Embedded Analytics Firm Makes ‘Self-Aware Chip’ Push

UltraSoC has announced a significant global expansion to address the increasing demand for more sophisticated, ‘self-aware’ silicon chips in a range of electronic products, from lightweight sensors to the server farms that power the Internet. The company’s growth plans are centering on shifts in applications such as server optimization, the IoT, and UltraSoC_EmbeddedAnalyticsautomotive safety and security, all of which demand significant improvements in the intelligence embedded inside chips.

UltraSoC’s semiconductor intellectual property (SIP) simplifies development and provides valuable embedded analytic features for designers of SoCs (systems on chip). UltraSoC has developed its technology—originally designed as a chip development tool to help developers make better products—to now fulfill much wider, pressing needs in an array of applications: safety and security in the automotive industry, where the move towards autonomous vehicles is creating unprecedented change and risk; optimization in big data applications, from Internet search to data centers; and security for the Internet of Things.

These developments will be accelerated by the addition of a new facility in Bristol, UK, which will be home to an engineering and innovation team headed by Marcin Hlond, newly appointed as Director of System Engineering. Hlond will oversee UltraSoC’s embedded analytics and visualization products, and lead product development and innovation. He has over two decades of experience as system architect and developer, most recently at Blu Wireless, NVidia and Icera. He will focus on fulfilling customers’ needs for more capable analytics and rich information to enable more efficient development of SoCs, and to enhance the reliability and security of a broad range of electronic products. At the same time, the company will continue to expand engineering headcount at its headquarters in Cambridge, UK.

UltraSoC | www.ultrasoc.com

Ultrasonic Sensing MCUs Target Smart Water Meters

Texas Instruments has unveiled a new family of MSP430 microcontrollers with an integrated ultrasonic sensing analog front end that enables smart water meters to deliver higher accuracy and lower power consumption. In addition, TI introduced two new reference designs that make it easier to design modules for adding automated meter reading (AMR) capabilities to existing mechanical water meters. The new MCUs and reference designs support the growing demand for more accurate water meters and remote meter reading to enable efficient water resource management, accurate measurement and timely billing.

New ultrasonic MCUs and new reference designs make both electronic and mechanical water meters smarter (PRNewsfoto/Texas Instruments Incorporated)

New ultrasonic MCUs and new reference designs make both electronic and mechanical water meters smarter.

As part of the ultra-low-power MSP430 MCU portfolio for sensing and measurement, the new MSP430FR6047 MCU family lets developers add more intelligence to flow meters by taking advantage of a complete waveform capture feature and analog-to-digital converter (ADC)-based signal processing. This technique enables more accurate measurement than competitive devices, with precision of 25 ps or better, even at flow rates less than 1 liter per hour. In addition, the integrated MSP430FR6047 devices reduce water meter system component count by 50 percent and power consumption by 25 percent, enabling a meter to operate without having to charge the battery for 10 or more years. The new MCUs also integrate a low-energy accelerator module for advanced signal processing, 256 KB of ferroelectric random access memory (FRAM), a LCD driver and a metering test interface.

The MSP430 Ultrasonic Sensing Design Center offers a comprehensive development ecosystem that allows developers to get to market in months. The design center provides tools for quick development and flexibility for customization, including software libraries, a GUI, evaluation modules with metrology and DSP libraries.

TI’s new Low-Power Water Flow Measurement with Inductive Sensing Reference Design is a compact solution for the electronic measurement of mechanical flow meters with low power consumption for longer battery life. Enabled by the single-chip SimpleLink dual-band CC1350 wireless MCU, this reference design also gives designers the ability to add dual-band wireless communications for AMR networks. Designers can take advantage of the reference design’s small footprint to easily retrofit existing mechanical flow meters, enabling water utilities to add AMR capability while avoiding expensive replacement of deployed meters. The CC1350 wireless MCU consumes only 4 µA while measuring water flow rates, enabling longer product life.

A second new reference design is an ultra-low power solution based on the SimpleLink Sub-1 GHz CC1310 wireless MCU. The Low-Power Wireless M-Bus Communications Module Reference Design uses TI’s wireless M-Bus software stack and supports all wireless M-Bus operating modes in the 868-MHz band. This reference design provides best-in-class power consumption and flexibility to support wireless M-Bus deployments across multiple regions.

Texas Instruments | www.ti.com

Infineon Invests in Voice-Interface Tech for IoT

Infineon has made a strategic minority investment in XMOS Limited, a Bristol based fabless semiconductor company that provides voice processors for IoT devices. Infineon leads the recent $15 million Series-E funding round. According to Infineon, cars, homes, industrial plants and consumer devices are rapidly becoming connected to the Internet: 3 xcore-microphone-arrayyears from now, 30 billion devices will belong to the IoT. While today the interaction between humans and machines is mostly done by touch, the next evolutionary step of IoT will lead to the omni-presence of high-performance voice control. Infineon Technologies  wants to further develop its capabilities to shape this market segment.

Today, voice controllers, used in voice recognition systems, struggle to differentiate between speech from a person in the room, and a synthesized source such as a radio, TV; they often identify the voice of interest based on the loudest noise. Earlier in 2017 Infineon and XMOS demonstrated an enhanced solution to overcome these issues, using intelligent human-sensing microphones and gesture recognition. The solution featured a combination of Infineon’s radar and silicon microphone sensors to detect the position and the distance of the speaker from the microphones, with XMOS far field voice processing technology used to capture speech.

Infineon Technologies | www.infineon.com

XMOS | www.xmos.com

Emulating Legacy Interfaces

Do It with Microcontrollers

There’s a number of important legacy interface technologies—like ISA and PCI—that are no longer supported by the mainstream computing industry. In his article Wolfgang examines ways to use inexpensive microcontrollers to emulate the bus signals of legacy interconnect schemes.

By Wolfgang Matthes

Many of today’s PC users have never heard of interfaces like the ISA bus or the PCI bus. But in the realm of industrial and embedded computers, they are still very much alive. Large numbers of add-on cards and peripherals are out there. Many of them are even still being manufactured today—especially PCI cards and PC/104 modules for industrial control and measurement applications. In many cases, bandwidth requirements for those applications are low. As a result, it is possible to emulate the interfaces with inexpensive microcontrollers. That essentially means using a microcontroller instead of an industrial or embedded PC host.

Photo 1 - The PC/104 specifications relate to small modules, which can be stacked one above the other.

Photo 1 – The PC/104 specifications relate to small modules, which can be stacked one above the other.

To develop and bring up such a device is a good exercise in engineering education. But it has its practical uses too. Industrial-grade modules and cards are designed and manufactured for reliability and longevity. That makes them far superior to the kits, boards, shields and so on, that are intended primarily for educational purposes and tinkering. Moreover, a microcontroller platform can be programmed independently—without operating systems and device drivers. These industrial-grade boards can operate in environments that consume considerably less power and are free from the noise typical of the interior of personal computers. The projects depicted here are open source developments. Descriptions, schematics, PCB files and program sources are available for downloading.

Fields of Use

The basic idea is to make good use of peripheral modules and add-in cards. Photo 1 shows examples. Typical applications are based on industrial or embedded personal computers. The center of the system is the host—the PC. Peripheral modules or cards are attached to a standardized expansion interface, that is, in principle, an extended processor bus. That means the processor of the PC can directly address the registers within the devices. The programming interface is the processor’s instruction set. As a result, latencies are low and the peripheral modules can be programmed somewhat like microcontroller ports—without regard to complicated communication protocols. For example, if the peripheral was attached to communication interfaces like USB or Ethernet, that would complicate matters. Common expansion interfaces are the legacy ISA bus, the PCI bus and the PCI Express (PCIe) interface. …

We’ve made the October 2017 issue of Circuit Cellar available as a 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.
Don’t miss out on upcoming issues of Circuit Cellar. Subscribe today!

 

Declaration of Embedded Independence

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

JeffHeadShot

There’s no doubt that we’re living in an exciting era for embedded systems developers. Readers like you that design and develop embedded systems no longer have to compromise. Most of you probably remember when the processor or microcontroller you chose dictated both the development tools and embedded operating system (OS) you had to use. Today more than ever, there are all kinds of resources available to help you develop prototypes—everything from tools to chips to information resources on-line. There’s inexpensive computing modules available aimed at makers and DIY experts that are also useful for professional engineers working on high-volume end products.

The embedded operating systems market is one particular area where customers no longer have to compromise. That wasn’t always the case. Most people identify the late 90s with the dot.com bubble … and that bubble bursting. But closer to our industry was the embedded Linux start-up bubble. The embedded operating systems market began to see numerous start-ups appearing as “embedded Linux” companies. Since Linux is a free, open-source OS, these companies didn’t sell Linux, but rather provided services to help customers create and support implementations of open-source Linux. But, as often happens with disruptive technology, the establishment then pushed back. The establishment in that case were the commercial “non-open” embedded OS vendors. I recall a lot of great spirited debates at the time—both in print and live during panel discussions at industry trade shows—arguing for and against the very idea of embedded Linux. For my part, I can’t help remembering, having both written some of those articles and having sat on those panels myself.

Coinciding with the dot-com bubble bursting, the embedded Linux bubble burst as well. That’s not to say that embedded Linux lost any luster. It continued its upward rise, and remains an incredibly important technology today. Case in point: The Android OS is based on the Linux kernel. What burst was the bubble of embedded Linux start-up companies, from which only a handful of firms survived. What’s interesting is that all the major embedded OS companies shifted to a “let’s not beat them, let’s join them” approach to Linux. In other words, they now provide support for users to develop systems that use Linux alongside their commercial embedded operating systems.

The freedom not to have to compromise in your choices of tools, OSes and systems architectures—all that is a positive evolution for embedded system developers like you. But in my opinion, I think it’s possible to misinterpret the user-centric model and perhaps declare victory too soon. When you’re developing an embedded system aimed at a professional, commercial application, not everything can be done in DIY mode. There’s value in having the support of sophisticated technology vendors to help you develop and integrate your system. Today’s embedded systems routinely use millions of lines of code, and in most systems these days software running on a processor is what provides most of the functionality. If you develop that software in-house, you need high quality tools to makes sure it’s running error free. And if you out-source some of that embedded software, you have to be sure the vendor of that embedded software is providing a product you can rely on.

The situation is similar on the embedded board-level computing side. Yes, there’s a huge crop of low-cost embedded computer modules available to purchase these days. But not all embedded computing modules are created equal. If you’re developing a system with a long shelf life, what happens when the DRAMs, processors or I/O chips go end-of-life? Is it your problem? Or does the board vendor take on that burden? Have the boards been tested for vibration or temperature so that they can be used in the environment your application requires? You have to weigh the costs versus the kinds of support a vendor provides.

All in all, the trend toward a ”no compromises” situation for embedded systems developers is a huge win. But when you get beyond the DIY project level of development, it’s important to keep in mind that the vendor-customer relationship is still a critical part of the system design process. With all that in mind, it’s cool that we can today make a declaration of independence for embedded systems technology. But I’d rather think of it as a declaration of interdependence.

This appears in the October (327) issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

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

CENTRI Demos Chip-to-Cloud IoT Security on ST MCUs

CENTRI has announced compatibility of its IoTAS platform with the STMicroelectronics STM32 microcontroller family based on ARM Cortex-M processor cores. CENTRI successfully completed and demonstrated two proofs of concept on the STM32 platform DJDTab0VoAAB_sKto protect all application data in motion from chipset to public Cloud using CENTRI IoTAS. CENTRI Internet of Things Advanced Security (IoTAS) for secure communications was used in an application on an STM32L476RC device with connected server applications running on both Microsoft Azure and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) Clouds. The proofs of concept used wireless connections to showcase the real-world applicability of IoT device communications in the field and to highlight the value of IoTAS compression and encryption.

IoTAS uses hardware-based ID to establish secure device authentication on the initial connection. The solution features patented single-pass data encryption and optimization to ensure maximum security while providing optimal efficiency and speed of data transmissions. The small footprint of IoTAS combined with the flexibility and compute power of the STM32 platform with seamless interoperability into the world’s most popular Cloud services provides device makers a complete, secure chip-to-Cloud IoT platform. CENTRI demonstrated IoTAS capabilities at the ST Developers Conference, September 6, 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center.

STMicroelectronics | www.st.com

Don’t Wait for IoT Standards

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

JeffHeadShot

I’ll admit it. When the phrase “Internet-of-Things” started to gain momentum some years ago, I was pretty dismissive of it. In the world of embedded systems technology that I’ve been covering for decades, the idea of network-connected embedded devices was far from new. At that point, I’d seen numerous catch phrases come and go—few of them ever sticking around. Fast forward to today, and boy was my skepticism misplaced! Market analysts vary in how they slice up the IoT market, but the general thinking puts the gowth range at several trillion dollars by the year 2020. IoT cuts across several market areas with industrial, transportation, smart homes and energy segments growing fastest. Even when you exclude PCs, phones, servers and tablets—concentrating on embedded devices using processors, microcontrollers, connectivity and high-level operating systems—we’re still talking billions of units.

Now that I’m sold that the hype around IoT is justified, I’m intrigued with this question: What specific IoT standards and protocols are really necessary to get started building an IoT implementation? From my point of view, I think there’s perhaps been too much hesitation on that score. I think there’s a false perception among some that joining the IoT game is some future possibility—a possibility waiting for standards.

Over the past couple years, major players like Google, GE, Qualcomm and others have scrambled to come up with standards suited for broad and narrow types of IoT devices. And those efforts have all helped move IoT forward. But in reality, all the pieces—from sensors to connectivity standards to gateway technologies to cloud infrastructures—all exist today. Businesses and organizations can move forward today to build highly efficient and scalable IoT infrastructures. They can make use of the key connectivity technologies that are usable today, rather than get too caught up with “future” thinking based on nascent industry standards.

In terms of the basic connectivity technologies for IoT, the industry is rich with choices. It’s actually rather rare that an IoT system can be completely hardwired end-to-end. As a result, most IoT systems of any large scale depend on a variety of wireless technologies including everything from device-level technologies to Wi-Fi to cellular networking. At the device-level, the ISM 802.15.4 is a popular standard for low power kinds of gear. 802.15.4 is the basis for established industrial network schemes like ZigBee, and can be used with protocols like 6LoWPAN to add higher layer functions using IP technology. Where power is less of a constraint, the standard Wi-Fi 802.11 is also a good method of IoT activity—whether leveraging off of existing Wi-Fi infrastructures or just using Wi-Fi hubs and routers in a purpose-built network implementation.

Another attractive IoT edge connectivity technology is Bluetooth LE (low energy) or BLE. While it was created for applications in healthcare, fitness, security and home entertainment, Bluetooth LE offers connectivity for any low power device. It’s especially useful in devices that need to operate for more than a year without recharging. If cellular networks make sense as a part of your IoT architecture, virtual networking platforms are available via all the major carriers—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless.

IoT is definitely having an impact in the microcontroller-based embedded design space that’s at the heart of Circuit Cellar’s coverage. Not to overstate the matter, IoT systems today make up less than a tenth of the microcontroller application market. MCUs are used in a myriad of non-IoT systems. But, according to market research done by IHS in 2015, IoT is growing at a rate of 11% in the MCU space, while the overall MCU market is expected to grow at just 4% through 2019.

IoT requires the integration of edge technologies where data is created, connectivity technologies that move and share data using Internet and related technologies and then finally aggregating data where it can be processed by applications using Cloud-based gateways and servers. While that sounds complex, all the building blocks to implement such IoT installations are not future technologies. They are simply an integration of hardware, software and service elements that are readily available today. In the spirit of Circuit Cellar’s tag line “Inspiring the Evolution of Embedded Design,” get inspired and start building your IoT system today.

This appears in the September (326) issue of Circuit Cellar magazine