USBXpress Controller for Simplified USB Connectivity

Silicon Labs recently added new lower-power member to its line of USBXpress bridge devices. The CP2102N USB controller provides a simpler faster way to add USB connectivity to your embedded designs. Offering advanced functionality in QFN packages as compact as 3 mm × 3 mm, the CP2102N is intended for a variety of portable, space-constrained applications, such as USB dongles, gaming controllers, and wearable medical devices.USBXpress SiliconLabs

 

The CP2102N USBXpress feaures and specs include:

  • Data transfer rates up to 3 Mbaud
  • A low active current of less than 10 mA
  • Remote wake-up capability
  • USB battery charger detection capability (USB BCS 1.2) for detecting the type of charger connected to the system
  • Crystal-less operation and integrated regulator to reduce bill of materials cost
  • Small-footprint package options: 3 mm × 3 mm QFN20, 4 mm × 4 mm QFN24, and 5 mm × 5 mm QFN28
  • Royalty-free Virtual COM port drivers
  • Easy-to-use software tools including Xpress Configurator

Prices for the CP2102N begin at $0.91 in 10,000-unit quantities. The CP2102N-EK evaluation kit costs $25.

Source: Silicon Labs

IEC Adopts USB Type-C, USB Power Delivery, & USB 3.1 Specs

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) recently announced that IEC has formally adopted the latest USB-IF specifications for high-speed data delivery and enhanced usages for device charging. In particular, the USB Type-C Cable and Connector, USB Power Delivery and USB 3.1 (SuperSpeed USB 10 Gbps) specifications. These specifications define a truly single-cable solution for audio/video, data, and power delivery.

The standards are expected to advance global action on reducing e-waste and improving the reusability of power supplies with a range of electronic devices. The IEC approach for ongoing standardization work in this space is driven by the ultimate goals of increasing external power supply re-usability, supporting consumer convenience, maintaining product reliability and safety, and providing for future technology innovations. In addition, widespread adoption of the resulting International Standards will help to reduce the encroachment of poorly designed or manufactured aftermarket substitutes which may affect the operation of electronic devices in compliance with regulatory requirements.USB

The IEC specification numbers :

  • IEC 62680-1-3 (USB Type-C)
  • IEC 62680-1-2 (USB PD)
  • IEC 62680-3-1 (USB 3.1)

The USB Type-C specification defines the physical USB Type-C cable and connector form factor to facilitate thinner and sleeker product designs, enhance usability and provide a growth path for performance enhancements for future versions of USB.

USB Power Delivery was developed to provide flexible, bi-directional power capabilities by enabling faster charging and increased power levels up to 100W. The USB Power Delivery specification defines standardized features that support the global adoption of interoperable power supplies, helping to reduce electronic waste and increase re-usability of adapters and chargers for consumer electronics.

USB 3.1 enables speeds up to 10 Gbps, supporting audio/video for USB hosts, hubs, and devices. Combined with USB Type-C, USB 3.1 and USB Power Delivery define a truly single-cable solution for audio/video, data and power delivery, building on the existing global ecosystem of USB/IEC 62680 series of International Standards compliant devices.

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) brings together 166 countries, representing 98% of the world population and 96% of world energy generation, and close to 15,000 experts who cooperate on the global, neutral and independent IEC platform to ensure that products work everywhere safely with each other. The IEC is the world’s leading organization that prepares and publishes globally relevant International Standards for the whole energy chain, including all electrical, electronic and related technologies, devices and systems. The IEC also supports all forms of conformity assessment and administers four Conformity Assessment Systems that certify that components, equipment and systems used in homes, offices, healthcare facilities, public spaces, transportation, manufacturing, explosive environments and energy generation conform to them.

IEC work covers a vast range of technologies: power generation (including all renewable energy sources), transmission, distribution, Smart Grid & Smart Cities, batteries, home appliances, office and medical equipment, all public and private transportation, semiconductors, fiber optics, nanotechnology, multimedia, information technology, and more. It also addresses safety, EMC, performance, and the environment.

Source: International Electromechanical Commission

All-in-One Comprehensive Power Delivery Compliance Tester

Saelig Company recently announced the MQP Packet-Master USB-PDT all-in-one comprehensive Power Delivery Compliance Tester. Intended for testing protocol, measuring transmitter signal quality, receiver quality and interference rejection, and power load testing, the USB-PDT s a complete compliance tester and development tool for USB power delivery, incorporating analyzer, exerciser, compliance tester, PD VBUS generator, PD VBUS load, VBUS voltage, and current monitor functions. The unit performs comprehensive PHY, protocol and power compliance tests on PD devices, and PHY and protocol tests on PD cable marker chips.Saelig usb pdt

The base unit, which incorporates a plug-in module design, comes with GraphicUSB, an easy-use graphical Windows application for driving and reporting on the compliance tests and capturing and displaying every detail of power delivery interactions. “Power Delivery” is a specification allowing USB ports to provide power in a more flexible and adaptable way. The industry standard BMC version uses two-way signaling on the CC wire of a USB C-cable. The Packet-Master USB-PDT behaves as one end of a power delivery link. It can emulate the behavior of an initial Downstream Facing Port (DFP) or Upstream Facing Port (UFP) in controlled ways, and can confirm the responses of the connected Unit Under Test (UUT). It is also designed to perform all the required protocol and PHY Compliance Tests on Electronic Cable Markers.

The Packet-Master USB-PDT’s plug-in module design concept has the following advantages for connecting test devices:

  • USB-PD connectors can be damaged by handling. If a connector becomes damaged, you can simply replace the plug-in module.
  • The Type-C receptacle on the plug-in is itself a user-replaceable item.
  • Different connector styles are available for USB-PD use. Swapping plug-in modules provides the flexibility required.

Designed USB experts MQP Electronics, the USB-PDT will be available from Saelig in Q1 2016.

Source: Saelig Company

New Dual-Channel USB Port Power Controller

Microchip Technology recently expanded its programmable USB-port power controller portfolio with the dual-channel UCS2112. This UCS2112 port power controller supports two ports, with eight programmable continuous current limits for each port, ranging from 0.53 to 3 A for faster charging times at higher currents. You can use it as is or with USB hubs to create a complete charging or USB communication system.Microchip UCS2112

 

The UCS2112 port power controller is supported by Microchip’s new $140 UCS2112 Evaluation Board. The UCS2112 is available for sampling and volume production in a 20-pin QFN package. Pricing starts at $1.80 each, in 5,000-unit quantities. Microchip Eval Board USC21212

Source: Microchip Technology

Evaluation Boards for SuperSpeed USB-to-FIFO Bridge ICs

FTDI recently launched a new family of evaluation/development modules to encourage the implementation of its next-generation USB interfacing technology. Its FT600/1Q USB 3.0 SuperSpeed ICs are in volume production and backed up by the UMFT60XX offering. The family comprises four models that provide different FIFO bus interfaces and data bit widths. With these modules, the operational parameters of FT600/1Q devices can be fully assessed and interfacing with external hardware undertaken, such as FPGA platforms.

At 78.7 mm × 60 mm, the UMFT600A and UMFT601A each have a high-speed mezzanine card (HSMC) interface with 16-bit-wide and 32-bit-wide FIFO buses, respectively. The UMFT600X and UMFT601X measure 70 mm × 60 mm and incorporate field-programmable mezzanine card (FMC) connectors with 16-bit-wide and 32-bit-wide FIFO buses, respectively.

The HSMC interface is compatible with most Altera FPGA reference design boards, while the FMC connector delivers the same functionality in relation to Xilinx boards. Fully compatible with USB 3.0 SuperSpeed (5 Gbps), USB 2.0 High Speed (480 Mbips), and USB 2.0 Full Speed (12 Mbps) data transfer, the UMFT60xx modules support two parallel slave FIFO bus protocols with an achievable data burst rate of around 400 MBps. The multi-channel FIFO mode can handle up to four logic channels. It is complemented by the 245 synchronous FIFO mode, which is optimized for more straightforward operation.

Source: FTDI

High-Speed, Conditioned Measurements with Channel-to-Channel Isolation

Measurement Computing Corp. recently announced the release of the SC-1608 Series of USB and Ethernet data acquisition devices. The series features analog signal conditioning that enables you to measure voltage, thermocouple, RTD, strain, frequency, and current. Isolated analog output and solid-state relays make it a good solution for systems requiring flexible conditioning and low cost per channel.MCC-SC-1608-Series

There are four devices in the SC-1608 Series with sample rates up to 500 ksps. Each device accommodates up to eight 8B isolated analog signal conditioning modules and eight solid state relay modules. Up to two isolated analog outputs are available on some models. Signal conditioning modules are sold separately.

Microsoft Windows software options for the SC-1608 include DAQami and TracerDAQ to display and log data, along with comprehensive support for C, C++, C#, Visual Basic, and Visual Basic .NET. Support is also included for DASYLab and NI LabVIEW. UL for Android provides programming support for Android devices. Open-source Linux drivers are also available.

The SC-1608 Series costs $999.

Source: Measurement Computing Corp.

USB-to-FPGA Communications: A Case Study of the ChipWhisperer-Lite

Sending data from a computer to an FPGA is often required. This might be FPGA configuration data, register settings, or streaming data. An easy solution is to use a USB-connected microcontroller instead of a dedicated interface chip, which allows you to offload certain tasks into the microcontroller.

In Circuit Cellar 299 (June 2015), Colin O’Flynn writes:

Often your FPGA-based project will require computer communication and some housekeeping tasks. A popular solution is the use of a dedicated USB interface chip, and a soft-core processor in the FPGA for housekeeping tasks.

For an open-source hardware project I recently launched, I decided to use an external USB microcontroller instead of a dedicated interface chip. I suspect you’ll find a lot of useful design tidbits you can use for yourself—and, because it’s open source, getting details of my designs doesn’t involve industrial espionage!

The design is called the ChipWhisperer-Lite (see Photo 1). This device is a training aid for learning about side-channel power analysis of cryptographic implementations. Side-channel power analysis uses measurements of small power variations during execution of the cryptographic algorithms to break the implementation of the algorithm.

Photo 1: This shows the ChipWhisperer-Lite, which contains a Xilinx Spartan 6 LX9 FPGA and Atmel SAM3U2C microcontroller. The remaining circuitry involves the power supplies, ADC, analog processing, and a development device which the user programs with some cryptographic algorithm they are analyzing.

Photo 1: This shows the ChipWhisperer-Lite, which contains a Xilinx Spartan 6 LX9 FPGA and Atmel SAM3U2C microcontroller. The remaining circuitry involves the power supplies, ADC, analog processing, and a development device which the user programs with some cryptographic algorithm they are analyzing.

In a previous article, “Build a SoC Over Lunch” (Circuit Cellar 289, 2014), I made the case for using a soft-core processing in an FPGA. In this article I’ll play the devil’s advocate by arguing that using an external microcontroller is a better choice. Of course the truth lies somewhere in between: in this example, the requirement of having a high-speed USB interface makes an external microcontroller more cost-effective, but this won’t always be the case.

This article assumes you require computer communication as part of your design. There are many options for this. The easiest from a hardware perspective is to use a USB-Serial converter, and many projects use such a system. The downside is a fairly slow interface, and the requirement of designing a serial protocol.

A more advanced option is to use a USB adapter with a parallel interface, such as the FTDI FT2232H. These can achieve very high-speed data rates—basically up to the limit of the USB 2.0 interface. The downside of these options is that it still requires some protocol implemented on your FPGA for many applications, and it has limited extra features (such as if you need housekeeping tasks).

The solution I came to is the use of a USB microcontroller. They are widely available from most vendors with USB 2.0 high-speed (full 480 Mbps data rate) interfaces, and allow you to perform not only the USB interface, but the various housekeeping tasks that your system will require. The USB microcontroller will also likely be around the same price (or possibly cheaper) than the equivalent specialized interface chip.

When selecting a microcontroller, I recommend finding one with an external memory bus interface. This external memory bus is normally designed to allow you to map devices such as SRAM or DRAM into the memory space of the microcontroller. In our case we’ll actually be mapping FPGA registers into the microcontroller memory space, which means we don’t need any protocol for communication with the FPGA.

OflynnFig1fpga

Figure 1: This figure shows the basic connections used for memory-mapping the FPGA into the microcontroller memory space. Depending on your requirements, you can add some additional custom lines, such as a flag to indicate different FPGA register banks to use, as only a 9-bit address bus is used in this example.

I selected an Atmel SAM3U2C microcontroller, which has a USB 2.0 high-speed interface. This microcontroller is low-cost and available in TQFP package, which is convenient if you plan on hand assembling prototype boards. The connections between the FPGA and microcontroller are shown in Figure 1.

On the FPGA, it is easy to map this data bus into registers. This means that to configure some feature in the FPGA, you can just directly write into a register. Or if you are transferring data, you can read from or write to a block-RAM (BRAM) implemented in the FPGA.

Check out Colin’s ChipWhisperer-Lite KickStarter Video:

New USB3.0 Smart Hub Family

Microchip Technology recently announced  the USB5734/44, a USB3.0 Smart Hub family that enables host and device port swapping, I/O bridging, and other serial communication interfaces. The USB5734 and USB5744 devices feature an integrated microcontroller that creates new functionality for USB hubs while lowering overall BOM costs and reducing software complexity.MicrochipUSB5734

The new USB3.0 Smart hubs enable an upstream host controller to communicate to numerous types of external peripherals beyond the USB connection through direct bridging from USB to I2C, SPI, UART, and GPIO interfaces. This eliminates the need for an additional external microcontroller, while providing improved control from the USB host hardware.

Microchip’s FlexConnect technology enables the USB5734 Smart Hub to dynamically swap between a USB host and a USB device through hardware or software system commands giving the new USB host access to downstream resources. The FlexConnect technology can also switch common downstream resources between two different USB hosts. Incorporating FlexConnect into a system simplifies the overall software requirements of the primary host, as class drivers and application software stay local to the Device-turned-Host.

Available 56-pin, 7 x 7 mm package, the USB5744 is the industry’s smallest USB3.0 Hub for applications where board space is important. You can use the USB5734 and USB5744 USB3.0 controller hubs for a variety of applications (e.g., computing, embedded, medical, industrial, and networking markets).

The USB5734 and USB5744 are supported by Microchip’s $399 USB 3.0 Controller Hub Evaluation Board (EVB-USB5734) and $299 USB 3.0 Small Form Factor Controller Hub Evaluation Board (EVB-USB5744). The former includes mezzanine cards that can be used as preset application configurations for easy testing and development of a USB5734 system.

The USB5734 is available in 64-pin QFN (9 × 9 mm) packages starting at $4.20 each in 10,000-unit quantities. The USB5744 is available in 56-pin QFN (7 × 7 mm) packages starting at $3.75 each in 10,000-unit quantities.

Source: Microchip Technology

Happy Gecko MCU Family Simplifies USB Connectivity for IoT Apps

Silicon Labs recently introduced new energy-friendly USB-enabled microcontrollers (MCUs). Part of its EFM32 32-bit MCU portfolio, the new Happy Gecko MCUs are designed to deliver the lowest USB power drain in the industry, enabling longer battery life and energy-harvesting applications. Based on the ARM Cortex-M0+ core and low-energy peripherals, the Happy Gecko family simplifies USB connectivity for a wide range of Internet of Things (IoT) applications including smart metering, building automation, alarm and security systems, smart accessories, wearable devices, and more.SiliconLabsEFM32

Silicon Labs developed the Happy Gecko family to address the rising demand for cost-effective, low-power USB connectivity solutions. With more than 3 billion USB-enabled devices shipping each year, USB is the fastest growing interface for consumer applications and is also gaining significant traction in industrial automation. In today’s IoT world, developers have discovered that adding USB interfaces to portable, battery-powered connected devices can double the application current consumption. Silicon Labs’ Happy Gecko MCUs provide an ideal energy-friendly USB connectivity solution for these power-sensitive IoT applications.

Happy Gecko USB MCUs feature an advanced energy management system with five energy modes enabling applications to remain in an energy-optimal state by spending as little time as possible in active mode. In deep-sleep mode, Happy Gecko MCUs have an industry-leading 0.9-μA standby current consumption (with a 32.768-kHz RTC, RAM/CPU state retention, brown-out detector and power-on-reset circuitry active). Active-mode power consumption drops down to 130 µA/MHz at 24 MHz with real-world code (prime number algorithm). The USB MCUs further reduce power consumption with a 2-µs wakeup time from Standby mode.

Like all EFM32 MCUs, the Happy Gecko family includes the Peripheral Reflex System (PRS) feature, which greatly enhances overall energy efficiency. The six-channel PRS monitors complex system-level events and allows different MCU peripherals to communicate autonomously with each other without CPU intervention. The PRS watches for specific events to occur before waking the CPU, thereby keeping the Cortex-M0+ core in an energy-saving standby mode as long as possible, reducing system power consumption and extending battery life.

Happy Gecko MCUs feature many of the same low-energy precision analog peripherals included in other popular EFM32 devices. These low-energy peripherals include an analog comparator, supply voltage comparator, on-chip temperature sensor, programmable current digital-to-analog converter (IDAC), and a 12-bit analog-to-digital converter (ADC) with 350 μA current consumption at a 1 MHz sample rate. On-chip AES encryption enables the secure deployment of wireless connectivity for IoT applications such as smart meters and wireless sensor networks.

The Happy Gecko family’s exceptional single-die integration enables developers to reduce component count and bill-of-materials (BOM) cost. While typical USB connectivity alternatives require external components such as crystals and regulators, the highly integrated Happy Gecko MCUs eliminate nearly all of these discretes with a crystal-less architecture featuring a full-speed USB PHY, an on-chip regulator and resistors. Happy Gecko MCUs are available in a choice of space-saving QFN, QFP and chip-scale package (CSP) options small enough for use in USB connectors and thin-form-factor wearable designs.

The Happy Gecko family is supported by Silicon Labs’ Simplicity Studio development platform, which helps developers simplify low-energy design. The Simplicity Energy Profiler enables real-time energy profiling and debugging of code. The Simplicity Battery Estimator calculates expected battery life based on an application profile, energy modes and peripherals in use. The Simplicity Configurator provides a visual interface for MCU pin configuration, automatically generating initialization code. Code developed for other EFM32 MCUs can be reused with Happy Gecko applications. Developers can download Simplicity Studio and access Silicon Labs’ USB source code and software examples at no charge at www.silabs.com/simplicity-studio.

To help developers move rapidly from design idea to final product, the Happy Gecko family is supported by the ARM mbed ecosystem, which includes new power management APIs developed by Silicon Labs and ARM. These low-power mbed APIs are designed with low-energy application scenarios in mind, enabling rapid prototyping for energy-constrained IoT designs. ARM mbed APIs running on EFM32 MCUs automatically enable the optimal sleep mode based on the MCU peripherals in use, dramatically reducing system-level energy consumption. The Happy Gecko starter kit supports ARM mbed right out of the box. Silicon Labs has also launched mbed API support for Leopard, Giant, Wonder and Zero Gecko MCUs.  For additional ARM mbed information including access to mbed software, example code, services and the mbed community, visit www.silabs.com/mbed.

The Happy Gecko family includes 20 MCU devices providing an array of memory, package and peripheral options, as well as pin and software compatibility with Silicon Labs’s entire EFM32 MCU portfolio. Samples and production quantities of Happy Gecko MCUs are available now in 24-pin and 32-pin QFN, 48-pin QFP and 3 mm × 2.9 mm CSP packages. Happy Gecko MCU pricing in 10,000-unit quantities begins at $0.83. The Happy Gecko SLSTK3400A starter kit costs $29.

Source: Silicon Labs

New USB Controlled Microwave and Millimeter Wave Components

Pasternack has released a new line of USB-controlled microwave and millimeter wave components, which includes amplifiers, attenuators, and PIN diode switches. The new components are controlled and powered by a convenient USB 2.0 port with driverless installation. An external power supply isn’t required.USB-Controlled-RF-Components-SQ

The attenuators and PIN diode switches require an easy-to-use downloadable software program which interfaces with any Windows computer. The company is releasing two models each of the amplifiers, switches and attenuators that cover extremely wide frequency bands up to 40 GHz. The modules are 50-Ω hybrid MIC designs that do not require any external matching components.

Pasternack’s new USB controlled amplifiers offer typical performance of 12 dB gain, 10-dBm P1dB, a 4.5-dB noise figure and operate over a 50 MHz to 18 GHz band or 50 MHz to 40 GHz band. The attenuators offer typical performance of 30 dB attenuation, 5 to 8 dB of insertion loss, a 1-dB step size and are available in two programmable models that cover 100 MHz to 18 GHz and 100 MHz to 40 GHz. Lastly, the SPDT switches offer typical performance 3 to 5 dB of insertion loss, 65 to 70 dB isolation, a 6-µs switching speed and are available in two models that cover 500 MHz to 18 GHz and 500 MHz to 40 GHz. All models operate over a broad temperature range of –40°C to 85°C and depending on the frequency, are available with either female SMA or 2.92-mm connectors.

Source: Pasternack

 

USB-230 Series: New Low-Cost 16-Bit DAQ

Measurement Computing Corporation recently announced the release of two, 16-bit, multifunction USB DAQ devices with sample rates up to 100 ksps.

Source: Measurement Computing

Source: Measurement Computing

The USB-230 Series are the lowest priced 16-bit multifunction USB devices available from MCC. They feature eight single-ended/four differential analog inputs, eight digital I/O, one counter input, and two, 16-bit analog outputs. Removable screw-terminal connectors make signal connections easy.

The USB-231 costs $249 and has a 50 ksps sample rate.  The USB-234 offers a 100 ksps sample rate and is available for $424.

Included software options for the USB-230 Series include out-of-the-box TracerDAQ for quick-and-easy logging and displaying of data, along with comprehensive support for C, C++, C#, Visual Basic, and Visual Basic .NET. Drivers are also included for DASYLab and NI LabVIEW.

Source: Measurement Computing

Arduino USB Host Shield

The Arduino USB Host Shield allows you to connect a USB device to your Arduino board. The Arduino USB Host Shield is based on the MAX3421E, which is a USB peripheral/host controller containing the digital logic and analog circuitry necessary to implement a full-speed USB peripheral or a full-/low-speed host compliant to USB specification rev 2.0.ArduinoHostshield

The shield is TinkerKit compatible, which means you can quickly create projects by plugging TinkerKit modules onto the board. The following device classes are supported by the shield:

  • HID devices: keyboards, mice, joysticks, etc.
  • Game controllers: Sony PS3, Nintendo Wii, Xbox360
  • USB to serial converters: FTDI, PL-2303, ACM, as well as certain cell phones and GPS receivers
  • ADK-capable Android phones and tables
  • Digital cameras: Canon EOS, Powershot, Nikon DSLRs and P&S, as well as generic PTP
  • Mass storage devices: USB sticks, memory card readers, external hard drives, etc.
  • Bluetooth dongles

For information on using the shield with the Android OS, refer to Google’s ADK documentation. Arduino communicates with the MAX3421E using the SPI bus (through the ICSP header). This is on digital pins 10, 11, 12, and 13 on the Uno and pins 10, 50, 51, and 52 on the Mega. On both boards, pin 10 is used to select the MAX3421E.

[Source: Arduino website via Elektor]

July Issue Offers Data-Gathering Designs and More

The concept of the wireless body-area network (WBAN), a network of wireless wearable computing devices, holds great promise in health-care applications.

Such a network could integrate implanted or wearable sensors that provide continuous mobile health (mHealth) monitoring of a person’s most important “vitals”—from calorie intake to step count, insulin to oxygen levels, and heart rate to blood pressure. It could also provide real-time updates to medical records through the Internet and alert rescue or health-care workers to emergencies such as heart failures or seizures.

Data Gathering DesignsConceivably, the WBAN would need some sort of controller, a wearable computational “hub” that would track the data being collected by all the sensors, limit and authorize access to that information, and securely transmit it to other devices or medical providers.

Circuit Cellar’s July issue (now available online for membership download or single-issue purchase)  features an essay by Clemson University researcher Vivian Genaro Motti, who discusses her participation in the federally funded Amulet project.

Amulet’s Clemson and Dartmouth College research team is prototyping pieces of “computational jewelry” that can serve as a body-area network’s mHealth hub while being discreetly worn as a bracelet or pendant. Motti’s essay elaborates on Amulet’s hardware and software architecture.

Motti isn’t the only one aware of the keen interest in WBANs and mHealth. In an interview in the July issue, Shiyan Hu, a professor whose expertise includes very-large-scale integration (VLSI), says that many of his students are exploring “portable or wearable electronics targeting health-care applications.”

This bracelet-style Amulet developer prototype has an easily accessible board.

This bracelet-style Amulet developer prototype has an easily accessible board.

Today’s mHealth market is evident in the variety of health and fitness apps available for your smartphone. But the most sophisticated mHealth technologies are not yet accessible to embedded electronics enthusiasts. (However, Amulet has created a developer prototype with an easily accessible board for tests.)

But market demand tends to increase access to new technologies. A BCC Research report predicts the mHealth market, which hit $1.5 billion in 2012, will increase to $21.5 billion by 2018. Evolving smartphones, better wireless coverage, and demands for remote patient monitoring are fueling the growth. So you can anticipate more designers and developers will be exploring this area of wearable electronics.

AND THAT’S NOT ALL…
In addition to giving you a glimpse of technology on the horizon, the July issue provides our staple of interesting projects and DIY tips you can adapt at your own workbench. For example, this issue includes articles about microcontroller-based strobe photography; a thermal monitoring system using ANT+ wireless technology; a home solar-power setup; and reconfiguring and serial backpacking to enhance LCD user interfaces.

We’re also improving on an “old” idea. Some readers may recall contributor Tom Struzik’s 2010 article about his design for a Bluetooth audio adapter for his car (“Wireless Data Exchange: Build a 2,700-lb. Bluetooth Headset,” Circuit Cellar 240).

In the July issue, Struzik writes about how he solved one problem with his design: how to implement a power supply to keep the phone and the Bluetooth adapter charged.

“To run both, I needed a clean, quiet, 5-V USB-compatible power supply,” Struzik says. “It needed to be capable of providing almost 2 A of peak current, most of which would be used for the smartphone. In addition, having an in-car, high-current USB power supply would be good for charging other devices (e.g., an iPhone or iPad).”

Struzik’s July article describes how he built a 5-V/2-A automotive isolated switching power supply. The first step was using a SPICE program to model the power supply before constructing and testing an actual circuit. Struzik provides something extra with his article: a video tutorial explaining how to use Linear Technology’s LTspice simulator program for switching design. It may help you design your own circuit.

This is Tom Struzik's initial test circuit board, post hacking. A Zener diode is shown in the upper right, a multi-turn trimmer for feedback resistor is in the center, a snubber capacitor and “stacked” surface-mount design (SMD) resistors are on the center left, USB D+/D– voltage adjust trimmers are on top center, and a “test point” is shown in the far lower left. If you’re looking for the 5-V low dropout (LDO) regulator, it’s on the underside of the board in this design.

This is Tom Struzik’s initial test circuit board, post hacking. A Zener diode is shown in the upper right, a multi-turn trimmer for feedback resistor is in the center, a snubber capacitor and “stacked” surface-mount design (SMD) resistors are on the center left, USB D+/D– voltage adjust trimmers are on top center, and a “test point” is shown in the far lower left. If you’re looking for the 5-V low dropout (LDO) regulator, it’s on the underside of the board in this design.

 

Engineering Consultant and Roboticist

Eric Forkosh starting building his first robot when he was a teenager and has been designing ever since. This NYC-based electrical engineer’s projects include everything from dancing robots to remote monitoring devices to cellular module boards to analog signals—Nan Price, Associate Editor


NAN: Tell us about your start-up company, Narobo.

forkosh

Eric Forkosh

ERIC: Narobo is essentially the company through which I do all my consulting work. I’ve built everything from dancing robots to cellular field equipment. Most recently I’ve been working with some farmers in the Midwest on remote monitoring. We monitor a lot of different things remotely, and I’ve helped develop an online portal and an app. The most interesting feature of our system is that we have a custom tablet rig that can interface directly to the electronics over just the USB connection. We use Google’s Android software development kit to pull that off.

ERIC: The DroneCell was my second official product released, the first being the Roboduino. The Roboduino was relatively simple; it was just a modified Arduino that made building robots easy. We used to sell it online at CuriousInventor.com for a little while, and there was always a trickle of sales, but it was never a huge success. I still get a kick out of seeing Roboduino in projects online, it’s always nice to see people appreciating my work.

dronecell3

The DroneCell is a cellular module board that communicates with devices with TTL UARTs.

The DroneCell is the other product of mine, and my personal favorite. It’s a cellular module board geared toward the hobbyist. A few years ago, if you wanted to add cellular functionality to your system you had to do a custom PCB for it. You had to deal with really low voltage levels, very high peak power draws, and hard-to-read pins. DroneCell solved the problem and made it very easy to interface to hobbyist systems such as the Arduino. Putting on proper power regulation was easy, but my biggest design challenge was how to handle the very low voltage levels. In the end, I put together a very clever voltage shifter that worked with 3V3 and 5 V, with some calculated diodes and resistors.

NAN: Tell us about your first project. Where were you at the time and what did you learn from the experience?

butlerrobot

Eric’s Butler robot was his first electronics project. He started building it when he was still in high school.

ERIC: The Butler robot was my first real electronics project. I started building it in ninth grade, and for a really stupid reason. I just wanted to build a personal robot, like on TV. My first version of the Butler robot was cobbled together using an old laptop, a USB-to-I/O converter called Phidgets, and old wheelchair motors I bought on eBay.

I didn’t use anything fancy for this robot, all the software was written in Visual Basic and ran on Windows XP. For motor controllers, I used some old DPDT automotive relays I had lying around. They did the job but obviously I wasn’t able to PWM them for speed control.

My second version came about two years later, and was built with the intention of winning the Instructables Robot contest. I didn’t win first place, but my tutorial “How to Build a Butler Robot” placed in the top 10 and was mentioned in The Instructables Book in print. This version was a cleaner version of everything I had done before. I built a sleek black robot body (at least it was sleek back then!) and fabricated an upside-down bowl-shaped head that housed the webcam. The electronics were basically the same. The main new features were a basic robot arm that poured you a drink (two servos and a large DC motor) and a built-in mini fridge. I also got voice command to work really well by hooking up my Visual Basic software with Dragon’s speech-to-text converter.

The Butler robot was a great project and I learned a lot about electronics and software from doing it. If I were to build a Butler robot right now, I’d do it completely differently. But I think it was an important to my engineering career and it taught me that anything is possible with some hacking and hard work.

At the same time as I was doing my Butler robot (probably around 2008), I lucked out and was hired by an entertainer in Hong Kong. He saw my Butler robot online and hired me to build him a dancing robot that was synced to music. We solved the issue of syncing to music by putting dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) tones on the left channel audio and music on the right channel. The right channel went to speakers and the left channel went to a decoder that translated DTMF tone sequences to robot movement. This was good because all the data and dance moves were part of the same audio file. All we had to do was prepare special audio files and the robot would work with any music player (e.g., iPod, laptop, CD, etc.). The robot is used in shows to this day, and my performer client even hired a professional cartoon voice actor to give the robot a personality.

NAN: You were an adjunct professor at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City. What types of courses did you teach and what did you enjoy most about teaching?

ERIC: I will be entering my senior year at Cooper Union in the Fall 2014. Two years ago, I took a year off from school to pursue my work. This past year I completed my junior year. I taught a semester of “Microcontroller Projects” at Cooper Union during my year off from being a student. We built a lot of really great projects using Arduino. One final project that really impressed me was a small robot car that parallel parked itself. Another project was a family of spider robots that were remotely controlled and could shrink up into a ball.

Cooper Union is filled with really bright students and teaching exposed me to the different thought processes people have when trying to build a solution. I think teaching helped me grow as a person and helped me understand that in engineering—and possibly in life—there is no one right answer. There are different paths to the same destination. I really enjoyed teaching because it made me evaluate my understanding about electronics, software, and robotics. It forced me to make sure I really understood what was going on in intricate detail.

NAN: You have competed in robotics competitions including RoboCup in Austria. Tell us about these experiences—what types of robots did you build for the competitions?

robocup

Eric worked with his high school’s robotics team to design this robot for a RoboCup competition.

ERIC: In high school I was the robotics team captain and we built a line-following robot and a soccer robot to compete in RoboCup Junior in the US. We won first place in the RoboCup Junior Northeast Regional and were invited to compete in Austria for the International RoboCup Junior games. So we traveled as a team to Austria to compete and we got to see a lot of interesting projects and many other soccer teams compete. I remember the Iranian RoboCup Junior team had a crazy robot that competed against us; it was built out of steel and looked like a miniature tank.

My best memory from Austria was when our robot broke and I had to fix it. Our robot was omnidirectional with four omni wheels in each corner that let it drive at any angle or orientation it wanted. It could zigzag across the field without a problem. At our first match, I put the robot down on the little soccer field to compete… and it wouldn’t move. During transportation, one of the motors broke. Disappointed, we had to forfeit that match. But I didn’t give up. I removed one of the wheels and rewrote the code to operate with only three motors functional. Again we tried to compete, and again another motor appeared to be broken. I removed yet another wheel and stuck a bottle cap as a caster wheel on the back. I rewrote the code, which was running on a little Microchip Technology PIC microcontroller, and programmed the robot to operate with only two wheels working. The crippled robot put up a good fight, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. I think we scored one goal total, and that was when the robot had just two wheels working.

After the competition, during an interview with the judges, we had a laugh comparing our disabled robot to the videos we took back home with the robot scoring goal after goal. I learned from that incident to always be prepared for the worst, do your best, and sometimes stuff just happens. I’m happy I tried and did my best to fix it, I have no regrets. I have a some of the gears from that robot at home on display as a reminder to always prepare for emergencies and to always try my best.

NAN: What was the last electronics-design related product you purchased and what type of project did you use it with?

ERIC: The last product would be an op-amp I bought, probably the 411 chip. For a current project, I had to generate a –5-to-5-V analog signal from a microcontroller. My temporary solution was to RC filter the PWM output from the op-amp and then use an amplifier with a
gain of 2 and a 2.5-V “virtual ground.” The result is that 2.5 V is the new “zero” voltage. You can achieve –5 V by giving the op-amp 0 V, a –2.5-V difference that is amplified by 2 to yield 5 V. Similarly, 5 V is a 2.5-V difference from the virtual ground, amplified by 2 it provides a 5-V output.

NAN: What do you consider to be the “next big thing” in the industry?

ERIC: I think the next big thing will be personalized health care via smartphones. There are already some insulin pumps and heart monitors that communicate with special smartphone apps via Bluetooth. I think that’s excellent. We have all this computing power in our pockets, we should put it to good use. It would be nice to see these apps educating smartphone users—the patients themselves— about their current health condition. It might inspire patients/users to live healthier lifestyles and take care of themselves. I don’t think the FDA is completely there yet, but I’m excited to see what the future will bring. Remember, the future is what you build it to be.

Flexible I/O Expansion for Rugged Applications

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Winsystems, Inc.
www.winsystems.com