLAYS

Graphics, Video and Displays
Thanks to advances in displays and innovations in graphics ICs, embedded systems can now routinely feature sophisticated graphical user interfaces. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child dives into the latest technology trends and product developments in graphics, video and displays.

Color Recognition and Segmentation in Real-time
Vision systems used to require big, multi-board systems—but not anymore. Learn how two Cornell undergraduates designed a hardware/software system that accelerates vision-based object recognition and tracking using an FPGA SoC. They made a min manufacturing line to demonstrate how their system can accurately track and categorize manufactured candies carried along a conveyor belt.

SPECIFICATIONS, QUALIFICATIONS AND MORE

Component tolerance
We perhaps take for granted sometimes that the tolerances of our electronic components fit the needs of our designs. In this article, Robert Lacoste takes a deep look into the subject of tolerances, using the simple resistor as an example. He goes through the math to help you better understand accuracy and drift along with other factors.

Understanding the Temperature Coefficient of Resistance
Temperature coefficient of resistance (TCR) is the calculation of a relative change of resistance per degree of temperature change. Even though it’s an important spec, different resistor manufacturers use different methods for defining TCR. In this article, Molly Bakewell Chamberlin examines TCR and its “best practice” interpretations using Vishay Precision Group’s vast experience in high-precision resistors.

Designing of Complex Systems
While some commercial software gets away without much qualification during development, the situation is very different when safety in involved. For aircraft, vehicles or any complex system where failure unacceptable, this means adhering to established standards throughout the development life cycle. In this article, George Novacek tackles these issues and examines some of these standards namely ARP4754.

AND MORE IN-DEPTH PROJECT ARTICLES

Build a Marginal Oscillator Proximity Switch
A damped or marginal oscillator will switch off when energy is siphoned from its resonant LC tank circuit. In his article, Dev Gualtieri presents a simple marginal oscillator that detects proximity to a small steel screw or steel plate. It lights an LED, and the LED can be part of an optically-isolated solid-state relay.

Obsolescence-Proof Your UI (Part 1)
After years of frustration dealing with graphical interface technologies that go obsolete, Steve Hendrix decided there must be a better way. Knowing that web browser technology is likely to be with us for a long while, he chose to build a web server that could perform common operations that he needed on the IEEE-488 bus. He then built it as a product available for sale to others—and it is basically obsolescence-proof.

 

 

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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

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                                     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.

Designing High Performance GUIs

329 Brumby Lead Image for Web

UIs for the Multicore Era

For embedded developers, it’s critical to understand the types of performance problems a typical end-user might encounter and the performance metrics relevant to user
interface (UI) design. Phil examines these and other important UI design challenges.

By Phil Brumby
Mentor, Embedded Systems Division

The widespread proliferation of portable media devices has changed the way we interact with each other on a daily basis. In fact, there is now a generation of users who grew up with some type of touchscreen device. These users no longer see the UI as new or revolutionary, but rather as a standard piece of mobile device functionality. This phenomenon has created a new set of expectations. It means any device with an LCD must offer a fluid and intuitive user experience. It’s also expected that the touchscreen has to be “smartphone-like” whenever the device is powered on. Embedded system developers are now under pressure across multiple markets and device types to replicate the smartphone UI interactive experience.

The importance of getting the UI right is absolutely critical to the success of the device. Underpinning documented UI design methodologies is a need for the device to operate in a way that it will not impinge or be detrimental to the user experience. For developers, it’s necessary to understand the types of performance problems a typical end-user might encounter, and through an understanding of performance metrics employ various analyses to highlight the bottlenecks and performance degradation issues.

A key advantage to system start-up is analyzing selected input events.

A key advantage to system start-up is
analyzing selected input events.

TYPICAL PERFORMANCE ISSUES

To understand how to best analyze performance, it’s important to look at typical performance issues from the end-user’s perspective. In identifying these issues, developers can begin to identify the first data points or metrics needed for feedback on system performance.

Responsiveness: Responsiveness can be thought of as the time it takes for the user to receive feedback from the UI as a result of an input action made. Typically, this consists of a touchscreen input, but also includes hard key presses. Responsiveness is important as the user must feel the device performs within a certain timeframe to avoid the feeling a UI is “laggy” or slow to respond. Delays in updating the UI in response to input can result in frustration and mistakes made by the user.

Animation smoothness: Animation smoothness relates to the visible motion or change in appearance of elements displayed within the UI. As an element transitions from one point in 3D space to another, does it do so in a smooth manner that is pleasing to the eye? Animation smoothness is important because if the user perceives jagged or staggered motion in a transition, it will degrade the overall interactive experience.   …

Read the full article in the December 329 issue of Circuit Cellar

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MICROCONTROLLERS IN MOTION

Special Feature: Electronics for Wearable Devices
Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child examines how today’s microcontrollers, sensors and power electronics enable today’s wearable products.

329 Cover Screen CapSimulating a Hammond Tonewheel Organ
(Part 2)

Brian Millier continues this two-part series about simulating the Hammond tonewheel organ using a microcontrollers and DACs. This time he examines a Leslie speaker emulation.

Money Sorting Machines (Part 1)
In this new article series, Jeff Bachiochi looks the science, mechanics and electronics that are key to sorting everything from coins to paper money. This month he discusses a project that uses microcontroller technology to sort coins.

Designing a Home Cleaning Robot (Part 1)
This four-part article series about building a home cleaning robot starts with Nishant Mittal discussing his motivations behind to his design concept, some market analysis and the materials needed.

SPECIAL SECTION: GRAPHICS AND VISION

Designing High Performance GUI
It’s critical to understand the types of performance problems a typical end-user might encounter and the performance metrics relevant to user interface (UI) design. Phil Brumby of Mentor’s Embedded Systems Division examines these and other important UI design challenges.

Building a Robotic Candy Sorter
Learn how a pair of Cornell graduates designed and constructed a robotic candy sort. It includes a three degree of freedom robot arm and a vision system using a Microchip PIC32 and Raspberry Pi module.

Raster Laser Projector Uses FPGA
Two Cornell graduates describe a raster laser projector they designed that’s able to project images in 320 x 240 in monochrome red. The laser’s brightness and mirrors positions are controlled by an FPGA and analog circuitry.

ELECTRICITY UNDER CONTROL

Technology Spotlight: Power-over-Ethernet Solutions
Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) enables the delivery of electric power alongside data on twisted pair Ethernet cabling. Chief Editor Jeff Child explores the latest chips, modules and other gear for building PoE systems.

Component Overstress
When an electronic component starts to work improperly, Two likely culprits are electrical overstress (EOS) and electrostatic discharge (ESD). In his article, George Novacek breaks down the important differences between the two and how to avoid their effects.

AND MORE FROM OUR EXPERT COLUMNISTS:

Writing the Proposal
In this conclusion to his “Building an Embedded Systems Consulting Company” article series, Bob Japenga takes a detailed look at how to craft a Statement of Work (SOW) that will lead to success and provide clarity for all stakeholders.

Information Theory in a Nutshell
Claude Shannon is credited as one of the pioneers of computer science thanks to his work on Information Theory, informing how data flows in electronic systems. In this article, Robert Lacoste provides a useful exploration of Information Theory in an easily digestible way.

USB Microphone Array Serves Voice-Activated Applications

The new miniDSP UMA-8 is a high-performance yet low-cost multichannel USB microphone array built around XMOS multicore technology, designed for voice-recognition application development. Seven high-performance MEMS microphones are configured in a circular arrangement to provide high-quality voice capture for a wide range of applications. Leveraging the onboard DSP processing, the UMA-8 supports voice algorithms including beamforming, noise reduction, acoustic echo cancellation, and de-reverb.

miniDSPUMA 8BoardFlight

Developed with applications in voice-activated control, smart assistants, robotics, conferencing, and more in mind, the UMA-8 pocket-size platform targets both DIYers and the OEM market, and was engineered for flexibility in firmware, software and hardware. For advanced users, full control and configuration of the DSP array processing parameters are available with a real-time GUI. This can be used to fine tune the various algorithms: acoustic echo cancellation, noise reduction, voice activation detect, and so on, dramatically improving voice pickup.

The UMA-8 costs $95. Step-by-step application notes are available for setup and configuration of the UMA-8 with the most common smart assistants currently available, including Amazon Alexa Voice + Raspberry Pi, Microsoft Cortana, and Apple Siri. miniDSP will be expanding those application notes in the future.

miniDSP | www.minidsp.com