Tiny, Rugged IoT Gateways Offer 10-Year Linux Support

By Eric Brown

Moxa has announced the UC-2100 Series of industrial IoT gateways along with its new UC 3100 and UC 5100 Series, but it offered details only on the UC-2100. All three series will offer ruggedization features, compact footprints, and on some models, 4G LTE support. They all run Moxa Industrial Linux and optional ThingsPro Gateway data acquisition software on Arm-based SoCs.

 

Moxa UC-2111 or UC-2112 (left) and UC-2101 (click image to enlarge)

Based on Debian 9 and a Linux 4.4 kernel, the new Moxa Industrial Linux (MIL) is a “high-performance, industrial-grade Linux distribution” that features a container-based virtual-machine-like middleware abstraction layer between the OS and applications,” says Moxa. Multiple isolated systems can run on a single control host “so that system integrators and engineers can easily change the behavior of an application without worrying about software compatibility,” says the company.

MIL provides 10-year long-term Linux support, and is aimed principally at industries that require long-term software, such as power, water, oil & gas, transportation and building automation industries. In December, Moxa joined the Linux Foundation’s Civil Infrastructure Platform (CIP) project, which is developing a 10-year SLTS Linux kernel for infrastructure industries. MIL appears to be in alignment with CIP standards.

Diagrams of ThingsPro Gateway (top) and the larger ThingsPro eco-system (bottom) (click images to enlarge)

Moxa’s ThingsPro Gateway software enables “fast integration of edge data into cloud services for large-scale IIoT deployments,” says Moxa. The software supports Modbus data acquisition, LTE connectivity, MQTT communication, and cloud client interfaces such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. C and Python APIs are also available.

 

Moxa’s UC-3100 (source: Hanser Konstruktion), and at right, the similarly Linux-driven, ThingsPro ready UC-8112 (click images to enlarge)

Although we saw no product pages on the UC-3100 and UC-5100, Hanser Konstruktion posted a short news item on the UC-3100 with a photo (above) and a few details. This larger, rugged system supports WiFi and LTE with two antenna pairs, and offers a USB port in addition to dual LAN and dual serial ports.

The new systems follow several other UC-branded IoT gateways that run Linux on Arm. The only other one to support ThingsPro is the UC-8112, a member of the UC-8100 family. This UC-8100 is similarly ruggedized, and runs Linux on a Cortex-A8 SoC.

UC-2100

The UC-2100 Series gateways runs MIL on an unnamed Cortex-A8 SoC clocked at 600MHz except for the UC-2112, which jumps to 1GHz. There are five different models, all with 9-48 VDC 3-pin terminal blocks and a maximum consumption of 4 Watts when not running cellular modules.

The five UC-2100 models have the following dimensions, weights, and maximum input currents:

  • UC-2101 — 50 x 80 x 28mm; 190 g; 200 mA
  • UC-2102 — 50 x 80 x 28mm; 190 g; 330 mA
  • UC-2104 — 57 x 80 x 30.8mm; 220 g; 800 mA
  • UC-2111 — 77 x 111 x 25.5mm; 290 g; 350 mA
  • UC-2112 — 77 x 111 x 25.5mm; 290 g; 450 mA

All five UC-2100 variants default to a -10 to 60°C operating range except for the UC-2104, which moves up to -10 to 70°C. In addition, they are all available in optional -40 to 75°C versions.

Other ruggedization features are the same, including anti-vibration protection per IEC 60068-2-64 and anti-shock per IEC 60068-2-2. A variety of safety, EMC, EMI, EMS, and hazardous environment standards are also listed.

The first three models ship with 256MB DDR3, while the UC-2111 and UC-2112 offer 512MB. These two are also the only ones to offer micro-SD slots. All five systems ship with 8GB eMMC loaded with the MIL distribution.

The UC-2100 systems vary in the number and type of their auto-sensing, 1.5 kV isolated Ethernet ports. The UC-2101 and UC-2104 each have a single 10/100Mbps port, while the UC-2102 and UC-2111 have two. The UC-2112 has one 10/100 and one 10/100/1000 port. The UC-2104 is the only model with a mini-PCIe socket for 4G or WiFi.

The UC-2111 and UC-2112 offer 2x RS-232/422/48 ports while the UC-2101 has one. It would appear that the UC-2102 and UC-2104 lack serial ports altogether except for the RS-232 console port available on all five systems.

The UC-2100 provides push buttons and dip switches, an RTC, a watchdog, and LEDs, the number of which depend on the model. A wall kit is standard, and DIN-rail mounting is optional. TPM 2.0 is also optional. A 5-year hardware warranty is standard.

Further information

The UC-2100 Series gateways appear to be available for order, with pricing undisclosed. More information may be found on Moxa’s UC-2100 product page. More information about the UC-2100, as well as the related, upcoming UC-3100 and UC-5100 Series, will be on tap at Hannover Messe 2018, April 23-27, at the Arm Booth at Hall 6, Booth A46.

Moxa | www.moxa.com

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

Dual-Mode Bluetooth Module for the Industrial IoT

U‑blox has announced the new NINA‑B2 dual‑mode Bluetooth 4.2 stand‑alone module, enabling industrial IoT applications thanks to its built‑in secure boot and wide temperature ranges. It comes pre‑flashed with U‑blox connectivity software which supports many common use cases such as Beacon, GATT client, GATT server and serial port. NINA‑B2 is configured easily using AT commands over UART, without requiring deep knowledge of the Bluetooth protocol. Because it’s already tested and certified globally, it also reduces development costs and speeds time to market.

NINA‑B2’s built‑in secure boot guarantees that the software is authenticated by U‑blox and has therefore not been tampered with. This provides a secure operating environment for the Bluetooth module. NINA‑B2 is very compact, at 10 mm x 10.6 mm x 2.2mm (without antenna) and 10 mm x 14 mm x 3.8 mm (with antenna).

Most of the Bluetooth modules at this scale are single‑mode Bluetooth low energy or Bluetooth BR/EDR devices. NINA‑B2’s size makes it an easy fit in any IoT device. It is also pin‑compatible with the U‑blox NINA family, allowing it to be easily swapped in or out with other NINA modules, with their different radio technologies such as Bluetooth low energy and Wi‑Fi.

Apart from industrial automation such as machine control devices, industrial terminals and products for remote control, possible applications also include wireless‑connected and configurable equipment, point of sale, telematics and health devices. NINA‑B2 is expected to go into production in summer 2018.

U-Blox | www.u-blox.com

Microsoft Unveils Secure MCU Platform with a Linux-Based OS

By Eric Brown

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

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

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

Azure Sphere OS architecture (click images to enlarge)

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

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

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

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

Azure Sphere security features (click image to enlarge)

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

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

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

MediaTek MT3620

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Azure Sphere promo video

Further information

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

Microsoft | www.microsoft.com

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

And check out this follow up story also from LinuxGizmos.com :
Why Microsoft chose Linux for Azure Sphere

 

Wi-Fi Bluetooth LTE Companion Module Targets IoT

Telit has announced the release of a new module, the WE866C3.  A companion to Telit’s LTE LE910Cx family, the new module advances the ability to deliver LTE and Wi-Fi integration for IoT applications including security panels, video bridges, medical devices, telematics and remote sensors.

Telit’s WE866C3 is a low power, high bandwidth 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.2 module with a small footprint that provides an easy and cost-effective way for manufacturers to add wireless connectivity to new and existing products. Advanced LTE, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth coexistence dramatically reduces complexity designing cellular back haul with the LE910Cx 4G LTE module family, making the WE866C3 well suited for a wide range of IoT applications including commercial building automation, OEM telematics, fleet management and video surveillance.

The module shortens time to market with off-the-shelf cloud connectivity through deviceWISE, over-the-air firmware updating, support for WPA/WPA2 personal and enterprise security and more. Developer tools, engineering support and comprehensive global certifications make it easy for integrators and OEMs to upgrade or launch new products.

Telit | www.telit.com

Tiny i.MX8M Module Focuses on Streaming Media

By Eric Brown

Innocomm announced a 50 mm x 50 mm “WB10” module with an NXP i.MX8M Quad SoC, 8 GB eMMC, Wi-Fi-ac, BT 4.2, GbE, HDMI 2.0 with 4K HDR and audio I/O including SAI, SPDIF and DSD512.Among the many embedded products announced in recent weeks that run NXP’s 1.5 GHz, Cortex-A53-based i.MX8M SoC, Innocomm’s 50 mm x 500 mm WB10 is one of the smallest. The top prize goes to Variscite’s SODIMM-style, 55 mm x 30 mm DART-MX8M. Like Emcraft’s 80 mm x 60mm i.MX 8M SOM, the home entertainment focused WB10 supports only the quad-core i.MX8M instead of the dual-core model. Other i.MX8M modules include Compulab’s 68 mm x 42mm CL-SOM-iMX8.

WB10 (above) and NXP i.MX8M block diagram (below)
(click images to enlarge)
No OS support was listed, but all the other i.MX8M products we’ve seen have either run Linux or Linux and Android. The i.MX8M SoC incorporates a Vivante GC7000Lite GPU and VPU, enabling 4K HEVC/H265, H264, and VP9 video decoding with HDR. It also provides a 266MHz Cortex-M4 core for real-time tasks, as well as a security subsystem.

The WB10 module offers only 2 GB LPDDR4 instead of 4 GB for the other i.MX8M modules, and is also limited to 8GB eMMC. You do, however, get a GbE controller and onboard 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac with MIMO 2×2 and Bluetooth 4.2.

The WB10 is designed for Internet audio, home entertainment, and smart speaker applications, and offers more than the usual audio interfaces. Media I/O expressed via its three 80-pin connectors include HDMI 2.0a with 4K and HDR support, as well as MIPI-DSI, 2x MIPI-CSI, SPDIF Rx/Tx, 4x SAI and the high-end DSD512 audio interface.

WB10 block diagram (above) and WB10 mounted on optional carrier board (below)
(click images to enlarge)

You also get USB 3.0 host, USB 2.0 device, 2x I2C, 3x UART and single GPIO, PWM, SPI, and PCIe interfaces. No power or temperature range details were provided. The WB10 is also available with an optional, unnamed carrier board that is only slightly larger than the module itself. No more details were available. Further information

No pricing or availability information was provided for the WB10. More information may be found on Innocomm’s WB10 product page.

Innocomm | www.innocomm.com

This article originally appeared on LinuxGizmos.com on March 6.

Advantech Joins Amazon’s AWS Partner Network

Advantech has joined the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Partner Network (APN) as Standard Technology Partner. As an APN Standard Technology Partner, Advantech provides a comprehensive range of wireless sensors and edge intelligence computers with complete IoT software solutions on AWS. Embedded developers can connect devices to a range of services offered on AWS in order to build scalable, global, and secure IoT applications, bringing computing capabilities to edge devices to several domain-focused vertical markets such as smart city, smart manufacturing and smart energy markets.

Advantech’s WISE-1520 Wireless Sensor Node (shown) is on Amazon FreeRTOS so that customers can easily and securely connect small devices and sensors directly to AWS or to powerful edge devices running AWS Greengrass, thus allowing them to collect data for their IoT applications. As the first wireless sensor node for the M2.COM family, the WISE-1520 comes with an Arm Cortex-M4 processor and low-power Wi-Fi connectivity, providing full compatibility with existing Wi-Fi infrastructure.

Advantech also offers the EIS-D210 Edge Intelligence Server, which is equipped with an Intel Celeron Processor N3350 and is compatible with AWS Greengrass core, thus ensuring that IoT devices can respond quickly to local events, interact with local resources, operate with intermittent connections, and minimize the cost of transmitting IoT data to the cloud. In addition to supporting field protocols(MQTT/OPC/Modbus) for sensor/device data acquisition, the EIS-D210 can be used with the Advantech IoT SDK for wireless sensor (Wi-Fi, LoRa, Zigbee) data integration. Furthermore, the EIS-D210 comes pre-integrated with Advantech’s WISE-PaaS/EdgeSense software solution, allowing users to incorporate sensor data aggregation, edge analytics, and cloud applications for fast and easy real-time operational intelligence. This EIS provides a range of connectivity options with excellent data handling and networking connection capabilities for various IoT applications.

Advantech’s EPC-R4760 IoT gateway, powered by the Qualcomm Arm Cortex-A53 APQ8016 platform, provides a unique combination of power and performance. The system also integrates abundant wireless solutions including Wi-Fi, BT, GPS, and extended 3G/LTE connectivity. For OS support, the EPC-R4760 can run Debian Linux, Yocto Linux, Ubuntu Linux, Android, and Windows 10 IoT Core, and it also supports AWS Greengrass, which gives users tremendous flexibility by allowing them to create AWS Lambda functions that can be validated on AWS and then be easily deployed to devices.

Advantech’s UTX-3117 IoT gateway is compatible with AWS Greengrass and Wind River Pulsar and, in addition to having a small footprint, it offers real-time security and supports various protocols that are needed to run IoT applications seamlessly across both AWS and on local devices or sensor nodes. In addition, by equipping it with a LoRa solution, the UTX-3117 offers a wide range of wireless connection options for controlling and collecting data from devices and sensor nodes. With these solutions, the UTX-3117 IoT gateway is ideal for smart energy applications. For example, it can collect solar panel and solar radiation data in real time via LoRa, and with AWS Greengrass built in, it can analyze the data and adjust the angle of solar panels to follow the sun and thereby maximize the effectiveness of the solar panels. AWS Greengrass can also be employed to analyze weather data so that the panels can be adjusted to prevent damage from elements such as strong wind or hail.

Advantech | www.advantech.com

 

Raspberry Pi IoT SBC Leverages Cypress Wi-Fi/Bluetooth SoC

Cypress Semiconductor has announced its Wi-Fi and Bluetooth combo solution is used on the new Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ IoT single board computer. The Cypress CYW43455 single-chip combo provides high-performance 802.11ac Wi-Fi for faster Internet connections, advanced coexistence algorithms for simultaneous Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) operations such as audio and video streaming, and low-power BLE connections to smartphones, sensors and Bluetooth Mesh networks. The combo’s high-speed 802.11ac transmissions enable superior network performance, faster downloads and better range, as well as lower power consumption by quickly exploiting deep sleep modes. The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ board builds on the success of existing Raspberry Pi solutions using Cypress’ CYW43438 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth combo SoC.

Wi-Fi networks powered by 802.11ac simultaneously deliver low-latency and high-speed with secure device communication, making it the ideal wireless technology for connecting products directly to the cloud. The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ board with the highly-integrated Cypress CYW43455 combo SoC allows developers to quickly prototype industrial IoT systems and smart home products that leverage the benefits of 802.11ac.

The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ board features a 64-bit, quad-core processor running at 1.4 GHz, 1 GB RAM, full size HDMI, 4 standard USB ports, Gbit Ethernet over USB2, Power over Ethernet capability, CSI camera connector and a DSI display connector. The platform’s resources, together with its 802.11ac wireless LAN and Bluetooth/BLE wireless connectivity, provide a compact solution for intelligent edge-connected devices.

The Cypress CYW43455 SoC features a dual-band 2.4- and 5-GHz radio with 20-, 40- and 80-MHz channels with up to 433 Mbps performance. This fast 802.11ac throughput allows devices to get on and off of the network more quickly, preventing network congestion and prolonging battery life by letting devices spend more time in deep sleep modes. The SoC includes Linux open source Full Media Access Control (FMAC) driver support with enterprise and industrial features enabled, including security, roaming, voice and locationing.

Cypress’ CYW43455 SoC and other solutions support Bluetooth Mesh networks—low-cost, low-power mesh network of devices that can communicate with each other, and with smartphones, tablets and voice-controlled home assistants, via simple, secure and ubiquitous Bluetooth connectivity. Bluetooth Mesh enables battery-powered devices within the network to communicate with each other to easily provide coverage throughout even the largest homes, allowing a user to conveniently control all of the devices from the palm of their hand. The SoC is also supported in Cypress’ all-inclusive, turnkey Wireless Internet Connectivity for Embedded Devices (WICED) software development kit (SDK), which streamlines the integration of wireless technologies for IoT developers.

Cypress Semiconductor | www.cypress.com

Raspberry Pi Foundation | www.raspberrypi.org

BLE-Wi-Fi Module Solution Enables Compact IoT Gateways

Nordic Semiconductor announced that InnoComm Mobile Technology has employed Nordic’s nRF52832 Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth LE) System-on-Chip (SoC) for its CM05 BLE-Wi-Fi Module. The CM05 is a compact module that combines Nordic’s Bluetooth LE solution with Wi-Fi and is designed to ease the development of IoT gateways. By combining these wireless technologies into one device, the developer eliminates the cost and complexity of working with separate Bluetooth LE and Wi-Fi modules.

A CM05-powered IoT gateway enables Bluetooth LE-equipped wireless products to connect to the Internet (via the Wi-Fi technology’s TCP/IP functionality), a key advantage for smart home and smart industry applications. The compact module enables developers to reduce gateway size, decrease production costs and speed time to market.

The Nordic SoC’s powerful 64 MHz, 32-bit Arm Cortex M4F processor provides ample processing power to both the Nordic’s S132 SoftDevice (a Bluetooth 5-certifed RF software protocol (“stack”)) and the Wi-Fi TCP/IP stack, eliminating the cost, space requirements and power demands of an additional processor. In addition, the Nordic SoC’s unique software architecture, which cleanly separates the SoftDevice from the developer’s application code, eases the development process. And when the gateway is deployed in the field, the solution enables rapid, trouble-free Over-the-Air Device Firmware Updates (OTA-DFU).

Nordic’s nRF52832 Bluetooth LE SoC supports Bluetooth 5, ANT and proprietary 2.4GHz RF protocol software and delivers up to 60 per cent more generic processing power, offering 10 times the Floating Point performance and twice the DSP performance compared to competing solutions. The SoC is supplied with the S132 SoftDevice for advanced Bluetooth LE applications. The S132 SoftDevice features Central, Peripheral, Broadcaster and Observer Bluetooth LE roles, supports up to twenty connections, and enables concurrent role operation.

Nordic Semiconductor | www.nordicsemi.com

 

Texting and IoT Embedded Devices (Part 1)

Fun with the ESP8266 SoC

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

By Jeff Bachiochi

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

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

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

A Look at the ESP8266EX

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

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

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

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

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

Using the ESP-01

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

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

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IoT: From Device to Gateway

Modules for the Edge

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

By Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

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

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

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

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

Certified IoT Modules

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

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

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

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

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

IoT Module for Development

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

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

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Exploring the ESP32’s Peripheral Blocks

For IoT or Home Control

What makes an embedded processor suitable as an IoT or home control device? Wi-Fi support is just part of the picture. Brian has done some Wi-Fi projects using the ESP32, so here he shares his insights about the peripherals on the ESP32 and why they’re so powerful.

By Brian Millier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Remote Controller Peripheral

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

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

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

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

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Mouser Inks Distribution Deal with Onion

Mouser Electronics has signed a global distribution agreement with Onion, a global provider of integrated wireless microprocessor modules and IoT development kits. Through the agreement, Mouser will distribute the Omega2+ device, kits, and accessories, ideal for applications such as home automation, coding education, Wi-Fi media servers, robotics and networking.

The Onion product line, available from Mouser Electronics, revolves around the Omega2+, (shown) an easy-to-use, expandable IoT computer packed with built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, a MicroSD card slot, and a powerful 580 MHz MIPS processor. Though just a fraction of the size of other single board computers, the Omega2+ is a full computer with a Linux operating system, 128 MB of DDR2 memory and 32 MB of flash storage. The device also offers 15 general-purpose inputs and outputs (GPIO), two PWM and two UART interfaces.

Mouser also now stocks a variety of docks and expansion boards, which provide additional functionality to the Omega2+ board. The Expansion Dock powers the Omega2+ and breaks out the GPIOs. The dock also allows engineers to expand their Omega2+ with expansion modules like OLED, relay, and servo. Additionally, engineers can use the Arduino Dock R2 and add the Omega2+ to existing Arduino-based projects. The Arduino Dock R2 is a full Arduino Uno that allows the Omega2 to control the Arduino’s ATmega microcontroller through a serial connection.

The Omega2 Starter Kit and Omega2 Maker Kit both include an Omega2+ board, expansion dock, breadboard, and a variety of components to help engineers quickly get started building circuits. The Maker Kit includes the same components as the Starter Kit and adds two servos, a DC motor, H-bridge chip, buzzer and three expansion boards.

Mouser Electronics | www.mouser.com/onion

Technology and Test Solutions for 5G

Next-Gen Communications

As carriers worldwide prepare for 5G communications, chip suppliers and test equipment vendors are evolving their products to meet the challenges of the 5G era.

By Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

The technologies that are enabling 5G communications are creating new challenges for embedded system developers. Faster mobile broadband data rates, massive amounts of machine-to-machine network interfacing and daunting low latency constraints all add to the complexity of 5G system design. Feeding those needs, chip vendors over the past 12 months have been releasing building blocks like modem chips and wideband mixers supporting 5G. And test equipment vendors are keeping pace with test gear designed to work with 5G technology.

With standards expected to reach finalization around 2020, 5G isn’t here yet, But efforts worldwide are laying the groundwork to deploy it. For its part, the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) released a report in October 2017 entitled “Evolution from LTE to 5G.” According to the report, there is a frenzy of testing of 5G technology and concepts worldwide. The GSA has identified 103 operators in 49 countries that are investing in 5G technology in the form of demos, lab trials or field tests that are either under way or planned. Operators are sharing their intentions in terms of launch timetables for 5G, or prestandards 5G. The earliest launch dates currently planned are by operators in Italy and the US. Those early launches are necessarily limited in scope to either specific applications, or in limited geographic areas where they will function as extended commercial trials. Figure 1 shows the countries and the current planned dates for the earliest 5G launches in those countries.

FIGURE 1
Here is a map of pre-standards and standards-based 5G network plans announced. It shows the countries and current planned dates for the earliest 5G launches in those countries. (Source: Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA)).

THE BIG PLAYERS

Intel and Qualcomm have been the big players to watch for 5G enabling technologies. In October 2017, Qualcomm Technologies, a subsidiary of Qualcomm, hit a significant milestone successfully achieving a 5G data connection on a 5G modem chipset for mobile devices. The Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 5G modem chipset achieved speeds and a data connection in the 28 GHz mmWave radio frequency band. The solution is expected to accelerate the delivery of 5G new radio (5G NR) enabled mobile devices to consumers. Along with the chip set demo Qualcomm Technologies previewed its first 5G smartphone reference design for the testing and optimization of 5G technology within the power and form-factor constraints of a smartphone.

The 5G data connection demonstration showed the chip set achieving Gigabit/s download speeds, using several 100 MHz 5G carriers and demonstrated a data connection in the 28 GHz millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum. In addition to the Snapdragon X50 5G modem chipset, the demonstration also used the SDR051 mmWave RF transceiver IC. The demonstration made use of Keysight Technologies’ new 5G Protocol R&D Toolset and UXM 5G Wireless Test Platform. Qualcomm Technologies was the first company to announce a 5G modem chipset in 2016. The Snapdragon X50 5G NR modem family is expected to support commercial launches of 5G smartphones and networks in the first half of 2019. …

Read the full article in the January 330 issue of Circuit Cellar

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Partner Program to Focus on Security

Microchip Technology has also established a Security Design Partner Program for connecting developers with third-party partners that can enhance and expedite secure designs. Along with the program, the company has also released its ATECC608A CryptoAuthentication device, a secure element that allows developers to add hardware-based security to their designs.

Microchip 38318249941_bf38a56692_zAccording to Microchip, the foundation of secured communication is the ability to create, protect and authenticate a device’s unique and trusted identity. By keeping a device’s private keys isolated from the system in a secured area, coupled with its industry-leading cryptography practices, the ATECC608A provides a high level of security that can be used in nearly any type of design. The ATECC608A includes the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS)-compliant Random Number Generator (RNG) that generates unique keys that comply with the latest requirements from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), providing an easier path to a whole-system FIPS certification.

Other features include:

  • Boot validation capabilities for small systems: New commands facilitate the signature validation and digest computation of the host microcontroller firmware for systems with small MCUs, such as an ARM Cortex-M0+ based device, as well as for more robust embedded systems.
  • Trusted authentication for LoRa nodes: The AES-128 engine also makes security deployments for LoRa infrastructures possible by enabling authentication of trusted nodes within a network.
  •  Fast cryptography processing: The hardware-based integrated Elliptical Curve Cryptography (ECC) algorithms create smaller keys and establish a certificate-based root of trust more quickly and securely than other implementation approaches that rely on legacy methods.
  •  Tamper-resistant protections: Anti-tampering techniques protect keys from physical attacks and attempted intrusions after deployment. These techniques allow the system to preserve a secured and trusted identity.
  •  Trusted in-manufacturing provisioning: Companies can use Microchip’s secured manufacturing facilities to safely provision their keys and certificates, eliminating the risk of exposure during manufacturing.

In addition to providing hardware security solutions, customers have access to Microchip’s Security Design Partner Program. These industry-leading companies, including Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud Platform, provide complementary cloud-driven security models and infrastructure. Other partners are well-versed in implementing Microchip’s security devices and libraries. Whether designers are looking to secure an Internet of Things (IoT) application or add authentication capabilities for consumables, such as cartridges or accessories, the expertise of the Security Design Partners can reduce both development cost and time to market.

For rapid prototyping of secure solutions, designers can use the new CryptoAuth Xplained Pro evaluation and development kit (ATCryptoAuth-XPRO-B) which is an add-on board, compatible with any Microchip Xplained or Xplained Pro evaluation board. The ATECC608A is available for $0.56 each in 10,000 unit quantities. The ATCryptoAuth-XPRO-B add-on development board is available for $10.00 each.

Microchip Technology | www.microchip.com

MCU Vendors Embrace Amazon FreeRTOS

In a flurry of announcements concurrent with Amazon’s release of its new Amazon FreeRTOS operating system, microcontroller vendors are touting their collaborative efforts to support the OS. Amazon FreeRTOS extends the FreeRTOS kernel, a popular open source RTOS for microcontrollers, and includes software libraries for security, connectivity and updateability. Here’s a selection of announcements from the MCU community:

Microchip PIC32MZEF MCUs Support Amazon FreeRTOS
curiosityMicrochip Technology has expanded its collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to support cloud-connected embedded systems from the node to the cloud. Microchip’s PIC32MZ EF series of microcontrollers now support Amazon FreeRTOS.

STMicro Adds Amazon FreeRTOS to its IoT MCU Tool Suit
STMicroelectronics has announced its collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS) on Amazon FreeRTOS, the latest addition to the AWS Internet of Things (IoT) solution.

 

NXP MCU IoT Card with Wi-Fi Supports Amazon FreeRTOS
OM40007-LPC54018-IoT-ModuleNXP Semiconductors has introduced the LPC54018 MCU-based IoT module with onboard Wi-Fi and support for the new Amazon FreeRTOS on Amazon Web Services (AWS), offering developers universal connections to AWS.

 

TI SimpleLink™ MCU platform now supports new Amazon FreeRTOS (PRNewsfoto/Texas Instruments Incorporated)

TI Integrates SimpleLink MCU Platform with Amazon FreeRTOS
Texas Instruments (TI) has announced the integration of the new Amazon FreeRTOS into the SimpleLink microcontroller platform.