On-Chip Flash MCU Uses 28 nm Process Technology

Renesas Electronics has announced the sample shipment of the industry’s first on-chip flash memory microcontroller using a 28 nm process technology. To contribute to the realization of next-generation green cars and autonomous vehicles with higher efficiency and higher reliability, the RH850/E2x Series MCU incorporates up to six 400 MHz CPU cores. According to Renesas, that makes it the first on-chip flash memory automotive MCU to achieve processing performance of 9600 MIPS. The new MCU series also features a built-in flash memory of up to 16 MB as well as enhanced security functions and functional safety.

Under Renesas Autonomy, an open, innovative and trusted platform for assisted and automated driving, Renesas provides end-to-end solutions that advance the evolution of vehicles towards next-generation green cars, connected cars and autonomous-driving vehicles. There are two main pillars of the Renesas Autonomy Platform. One is this new 28 nm automotive control MCU. And the other is the R-Car Family of SoCs designed for cloud connectivity and sensing.
Car OEMs and Tier 1 manufacturers, such as Denso, have already started to adopt the new 28 nm MCU. Reasons cited include the MCU’s superior processing performance capable of developing next-generation fuel-efficient engines, as well as its scalability. Scalability is important because of the expected electronic control unit (ECU) integration to come from changes in automotive electrics/electronics (E/E) architecture.

Following the development of the 28 nm embedded flash memory in February 2015, Renesas announced its collaboration with TSMC on 28nm MCUs in September 2016. The company today hit a major milestone by reaching sample shipment of the world’s first 28nm embedded flash memory MCU on the market. Renesas has already succeeded in verifying large-scale operation of fin-structure MONOS flash memory targeting 16/14nm and beyond generations of MCUs. As the leading supplier of automotive semiconductor solutions, Renesas is committed to advancing the industry through continued technological innovation to achieve a safe and secure automotive society.

To assure scalability in the RH850/E2x Series, in addition to the 28 nm flash memory MCU, Renesas has also launched a 40 nm process MCU. Samples of this MCU are available now. Samples of both 28 nm and 40 nm MCUs from RH850/E2x are  available.

Renesas Electronics | www.renesas.com

Microsoft Unveils Secure MCU Platform with a Linux-Based OS

By Eric Brown

Microsoft has announced an “Azure Sphere” blueprint for for hybrid Cortex-A/Cortex-M SoCs that run a Linux-based Azure Sphere OS and include end-to-end Microsoft security technologies and a cloud service. Products based on a MediaTek MT3620 Azure Sphere chip are due by year’s end.

Just when Google has begun to experiment with leaving Linux behind with its Fuchsia OS —new Fuchsia details emerged late last week— long-time Linux foe Microsoft unveiled an IoT platform that embraces Linux. At RSA 2018, Microsoft Research announced a project called Azure Sphere that it bills as a new class of Azure Sphere microcontrollers that run “a custom Linux kernel” combined with Microsoft security technologies. Initial products are due by the end of the year aimed at industries including whitegoods, agriculture, energy and infrastructure.

Based on the flagship, Azure Sphere based MediaTek MT3620 SoC, which will ship in volume later this year, this is not a new class of MCUs, but rather a fairly standard Cortex-A7 based SoC with a pair of Cortex-M4 MCUs backed up by end to end security. It’s unclear if future Azure Sphere compliant SoCs will feature different combinations of Cortex-A and Cortex-M, but this is clearly an on Arm IP based design. Arm “worked closely with us to incorporate their Cortex-A application processors into Azure Sphere MCUs,” says Microsoft. 

Azure Sphere OS architecture (click images to enlarge)

Major chipmakers have signed up to build Azure Sphere system-on-chips including Nordic, NXP, Qualcomm, ST Micro, Silicon Labs, Toshiba, and more (see image below). The software giant has sweetened the pot by “licensing our silicon security technologies to them royalty-free.”

Azure Sphere SoCs “combine both real-time and application processors with built-in Microsoft security technology and connectivity,” says Microsoft. “Each chip includes custom silicon security technology from Microsoft, inspired by 15 years of experience and learnings from Xbox.”

The design “combines the versatility and power of a Cortex-A processor with the low overhead and real-time guarantees of a Cortex-M class processor,” says Microsoft. The MCU includes a Microsoft Pluton Security Subsystem that “creates a hardware root of trust, stores private keys, and executes complex cryptographic operations.”

The IoT oriented Azure Sphere OS provides additional Microsoft security and a security monitor in addition to the Linux kernel. The platform will ship with Visual Studio development tools, and a dev kit will ship in mid-2018.

Azure Sphere security features (click image to enlarge)

The third component is an Azure Sphere Security Service, a turnkey, cloud-based platform. The service brokers trust for device-to-device and device-to-cloud communication through certificate-based authentication. The service also detects “emerging security threats across the entire Azure Sphere ecosystem through online failure reporting, and renewing security through software updates,” says Microsoft.

Azure Sphere eco-system conceptual diagram (top) and list of silicon partners (bottom)

In many ways, Azure Sphere is similar to Samsung’s Artik line of IoT modules, which incorporate super-secure SoCs that are supported by end-to-end security controlled by the Artik Cloud. One difference is that the Artik modules are either Cortex-A applications processors or Cortex-M or -R MCUs, which are designed to be deployed in heterogeneous product designs, rather than a hybrid SoC like the MediaTek MT3620.Hybrid, Linux-driven Cortex-A/Cortex-M SoCs have become common in recent years, led by NXP’s Cortex-A7 based i.MX7 and -A53-based i.MX8, as well as many others including the -A7 based Renesas RZ/N1D and Marvell IAP220.

MediaTek MT3620

The MediaTek MT3620 “was designed in close cooperation with Microsoft for its Azure Sphere Secure IoT Platform,” says MediaTek in its announcement. Its 500MHz Cortex-A7 core is accompanied by large L1 and L2 caches and integrated SRAM. Dual Cortex-M4F chips support peripherals including 5x UART/I2C/SPI, 2x I2S, 8x ADC, up to 12 PWM counters, and up to 72x GPIO.

The Cortex-M4F cores are primarily devoted to real-time I/O processing, “but can also be used for general purpose computation and control,” says MediaTek. They “may run any end-user-provided operating system or run a ‘bare metal app’ with no operating system.”

In addition, the MT3620 features an isolated security subsystem with its own Arm Cortex-M4F core that handles secure boot and secure system operation. A separate Andes N9 32-bit RISC core supports 1×1 dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi.

The security features and WiFi networking are “isolated from, and run independently of, end user applications,” says MediaTek. “Only hardware features supported by the Azure Sphere Secure IoT Platform are available to MT3620 end-users. As such, security features and Wi-Fi are only accessible via defined APIs and are robust to programming errors in end-user applications regardless of whether these applications run on the Cortex-A7 or the user-accessible Cortex-M4F cores.” MediaTek adds that a development environment is avaialble based on the gcc compiler, and includes a Visual Studio extension, “allowing this application to be developed in C.”

Microsoft learns to love LinuxIn recent years, we’ve seen Microsoft has increasingly softened its long-time anti-Linux stance by adding Linux support to its Azure service and targeting Windows 10 IoT at the Raspberry Pi, among other experiments. Microsoft is an active contributor to Linux, and has even open-sourced some technologies.

It wasn’t always so. For years, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took turns deriding Linux and open source while warning about the threat they posed to the tech industry. In 2007, Microsoft fought back against the growth of embedded Linux at the expense of Windows CE and Windows Mobile by suing companies that used embedded Linux, claiming that some of the open source components were based on proprietary Microsoft technologies. By 2009, a Microsoft exec openly acknowledged the threat of embedded Linux and open source software.

That same year, Microsoft was accused of using its marketing muscle to convince PC partners to stop providing Linux as an optional install on netbooks. In 2011, Windows 8 came out with a new UEFI system intended to stop users from replacing Windows with Linux on major PC platforms.


Azure Sphere promo video

Further information

Azure Sphere is available as a developer preview to selected partners. The MediaTek MT3620 will be the first Azure Sphere MCU, and products based on it should arrive by the end of the year. More information may be found in Microsoft’s Azure Sphere announcement and product page.

Microsoft | www.microsoft.com

This article originally appeared on LinuxGizmos.com on April 16.

STM32 Software Brings Alexa Tech to Simple Connected Objects

The X-CUBE-AVS software package from STMicroelectronics enables Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service (AVS) to run on STM32 microcontrollers, allowing simple connected objects such as smart appliances, home-automation devices, and office products to support advanced conversational user interfaces with Cloud-based intelligence like automatic speech recognition and natural-language understanding.

As an expansion package for the STM32Cube software platform, X-CUBE-AVS contains ready-to-use libraries and open routines that accelerate porting the AVS SDK (Software Development Kit) to the microcontroller. With application samples also included, it abstracts developers from the complex software layers needed to host AVS on an embedded device. Being the first such package to cater specifically for microcontrollers, whereas AVS development usually targets more power-hungry and expensive microprocessors, X-CUBE-AVS makes Alexa technology accessible to a wider spectrum of developers and projects.
The software handles low-layer communication and connection to AVS servers, provides application-specific services, and encapsulates the AVS protocol to ease application implementation. Connection management includes a persistent-token mechanism for directly restoring connection losses without repeated user authentication. A software test harness is provided for endurance testing, which can simulate events such as network disconnection to facilitate robustness testing and validation of the user application.

X-CUBE-AVS comes with a demonstration example for the STM32F769 Discovery Kit (order code: 32F769IDISCOVERY), which shows how to connect a simple smart-speaker to AVS, leveraging the board-configuration interface included in the software. X-CUBE-AVS can be used with other STM32F7 microcontrollers, or any STM32 device with adequate CPU performance and memory to run the AVS SDK.

X-CUBE-AVS is available now to download, free of charge, from http://www.st.com/x-cube-avs

STMicroelectronics | www.st.com

IoT: From Gateway to Cloud

Starting Up, Scaling Up

In this follow on to our March “IoT: From Device to Gateway” Special Feature, here we look at technologies and solutions for the gateway-to-cloud side of IoT. These solutions ease the way toward getting a cloud-connected system up and running.

By Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

After exploring the edge device side of the Internet-of-Things (IoT) last month, now we’ll look at cloud side the equation. Even though the idea of Internet-linked embedded devices has been around for decades, multiple converging technology trends have brought us to the IoT phenomenon of today. The proliferation of low cost wireless technology has coincided with significant decrease in the costs of computing, data storage and sensor components. Meanwhile, that same computing and storage are now widely available as cloud-based platforms that can scale linearly.

Much attention has been focused on the size of the growing IoT market in terms of revenue and number of devices. But another interesting metric is the number of IoT developers working on IoT-based systems. According to analysts, that number will approach 10 million within the next few years and a lot of that growth will be among smaller firms starting from the ground up or adding IoT to their infrastructure for the first time. For those smaller organizations the process of getting started with cloud-connected infrastructure can be a hurdle. And even after that step, there’s the issue of scaling up as the need arises to expand their IoT implementation.

Feeding both those needs, a number of companies ranging from IoT specialists to embedded software vendors to microcontroller vendors have over the past six months, rolled out a variety of solutions to help developers get started with their cloud-connected IoT system and scale that system to larger numbers of IoT edge nodes and increased cloud-based service functionality.

IoT for the Masses

With both those trends in mind, Atmosphere IoT positions itself as focused on the mass market of IoT developers. Formerly part of Anaren, Atmosphere IoT Corp. was previously Anaren’s IoT Group before Anaren divested that division in January into the newly formed Atmosphere IoT Corp. For its Atmosphere IDE product, the company provides an interesting business model. Atmosphere IDE is available for free—anyone can log on and use it. Once you get over 5 connected things and want to have Atmosphere IoT store more data and manage more things, you start paying incrementally. The idea is to make it easy for developers to generate code and get prototype systems and a limited pilot program up and running. When users are ready to scale up or when they find commercial success, they can scale linearly because all of Atmosphere’s software is built on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud.

Photo 1
The Cloud View part of Atmosphere IDE lets developers use cloud elements to quickly connect their projects to Atmosphere Cloud, sending data from an embedded system to the cloud for a cohesive sensor-to-cloud solution.

 

Using the IDE, developers can create either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth Smart projects and choose between supported platforms including Anaren hardware and the Intel Curie module. On the cloud development side, the Atmosphere IDE provides easy cloud connectivity access, connecting IoT devices to the cloud application to take advantage of data hosting, analysis, reporting, real-time monitoring and much more. The Cloud View (Photo 1) part of the IDE lets developers use cloud elements to quickly connect their projects to Atmosphere Cloud, sending data from an embedded system to the cloud for a cohesive sensor-to-cloud solution.

Industry 4.0 Solution

For its Industry 4.0 IoT solution, Mentor in February introduced its Mentor Embedded IoT Framework (MEIF). MEIF is a comprehensive, cloud vendor-agnostic embedded software framework designed to help developers create, secure and manage “cloud-ready” smart devices for Industry 4.0 applications. MEIF features well-defined interfaces engineered to complement and extend cloud vendor embedded software development kit (SDK) APIs. …

 

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

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Note: We’ve made the October 2017 issue of Circuit Cellar available as a free sample issue. In it, you’ll find a rich variety of the kinds of articles and information that exemplify a typical issue of the current magazine.

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

Don’t miss out on upcoming issues of Circuit Cellar. Subscribe today!
Note: We’ve made the October 2017 issue of Circuit Cellar available as a free sample issue. In it, you’ll find a rich variety of the kinds of articles and information that exemplify a typical issue of the current magazine.

IoT Security Solution for NXP MCUs

NXP Semiconductors has introduced its new A71CH Secure Element (SE), a trust anchor, ready-to-use security solution for next-generation IoT devices, such as edge nodes and gateways. Designed to secure peer-to-peer or cloud connections, the chip comes with the required credentials pre-injected for autonomous cloud onboarding and peer-to-peer authentication. The solution is a Root of Trust (RoT) at the silicon level, with security functionalities such as encrypted key storage, key generation and derivation to protect private information and credentials for mutual authentication.

Unique to the chip, is its ‘Plug & Trust” approach supporting easy integration of security and cloud onboarding. It does this using host libraries and a development kit compatible to different NXP microcontrollers (MCU and MPU) platforms such as Kinetis and i.MX. Also, example code and various application notes are available to streamline the design process.

Thanks to the collaboration with Data I/O, embedded systems developers further benefit from an easy personalization service on the A71CH for any quantities in addition to NXP’s trust provisioning service. As a result, the new security IC gives developers, even those with limited security expertise, freedom to innovate and deploy secure solutions.

The A71CH provides the following set of key features:

  • Protected access to credentials
  • Encrypted/authenticated interface to host processor
  • Certificate-based TLS set-up (NIST P-256)
  • TLS set-up using pre-shared secret (TLS-PSK)
  • Connectionless message authentication (HMAC)
  • ECC key generation & signature verification
  • Symmetric key derivation
  • Encrypted vault for product master secrets (key wrapping, derivation, locking)
  • Encrypted key injection

 

NXP Semiconductors | www.nxp.com

Target Boards for Renesas RX 32-bit MCUs

Renesas Electronics has announced three new Target Boards for the RX65N, RX130 and RX231 Microcontroller (MCU) Groups, each designed to help engineers jump start their home appliance, building and industrial automation designs. Priced below $30, the Target Boards lower the price threshold for engagement, allowing more system developers to make use of Renesas’ broad-based 32-bit RX MCU family.

The RX Target Boards provide an inexpensive entry point for embedded designers to evaluate, prototype and develop their products. Each board kit features an on-chip debugger tool that enables application design without requiring further tool investments. Through-hole pin headers provide access to all MCU signals pins, making it easy for users to interconnect to standard breadboards for fast prototyping.

The RX Target Board evaluation concept reuses the same PCB for all MCU variations. Since each member of the Renesas RX MCU Family has a common pin assignment, users experience a smooth transition between different RX Groups and RX Series using the same package version. In the case of the RX Target Boards, the widely used 100-pin LQFP package is on board.

The RX Target Boards offer everything designers need to start board and demo development, including a board circuit diagram and bill of materials, demo source code, user manual, and application notes. Additional Target Board variations will be released soon that will provide full coverage of the entire RX Family, from the low-power RX100 Series to the high-performance RX700 Series.

The RX65N MCU Group combines an enhanced RX CPU core architecture and 120 MHz operation to achieve processing performance of 4.34 CoreMark/MHz. The MCUs include an integrated Trusted Secure IP, enhanced, trusted flash functionality, and a human-machine interface (HMI) for industrial and network control systems operating at the edge of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The RX65N MCUs also include an embedded TFT controller and integrated 2D graphic accelerator with advanced features ideal for TFT displays designed into IIoT edge devices or system control applications. In addition, the RX65N MCUs include embedded communication-processing peripherals such as Ethernet, USB, CAN, SD host/slave interface and quad SPI.

The RX130 MCU Group provides 32 MHz operation with flash memory sizes up to 512 KB, and package sizes up to 100-pins to provide higher performance and compatibility with the RX231/RX230 Group of touch MCUs. The ultra-low power, low-cost RX130 Group adds higher responsiveness and functionality for touch-based applications requiring 3V or 5V system control and low power consumption. Featuring a new capacitive touch IP with improved sensitivity and robustness, and a comprehensive device evaluation environment, the new 32-bit RX130 MCUs are an ideal fit for devices designed with challenging, non-traditional touch materials, or required to operate in wet or dirty environments, such as a kitchen, bath or factory floor.

The RX Target Boards are available now through Renesas Electronics’ worldwide distributors with a recommended resale price below $30.

Renesas Electronics | www.renesas.com

In-Circuit Programming/Debugging Tool Supports PIC MCUs

Microchip Technology has introduced the MPLAB PICkit 4 In-Circuit Debugger. This low-cost PICkit 4 in-circuit programming and debugging development tool is meant to replace the popular PICkit 3 programmer by offering five times faster programming, a wider voltage range (1.2 V to 5 V), improved USB connectivity and more debugging interface options. In addition to supporting Microchip’s PIC microcontrollers (MCUs) and dsPIC Digital Signal Controllers (DSCs), the tool also supports debugging and programming for the CEC1702 family of hardware cryptography-enabled devices.

This low-cost programming and debugging solution is well suited for those designing in the 8-bit space, but it is also perfectly suited for 16- and 32-bit development due, in part, to its 300 MHz, high-performance ATSAME70Q21B microcontroller on board. The benefits of faster programming time are less waiting and better productivity during development. This is especially important when designing with 32-bit microcontrollers with larger memory capacities.

The PICkit 4 development tool enables debugging and programing using the graphical user interface of MPLAB X Integrated Development Environment (IDE). The tool connects to the design engineer’s computer using a Hi-Speed USB 2.0 interface and can be connected to the target via an 8-pin single inline header that supports advanced interfaces such as 4-wire JTAG and serial wire debug with streaming data gateway. It is also backward compatible for demo boards, headers and target systems using 2-wire JTAG and In-Circuit Serial Programming (ICSP) compatibility.

The new interfaces make this low-cost tool compatible with Microchip’s CEC1702 hardware cryptography-enabled devices. This low-power, but powerful, 32-bit MCU offers easy-to-use encryption, authentication and private and public key capabilities. CEC1702 users can now benefit from using Microchip’s development tools and support rather than being required to invest in third-party tools for programming and debugging. The MPLAB PICkit 4 (PG164140) development tool is available today for $47.95.

Microchip Technology | www.microchip.com

Software Aids STM32 MCU System Development

STMicroelectronics has extended its STM32 software ecosystem with a Sigfox package that simplifies development and gives extra flexibility to connect Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices to long-range, low-power wireless networks. The new X-CUBE-SFOX package is ready to use with ST’s B-L072Z-LRWAN1 Discovery Kit, which is already LoRa enabled through I-CUBE-LRWAN embedded software. Developers can now work with either of these established Low-Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technologies on the same hardware, and create products that can use the two protocols individually or alternatively.

The Discovery Kit features the Murata CMWX1ZZABZ-091 module powered by an STM32L072 microcontroller, a sub-GHz radio transceiver SX1276 from Semtech, and is expandable via Arduino headers to add sensors or other IoT-device functions and capabilities. X-CUBE-SFOX contains a complete set of Sigfox libraries and application examples for the STM32L0, and can be ported to other microcontrollers in the STM32 family.

With over 700 STM32 variants, from ultra-low-power to high-performance lines, developers can leverage unrivaled flexibility to optimize the performance and features of IoT devices that take advantage of Sigfox services including basic connectivity, radio recognition, and GPS-free location. The software’s low memory footprint and efficient CPU utilization minimize demand for system resources, helping to lower bill-of-materials (BOM) costs and power consumption.

The X-CUBE-SFOX software can be downloaded free of charge from www.st.com/x-cube-sfox. The B-L072Z-LRWAN1 Discovery Kit is available now, priced $46.50.

STMicroelectronics | www.st.com

April Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The April 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 April 2018 Circuit Cellar:

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.

 

 

Texting and IoT Embedded Devices (Part 1)

Fun with the ESP8266 SoC

Can texting be leveraged for use in IoT Wi-Fi devices? Jeff has been using Wi-Fi widgets for a lot of IoT projects lately. This month Jeff lays the groundwork for describing a project that will involve texting. He starts off with a look at Espressif System’s ESP8266EX SoC.

By Jeff Bachiochi

Believe it or not, texting while driving as of this writing is still legal in a few states. About 10% of all motor vehicles deaths in the US can be traced back to distracted drivers. Granted that includes any distraction—however cell phone distraction has quickly become a serious issue. While hazards exist for any technology, common sense should tell you this is a dangerous act.

When the technology is used correctly, texting can deliver essential information quickly—without requiring both (or many) parties to be active at the same time. This allows you to make better use of your time. I still use email for much of my correspondence, however it’s great to be able to send your spouse a text to add milk to the grocery list—after they’ve already left for the store! And even though I chuckle when I see two people sitting next to each other texting, it is a sad commentary on emerging lifestyles.

I’ve been using Wi-Fi widgets for a lot of IoT projects lately. The cost to enter the fray is low, and with free tools it’s easy to get started. This month’s article is a about a project that will involve text, even though that may not be apparent at first. Let’s start off slowly, laying the groundwork for those who have been thinking about building this kind of project. We’ll then quickly build from this foundation into crafting a useful gadget.

A Look at the ESP8266EX

The innovative team of chip-design specialists, software/firmware developers and marketers at Espressif System developed and manufactures the ESP8266EX system-on-chip (SoC). This 32-bit processor runs at 80 MHz and embeds 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi functionality—802.11 b/g/n, supporting WPA/WPA2—as well as the normal gamut of general-purpose I/O and peripherals. It has a 64 KB boot ROM, 64 KB instruction RAM and 96 KB data RAM. Their WROOM module integrates the ESP8266 with a serial EEPROM and an RF front end with a PCB antenna for a complete IoT interface.

Anyone who has ever used a dial-up modem is most likely familiar with the term AT command set. The Hayes command set is a specific command language originally developed in 1981 by Dennis Hayes for the Hayes 300 baud Smartmodem. Each command in the set begins with the letters AT+ followed by a command word used for high-level control of internal functions. For the modem these enabled tasks like dialing the phone or sending data. As an application for the WROOM, an AT command set seemed like a perfect match. This allows an embedded designer to use the device to achieve a goal without ever having to “get their hands dirty.”

This photo shows the ESP-01 and ESP-07 modules along with the FTDI 232 USB-to-serial converter used for programming either module.

I first learned of the ESP8266 years ago and purchased the ESP-01 on eBay. It was around $5 at the time (Photo 1). I used it along with the MEGA 2560—my favorite Arduino module because of its high number of I/Os and multiple hardware UARTs. With the ESP-01 connected to a serial port on an Arduino, an application could directly talk with the ESP-01 and get the Arduino connected to your LAN. From this point, the world is under your control thanks to the AT Wi-Fi and TCP commands.

The ESP8266 literature states the Wi-Fi stack only requires about 20% of the processing power. Meanwhile, 80% is still available for user application programming and development.
So why not eliminate the Arduino’s Atmel processor altogether and put your Arduino code right in the 8266? Espressif Systems has an SDK and while it provides a development and programming environment, the Arduino IDE is comfortable for many. And it offers the installation of third-party platform packages using the Boards Manager. That means you can add support for the ESP8266EX and use much of the code you’ve already written.

Using the ESP-01

Since the ESP-01 has only 8 pins, adding the necessary hardware is pretty simple. This low power device runs on 2.5 V to 3.6 V, so you must make appropriate level corrections if you wish to use it with 5 V devices like Arduino boards. …

Read the full article in the March 332 issue of Circuit Cellar

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IoT: From Device to Gateway

Modules for the Edge

Connecting to the IoT edge requires highly integrated technology, blending wireless connectivity and intelligence. Feeding those needs, a variety of IoT modules have emerged that offer pre-certified solutions that are ready to use.

By Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

he Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the most dynamic areas of embedded systems design today. Opportunities are huge as organizations large and small work to develop IoT implementations. IoT implementations are generally comprised of three main parts: the devices in the field, the cloud and the network (gateways) linking them together. This article focuses on the “things” side—in other words, the smart, connected edge devices of the IoT. For more on IoT gateways, see “IoT Gateway Advances Take Diverse Paths“ (Circuit Cellar 328, November 2017).

Because this sub-segment of technology is growing and changing so fast, it’s impossible to get a handle on everything that’s happening. The scope that comprises IoT edge devices includes a combination of embedded processors and microcontrollers that provide intelligence. It also includes various wireless, cellular and other connectivity solutions to connect to the network. And it includes sensors to collect data and battery technologies to keep the devices running.

Connecting the various nodes of an IoT implementation can involve a number of wired and wireless network technologies. But it’s rare that an IoT system can be completely hardwired end to end. Most IoT systems of any large scale depend on a variety of wireless technologies including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee and even cellular networking.

What’s most interesting among all that, are not those individual pieces themselves, but rather an emerging crop of modular IoT products that combine intelligence and connectivity, while also taking on the vital certifications needed to get IoT implementations up and running. With all that in mind, the last 12 months have seen an interesting mix of module-based products aimed directly at IoT.

Certified IoT Modules

Exemplifying those trends, in September 2017, STMicroelectronics (ST)introduced the SPBTLE-1S, a ready-to-use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) module that integrates all the components needed to complete the radio subsystem (Photo 1). The BLE module integrates ST’s proven BlueNRG-1 application-processor SoC and balun, high-frequency oscillators and a chip antenna.

Photo 1
The SPBTLE-1S is a BLE module that integrates all the components needed to complete the radio subsystem. It’s BQE-approved, and FCC, IC and CE-RED certified to simplify end-product approval for North America and EU markets.

Developers can use this module to bypass hardware design and RF-circuit layout challenges. The SPBTLE-1S is BQE-approved, and FCC, IC and CE-RED (Radio Equipment Directive) certified to simplify end-product approval for North America and EU markets. ST’s Bluetooth 4.2 certified BLE protocol stack is included, and the supporting Software-Development Kit (SDK) contains a wide range of Bluetooth profiles and sample application code.

The device is packaged in a space-efficient 11.5 mm x 13.5 mm outline and has a wide supply-voltage range of 1.7 V to 3.6 V. The SPBTLE-1S module is well suited for small, battery-operated objects powered by various types of sources such as a primary button cell or rechargeable Li-ion battery. High RF output power of +5 dBm and good receiver sensitivity help to maximize communication range and reliability.

The BlueNRG-1 SoC at the heart of the SPBTLE-1S implements the complete BLE physical layer (PHY), link layer and network/application-processing engine comprising a low-power ARM Cortex-M0 core with 160 KB flash, 24 KB RAM with data retention and a security co-processor. The SoC also implements smart power management, with a DC/DC converter capable of powering the SPBTLE-1S module to ensure optimum energy efficiency. Users can leverage an extensive set of interfaces, including a UART, two I²C ports, SPI port, single-wire debug and 14 GPIOs, as well as peripherals including two multifunction timers, a 10-bit ADC, watchdog timer and real-time clock and a DMA controller. There is also a PDM stream processor interface, which is ideal for developing voice-controlled applications.

IoT Module for Development

Riding the IoT wave, all the major microcontroller vendors have beefed up their module-based IoT solutions in order to make it easier for developers to design in their MCUs. One example along those lines is the LPC54018 IoT module, developed by NXP in partnership with Embedded Artists. …

Read the full article in the March 332 issue of Circuit Cellar

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MPU-Based SOM Meets Industrial IoT Linux Needs

Microchip Technology has unveiled a new System on Module (SOM) featuring the SAMA5D2 microprocessor (MPU). The ATSAMA5D27-SOM1 contains the recently released ATSAMA5D27C-D1G-CU System in Package (SiP). The SOM simplifies IoT design by integrating the power management, non-volatile boot memory, Ethernet PHY and high-speed DDR2 memory onto a small, single-sided printed circuit board (PCB). There is a great deal of design effort and complexity associated with creating an industrial-grade MPU-based system running a Linux operating system. Even developers with expertise in the area spend a lot of time on PCB layout to guarantee signal integrity for the high-speed interfaces to DDR memory and PHY while complying with EMC standards.

The SAMA5D2 family of products provides an extremely flexible design experience no matter the level of expertise. For example, the SOM—which integrates multiple external components and eliminates key design challenges around EMI, ESD and signal integrity—can be used to expedite development time. Customers can solder the SOM to their board and take it to production, or it can be used as a reference design along with the free schematics, design and Gerber files and complete bill of materials which are available online. Customers can also transition from the SOM to the SiP or the MPU itself, depending on their design needs. All products are backed by Microchip’s customer-driven obsolescence policy which ensures availability to customers for as long as needed.

The Arm Cortex-A5-based SAMA5D2 SiP, mounted on the SOM PCB or available separately, integrates 1 Gbit of DDR2 memory, further simplifying the design by removing the high- speed memory interface constraints from the PCB. The impedance matching is done in the package, not manually during development, so the system will function properly at normal and low- speed operation. Three DDR2 memory sizes (128 Mb, 512 Mb and 1 Gb) are available for the SAMA5D2 SiP and optimized for bare metal, RTOS and Linux implementations.

Microchip customers developing Linux-based applications have access to the largest set of device drivers, middleware and application layers for the embedded market at no charge. All of Microchip’s Linux development code for the SiP and SOM are mainlined in the Linux communities. This results in solutions where customers can connect external devices, for which drivers are mainlined, to the SOM and SIP with minimal software development.

The SAMA5D2 family features the highest levels of security in the industry, including PCI compliance, providing an excellent platform for customers to create secured designs. With integrated Arm TrustZone and capabilities for tamper detection, secure data and program storage, hardware encryption engine, secure boot and more, customers can work with Microchip’s security experts to evaluate their security needs and implement the level of protection that’s right for their design. The SAMA5D2 SOM also contains Microchip’s QSPI NOR Flash memory, a Power Management Integrated Circuit (PMIC), an Ethernet PHY and serial EEPROM memory with a Media Access Control (MAC) address to expand design options.

The SOM1-EK1 development board provides a convenient evaluation platform for both the SOM and the SiP. A free Board Support Package (BSP) includes the Linux kernel and drivers for the MPU peripherals and integrated circuits on the SOM. Schematics and Gerber files for the SOM are also available.

The ATSAMA5D2 SiP is available in four variants starting with the ATSAMA5D225C-D1M- CU in a 196-lead BGA package for $8.62 each in 10,000 units. The ATSAMA5D27-SOM1 is available now for $39.00 each in 100 units The ATSAMA5D27-SOM1-EK1 development board is available for $245.00.

Microchip Technology | www.microchip.com

Exploring the ESP32’s Peripheral Blocks

For IoT or Home Control

What makes an embedded processor suitable as an IoT or home control device? Wi-Fi support is just part of the picture. Brian 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.

By Brian Millier

If you’re interested in IoT or home control devices, you’ve undoubtedly run across Espressif’s ESP8266. The embedded processor became ubiquitous in a very short time. The successor to the ESP8266 is the ESP32 and it’s much more powerful. Like the ESP8266, the ESP32 has on chip Wi-Fi. But it also includes Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and sports two high-power cores in place of the single one found on the ESP8266.

Having two main cores means one can run the wireless protocol stack on one core, leaving the other core free for the user application program. In fact, Espressif labels the cores “App” and “Pro”, with the latter referring to the Wi-Fi Protocol stack. This feature allows the application program to run without having to worry too much about how much execution time will be needed to handle the incoming/outgoing Wi-Fi data stream (which is hard to reliably predict, due to its asynchronous nature).

However, in addition to the dual cores, the ESP32 is also blessed with many unique peripheral blocks—most of which operate at a high level and thus require little or no MCU intervention during normal operation. This makes it much easier to write code for projects that have time-critical I/O operations. To appreciate the versatility of the ESP32’s peripheral function blocks, you have to dig into its Technical Reference Manual (TRM). At less than 600 pages, the ESP32’s TRM is somewhat leaner than most new 32-bit MCUs, so I didn’t mind studying it.

The ESP32 has been integrated into the Arduino IDE, and therefore Arduino
Wi-Fi, webserver, web client and UDP client libraries are available. I’ve done a few ESP32 Wi-Fi projects using these libraries, and found them to be straightforward. With all that in mind, in this article I am going to concentrate on three peripheral blocks that I consider to be very powerful and useful. I’ll present some code examples and custom libraries that I have written that make use of these peripherals—sometimes in ways that are different from their intended use).

The three peripheral blocks that I’ll be covering are:

  1. The Remote Control peripheral
  2. The Pulse Counter peripheral
  3. The LEDC controller peripheral

I’ll also briefly discuss the I2S and DAC/Cosine Generator blocks and provide some routines that enable you to generate some useful signals using these blocks.
The most serious work being done with the ESP32 centers on Espressif’s own IDF/C toolchain. But many people prefer to use the Arduino libraries developed for the ESP32, because they are accustomed to using it with many different MCUs—like AVR, ARM and ESP8266/32. Personally, I use the Visual Micro add-in to Visual Studio. It provides a much more professional development environment, while still using the Arduino tool-chain “under the hood.” All references to library files/folders or sample programs can be found on Circuit Cellar’s article materials webpage.

Figure 1
This is a simplified block diagram of the ESP32 Remote Controller peripheral.


Remote Controller Peripheral

This peripheral is rather unique among the MCUs that I have encountered. Its function is twofold:

  1. Transmitting IR signals such as used by IR remote controls
  2. Receiving IR signals from IR remote controls

IR remotes don’t send data in the same way that UARTs, SPI and I2C ports do. In other words, they don’t structure the data with each bit taking a specific amount of time. Instead, a “1” bit will consist of a burst of IR light for a specific time, followed by a specific period of no light. A “0” bit will define different periods of time for either the IR pulse, the space or sometimes both. To complicate matters, the IR light pulses are always amplitude modulated by some carrier frequency (in the 25-60 kHz range)..

Read the full article in the March 332 issue of Circuit Cellar

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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.

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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.