COM-Based SBCs Offer High I/O Density

Diamond Systems has released its ultra-small COM-based ZETA single board computer family. Highlights include interchangeable COM Express COMs for scalability and long product life, ultra- compact size and an rich amount of I/O, including a complete high-quality analog and digital data acquisition subsystem.

Designed in the COM Express Mini Type 10 form factor (84 mm x 55 mm / 3.3 in. x 2.2in.), the Zeta family offers performance scalability due to its use of COM Express CPU modules. Three processor options are currently available: Intel “Bay Trail” E3825 dual-core 1.33 GHz CPU with soldered 2 GB RAM; Intel “Apollo Lake” E3940 quad core 1.60 GHz CPU with soldered 4 GB RAM; and Intel “Apollo Lake” N4200 quad core 1.1 GHz (burstable to 2.5 GHz) CPU with soldered 8 GB RAM.

zeta-enlargedThe use of interchangeable CPU modules in the increasingly popular COM Express Mini Type 10 format enables Zeta to serve applications across a wide spectrum of price and performance needs. It also offers customers the longest possible product lifetime by vastly simplifying migration to a new CPU when the current one reaches its end of life. Zeta is an excellent choice for applications with expected lifetimes of 10 or more years, including military, medical, and transportation.

Zeta’s two-board COM + baseboard construction yields the highest feature density possible in a given footprint. The COM provides the core CPU functions, while the baseboard provides the “final inch” for all the system I/O plus the data acquisition subsystem, power supplies, and expansion sockets. Zeta provides as much as a 60% reduction in size compared to boards in larger form factors offering the same level of I/O.

Zeta’s impressive I/O list includes the following:

  • VGA display and Single-Channel LVDS port
  • Dual Gigabit Ethernet
  • 4 USB 2.0 Ports + 1 USB 3.0 port
  • 4 RS-232/422/485 ports with software-programmable protocol and termination
  • 16 digital IlO lines
  • Optional complete analog and digital data acquisition system
  • Integrated wide-range 6 V to 36 V power input circuit

Zeta is available in two I/O configurations, digital I/O only or digital + analog I/O. The DIO only circuit offers 16 DIO lines with selectable 3.3V/5V logic levels. The full circuit includes 16 channels of 16-bit A/D, 4 channels of 16-bit D/A, 27 digital I/O lines with selectable 3.3V/5V logic levels, and 8 32-bit counter/timers, all supported by Diamond’s free, industry-leading Universal Driver data acquisition programming library. An interactive graphical control panel for Windows and Linux is also provided to control all data acquisition features.

Zeta offers multiple options for system expansion and mass storage. It includes a PCIe Minicard / mSATA socket and a micro-SD socket. A unique expansion connector enables the installation of a daughterboard that contains an M.2 SATA SSD socket, a second PCIe Minicard socket, HD audio and 16 additional GPIO lines.

A built-in heat spreader efficiently removes heat from the SBC to keep the processor and all internal electronics cooler for improved reliability. The bottom-side mounting configuration of the heat spreader provides a secure and convenient mounting system for the board. It also simplifies the installation of I/O expansion modules by eliminating interference or airflow problems that can occur with traditional heat sinks. All three models of Zeta are tested for operation over the full industrial temperature range of -40°C to +85°C, making Zeta well suited for vehicle applications.

Diamond Systems | www.diamondsystems.com

3.5″ SBC Serves up Skylake Processors

COMMELL has announced its LS-37K 3.5-inch embedded mini-board based on Intel 6th/7th generation FCLGA1151 Skylake / Kaby Lake Core processor family and Xeon E3-1200 v5 processor. The Skylake PC is claimed to deliver 30 percent better performance than a PC base on Ivy Bridge architecture, 20 percent better performance than a PC based on Haswell, and 10 percent better performance than a Broadwell PC.

LS-37K-3D8The LS-37K desktop 3.5-inch mini-board platform supports DDR4 memory DIMM 1866/2133 MHz up to 16 GB. The platform is based on Intel HD530 (Skylake) HD630, (Kaby Lake) and HD P530 (Xeon E3-1200v5). For graphics, the Skylake GPU offers 24 execution units (EUs) clocked at up to 1150Mhz (depending on the CPU model). The revised video engine now decodes H.265/HEVC completely in hardware and thereby much more efficiently than before, and HD Graphics 630 GPU is largely identical to the 530 found in Skylake, The only real upgrade here is the HEVC and VP9 support. LS-37K Displays can be connected via 1 VGA, 1 LVDS, 1 DVI, 1 HDMI and one DP port, up to three displays can be controlled simultaneously.

LS-37K offers lots of features including high-speed data transfer interfaces such as 4 x USB3.0 and 2 x SATAIII, equipped with dual Gigabit Ethernet (One of the dual LAN with iAMT 11.0 supported), and comes with PS/2 port, 5 x RS232 and 1 x RS232/422/485, 4 x USB2.0, Intel® High Definition Audio, and 1 Mini PCIe socket (supporting mSATA) and 9 to 30 VDC input.

COMMELL | www.commell.com

Low Power PC/104-Plus SBC has Rich I/O

Winsystems has announced Its new PPM-C412 series for demanding environments and applications. It offers a broad spectrum of I/O features and the ability to expand functionality in a densely populated, standalone SBC solution. The board delivers greater performance and a clear upgrade path for current PPM-LX800 users while providing full ISA-compatible PC/104-Plus expansion.

WinSystems_PPM_C412At the heart of the board is a Vortex DX3 System on Chip (SOC), which offers a 32-bit x86 architecture with a dual-core microprocessor. The PPM-C412 incorporates dual Ethernet ports coupled with four serial ports, four USB channels and an LPT port for myriad communications options. It also includes dual simultaneous display outputs, one LVDS and one VGA, for Human Machine Interface (HMI) displays. Further, It provides 24 GPIO for monitoring and control, resulting in an I/O-rich, rugged SBC occupying minimal space. The PPM-C412 can be used on its own or in combination with the PC/104-Plus bus to expand functionality and capitalize on its full ISA compatibility, averting the need to re-engineer system architectures.

The PPM-C412 is specifically built for rugged industrial environments, with low power requirements, up to 2 GB RAM and an operating temperature range of -40ºC to +85ºC. With a 10-year availability, this new SBC also extends the product life of systems using commercial off the shelf (COTS) and proprietary PC/104 expansion modules.

Winsystems I www.winsystems.com

Fanless EPIC SBC Handles Extreme Temps

AAEON has launched the EPIC-BT07W2 SBC that supports the EPIC form factor and features an industrial-grade thermal range of -40°C to 85°C. The EPIC-BT07W2 is a fanless solution like the rest of AAEON’s EPIC line, and provides high environmental resilience with its wide-temperature design. The CPU is located at the solder side of the board to facilitate further thermal solutions, and comes with a rugged aluminum heat spreader that provides maximum airflow and temperature control. A heatsink is also available as an accessory.

tio_170919_7nks33PCI-104 architecture expansion enables daughter boards to be stacked atop on the main board, minimizing lateral space and facilitating maximum flexibility, as well as supporting legacy IO. The EPIC-BT07W2 can be seamlessly integrated into pre-existing hardware such as panel screens and mini PCs. It is also ideal for IoT uses, and is designed for minimum maintenance and maximum ruggedness.

Features include:

  • Onboard Intel Atom E3845/ Celeron J1900, N2807 Processor SoC
  • DDR3L 1,333 MHz SoDIMM x1, Up to 8 GB
  • LVDS 24-bit Dual Channel
  • Dual Display Configuration: VGA+ LVDS, VGA + HDMI or HDMI + LVDS
  • SATA 3.0 Gb/s x 1, mSATA/ MiniCard x 1, Micro SD Slot x 1 (E3800 Series Only)
  • USB 3.0 x 1, USB2.0 x 5, RS-232 x 4, RS-232/422/485 x 2 (COM2, COM3)
  • MiniCard x 1, SIM x 1, PCI-104 (Optional)
  • 16-bit Digital IO/LPT, SMBus x 1, I2C (Optional)
  • Audio 2 Ch, 2 W Audio Amp., TPM (Optional), Touch Controller (Optional)
  • 9-24V DC Wide Range or 12 VDC Power Input
  • SoC Processor on Solder Side Design

AAEON | www.aaeon.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.
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SBC is Drop-In Replacement for Raspberry Pi 3 Model B

A Kickstarter project by the Libre Computer Project, code name Le Potato, is designed as a drop in hardware replacement for the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B and offers faster performance, more memory, lower power, higher I/O throughput, 4K capabilities, open market components, improved media acceleration, removal of the vendor locked-in interfaces and Android 7.1 support. This platform uses the latest technologies and is built upon proven long term available chips. It is supported by upstream Linux and has a downstream development package based on Linux 4.9 LTS that offers ready-to-go 4K media decoding, 3D acceleration and more. dbedba7f6223adc66b712249125e66cb_original

It can be used to tinker with electronics, teach programming, build media centers, create digital signage solutions, play retro games, establish bi-directional video, and unlock imaginations. It is available in 1 GB and 2 GB configurations.

For connectivity I/O the board provides:

  • HDMI 2.0
  • 4 USB 2.0 Type A
  • RJ45 100Mb Fast Ethernet
  • CVBS
  • Infrared Receiver
  • S/PDIF Header
  • UART Header
  • I2S + ADC Header
  • 40 Pin Header for PWM, I2C, I2S, SPI, GPIO
  • eMMC Daughter Board Connector
  • MicroSD Card Slot with UHS Support

The board features these improvements over Raspberry Pi 3 Model B:

  • 50% Faster CPU and GPU
  • Double RAM Available
  • Lower Power Consumption
  • Better Android 7.1 and Kodi Support
  • Much Better Hardware Accelerated Codec Support
  • 4K UHD with HDR over HDMI 2.0
  • MicroSD Card UHS Support
  • eMMC Daughter Board Support
  • IR Receiver
  • ADC + I2S Headers
  • Non-Shared Bandwidth for LAN and USB

Libre Computer Project | https://libre.computer/

PC/104-Plus SBC Features On-Board TPM Security

Versalogic is now shipping the “Liger”-a new high-performance PC/104-Plus single board computer (SBC). Based on Intel’s Kaby Lake processor, Liger combines high performance processing and high performance video with moderate power consumption (12 to 14 W typical). It features hardware-level security using an on-board Trusted Platform Module (TPM) security chip, and backwards compatibility with systems using PC/104-Plus (ISA or PCI) expansion.

PR_EPM-43_HI

Liger is designed for applications which require extreme CPU and video processing performance in a compact 108 x 96 mm (4.3 x 3.8″) PC/104 footprint.The Liger’s on-board TPM security chip can lock out unauthorized hardware and software access. It provides a secure “Root of Trust” processing environment for defense, medical, and industrial applications that require hardware-level security functions. Additional security is provided through built-in AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) instructions.

Versalogic | www.versalogic.com

Low Power NXP i.MX7 CPU Rides SMARC 2.0 Card

Kontron has introduced a new, extremely energy-efficient SMARC 2.0 module. Thanks to the use of low power NXP i.MX7 CPUs in both dual-core and single-core configurations the SMARC-sAMX7 is suitable for the development of smart devices in a very compact and fanless design. This approach, which balances processor and graphics performance while retaining a very low energy footprint, is especially useful in Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 applications. The presence of two Ethernet ports directly on the board facilitates networking.

Kontron smarc-samx7_front_per

The SMARC-sAMX7 features a 2×1 GHz ARM Cortex A7 processor with an additional 200 MHz M4 processor in dual-core configuration, the single-core version runs at 800 MHz. It comes with up to 2 Gbytes DDR3 memory, a dual channel LVDS interface, up to two Gbit Ethernet, three PCI-Express (PCIe) and four USB 4.0 ports. A 64 Gbyte eMMC 5.0 is used as onboard storage. The SMARC-sAMX7 utilizes the Uboot bootloader and supports Yocto Linux as operating system. It is fully operational in an extended temperature range from -20°C up to +85°C.

Kontron | www.kontron.com

Pico-ITX Board Boasts 7th Gen Kaby Lake U-Series Processor

Commell has announced a Pico-ITX form factor LP-175 sporing an Intel Skylake/Kaby Lake(6th/7th)  U-series processor, combined with the Intel  Express chipset, Integrated Intel integrated HD Graphics Technology with integrated memory. The LP-175 platform  is suited to applications requiring multi-tasking capabilities, such as gaming, surveillance, medical, defense, transportation and industrial automation application.

Commell LP-175-2D8

The Pico-ITX Motherboardsupports one DDR4L SO-DIMM up to 16 Gbytes and running at 1866/2133 MHz. The HD Graphics Technology provides high-end media and graphics capabilities for devices that display videos, 2D/3D graphics and interactive content. In addition, the LP-175 has integrated HDMI, LVDS, and Displayport or VGA for Triple display. Those options enable advanced solutions for imaging, machine vision and digital signage applications. For I/O the board has high-speed data transfer interfaces such as 2 x USB3.0, equipped with one Gigabit Ethernet, and it comes with PS/2 Keyboard and Mouse port, 2 x COM, 2 x USB2.0, Intel High Definition Audio, plus one PCIe Mini card socket or mSATA.

Commell | www.commell.com

New I/O-Rich Embedded Computing Solutions

Diamond Systems recently unveiled the Eagle family rugged ARM SBCs and carrier boards.  Intended to work with the Toradex Apalis family of ARM computer-on-modules (CoMs), the Eagle family comprises two models—the full-size, full-featured Eagle and the smaller low-cost Eaglet.DiamondEagle

You can purchase a fully-configured off-the-shelf solution comprsing a select ARM module and heatsink. Anoher option is to the baseboard and ARM module separately for greater configuration flexibility and lower unit cost. Development kits are available that include the fully configured SBC, preconfigured Linux OS on a microSD card, and a full cable kit.

The Eagle/Eaglet family units feature long product lifetimes, configuration flexibility, and a wide range of I/O. The Eagle/Eaglet family with the Toradex Apalis family of ARM modules provides a scalable platform for embedded computing applications with interchangeable processors similar to the CoM Express concept. All CoMs in the Apalis Family are pin-compatible to ensure seamless platform upgrades. With Eagle, you can extend a product’s lifecycle by upgrading to a new Apalis module and installing Eaglet compact ARM Baseboard new driver software.

The Eagle SBC with installed ARM module and heatsink starts at $650. The Eaglet SBC in a similar configuration starts at $420. The Eagle baseboard single unit pricing is $450. The Eaglet baseboard single unit prices is $220. Shipments are expected to begin in December 2016.

Source: Diamond Systems

New Raspberry Pi Model B+

The Raspberry Pi foundation announced what it calls “an evolution” of the Raspberry Pi SBC. Compared to the previous model, the new Raspberry Pi Model B+ has more GPIO, and more USB ports. In addition, it uses Micro SD memory cards and improved power consumption.

Source: Raspberry Pi Foundation

Source: Raspberry Pi Foundation

 

The GPIO header is now 40 pins, with the same pinout for the first 26 pins as the Model B. The B+ also has four USB 2.0 ports (compared to two on the Model B) and better hotplug and overcurrent behavior. In place of the old friction-fit SD card socket is a better push-push micro SD version.

In line with today’s electronic concepts, the new board also lowers power consumption. By replacing linear regulators with switching ones, the power requirements are reduced by between 0.5 W and 1 W. The audio circuit incorporates a dedicated low-noise power supply, enabling better audio applications.

The new board is well organized. The USB connectors are aligned with the board edge, and the composite video now has a 3.5-mm jack. The corners are rounded with four squarely placed mounting holes.

The Raspberry Pi Model B+ uses the same BCM2835 application processor as the Model B. It runs the same software and still has 512-MB RAM.

If you want to adapt a current project to the new platform, be sure to study the new GPIO pins and mechanical specs. To ensure continuity of supply for industrial customers, the Model B will be kept in production for as long as there’s demand for it.

At $35, the new model B+ is the same price as the older model B and is already available from Farnell/element14/Newark and RS/Allied Components.

[Source: www.raspberrypi.org]

Fanless Small Form Factor PC System

HABEYThe BIS-3922 improves on HABEY’s BIS-6922 system by offering additional I/O for more applications and solutions. The system is well suited for automation, digital signage, network security, point of sale, transportation, and digital surveillance applications.
The BIS-3922 system includes six DB9 COM ports on the front panel, one of which supports RS-232/-422/-485. HABEY’s proprietary ICEFIN design ensures maximum heat dissipation and a true fanless system.

The BIS-3922 system is built with the Intel QM77 chipset and is compatible with the third-generation Ivy Bridge Core processors. The BIS-3922 system’s additional features include a HM77 chipset that supports third-generation Intel Core i3/i5/i7 processors; dual gigabit Ethernet ports; High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI), video graphics array (VGA), and low-voltage differential signaling (LVDS) display interfaces; one mini-PCI Express (PCIe) and one mSATA expansion; and a 3.5” single-board computer (SBC) form factor.

Contact HABEY for pricing.

HABEY USA, Inc.
www.habeyusa.com

Flexible I/O Expansion for Rugged Applications

WynSystemsThe SBC35-CC405 series of multi-core embedded PCs includes on-board USB, gigabit Ethernet, and serial ports. These industrial computers are designed for rugged embedded applications requiring extended temperature operation and long-term availability.

The SBC35-CC405 series features the latest generation Intel Atom E3800 family of processors in an industry-standard 3.5” single-board computer (SBC) format COM Express carrier. A Type 6 COM Express module supporting a quad-, dual-, or single-core processor is used to integrate the computer. For networking and communications, the SBC35-CC405 includes two Intel I210 gigabit Ethernet controllers with IEEE 1588 timestamping and 10-/100-/1,000-Mbps multispeed operation. Four Type-A connectors support three USB 2.0 channels and one high-speed USB 3.0 channel. Two serial ports support RS-232/-422/-485 interface levels with clock options up to 20 Mbps in the RS-422/-485 mode and up to 1 Mbps in the RS-232 mode.

The SBC35-CC405 series also includes two MiniPCIe connectors and one IO60 connector to enable additional I/O expansion. Both MiniPCIe connectors support half-length and full-length cards with screw-down mounting for improved shock and vibration durability. One MiniPCIe connector also supports bootable mSATA solid-state disks while the other connector includes USB. The IO60 connector provides access to the I2C, SPI, PWM, and UART signals enabling a simple interface to sensors, data acquisition, and other low-speed I/O devices.

The SBC35-CC405 runs over a 10-to-50-VDC input power range and operates at temperatures from –40°C to 85°C. Enclosures, power supplies, and configuration services are also available.

Linux, Windows, and other x86 OSes can be booted from the CFast, mSATA, SATA, or USB interfaces, providing flexible data storage options. WinSystems provides drivers for Linux and Windows 7/8 as well as preconfigured embedded OSes.
The single-core SBC35-CC405 costs $499.

Winsystems, Inc.
www.winsystems.com

Q&A: Scott Garman, Technical Evangelist

Scott Garman is more than just a Linux software engineer. He is also heavily involved with the Yocto Project, an open-source collaboration that provides tools for the embedded Linux industry. In 2013, Scott helped Intel launch the MinnowBoard, the company’s first open-hardware SBC. —Nan Price, Associate Editor

Scott Garman

Scott Garman

NAN: Describe your current position at Intel. What types of projects have you developed?

SCOTT: I’ve worked at Intel’s Open Source Technology Center for just about four years. I began as an embedded Linux software engineer working on the Yocto Project and within the last year, I moved into a technical evangelism role representing Intel’s involvement with the MinnowBoard.

Before working at Intel, my background was in developing audio products based on embedded Linux for both consumer and industrial markets. I also started my career as a Linux system administrator in academic computing for a particle physics group.

Scott was involved with an Intel MinnowBoard robotics and computer vision demo, which took place at LinuxCon Japan in May 2013.

Scott was involved with an Intel MinnowBoard robotics and computer vision demo, which took place at LinuxCon Japan in May 2013.

I’m definitely a generalist when it comes to working with Linux. I tend to bounce around between things that don’t always get the attention they need, whether it is security, developer training, or community outreach.

More specifically, I’ve developed and maintained parallel computing clusters, created sound-level management systems used at concert stadiums, worked on multi-room home audio media servers and touchscreen control systems, dug into the dark areas of the Autotools and embedded Linux build systems, and developed fun conference demos involving robotics and computer vision. I feel very fortunate to be involved with embedded Linux at this point in history—these are very exciting times!

Scott is shown working on an Intel MinnowBoard demo, which was built around an OWI Robotic Arm.

Scott is shown working on an Intel MinnowBoard demo, which was built around an OWI Robotic Arm.

NAN: Can you tell us a little more about your involvement with the Yocto Project (www.yoctoproject.org)?

SCOTT: The Yocto Project is an effort to reduce the amount of fragmentation in the embedded Linux industry. It is centered on the OpenEmbedded build system, which offers a tremendous amount of flexibility in how you can create embedded Linux distros. It gives you the ability to customize nearly every policy of your embedded Linux system, such as which compiler optimizations you want or which binary package format you need to use. Its killer feature is a layer-based architecture that makes it easy to reuse your code to develop embedded applications that can run on multiple hardware platforms by just swapping out the board support package (BSP) layer and issuing a rebuild command.

New releases of the build system come out twice a year, in April and October.

Here, the OWI Robotic Arm is being assembled.

Here, the OWI Robotic Arm is being assembled.

I’ve maintained various user space recipes (i.e., software components) within OpenEmbedded (e.g., sudo, openssh, etc.). I’ve also made various improvements to our emulation environment, which enables you to run QEMU and test your Linux images without having to install it on hardware.

I created the first version of a security tracking system to monitor Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) reports that are relevant to recipes we maintain. I also developed training materials for new developers getting started with the Yocto Project, including a very popular introductory screencast “Getting Started with the Yocto Project—New Developer Screencast Tutorial

NAN: Intel recently introduced the MinnowBoard SBC. Describe the board’s components and uses.

SCOTT: The MinnowBoard is based on Intel’s Queens Bay platform, which pairs a Tunnel Creek Atom CPU (the E640 running at 1 GHz) with the Topcliff Platform controller hub. The board has 1 GB of RAM and includes PCI Express, which powers our SATA disk support and gigabit Ethernet. It’s an SBC that’s well suited for embedded applications that can use that extra CPU and especially I/O performance.

Scott doesn’t have a dedicated workbench or garage. He says he tends to just clear off his desk, lay down some cardboard, and work on things such as the Trippy RGB Waves Kit, which is shown.

Scott doesn’t have a dedicated workbench or garage. He says he tends to just clear off his desk, lay down some cardboard, and work on things such as the Trippy RGB Waves Kit, which is shown.

The MinnowBoard also has the embedded bus standards you’d expect, including GPIO, I2C, SPI, and even CAN (used in automotive applications) support. We have an expansion connector on the board where we route these buses, as well as two lanes of PCI Express for custom high-speed I/O expansion.

There are countless things you can do with MinnowBoard, but I’ve found it is especially well suited for projects where you want to combine embedded hardware with computing applications that benefit from higher performance (e.g., robots that use computer vision, as a central hub for home automation projects, networked video streaming appliances, etc.).

And of course it’s open hardware, which means the schematics, Gerber files, and other design files are available under a Creative Commons license. This makes it attractive for companies that want to customize the board for a commercial product; educational environments, where students can learn how boards like this are designed; or for those who want an open environment to interface their hardware projects.

I created a MinnowBoard embedded Linux board demo involving an OWI Robotic Arm. You can watch a YouTube video to see how it works.

NAN: What compelled Intel to make the MinnowBoard open hardware?

SCOTT: The main motivation for the MinnowBoard was to create an affordable Atom-based development platform for the Yocto Project. We also felt it was a great opportunity to try to release the board’s design as open hardware. It was exciting to be part of this, because the MinnowBoard is the first Atom-based embedded board to be released as open hardware and reach the market in volume.

Open hardware enables our customers to take the design and build on it in ways we couldn’t anticipate. It’s a concept that is gaining traction within Intel, as can be seen with the announcement of Intel’s open-hardware Galileo project.

NAN: What types of personal projects are you working on?

SCOTT: I’ve recently gone on an electronics kit-building binge. Just getting some practice again with my soldering iron with a well-paced project is a meditative and restorative activity for me.

Scott’s Blinky POV Kit is shown. “I don’t know what I’d do without my PanaVise Jr. [vise] and some alligator clips,” he said.

Scott’s Blinky POV Kit is shown. “I don’t know what I’d do without my PanaVise Jr. [vise] and some alligator clips,” he said.

I worked on one project, the Trippy RGB Waves Kit, which includes an RGB LED and is controlled by a microcontroller. It also has an IR sensor that is intended to detect when you wave your hand over it. This can be used to trigger some behavior of the RGB LED (e.g., cycling the colors). Another project, the Blinky POV Kit, is a row of LEDs that can be programmed to create simple text or logos when you wave the device around, using image persistence.

Below is a completed JeeNode v6 Kit Scott built one weekend.

Below is a completed JeeNode v6 Kit Scott built one weekend.

My current project is to add some wireless sensors around my home, including temperature sensors and a homebrew security system to monitor when doors get opened using 915-MHz JeeNodes. The JeeNode is a microcontroller paired with a low-power RF transceiver, which is useful for home-automation projects and sensor networks. Of course the central server for collating and reporting sensor data will be a MinnowBoard.

NAN: Tell us about your involvement in the Portland, OR, open-source developer community.

SCOTT: Portland has an amazing community of open-source developers. There is an especially strong community of web application developers, but more people are hacking on hardware nowadays, too. It’s a very social community and we have multiple nights per week where you can show up at a bar and hack on things with people.

This photo was taken in the Open Source Bridge hacker lounge, where people socialize and collaborate on projects. Here someone brought a brainwave-control game. The players are wearing electroencephalography (EEG) readers, which are strapped to their heads. The goal of the game is to use biofeedback to move the floating ball to your opponent’s side of the board.

This photo was taken in the Open Source Bridge hacker lounge, where people socialize and collaborate on projects. Here someone brought a brainwave-control game. The players are wearing electroencephalography (EEG) readers, which are strapped to their heads. The goal of the game is to use biofeedback to move the floating ball to your opponent’s side of the board.

I’d say it’s a novelty if I wasn’t so used to it already—walking into a bar or coffee shop and joining a cluster of friendly people, all with their laptops open. We have coworking spaces, such as Collective Agency, and hackerspaces, such as BrainSilo and Flux (a hackerspace focused on creating a welcoming space for women).

Take a look at Calagator to catch a glimpse of all the open-source and entrepreneurial activity going on in Portland. There are often multiple events going on every night of the week. Calagator itself is a Ruby on Rails application that was frequently developed at the bar gatherings I referred to earlier. We also have technical conferences ranging from the professional OSCON to the more grassroots and intimate Open Source Bridge.

I would unequivocally state that moving to Portland was one of the best things I did for developing a career working with open-source technologies, and in my case, on open-source projects.

Low-Cost SBCs Could Revolutionize Robotics Education

For my entire life, my mother has been a technology trainer for various educational institutions, so it’s probably no surprise that I ended up as an engineer with a passion for STEM education. When I heard about the Raspberry Pi, a diminutive $25 computer, my thoughts immediately turned to creating low-cost mobile computing labs. These labs could be easily and quickly loaded with a variety of programming environments, walking students through a step-by-step curriculum to teach them about computer hardware and software.

However, my time in the robotics field has made me realize that this endeavor could be so much more than a traditional computer lab. By adding actuators and sensors, these low-cost SBCs could become fully fledged robotic platforms. Leveraging the common I2C protocol, adding chains of these sensors would be incredibly easy. The SBCs could even be paired with microcontrollers to add more functionality and introduce students to embedded design.

rover_webThere are many ways to introduce students to programming robot-computers, but I believe that a web-based interface is ideal. By setting up each computer as a web server, students can easily access the interface for their robot directly though the computer itself, or remotely from any web-enabled device (e.g., a smartphone or tablet). Through a web browser, these devices provide a uniform interface for remote control and even programming robotic platforms.

A server-side language (e.g., Python or PHP) can handle direct serial/I2C communications with actuators and sensors. It can also wrap more complicated robotic concepts into easily accessible functions. For example, the server-side language could handle PID and odometry control for a small rover, then provide the user functions such as “right, “left,“ and “forward“ to move the robot. These functions could be accessed through an AJAX interface directly controlled through a web browser, enabling the robot to perform simple tasks.

This web-based approach is great for an educational environment, as students can systematically pull back programming layers to learn more. Beginning students would be able to string preprogrammed movements together to make the robot perform simple tasks. Each movement could then be dissected into more basic commands, teaching students how to make their own movements by combining, rearranging, and altering these commands.

By adding more complex commands, students can even introduce autonomous behaviors into their robotic platforms. Eventually, students can be given access to the HTML user interfaces and begin to alter and customize the user interface. This small superficial step can give students insight into what they can do, spurring them ahead into the next phase.
Students can start as end users of this robotic framework, but can eventually graduate to become its developers. By mapping different commands to different functions in the server side code, students can begin to understand the links between the web interface and the code that runs it.

Kyle Granat

Kyle Granat, who wrote this essay for Circuit Cellar,  is a hardware engineer at Trossen Robotics, headquarted in Downers Grove, IL. Kyle graduated from Purdue University with a degree in Computer Engineering. Kyle, who lives in Valparaiso, IN, specializes in embedded system design and is dedicated to STEM education.

Students will delve deeper into the server-side code, eventually directly controlling actuators and sensors. Once students begin to understand the electronics at a much more basic level, they will be able to improve this robotic infrastructure by adding more features and languages. While the Raspberry Pi is one of today’s more popular SBCs, a variety of SBCs (e.g., the BeagleBone and the pcDuino) lend themselves nicely to building educational robotic platforms. As the cost of these platforms decreases, it becomes even more feasible for advanced students to recreate the experience on many platforms.

We’re already seeing web-based interfaces (e.g., ArduinoPi and WebIOPi) lay down the beginnings of a web-based framework to interact with hardware on SBCs. As these frameworks evolve, and as the costs of hardware drops even further, I’m confident we’ll see educational robotic platforms built by the open-source community.