Semtech LoRa Technology Tapped for Smart Agriculture

Semtech announced that WaterBit, a venture backed precision agriculture irrigation company and National Science Foundation (NSF) grant winner, has incorporated Semtech’s LoRa devices and wireless radio frequency technology (LoRa Technology) into its Autonomous Irrigation Solution (AIS).

WaterBit provides irrigation automation for growers based on analysis of granular, ground-truth data collected through the WaterBit system, including line pressure and flow, soil moisture and temperature and more. With WaterBit’s AIS, growers maximize yield across soil types, while optimizing the use of labor and other input resources. The complete solution is used across a wide variety of crops including grapes, berries, tree nuts, cotton, corn and leafy greens.

WaterBit’s goal when developing its solution was to create the highest quality and most reliable networking product in agriculture. To achieve this, WaterBit eliminated batteries in its production units and enabled duplex communications as well as better control with LoRa Technology.

Key Features of LoRa Technology:

  • Long Range: A single base station using LoRa Technology enables deep penetration capability for dense urban environments and indoor coverage, while also providing the ability to connect to sensors more than 15-30 miles away in rural areas.
  • Low Power: Enables unprecedented battery lifetime of up to 10 years depending on the application.
  • Geolocation: Enables tracking applications without GPS or additional power consumption.
  • Low Cost: LoRa Technology reduces up front infrastructure investments and operating costs, as well as end-node sensor costs.
  • Open Standard: The LoRaWAN open protocol ensures interoperability among applications, IoT solution providers and telecom operators to speed adoption and deployment.

Semtech | www.semtech.com

Next Newsletter: Embedded Boards

Coming to your inbox tomorrow: Circuit Cellar’s Embedded Boards newsletter. Tomorrow’s newsletter content focuses on both standard and non-standard embedded computer boards that ease prototyping efforts and let you smoothly scale up to production volumes.

Bonus: We’ve added Drawings for Free Stuff to our weekly newsletters. Make sure you’ve subscribed to the newsletter so you can participate.

Already a Circuit Cellar Newsletter subscriber? Great!
You’ll get your Embedded Boards newsletter issue tomorrow.

Not a Circuit Cellar Newsletter subscriber?
Don’t be left out! Sign up now:

Our weekly Circuit Cellar Newsletter will switch its theme each week, so look for these in upcoming weeks:

Analog & Power. (3/6) This newsletter content zeros in on the latest developments in analog and power technologies including DC-DC converters, AD-DC converters, power supplies, op amps, batteries and more.

Microcontroller Watch. (3/13) This newsletter keeps you up-to-date on latest microcontroller news. In this section, we examine the microcontrollers along with their associated tools and support products.

IoT Technology Focus. (3/20) Covers what’s happening with Internet-of-Things (IoT) technology–-from devices to gateway networks to cloud architectures. This newsletter tackles news and trends about the products and technologies needed to build IoT implementations and devices.

LTE Cat M1, NB-IoT Module Provides 2G Fallback

U‑blox has announced the SARA‑R412M, an LTE Cat M1, NB‑IoT, and quad‑band 2G (EGPRS) module with worldwide coverage. Measuring just 16 x 26 mm, the module is the world’s smallest to provide both LTE and quad‑band EGPRS support in a single design. The flexibility extends further with dynamic system selection as Cat M1, NB‑IoT, and EGPRS in single mode or as a preferred connection that does not require a module reboot to switch between modes. It brings a rich feature suite optimized for LPWA (low‑power wide‑area) IoT applications that require the assurance of 2G connectivity to guarantee broad geographic coverage, even in areas where LTE Cat M1 and NB‑IoT are not widely available yet. New IoT devices deployed in the field today can activate on existing 2G networks and still leverage the benefits of LTE Cat M1 and NB‑IoT technology once it becomes available.

The SARA‑R4 series covers a whole host of IoT applications, especially those reliant on long‑term, low power use or requiring connectivity deep within buildings. Examples include gas, water, and electricity metering, city street lighting, building automation, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), industrial monitoring and control, telematics, insurance, asset and vehicle tracking, security systems, alarm panels, outpatient monitoring, and many consumer wearables.

SARA‑R412M enables global solutions based on a single hardware version, allowing developers to select their own desired frequencies and operator configurations. SARA‑R412M ensures data integrity between applications via secure communication protocols, notably including two‑way authentication between client and server, a strategy often used with cloud services.

Critical firmware updates can be delivered with the u‑blox proprietary uFOTA (firmware over the air) client/server solution that uses LWM2M, a light and compact protocol that is ideal for IoT applications. This allows end‑users to continue using the same hardware when features and functionalities are updated, making it well‑suited for critical applications running on devices that may be deployed in the field over long periods of time.

SARA‑R412M provides an extended temperature range of -40 to +85°C, and supports Power Save Mode (PSM) and Extended Discontinuous Reception (e‑DRX) for LTE Cat M1 and NB‑IoT connectivity, which can extend battery lifetime for up to 10 years.

3GPP Coverage Enhancement allows the module’s Cat M1 connectivity to reach deeper into buildings and basements, and even underground with NB‑IoT when compared to other air interface technologies such as GSM or Cat 1.

U‑blox | www.u‑blox.com

Protect IoT Designs with PUF Circuitry

Maxim-Chip-DNAAs IoT designs proliferate, security is lagging. Hardware-based security using physically unclonable function (PUF) circuitry strongly protects connected products against invasive attacks. A cryptographic key is generated only when needed and isn’t stored on the secure IC. Even probing the chip impedes the attack.


 

Protect IoT Designs with Physically Unclonable Function Circuitry

By Ben Smith, Principal Member of the Technical Staff, Embedded Security, Maxim Integrated

While DNA connects us to every other human being on the planet, it also makes each of us unique. That uniqueness has proven to be useful as a means of positive identification. For example, DNA-based evidence has exonerated some from erroneous convictions and provided verification of guilt in other cases.

The DNA that we all carry as unique identification contrasts greatly with what happens in the technology world. In technology, it’s an imperative for every instance of a type of device to be identical, right down to the last micron, microvolt, and byte. Every device must look, feel, and act the same. After all, it’s important to deliver a consistent user experience. However, this sameness is not ideal when it comes to security.

Ensuring Authenticity Via Random Chip Properties

When every device is identical, how can we know whether messages that claim to come from a particular device actually do? It is possible that those messages might originate from an impersonator. For example, consider a door secured with an access keypad. The door actuator might receive a message from the keypad that the correct code had been entered, and that the door should be opened. But how can the actuator validate that the message is authentic?

For us humans, engaged in face-to-face communications, these questions are non-issues. We know the person we’re talking to because we know how they look and how they sound. In other words, we know the expressions in their physical characteristics of the DNA that makes each of us unique. Imagine the possibilities if our devices possessed that kind of uniqueness.

Indeed, even with devices, there is a way, and that way can be found in physically unclonable function (PUF) technology. While each device may function in an identical way, devices with PUF technology contain an element that makes each of them unique. Deep inside devices equipped with this technology is a circuit element that measures certain physical characteristics of the chip itself. These physical characteristics are stable over time, but they do vary from device to device. The PUF technology logic uses these device-specific variations to compute a value that remains the same every time it’s computed, but that is unique to the particular instance of the device. This value serves as each device’s unique identifier, in the same way that your DNA uniquely identifies you.

The importance of sender identity and message integrity can be illustrated via this simple scenario. Consider a sensor at a remote location that sends a message that there’s a problem. Is the message truly authentic? You have a few options involving secrets and keys:

Option one: a shared secret

Before deploying the sensor, you could program in a secret, like a password. When the sensor sends a message, it would incorporate this password into the message in some agreed-upon way. Once you’ve received the message, you could check to ensure that the password was sent correctly before accepting the message.

Trouble arises when that same password is used for all such sensors. This scenario would make it easy for a cybercriminal to reverse-engineer the device in order to steal the password. Then, the hacker is free to impersonate messages from any device of that type. An even scarier situation happens when the password is sent without cryptographic protection. Then, a cybercriminal can simply eavesdrop on a conversation in order to steal the password. No need to touch the device at all. They could then impersonate any sensor anywhere they are deployed. Clearly, shared secret schemes are too vulnerable to attack.

Option two: public-key cryptography

By programming a private key into your device, your device can digitally sign messages with the private key that can be verified using a corresponding public key. This approach enables messages to be authenticated with near certainty. It is practically impossible to modify or forge a signed message. In other words, there is no known way to impersonate a signer in any reasonable amount of time without the signer’s private key.

The vulnerability in this approach lies in the fact that the secret, private key has to live somewhere in the memory space of the target device. And if an attacker can slip in malware, it’s easy for the malware to leak the private key. Once the malware is developed, firmware update mechanisms can be used to propagate the malware. Before you know, a large set of the affected devices could be compromised.

Option three: PUF technology

PUF technology represents the most secure option because its private key is never disclosed, not even to its owner. The private key is only generated when needed (when a message is ready to be signed), and it is never stored (it is immediately destroyed when no longer needed).  The computed value never appears in the microcontroller’s memory map.

There are various ways in which you can use PUF technology. For instance, before a device manufacturer deploys an internet of things (IoT) device, it can command the hardware containing PUF technology to compute a public key that corresponds to the PUF technology value – the private key. The actual PUF technology value is never disclosed. The device manufacturer then signs the public key with their own corporate private key to create a certificate that they then write back to the device. That certificate can later prove that the public key that the device presents is the same one that was computed at the factory, because nobody can create a valid certificate without the corporate private key. Once deployed, when the IoT device wants to send a message, it can sign the message by recomputing the PUF technology value, using that value as the private key. If the message receiver has the public key for that device, it can verify, with a high degree of assurance, that the message is authentic, unmodified, and came from that particular device.

Now, we’ve got millions (and growing) of IoT devices in the wild. There really isn’t a single database that tracks the public key belonging to every IoT device. Anyone receiving a message from an IoT device probably doesn’t have that particular device’s public key. However, they can request the device’s public key certificate from the device itself. When the device sends the certificate, the receiver can check the validity of the certificate via a two-step process. First, the receiver can verify the certificate’s signature using the signer’s public key. Second, assuming the certificate has proven valid, the receiver can test the validity of the device’s message by using the public key contained in the certificate. This entire process takes less than a second.

You Can’t Steal a Key that Isn’t There

So, you might be wondering, is PUF technology secure enough? The answer to this question lies in the fact that the private key doesn’t even exist until the physical properties of the chip are measured. Even then, the private key is destroyed when it is no longer needed. The private key can’t be discovered by using rogue firmware because the private key only exists in secured, walled-off hardware, not in the actual memory space of the microcontroller. Probing the chip itself will change the characteristics that are measured to determine the PUF technology value, further impeding this type of attack.

Maxim-ChipDNA-diagram

Figure 1: Block diagram of ChipDNA physically unclonable function (PUF) technology, which provides strong protection against invasive attacks.

Maxim’s PUF circuitry takes advantage of the naturally occurring random analog characteristics of fundamental MOSFET devices to produce cryptographic keys. The solution, called ChipDNA technology (Figure 1), ensures that the unique binary value generated by each PUF circuit is guaranteed to be repeatable over temperature and voltage and as the device ages. ChipDNA technology is available in the DS28E38 DeepCover secure authenticator. To learn more about how ChipDNA works, you can read the white paper, “How Unclonable, Turnkey Embedded Security Protects Designs from the Ground Up;” watch a video; and see use cases by visiting the ChipDNA webpage.

Maxim Integrated | www.maximintegrated.com

Sponsored by: Maxim Integrated

Online Course Covers IoT-Enabled Embedded Systems

STMicroelectronics has announced the availability to all–including students, makers, and budding engineers and computer scientists–of the online “Introduction to Embedded Systems with SensorTile” course. With a curriculum developed by Professor William Kaiser at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and used to teach his freshman engineering class, the online course resources provide a foundation to understand the fundamentals of a sensor-based Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled embedded system. Professors at other universities are also encouraged to adapt and contribute to the course.

The introductory course of 8 self-paced tutorials is designed around ST’s SensorTile, a unique real-time IoT-enabled embedded system on a postage-stamp-sized module. The tiny 13.5 mm x 13.5 mm module combines a high-performance, low-power STM32 Arm-Cortex-M-core microcontroller, 5 valuable MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) sensors—an inertial sensor containing an accelerometer and gyroscope, an eCompass, a pressure sensor, and a microphone—and a Bluetooth network processor. A kit with the module, cables, cradle and a battery is available from major resellers for about $80.

The joint effort with ST makes the 8 tutorials freely available online, with a full complement of documentation, open-source algorithms and development solutions, and unfettered access to a growing user forum. Anyone interested in learning more about the tutorial or purchasing a SensorTile kit should visit the web site www.st.com/sensortile-edu). Additional information is available, as well, on the ST blog: blog.st.com/introduction-embedded-systems-sensortile-online-course/

STMicroelectronics | www.st.com

Tuesday’s Newsletter: IoT Tech Focus

Coming to your inbox tomorrow: Circuit Cellar’s IoT Technology Focus newsletter. Tomorrow’s newsletter covers what’s happening with Internet-of-Things (IoT) technology–-from devices to gateway networks to cloud architectures. This newsletter tackles news and trends about the products and technologies needed to build IoT implementations and devices.

Bonus: We’ve added Drawings for Free Stuff to our weekly newsletters. Make sure you’ve subscribed to the newsletter so you can participate.

Already a Circuit Cellar Newsletter subscriber? Great!
You’ll get your IoT Technology Focus newsletter issue tomorrow.

Not a Circuit Cellar Newsletter subscriber?
Don’t be left out! Sign up now:

Our weekly Circuit Cellar Newsletter will switch its theme each week, so look for these in upcoming weeks:

Embedded Boards.(2/27 Wednesday) The focus here is on both standard and non-standard embedded computer boards that ease prototyping efforts and let you smoothly scale up to production volumes.

Analog & Power. (3/6) This newsletter content zeros in on the latest developments in analog and power technologies including DC-DC converters, AD-DC converters, power supplies, op amps, batteries and more.

Microcontroller Watch (3/13) This newsletter keeps you up-to-date on latest microcontroller news. In this section, we examine the microcontrollers along with their associated tools and support products.

Wireless MCUs are Bluetooth Mesh Certified

Cypress Semiconductor has announced its single-chip solutions for the Internet of Things (IoT) are Bluetooth mesh connectivity certified by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) to a consumer product. LEDVANCE announced the market’s first Bluetooth mesh qualified LED lighting products, which leverage Cypress’ Bluetooth mesh technology. Three Cypress wireless combo chips and the latest version of its Wireless Internet Connectivity for Embedded Devices (WICED) software development kit (SDK) support Bluetooth connectivity with mesh networking capability. Cypress’ solutions enable a low-cost, low-power mesh network of devices that can communicate with each other–and with smartphones, tablets and voice-controlled home assistants–via simple, secure and ubiquitous Bluetooth connectivity.

Previously, users needed to be in the immediate vicinity of a Bluetooth device to control it without an added hub. With Bluetooth mesh networking technology, the devices within the network can communicate with each other to easily provide coverage throughout even the largest homes, allowing users to conveniently control all of the devices via apps on their smartphones and tablets.

Market research firm ABI Research forecasts there will be more than 57 million Bluetooth smart lightbulbs by 2021. Cypress’ CYW20719, CYW20706, and CYW20735 Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) combo solutions and CYW43569 and CYW43570 Wi-Fi and Bluetooth combo solutions offer fully compliant Bluetooth mesh. Cypress also offers Bluetooth mesh certified modules and an evaluation kit. The solutions share a common, widely-deployed Bluetooth stack and are supported in version 6.1 of Cypress’ all-inclusive WICED SDK, which streamlines the integration of wireless technologies for developers of smart home lighting and appliances, as well as healthcare applications.

Cypress Semiconductor | www.cypress.com

March Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

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

Not a Circuit Cellar subscriber?  Don’t be left out! Sign up today:

 

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

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.

Tuesday’s Newsletter: Microcontroller Watch

Coming to your inbox tomorrow: Circuit Cellar’s Microcontroller Watch newsletter. Tomorrow’s newsletter keeps you up-to-date on latest microcontroller news. In this section, we examine the microcontrollers along with their associated tools and support products.

Bonus: We’ve added Drawings for Free Stuff to our weekly newsletters. Make sure you’ve subscribed to the newsletter so you can participate.

Already a Circuit Cellar Newsletter subscriber? Great!
You’ll get your Microcontroller Watch newsletter issue tomorrow.

Not a Circuit Cellar Newsletter subscriber?
Don’t be left out! Sign up now:

Our weekly Circuit Cellar Newsletter will switch its theme each week, so look for these in upcoming weeks:

IoT Technology Focus. (2/20) Covers what’s happening with Internet-of-Things (IoT) technology–-from devices to gateway networks to cloud architectures. This newsletter tackles news and trends about the products and technologies needed to build IoT implementations and devices.

Embedded Boards.(2/27) The focus here is on both standard and non-standard embedded computer boards that ease prototyping efforts and let you smoothly scale up to production volumes.

Analog & Power. (3/6) This newsletter content zeros in on the latest developments in analog and power technologies including DC-DC converters, AD-DC converters, power supplies, op amps, batteries and more.

Tuesday’s Newsletter: Analog & Power

Coming to your inbox tomorrow: Circuit Cellar’s Analog & Power newsletter. Tomorrow’s newsletter content zeros in on the latest developments in analog and power technologies including DC-DC converters, AD-DC converters, power supplies, op amps, batteries and more.

Bonus: We’ve added Drawings for Free Stuff to our weekly newsletters. Make sure you’ve subscribed to the newsletter so you can participate.

Already a Circuit Cellar Newsletter subscriber? Great!
You’ll get your Analog & Power newsletter issue tomorrow.

Not a Circuit Cellar Newsletter subscriber?
Don’t be left out! Sign up now:

Our weekly Circuit Cellar Newsletter will switch its theme each week, so look for these in upcoming weeks:

Microcontroller Watch. (2/13) This newsletter keeps you up-to-date on latest microcontroller news. In this section, we examine the microcontrollers along with their associated tools and support products.

IoT Technology Focus. (2/20) Covers what’s happening with Internet-of-Things (IoT) technology–-from devices to gateway networks to cloud architectures. This newsletter tackles news and trends about the products and technologies needed to build IoT implementations and devices.

Embedded Boards.(2/27 Wednesday) The focus here is on both standard and non-standard embedded computer boards that ease prototyping efforts and let you smoothly scale up to production volumes.

 

BLE ICs Boast -105 dBm Sensitivity

Toshiba Electronic Devices & Storage has added two new devices to its lineup of ICs that are compliant with the Bluetooth low energy standard. The new TC35680FSG (featuring built-in flash memory) and TC35681FSG are well-suited to applications requiring long-range communication, including beacon tags, IoT devices and industrial equipment. Sample shipments will begin later this month.

The new communication ICs support the full spectrum of data rates required for the high-speed features—2M PHY and Coded PHY (500 kbps and 125 kbps)—found in the Bluetooth 5.0 standard. The new devices also deliver an industry-leading receiver sensitivity level of -105 dBm (at125k bps ) and a built-in high efficiency power amplifier in the transmission block that provides up to +8 dBm transmission power.

Bluetooth technology continues to evolve to meet wireless connectivity needs, and recent enhancements to the standard have been designed to increase Bluetooth’s functionality with the IoT. By adding Bluetooth 5.0-compliant ICs to its extensive lineup, Toshiba helps companies integrate Bluetooth low energy products into IoT devices and addresses the growing demand for high-throughput, long-range communications.

Based on an ARM Cortex-M0 processor, the new ICs incorporate a 256 KB Mask ROM to support the Bluetooth baseband process, and 144 KB of RAM for processing Bluetooth baseband, stack and data. Toshiba’s TC35680FSG and TC35681FSG also feature 18-port GPIOs as interfaces, which can be set to 2 channels each for SPIs, I2C, and UART. This allows for the structuring of systems that connect to various peripheral devices. These GPIOs can be set for a wakeup function, 4-channel PWM, 5-channel AD converter interfaces, an external amplifier control interface for long-range communication and more.

The TC35680FSG includes 128 KB of flash memory for storing user programs and various data in stand-alone operations, making it well-suited to a wide range of applications and removing the need for external non-volatile memory. This also lowers the part count, which reduces both the cost and mounting area.

The TC35681FSG, which does not include a built-in flash memory, operates in conjunction with an external non-volatile memory or host processor. A wide operating range of -40° to +125°C makes it suitable for applications exposed to high temperatures.

Toshiba Electronic Devices & Storage | www.toshiba.semicon-storage.com

Bonus Newsletter: Displays and Graphics

Coming to your inbox tomorrow: January has a 5th Tuesday, so we’ve added a bonus topic to our four-week newsletter rotation. We’re bringing you a Bonus newsletter: Displays and Graphics. Display technology is where the user interacts with today’s modern embedded electronic devices This newsletter content examines the latest technology and product developments in displays along with the graphics ICs that drive those displays.

Plus: We’ve added Drawings for Free Stuff to our weekly newsletters. Make sure you’ve subscribed to the newsletter so you can participate.

Already a Circuit Cellar Newsletter subscriber? Great!
You’ll get your Displays and Graphics newsletter issue tomorrow.

Not a Circuit Cellar Newsletter subscriber?
Don’t be left out! Sign up now:

Our weekly Circuit Cellar Newsletter will switch its theme each week, so look for these in upcoming weeks:

Analog & Power. (2/6) This newsletter content zeros in on the latest developments in analog and power technologies including DC-DC converters, AD-DC converters, power supplies, op amps, batteries and more.

Microcontroller Watch. (2/13) This newsletter keeps you up-to-date on latest microcontroller news. In this section, we examine the microcontrollers along with their associated tools and support products.

IoT Technology Focus. (2/20) Covers what’s happening with Internet-of-Things (IoT) technology–-from devices to gateway networks to cloud architectures. This newsletter tackles news and trends about the products and technologies needed to build IoT implementations and devices.

Embedded Boards.(2/27 Wednesday) The focus here is on both standard and non-standard embedded computer boards that ease prototyping efforts and let you smoothly scale up to production volumes.

Quantum Leaps

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

JeffHeadShot

Throughout my career, I’ve always been impressed by Intel’s involvement in a wide spectrum of computing and electronics technologies. These range from the mundane and practical on one hand, to forward-looking and disruptive advances on the other. A lot of these weren’t technologies for which Intel ever intended to take direct advantage of over the long term. I think a lot about how Intel facilitated the creation of and early advances in USB. Intel even sold USB chips in the first couple years of USB’s emergence, but stepped aside from that with the knowledge that their main focus was selling processors.

USB made computers and a myriad of consumer electronic devices better and easier to use, and that, Intel knew, advanced the whole industry in which their microprocessors thrived. Today, look around your home, your office and even your car and count the number of USB connectors there are. It’s pretty obvious that USB’s impact has been truly universal.

Aside from mainstream, practical solutions like USB, Intel also continues to participate in the most forward-looking compute technologies. Exemplifying that, in January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) show in Las Vegas, Intel announced two major milestones in its efforts to develop future computing technologies. In his keynote address, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced the successful design, fabrication and delivery of a 49-qubit superconducting quantum test chip. The keynote also focused on the promise of neuromorphic computing.

In his speech, Krzanich explained that, just two months after delivery of a 17-qubit superconducting test chip, Intel that day unveiled “Tangle Lake,” a 49-qubit superconducting quantum test chip. The chip is named after a chain of lakes in Alaska, a nod to the extreme cold temperatures and the entangled state that quantum bits (or “qubits”) require to function.

According to Intel, achieving a 49-qubit test chip is an important milestone because it will allow researchers to assess and improve error correction techniques and simulate computational problems.

Krzanich predicts that quantum computing will solve problems that today might take our best supercomputers months or years to resolve, such as drug development, financial modeling and climate forecasting. While quantum computing has the potential to solve problems conventional computers can’t handle, the field is still nascent.

Mike Mayberry, VP and managing director of Intel Labs weighed in on the progress of the efforts. “We expect it will be 5 to 7 years before the industry gets to tackling engineering-scale problems, and it will likely require 1 million or more qubits to achieve commercial relevance,” said Mayberry.

Krzanich said the need to scale to greater numbers of working qubits is why Intel, in addition to investing in superconducting qubits, is also researching another type called spin qubits in silicon. Spin qubits could have a scaling advantage because they are much smaller than superconducting qubits. Spin qubits resemble a single electron transistor, which is similar in many ways to conventional transistors and potentially able to be manufactured with comparable processes. In fact, Intel has already invented a spin qubit fabrication flow on its 300-mm process technology.

At CES, Krzanich also showcased Intel’s research into neuromorphic computing—a new computing paradigm inspired by how the brain works that could unlock exponential gains in performance and power efficiency for the future of artificial intelligence. Intel Labs has developed a neuromorphic research chip, code-named “Loihi,” which includes circuits that mimic the brain’s basic operation.

While the concepts seem futuristic and abstract, Intel is thinking of the technology in terms of real-world uses. Intel says Neuromorphic chips could ultimately be used anywhere real-world data needs to be processed in evolving real-time environments. For example, these chips could enable smarter security cameras and smart-city infrastructure designed for real-time communication with autonomous vehicles. In the first half of this year, Intel plans to share the Loihi test chip with leading university and research institutions while applying it to more complex data sets and problems.

For me to compare quantum and neuromorphic computing to USB is as about as apples and oranges as you can get. But, who knows? When the day comes when quantum or neuromorphic chips are in our everyday devices, maybe my comparison won’t seem far-fetched at all.

This appears in the February (331) issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

Not a Circuit Cellar subscriber?  Don’t be left out! Sign up today:

Processor for Voice-Controlled Devices

To address the convergence of immersive sensory experiences fueled by voice, video and audio demands, NXP Semiconductors has launched the i.MX 8M family of applications processors. The processors combine robust media capabilities on one chip. Voice commands are expected to dominate 50% of all searches in the next two years, increasingly thinner TVs are driving the popularity of sound bars for home automation, and consumers are embracing the IoT for creating more convenient richer sensory-driven experiences.

The NXP i.MX 8M processors address designers’ requirements for one platform that combines A/V and machine learning to create connected products that can be controlled via voice command. The chips provide the process technology and edge computing needs to manage and reduce the command and question response time of smart connected devices. The i.MX 8MF is suited for a wide range of residential IoT and device control applications including everything.from smart TVs, television subscription services, sound bars and other smart speakers, to streaming media players and DVR/PVR. The processor family is also ideal for managing lighting, thermostats, door locks, home security, smart sprinklers, other systems and devices for a more intuitive and responsive home environment.

NXP’s i.MX 8M family’s features that include:

  • Video and audio capabilities with full 4K Ultra HD resolution, High Dynamic Range (HDR) and the highest levels of pro-audio fidelity
  • Performance and versatility with up to four 1.5 GHz ARM Cortex-A53 cores, flexible memory options, and high-speed interfaces for flexible connectivity
  • Advanced Human Machine Interface (HMI) featuring dual displays, vision procession unit (VPU), and an enriched user experience
  • Scalability and pin-and-power compatibility

NXP Semiconductors | www.nxp.com/iMX8M