Transform IoT Audio, Voice, and Video Interactions

NXP Semiconductors (now part of Qualcomm) recently introduced the new i.MX 8M family of applications processors specifically designed to meet increasing audio and video system requirements for smart home and smart mobility applications such as over-the-top (OTT) set-top boxes, digital media adapters, surround sound, sound bars, A/V receivers, voice control, voice assistance, digital signage, and general-purpose human machine interface (HMI) solutions.NXP-iMX8M-FS

The concept of the smart home is expanding rapidly, heightening consumers’ expectations for audio and video entertainment and transforming the requirements for consumer electronics devices. NXP’s i.MX 8M family addresses the major inflection points currently underway in streaming media: voice recognition and networked speakers in audio, and the move to 4K High Dynamic Range (HDR) and the growth of smaller, more compact form factors in video.

NXP’s i.MX 8M family of processors has up to four 1.5-GHz ARM Cortex-A53 and Cortex-M4 cores, flexible memory options and high-speed connectivity interfaces. The processors also feature full 4K UltraHD resolution and HDR (Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HLG) video quality, the highest levels of pro audio fidelity, up to 20 audio channels and DSD512 audio. The i.MX 8M family is tailored to streaming video devices, streaming audio devices and voice control applications.

Capable of driving dual displays, the new devices include:

  • The i.MX 8M Dual/i.MX 8M Quad, which integrates two or four ARM Cortex-A53 cores, one Cortex- M4F core, a GC7000Lite GPU and 4kp60, h.265 and VP9 video capability.
  • The i.MX 8M QuadLite, which integrates four ARM Cortex-A53 cores, one Cortex- M4F core and a GC7000Lite GPU.
  • The i.MX 8M Solo, which integrates one ARM Cortex-A53 core, one Cortex-M4F core and a GC7000nanoULTRA GPU.

The i.MX 8 applications processor is highly scalable with a pin- and power-compatible package and comprehensive software support. The i.MX 8 multi-sensory enablement kit (MEK) is now available to prototype i.MX 8M systems. Limited sampling of i.MX 8M will begin in the second quarter of 2017, and general availability is expected in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Source: NXP Semiconductors

The Future of Test-First Embedded Software

The term “test-first” software development comes from the original days of extreme programming (XP). In Kent Beck’s 1999 book, Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change (Addison-Wesley), his direction is to create an automated test before making any changes to the code.

Nowadays, test-first development usually means test-driven development (TDD): a well-defined, continuous feedback cycle of code, test, and refactor. You write a test, write some code to make it pass, make improvements, and then repeat. Automation is key though, so you can run the tests easily at any time.

TDD is well regarded as a useful software development technique. The proponents of TDD (including myself) like the way in which the code incrementally evolves from the interface as well as the comprehensive test suite that is created. The test suite is the safety net that allows the code to be refactored freely, without worry of breaking anything. It’s a powerful tool in the battle against code rot.

To date, TDD has had greater adoption in web and application development than with embedded software. Recent advances in unit test tools however are set to make TDD more accessible for embedded development.

In 2011 James Grenning published his book, Test Driven Development for Embedded C (Pragmatic Bookshelf). Six years later, this is still the authoritative reference for embedded test-first development and the entry point to TDD for many embedded software developers. It explains how TDD works in detail for an unfamiliar audience and addresses many of the traditional concerns, like how will this work with custom hardware. Today, the book is still completely relevant, but when it was published, the state-of-the art tools were simple unit test and mocking frameworks. These frameworks require a lot of boilerplate code to run tests, and any mock objects need to be created manually.

In the rest of the software world though, unit test tools are significantly more mature. In most other languages used for web and application development, it’s easy to create and run many unit tests, as well as to create mock objects automatically.
Since 2011, the current state of TDD tools has advanced considerably with the development of the open-source tool Ceedling. It automates running of unit tests and generation of mock objects in C applications, making it a lot easier to do TDD. Today, if you want to test-drive embedded software in C, you don’t need to roll-your-own test build system or mocks.

With better tools making unit testing easier, I suspect that in the future test-first development will be more widely adopted by embedded software developers. While previously relegated to the few early adopters willing to put in the effort, with tools lowering the barrier to entry it will be easier for everyone to do TDD.
Besides the tools to make TDD easier, another driving force behind greater adoption of test-first practices will be the simple need to produce better-quality embedded software. As embedded software continues its infiltration into all kinds of devices that run our lives, we’ll need to be able to deliver software that is more reliable and more secure.

Currently, unit tests for embedded software are most popular in regulated industries—like medical or aviation—where the regulators essentially force you to have unit tests. This is one part of a strategy to prevent you from hurting or killing people with your code. The rest of the “unregulated” embedded software world should take note of this approach.

With the rise of the Internet of things (IoT), our society is increasingly dependent on embedded devices connected to the Internet. In the future, the reliability and security of the software that runs these devices is only going to become more critical. There may not be a compelling business case for it now, but customers—and perhaps new regulators—are going to increasingly demand it. Test-first software can be one strategy to help us deal with this challenge.


This article appears in Circuit Cellar 318.


Matt Chernosky wants to help you build better embedded software—test-first with TDD. With years of experience in the automotive, industrial, and medical device fields, he’s excited about improving embedded software development. Learn more from Matt about getting started with embedded TDD at electronvector.com.

New Scalable Biometric Sensor Platform for Wearables and the IoT

Valencell and STMicroelectronics recently launched a new development kit for biometric wearables. Featuring STMicro’s compact SensorTile turnkey multi-sensor module and Valencell’s Benchmark biometric sensor system, the platform offers designers a scalable solution for designers building biometric hearables and wearables.

The SensorTile IoT module’s specs and features:

  • 13.5 mm × 13.5 mm
  • STM32L4 microcontroller
  • Bluetooth Low Energy chipset
  • a wide spectrum of MEMS sensors (accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, pressure, and temperature sensor)
  • Digital MEMS microphone

Valencell’s Benchmark sensor system’s specs and features:

  • PerformTek processor communicates with host processor using a simple UART or I2C interface protocol
  • Acquires heart rate, VO2, and calorie data
  • Standard flex connector interface

Source: Valencell

Smart Home Reference Designs for IoT Device Development

Silicon Labs recently launched two new wireless occupancy sensor and smart outlet reference designs for the home automation. FCC and UL-precertified, the reference designs comprise hardware, firmware, and software tools that enable you to develop Internet of Things (IoT) systems based on Silicon Labs’s ZigBee “Golden Unit” Home Automation (HA 1.2) software stack and multiprotocol Wireless Gecko SoC portfolio. Both reference designs include Silicon Labs’s EFR32MG Mighty Gecko SoC.SiliconLabs Ref Design

 

The occupancy sensor reference design is a precertified ZigBee HA 1.2 solution featuring a wirelessly connected passive IR sensor along with ambient light and temperature/relative humidity sensors from Silicon Labs. The compact occupancy sensor’s battery-powered design provides up to five years of operation. The sensor’s detection range extends up to approximately 40′ with a 90° viewing window.

The smart outlet reference design is a precertified solution for a wirelessly controlled outlet plug. You can use it to power and control a wide variety of home and building automation products. Powered by an AC main-voltage line, the smart outlet communicates wirelessly to ZigBee mesh networks. It features the following: built-in diagnostics and metering with a user-friendly web interface; an AC voltage range of 110 to 240 V for global use along with a robust 15-A load current; and integrated high-accuracy sensors (ambient light and temperature/humidity).

 

Silicon Labs’s occupancy sensor and smart outlet reference designs are currently available. The RD-0078-0201 occupancy sensor reference design costs $49. The RD-0051-0201 smart outlet reference design costs $119. (All prices USD MSRP.)

Source: Silicon Labs

Mini Multi-Sensor Module for Wearables & IoT Designs

STMicroelectronics’s miniature SensorTile sensor board of its type comprises an MEMS accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, pressure sensor, and a MEMS microphone. With the on-board low-power STM32L4 microcontroller, the SensorTile can be used as a sensing and connectivity hub for developing products ranging from wearables to Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

The 13.5 mm × 13.5 mm SensorTile features a Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) transceiver including an onboard miniature single-chip balun, as well as a broad set of system interfaces that support use as a sensor-fusion hub or as a platform for firmware development. You can plug it into a host board. At power-up, it immediately starts streaming inertial, audio, and environmental data to STMicro’s BlueMS free smartphone app.

Software development is simple with an API based on the STM32Cube Hardware Abstraction Layer and middleware components, including the STM32 Open Development Environment. It’s fully compatible with the Open Software eXpansion Libraries (Open.MEMS, Open.RF, and Open.AUDIO), as well as numerous third-party embedded sensing and voice-processing projects. Example programs are available (e.g., software for position sensing, activity recognition, and low-power voice communication).

The complete kit includes a cradle board, which carries the 13.5 mm × 13.5 mm SensorTile core system in standalone or hub mode and can be used as a reference design. This compact yet fully loaded board contains a humidity and temperature sensor, a micro-SD card socket, as well as a lithium-polymer battery (LiPo) charger. The pack also contains a LiPo rechargeable battery and a plastic case that provides a convenient housing for the cradle, SensorTile, and battery combination.

SensorTile kit’s main features, specs, and benefits:

  • Cradle/expansion board with an analog audio output, a micro-USB connector, and an Arduino-like interface that can be plugged into any STM32 Nucleo board to expand developers’ options for system and software development.
  • Programming cable
  • LSM6DSM 3-D accelerometer and 3-D gyroscope
  • LSM303AGR 3-D magnetometer and 3-D accelerometer
  • LPS22HB pressure sensor/barometer
  • MP34DT04 digital MEMS microphone
  • STM32L476 microcontroller
  • BlueNRG-MS network processor with integrated 2.4-GHz radio

Source: STMicroelectronics

New Bluetooth 5-Ready SoC Offers Increased Range, Bandwidth, & Security

Nordic Semiconductor’s new Bluetooth 5-ready nRF52840 SoC is well suited for smart home, advanced wearables, and industrial IoT applications. In addition to supporting 802.15.4, it’s capable of delivering Bluetooth low energy (BLE) wireless connectivity with up to 4× the range or 2× the raw data bandwidth (2 Mbps) compared with the BLE implementation of Bluetooth 4.2Nordic nRF52840

The nRF52840 SoC’s features, specs, and benefits:

  • Features a 64-MHz, 32-bit ARM Cortex M4F processor employed on Nordic’s nRF52832 SoC
  • A new radio architecture with on-chip PA boosting output power considerably, and extending the link budget for “whole house” applications, a doubling of flash memory to 1 MB, and a quadrupling of RAM memory to 256 KB
  • Support for Bluetooth 5, 802.15.4, ANT, and proprietary 2.4-GHz wireless technologies
  • A full-speed USB 2.0 controller
  • A host of new peripherals (many with EasyDMA) including a quad-SPI
  • Operates from power supplies above 5 V  (e.g., rechargeable battery power sources)
  • Incorporates the ARM CryptoCell-310 cryptographic accelerator offering best-in-class security for Cortex-M based SoCs. Extensive crypto ciphers and key generation and storage options are also available.

Nordic released the S140 SoftDevice and associated nRF5 SDK with support for Bluetooth 5 longer range and high throughput modes in December 2016. Engineering samples and development kits are now available. Production variants of the nRF52840 will be available in Q4 2017.

Source: Nordic Semiconductor 

Free “Internet of Things For Dummies” E-Book

Qorvo recently launched its latest e-book series, Internet of Things For Dummies, in partnership with John Wiley and Sons. The two-volume series—Internet of Things For Dummies and Internet of Things Applications For Dummies—is available as a free download.

Intended for both technical and nontechnical professionals, the e-books cover the basics of the IoT market, RF challenges, and how it’s being implemented.

Volume 1 — Internet of Things For Dummies:

  • IoT and smart home market opportunities
  • An overview of different IoT communications standards
  • Tips for leveraging small data and self-learning in the cloud

Volume 2 — Internet of Things Applications For Dummies:

  • Deliver IoT applications with a smart home butler
  • Create consumer lifestyle systems for the smart home
  • Develop IoT applications beyond the smart home

Source: Qorvo

Notable Crowdfunded Projects (Week of 11/21/16)

Here is a roundup of current crowdfunded projects that the Circuit Cellar team finds interesting. Check them out and let us know what you think.


RS-HFIQ 5W Software Defined Radio (SDR) Transceiver

HobbyPCB’s RS-HFIQ is a high-performance software-defined radio (SDR) 5-W transceiver for CW, SSB, AM, FM, and digital modes. As of 11/22/16, this project has nine days remaining.

Not just another SDR – The RS-HFIQ offers real RF performance for serious communications. Covering the 80-10M Amatuer Radio bands with excellent RX performance and 5 watts of TX power, using open-source SDR software for CW, SSB, AM, FM and digital modes, the RS-HFIQ sets a new standard for shortwave SDR communications.

Visit the Project Page.


QuadBot – Real Robotics, Made Accessible

EngiMake’s QuadBot is a 3-D-printable, programmable walking robot intended for DIYers/makers, aspiring roboticists, and experienced hackers. As of 11/22/16, this project has 47 days remaining.

QuadBot can walk, dance, light up and with sensors it can follow you, avoid obstacles, play songs… anything is possible! But the real value is the open-ness of QuadBot. Rather than limit you to only a few behaviours, we’ve opened up the entire code and design so you can hack it to do anything.  That means if you want to learn basic robotics, you can follow our standard guide, but when you’re ready to activate super maker mode, you can break-out and use QuadBot to explore robotics.


Visit the Project Page.


FiPy IoT Dev Board

Pycom’s FiPy is a five-network IoT development board. As of 11/22/16, this project has 30 days remaining.

Simply put, we give you a 5 networks in one simple small, perfectly formed, same-foot-print-as-WiPy-and-LoPy hardware module at a price squeezed right down to €33 (early bird) and €49 after Kickstarter.

Visit the Project Page.

Multi-Protocol Sub-GHz Wireless Transceiver Platform

NXP Semiconductors recently added the OL2385 family sub-GHz wireless transceivers to its low-power microcontroller and 2.4 GHz portfolio for Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Based on a PIN-to-PIN compatible, sub-GHz transceiver hardware platform, the OL2385 supports multiple wireless protocols  (e.g., Sigfox, W-MBus powered by Xemex, and ZigBee IEEE 802.15.4).

With a two-way RF channel and common modulation schemes for networking applicatios, the OL2385 transceivers cover a wide range of frequency bands from 160 to 960 MHz. In addition, extended range radio operation is enabled with high sensitivity up to –128 dBm. Operation in congested environments is enhanced with 60 dB at 1 MHz of blocking performance and 60 dB of image rejection.

Platform features include: 14-dBm Tx output power compliant with ETSI limits; typical 29-mA transmit power consumption at full output power; less than 11 mA receive power consumption; excellent phase noise of –127 dBc at 1 MHz in the 868- and 915-MHz band for flexibility with external power amplifiers; and Japanese ARIB T108 standard compliant.

The OL2385 platform samples and development boards with SIGFOX are currently available. Mass production of preprogrammed parts are scheduled for the end of Q4 2017.

Source: NXP Semiconductors

Sensor-to-Cloud Kit for Developing IoT Applications

Interested in developing cloud-connected wireless sensing products? Silicon Labs recently introduced its Thunderboard Sense Kit for developing cloud-connected devices with multiple sensing and connectivity options. The “inspiration kit” provides you with all the hardware and software needed to develop battery-powered wireless sensor nodes for the IoT.

The Thunderboard Sense Kit’s features and benefits:

  • Silicon Labs EFR32 Mighty Gecko multiprotocol wireless SoC with a 2.4-GHz chip antenna
  • ARM Cortex-M4 processor-based
  • Supports Bluetooth low energy, ZigBee, Thread, and proprietary protocols
  • Silicon Labs EFM8 Sleepy Bee microcontroller enabling fine-grained power control
  • Silicon Labs Si7021 relative humidity and temperature sensor
  • Silicon Labs Si1133 UV index and ambient light sensor
  • Bosch Sensortec BMP280 barometric pressure sensor
  • Cambridge CCS811 indoor air quality gas sensor
  • InvenSense ICM-20648 six-axis inertial sensor
  • Knowles SPV1840 MEMS microphone
  • Four high-brightness RGB LEDs
  • On-board SEGGER J-Link debugger for easy programming and debugging
  • USB Micro-B connector with virtual COM port and debug access
  • Mini Simplicity connector to access energy profiling and wireless network debugging
  • 20 breakout pins to connect to external breadboard hardware
  • CR2032 coin cell battery connector and external battery connector
  • Silicon Labs’s Simplicity Studio tools support the Thunderboard Sense

The Thunderboard Sense kit (SLTB001A) costs $36. All hardware schematics, open-source design files, mobile apps, and cloud software are included for free.

Source: Silicon Labs

Human Vision Image-Sensing System Provides 10× Faster Recognition

Mouser Electronics is now offering Omron Electronic Components’s fully integrated B5T HVC-P2 face detection sensor modules. The Human Vision Component (HVC) plug-in modules are based on Omron’s OKAO Vision Image Sensing Technology, which is used to quickly and accurately detect human bodies and faces.Omron Image Sensors

Well suite for a variety of IoT applications, the face detection sensor modules comprise a camera and a separate main board that are connected via a flexible flat cable, which enables you to install it on the edge of a flat display unit. The boards feature UART and USB interfaces to control the module and send the data output (as no image output, 160 × 120 pixels, or 320 × 240 pixels) to an external system.

Available in both wide-angle (90-degree lens) and long-distance lenses (50-degree lens), the B5T HVC-P2 modules can detect a human body up to four times per second. The long-distance module can detect and presume attributes (e.g., gender and age, sight line, and facial expression) from a maximum distance of 3 m. The wide-angle module can cover an area 100 cm × 75 cm from a distance of 50 cm.

Source: Mouser Electronics

New ARM Technologies for Secure IoT Applications

ARM recently released a new product suite of technologies for designers of secure Internet of Things (IoT) applications.The product suite comprises procesors, cloud-based services platform, radio technology, subsystems, and comprehensive security.

Cortex-M Processors Integrated with TrustZone

The ARM Cortex-M23 and Cortex-M33 are built on the ARMv8-M architecture featuring ARM TrustZone security and digital signal processing. TrustZone CryptoCell-312 offers security features that protect the authenticity, integrity, and confidentiality of code and data. The Cortex-M23 is a compact, energy-efficient processor well-suited for constrained embedded applications. The highly configurable Cortex-M33 features a variety options including a coprocessor interface, digital signal processing and floating-point computation. Both new Cortex-M processors are backwards compatible with ARMv6-M and ARMv7-M architectures.

ARM System IP Optimized for Cortex-M Processors

ARM CoreLink SIE-200 is already licensed by ARM silicon partners and provides the interconnects and controllers that extend TrustZone to the system. The ARM CoreLink SSE-200 IoT subsystem reduces time to market by integrating Cortex-M33, CryptoCell, and Cordio radio along with software drivers, secure libraries, protocol stack, and the mbed OS.

IoT Connectivity

Connectivity is enhanced by next-generation ARM Cordio radio IP with Bluetooth 5 and 802.15.4-based standards ZigBee and Thread. Developers can choose from a standard radio implementation across a range of process nodes from multiple foundries. The Cordio architecture supports ARM and third-party RF.

Cloud-Based SaaS for Secure IoT Device Management

The ARM mbed IoT Device Platform has been expanded to include mbed Cloud, a new standards and cloud-based SaaS solution for secure IoT device management. Through mbed Cloud, OEMs can:

Simplify connection, provisioning, updating and securing of devices across complex networks
Enable faster scaling, productivity and time to market, allowing developers to use any device on any cloud
Enhance device-side capabilities with mbed OS 5, supported by a global community of 200,000 developers and more than 1 million device builds per month.

Implementation with IoT POP on TSMC 40ULP

Designers can quicken the development of SoCs featuring the latest Cortex-M processors with Artisan IoT POP IP now available for TSMC 40ULP process technology. ARM Artisan IoT POP IP enables low-power designs and optimizing for IoT applications.

Source: ARM 

Silicon Labs Acquires Micrium

Silicon Labs recently announced its acquisition of of Micrium, an RTOS software supplier. The strategic acquisition it intended to strengthen Silicon Labs’s position in the IoT market.

The following statement from Daniel Cooley, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Silicon Labs’s IoT products, was presented in a release:

IoT products are increasingly defined by software. Explosive growth of memory/processor capabilities in low-end embedded products is driving a greater need for RTOS software in connected device applications… The acquisition of Micrium means that connected device makers will have easier access to a proven embedded RTOS geared toward multiprotocol silicon, software and solutions from Silicon Labs.

Source: Silicon Labs

Ultra-Compact Bluetooth 4.2 + NFC Module

Rigado’s new BMD-350 Bluetooth 4.2 + NFC module is intended for use in Internet of Things (IoT) applications. With  8.6 × 6.4 × 1.5 mm footprint and based on the Nordic Semiconductors nRF52 series SoC, the BMD-350 gives IoT innovators a “plug-and-play” connectivity solution perfectly suited for high-performance, low-power wearables and portable devices. The Nordic Semiconductors nRF52 series brings on-chip NFC capability for new modes in IoT pairing. Both the BMD-350 and the BMD-350 evaluation kit are now available.

Source: Rigado

IAR Embedded Workbench for ARM Supports IoT-Targeted MCUs

IAR Systems recently announced that IAR Embedded Workbench for ARM now supports microcontrollers based on ARM Cortex-M3/M4 and ARM Cortex-A15 that are targeted for connectivity and the Internet of Things (IoT).

IAR Embedded Workbench for ARM is a complete C/C++ compiler and debugger toolchain for developing embedded applications. The toolchain generates efficient code, which makes it well suited for developing energy-efficient, time-critical IoT applications.

Because the IAR Embedded Workbench for ARM toolchain is continuously updated with new microcontroller support, you are free from having to consider the choice of software in your selection of a microcontroller. Instead of using different tools for different microcontrollers, you can use the same toolchain from start to finish. IAR Embedded Workbench for ARM is available in several versions, including a product package for the ARM Cortex-M core family.

Source: IAR Systems