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.

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

Cypress and Arrow Team up for IoT Development Platform

Cypress Semiconductor and Arrow Electronics have announced a new development platform that enables engineers to quickly bring a broad range of connected IoT products to market.

The new Quicksilver kit features Cypress’ Wireless Connectivity for Embedded Devices (WICED) platform and incorporates the robust connectivity of the Cypress CYW43907 802.11n Wi-Fi microcontroller (MCU). The kit is slated for release in this  month (July 2017), and a second Quicksilver kit will deliver high-performance 802.11ac Wi-Fi enabling high-data-rate and media-rich experiences in the IoT in the fourth quarter of 2017.

According to Cypress, development customers are seeking to connect their products to the cloud for the first time to enable compelling IoT features, and they are also looking for fast time to market. The WICED-based Quicksilver kit provides them with the flexibility to build quickly now and streamline design enhancements later. Customers can quickly get to market with a certified module that provides turnkey cloud connectivity software and then migrate to cost or performance-driven production solutions while maintaining hardware and software compatibility.

The first Quicksilver kit will provide users with complete design capabilities to implement the WICED Studio SDK and features Arduino-compatible headers for expansion capability. The kit includes temperature, humidity and three-axis motion sensors to design a complete IoT edge device for a broad range of end markets, including factory automation, lighting, smart irrigation, home appliances and home automation.

Graphene Revolution

The Wonderful Material That Will Change
the World of Electronics

The amazing properties of graphene have researchers, students, and inventors dreaming about exciting new applications, from unbreakable touchscreens to fast-charging batteries.

By Wisse Hettinga

Prosthetic hand with graphene electrodes

Prosthetic hand with graphene electrodes

Graphene gained popularity because of the way it is produced—the “Scotch tape method.” In fact, two scientists, Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, received a Nobel Prize in 2004 for their work with the material. Their approach is straightforward. Using Scotch tape, they repeatedly removed small layers of graphite (indeed, the black stuff found in pencils) until there was only one 2-D layer of atoms left—graphene. Up to that point, many scientists understood the promise of this wonderful material, but no one had been able to get obtain a single layer of atoms. After the breakthrough, many universities started looking for graphene-related applications.

Innovative graphene-related research is underway all over the world. Today, many European institutes and universities work together under the Graphene Flagship initiative (http://graphene-flagship.eu), which was launched by the European Union in 2009. The initiative’s aim is to exchange knowledge and collaborate on research projects.

Graphene was a hot topic at the 2017 Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain. This article covers a select number of applications talked about at the show. But for the complete coverage, check out the video here:

WEARABLE SENSORS FOR PROSTHETICS

The Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) in Genova, Italy, recently developed a sensor from a cellulose and graphene composite. The sensor can be made in the form of a bracelet that fits around the arm in order to pick up the small signals associated with muscle movement. The signals are processed and used to drive a robotic prosthetic hand. Once the comfortable bracelet is placed on the wrist, it transduces the movement of the hand into electrical signals that are used to move the artificial hand in a spectacular way. More information: www.iit.it

GRAPHENE & CONVENTIONAL CMOS TECHNOLOGIES

The Scotch tape method used by the Nobel Prize winners inspired a lot of companies around the world to start producing graphene. Today, a wide variety of methods can be used depending on the actual application of the material. Graphenea (San Sebastian, Spain) is using different processes for the production of graphene products. One of them is Chemical Vapor Deposition. With this method, it is possible to create graphene on thin foil, silicon based or in form of oxide. They source many universities and research institutes that do R&D for new components such as supercapacitors, solar, batteries, and many more applications. The big challenge is to develop an industrial process that will combine graphene material with the conventional CMOS technology. In this way, the characteristics of graphene can enhance today’s components to make them useful for new applications. A good example is optical datatransfer. More information: www.graphenea.com

Transfer graphene on top of a silicon device to add more functionality

Transfer graphene on top of a silicon device to add more functionality

T5G DATA COMMUNICATION

High-speed data communication comes in all sizes and infrastructures. But on the small scale, there are many challenges. Graphene enables new optical communication on the chip level. A consortium of CNIT, Ericsson, Nokia, and IMEC have developed graphene photonics integration for high-speed transmission systems. At MWC, they showcased a packaged graphene-based modulator operating over several optical telecommunications bands. I saw the first package transmitters with optical modulators based on graphene. The modulator is only one-tenth of a millimeter. The transfer capacity is 10 Gbps, but the aim is to bring that to 100 Gbps in a year’s time. The applications will be able to play a key role in the development of 5G technology. More information: www.cnit.it/en/.

Optical modulator based on graphene technology

Optical modulator based on graphene technology

THE ART OF HEATING

FGV Cambridge Nanosystems recently developed a novel “spray-on” graphene heating system that provides uniform, large-area heating. The material can be applied to paintings or walls and turned into a ‘heating’ area that can be wirelessly controlled via a mobile app. The same methodology can also double as a temperature sensor, where you can control light intensity by sensing body temperature. More information: www.cambridgenanosystems.com

Graphene-based heater

Graphene-based heater

FOAM SENSOR FOR SHOES

Atheletes can benefit from light, strong, sensor-based shoes that that can monitor their status. To make this happen, the University of Cambridge developed a 3-D printed shoe with embedded graphene foam sensors that can monitor the pressure applied. They combine complicated structural design with accurate sensing function. The graphene foam sensor can be used for measuring the number of steps and the weight of the person. More information: www.cam.ac.uk

Graphene pressure sensors embedded in shoes

Graphene pressure sensors embedded in shoes

FLEXIBLE WI-FI RECEIVER

More wireless fidelity can be expected when graphene-based receivers come into play. The receivers based on graphene are small and flexible and can be used for integration into clothes and other textile applications. AMO GmbH and RWTH Aachen University are developing the first flexible Wi-Fi receiver. The underlying graphene MMIC process enables the fabrication of the Wi-Fi receiver on both flexible and rigid substrates. This flexible Wi-Fi receiver is the first graphene-based front-end receiver for any type of modulated signal. The research shows that this technology can be used up to 90 GHz, which opens it up to new applications in IoT and mobile phones. More information: www.amo.de

Using graphene in flexible Wi-Fi receiver

Using graphene in flexible Wi-Fi receiver

5″ DISPLAY WITH UP TO 12K RESOLUTION

Santiago Cartamil-Bueno, a PhD student at TU Delft, was the first to observe a change in colors of small graphene “balloons.” These balloons appear when pressure is applied in a double layer of graphene. When this graphene is placed over silicon with small indents, the balloons can move in and out the silicon dents. If the graphene layer is closer to the silicon, they turn blue. If it is farther away from the silicon, they will turn red. Santiago observed this effect first and is researching the possibilities to turn this effect into high-resolution display. It uses the light from the environment and turns it into a very low-power consumption process. The resolution is very high; a typical 5″ display would be able to show images with 8K to 12K resolution. More information:
www.delta.tudelft.nl/artikel/ballooning-graphene-may-be-used-as-pixel/32619

MediaTek Launches 4×4 802.11n/Bluetooth 5.0 System-on-Chip with Dedicated Wi-Fi Accelerator

MediaTek announced the world’s first 4×4 802.11n and Bluetooth 5.0 system-on-chip featuring a dedicated Wi-Fi network accelerator. The MediaTek MT7622 was created for premium networking devices including routers and repeaters, whole home Wi-Fi, and home automation gateways that pre-integrates audio and storage features. MediaTek also announced its next generation Wi-Fi low power chipset portfolio for connected smart home devices.

MediaTek’s new MT7622 SoC is a single platform for 4X4 dual-band and tri-band premium networking devices and introduces several best-in-class features including Bluetooth 5.0 and Hardware NAT, Hardware QoS and a dedicated Wi-Fi engine - MediaTek’s Wi-Fi Warp Accelerator. This eliminates bottlenecks by connecting the Gigabit+ class 802.11ac networking with multi-Gigabit internal pathways. It also features the ability to offload the CPU from multiple-users throughput and QoS calculations, all with lower power consumption. The end result is the ability to sustain high-performance for multiple, simultaneous heavy users.

“Based on MediaTek’s Adaptive Network technology, the MT7622 features easy setup, network self-healing, roaming, band steering, smart quality of service, and advanced security for whole home Wi-Fi,” says Alan Hsu, General Manager of Home Smart Device Business Unit, MediaTek. “For manufacturers looking for flexibility in the design of innovative networking devices, this chipset couples high performance and extensively integrated functionality.”

The MT7622, with the power a 1.35GHz rated, 64-bit dual-core ARM Cortex-A53 processor, provides a host of advanced connectivity options like SGMII/RGMII, PCIe, SATA and USB, and 4×4 802.11n FEM integration. To meet the growing demand for applications using audio and voice controls, the MT7622 includes essential audio interfaces such as I2S, TDM and S/PDIF. MT7622 also delivers a rich array of slow I/O in addition to the integrated Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Zigbee co-existence for home automation gateways.

New Generation Wi-Fi Portfolio
MediaTek also announced its next generation Wi-Fi chipset portfolio. The new MediaTek MT7686, MT7682, and MT5932 devices will deliver high levels of integration with low power consumption for all connected applications, including audio products. The product family consists of highly integrated single chip solutions featuring an application processor, a low-power 1T1R 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi subsystem and a Power Management Unit. The application processor subsystem contains ARM Cortex-M4 MCU with floating point unit (FPU). All three were designed with a focus on core principles essential to connected applications, including deep sleep, fast wake-up and reliable data connectivity.

“Our new generation of chipsets have been optimized  to deliver a 300 percent improvement in energy efficiency, as well as the ability for a device to re-establish a Wi-Fi connection within 0.1 seconds of waking from sleep mode,” says YuChuan Yang, Deputy General Manager of Internet of Things Business Unit, MediaTek.

The MT7682 features a low-power subsystem and fast connection and requires few external components to save porting cost. The MT7686 contains 4MB of embedded RAM and 4MB of embedded Flash memory that makes the chipset an ideal platform for rich data and storage applications. With Wafer Level Chip Scale Package (WL-CSP) technology, the MT5932 has a very compact 3.2 by 3.2mm footprint, saving BOM cost for space-constrained IoT applications.

The three chipsets offer a range of features to meet the needs of uses cases requiring varying levels of embedded memory. All include a number of peripherals, including: SDIO, UART, I2C, SPI, I2S, PWM and auxiliary ADC.
www.mediatek.com/products/homeNetworking/mt7622
www.mediatek.com/products/iot/smart-home

Industrial Temperature SBCs

EMACThe iPAC-9X25 embedded SBC is based on Atmel’s AT91SAM9X25 microprocessor. It is well suited for industrial temperature embedded data acquisition and control applications.
This web-enabled microcontroller can run an embedded server and display the current monitored or logged data. The web connection is available via two 10/100 Base-T Ethernet ports or 802.11 Wi-Fi networking. The iPAC-9X25’s connectors are brought out as headers on a board.

The SBC has a –40°C to 85°C industrial temperature range and utilizes 4 GB of eMMC flash, 16 MB of serial data flash (for boot), and 128 MB of DDR RAM. Its 3.77“ × 3.54“ footprint is the same as a standard PC/104 module.

The iPAC 9X25 features one RS-232 serial port with full handshake (RTS/CTS/DTR/DSR/RI), two RS-232 serial ports (TX and RX only), one RS-232/-422/-485 serial port with RTS/CTS handshake, two USB 2.0 host ports, and one USB device port. The board has seven channels of 12-bit audio/digital (0 to 3.3 V) and an internal real-time clock/calendar with battery backup. It also includes 21 GPIO (3.3-V) lines on header, eight high-drive open-collector dedicated digital output lines with configurable voltage tolerance, 16 GPIO (3.3 V) on header, two PWM I/O lines, five synchronous serial I/O lines (I2S), five SPI lines (two SPI CS), I2C bus, CAN bus, a microSD socket, external Reset button capabilities, and power and status LEDs.
The iPac-9X25 costs $198.

EMAC, Inc.
www.emacinc.com

Q&A: Hacker, Roboticist, and Website Host

Dean “Dino” Segovis is a self-taught hardware hacker and maker from Pinehurst, NC. In 2011, he developed the Hack A Week website, where he challenges himself to create and post weekly DIY projects. Dino and I recently talked about some of his favorite projects and products. —Nan Price, Associate Editor

 

NAN: You have been posting a weekly project on your website, Hack A Week, for almost three years. Why did you decide to create the website?

Dean "Dino" Segovis at his workbench

Dean “Dino” Segovis at his workbench

DINO: One day on the Hack A Day website I saw a post that caught my attention. It was seeking a person to fill a potential position as a weekly project builder and video blogger. It was offering a salary of $35,000 a year, which was pretty slim considering you had to live in Santa Monica, CA. I thought, “I could do that, but not for $35,000 a year.”

That day I decided I was going to challenge myself to come up with a project and video each week and see if I could do it for at least one year. I came up with a simple domain name, www.hackaweek.com, bought it, and put up a website within 24 h.

My first project was a 555 timer-based project that I posted on April 1, 2011, on my YouTube channel, “Hack A Week TV.” I made it through the first year and just kept going. I currently have more than 3.2 million video views and more than 19,000 subscribers from all over the world.

NAN: Hack A Week features quite a few robotics projects. How are the robots built? Do you have a favorite?

rumblebot head

Dino’s very first toy robot hack was the Rumble robot. The robot featured an Arduino that sent PWM to the on-board H-bridge in the toy to control the motors for tank steering. A single PING))) sensor helped with navigation.

Rumble robot

The Rumble robot

DINO: I usually use an Arduino as the robot’s controller and Roomba gear motors for locomotion. I have built a few others based on existing wheeled motorized toys and I’ve made a few with the Parallax Propeller chip.

My “go-to” sensor is usually the Parallax PING))) ultrasonic sensor. It’s easy to connect and work with and the code is straightforward. I also use bump sensors, which are just simple contact switches, because they mimic the way some insects navigate.

Nature is a great designer and much can be learned from observing it. I like to keep my engineering simple because it’s robust and easy to repair. The more you complicate a design, the more it can do. But it also becomes more likely that something will fail. Failure is not a bad thing if it leads to a better design that overcomes the failure. Good design is a balance of these things. This is why I leave my failures and mistakes in my videos to show how I arrive at the end result through some trial and error.

My favorite robot would be “Photon: The Video and Photo Robot” that I built for the 2013 North Carolina Maker Faire. It’s my masterpiece robot…so far.

NAN: Tell us a little more about Photon. Did you encounter any challenges while developing the robot?

Photon awaits with cameras rolling, ready to go forth and record images.

Photon awaits with cameras rolling, ready to go forth and record images.

DINO: The idea for Photon first came to me in February 2013. I had been playing with the Emic 2 text-to-speech module from Parallax and I thought it would be fun to use it to give a robot speech capability. From there the idea grew to include cameras that would record and stream to the Internet what the robot saw and then give the robot the ability to navigate through the crowd at Maker Faire.

I got a late start on the project and ended up burning the midnight oil to get it finished in time. One of the bigger challenges was in designing a motorized base that would reliably move Photon across a cement floor.

The problem was in dealing with elevation changes on the floor covering. What if Photon encountered a rug or an extension cord?

I wanted to drive it with two gear motors salvaged from a Roomba 4000 vacuum robot to enable tank-style steering. A large round base with a caster at the front and rear worked well, but it would only enable a small change in surface elevation. I ended up using that design and made sure that it stayed away from anything that might get it in trouble.

The next challenge was giving Photon some sensors so it could navigate and stay away from obstacles. I used one PING))) sensor mounted on its head and turned the entire torso into a four-zone bump sensor, as was a ring around the base. The ring pushed on a series of 42 momentary contact switches connected together in four zones. All these sensors were connected to an Arduino running some simple code that turned Photon away from obstacles it encountered. Power was supplied by a motorcycle battery mounted on the base inside the torso.

The head held two video cameras, two smartphones in camera mode, and one GoPro camera. One video camera and the GoPro were recording in HD; the other video camera was recording in time-lapse mode. The two smartphones streamed live video, one via 4G to a Ustream channel and the other via Wi-Fi. The Ustream worked great, but the Wi-Fi failed due to interference.

Photon’s voice came from the Emic 2 connected to another Arduino sending it lines of text to speak. The audio was amplified by a small 0.5-W LM386 amplifier driving a 4” speaker. An array of blue LEDs mounted on the head illuminated with the brightness modulated by the audio signal when Photon spoke. The speech was just a lot of lines of text running in a timed loop.

Photon’s brain includes two Arduinos and an LM386 0.5-W audio amplifier with a sound-to-voltage circuit added to drive the mouth LED array. Photon’s voice comes from a Parallax Emic 2 text-to-speech module.

Photon’s brain includes two Arduinos and an LM386 0.5-W audio amplifier with a sound-to-voltage circuit added to drive the mouth LED array. Photon’s voice comes from a Parallax Emic 2 text-to-speech module.

Connecting all of these things together was very challenging. Each component needed a regulated power supply, which I built using LM317T voltage regulators. The entire current draw with motors running was about 1.5 A. The battery lasted about 1.5 h before needing a recharge. I had an extra battery so I could just swap them out during the quick charge cycle and keep downtime to a minimum.

I finished the robot around 11:00 PM the night before the event. It was a hit! The videos Photon recorded are fascinating to watch. The look of wonder on people’s faces, the kids jumping up to see themselves in the monitors, the smiles, and the interaction are all very interesting.

NAN: Many of your Hack A Week projects include Parallax products. Why Parallax?

DINO: Parallax is a great electronics company that caters to the DIY hobbyist. It has a large knowledge base on its website as well as a great forum with lots of people willing to help and share their projects.

About a year ago Parallax approached me with an offer to supply me with a product in exchange for featuring it in my video projects on Hack A Week. Since I already used and liked the product, it was a perfect offer. I’ll be posting more Parallax-based projects throughout the year and showcasing a few of them on the ELEV-8 quadcopter as a test platform.

NAN: Let’s change topics. You built an Electronic Fuel Injector Tester, which is featured on HomemadeTools.net. Can you explain how the 555 timer chips are used in the tester?

DINO: 555 timers are great! They can be used in so many projects in so many ways. They’re easy to understand and use and require only a minimum of external components to operate and configure.

The 555 can run in two basic modes: monostable and astable.

Dino keeps this fuel injector tester in his tool box at work. He’s a European auto technician by day.

Dino keeps this fuel injector tester in his tool box at work. He’s a European auto technician by day.

An astable circuit produces a square wave. This is a digital waveform with sharp transitions between low (0 V) and high (+ V). The durations of the low and high states may be different. The circuit is called astable because it is not stable in any state: the output is continually changing between “low” and “high.”

A monostable circuit produces a single output pulse when triggered. It is called a monostable because it is stable in just one state: “output low.” The “output high” state is temporary.

The injector tester, which is a monostable circuit, is triggered by pressing the momentary contact switch. The single-output pulse turns on an astable circuit that outputs a square-wave pulse train that is routed to an N-channel MOSFET. The MOSFET turns on and off and outputs 12 V to the injector. A flyback diode protects the MOSFET from the electrical pulse that comes from the injector coil when the power is turned off and the field collapses. It’s a simple circuit that can drive any injector up to 5 A.

This is a homebrew PCB for Dino's fuel injector tester. Two 555s drive a MOSFET that switches the injector.

This is a homebrew PCB for Dino’s fuel injector tester. Two 555s drive a MOSFET that switches the injector.

NAN: You’ve been “DIYing” for quite some time. How and when did your interest begin?

DINO: It all started in 1973 when I was 13 years old. I used to watch a TV show on PBS called ZOOM, which was produced by WGBH in Boston. Each week they had a DIY project they called a “Zoom-Do,” and one week the project was a crystal radio. I ordered the Zoom-Do instruction card and set out to build one. I got everything put together but it didn’t work! I checked and rechecked everything, but it just wouldn’t work.

I later realized why. The instructions said to use a “cat’s whisker,” which I later found out was a thin piece of wire. I used a real cat’s whisker clipped from my cat! Anyway, that project sparked something inside me (pun intended). I was hooked! I started going house to house asking people if they had any broken or unwanted radios and or TVs I could have so I could learn about electronics and I got tons of free stuff to mess with.

My mom and dad were pretty cool about letting me experiment with it all. I was taking apart TV sets, radios, and tape recorders in my room and actually fixing a few of them. I was in love with electronics. I had an intuition for understanding it. I eventually found some ham radio guys who were great mentors and I learned a lot of good basic electronics from them.

NAN: Is there a particular electronics engineer, programmer, or designer who has inspired the work you do today?

DINO: Forrest Mims was a great inspiration in my early 20s. I got a big boost from his “Engineer’s Notebooks.” The simple way he explained things and his use of graph paper to draw circuit designs really made learning about electronics easy and fun. I still use graph paper to draw my schematics during the design phase and for planning when building a prototype on perf board. I’m not interested in any of the software schematic programs because most of my projects are simple and easy to draw. I like my pencil-and-paper approach.

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

DINO: An Arduino Uno. I used two of these in the Photon robot.

NAN: What new technologies excite you and why?

DINO: Organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs). They’ll totally change the way we manufacture and use digital displays.

I envision a day when you can go buy your big-screen TV that you’ll bring home in a cardboard tube, unroll it, and place it on the wall. The processor and power supply will reside on the floor, out of the way, and a single cable will go to the panel. The power consumption will be a fraction of today’s LCD or plasma displays and they’ll be featherweight by comparison. They’ll be used to display advertising on curved surfaces anywhere you like. Cell phone displays will be curved and flexible.

How about a panoramic set of virtual reality goggles or a curved display in a flight simulator? Once the technology gets out of the “early adopter” phase, prices will come down and you’ll own that huge TV for a fraction of what you pay now. One day we might even go to a movie and view it on a super-huge OLED panorama screen.

NAN: Final question. If you had a full year and a good budget to work on any design project you wanted, what would you build?

DINO: There’s a project I’ve wanted to build for some time now: A flight simulator based on the one used in Google Earth. I would use a PC to run the simulator and build a full-on seat-inside enclosure with all the controls you would have in a jet airplane. There are a lot of keyboard shortcuts for a Google flight simulator that could be triggered by switches connected to various controls (e.g., rudder pedals, flaps, landing gear, trim tabs, throttle, etc.). I would use the Arduino Leonardo as the controller for the peripheral switches because it can emulate a USB keyboard. Just program it, plug it into a USB port along with a joystick, build a multi-panel display (or use that OLED display I dream of), and go fly!

Google Earth’s flight simulator also lets you fly over the surface of Mars! Not only would this be fun to build and fly, it would also be a great educational tool. It’s definitely on the Hack A Week project list!

Editor’s Note: This article also appears in the Circuit Cellar’s upcoming March issue, which focuses on robotics. The March issue will soon be available for membership download or single-issue purchase.

 

Next-Generation Wi-Fi Modules

eConaisThe EC19D family is small, easily integrated, low-standby power single chip 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi System In Package (SiP) modules for the Internet of Things (IoT).

The SiP modules help designers quickly and easily connect their devices to 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi networks. At 8-mm × 8-mm, the EC19D modules can be embedded in almost any product or application. The EC19D will also include FCC, IC, and EC certifications to further simplify and speed up product design and production for use with Wi-Fi networks.

The EC19D incorporates the newest Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n standards and features to provide designers with many options for embedding the module in their designs. The EC19D’s features include Wi-Fi Direct, ProbMeTM configuration, full TCP/IP stack, HTTPS/SSL, DHCP Client/Server, WPS, legacy Wi-Fi Client, and SoftAP modes with WPA/WPA2 support, serial to Wi-Fi, and Cloud service support.

Contact eConais for pricing.

eConais Inc.
www.econais.com

Client Profile: Digi International, Inc

Contact: Elizabeth Presson
elizabeth.presson@digi.com

Featured Product: The XBee product family (www.digi.com/xbee) is a series of modular products that make adding wireless technology easy and cost-effective. Whether you need a ZigBee module or a fast multipoint solution, 2.4 GHz or long-range 900 MHz—there’s an XBee to meet your specific requirements.

XBee Cloud Kit

Digi International XBee Cloud Kit

Product information: Digi now offers the XBee Wi-Fi Cloud Kit (www.digi.com/xbeewificloudkit) for those who want to try the XBee Wi-Fi (XB2B-WFUT-001) with seamless cloud connectivity. The Cloud Kit brings the Internet of Things (IoT) to the popular XBee platform. Built around Digi’s new XBee Wi-Fi
module, which fully integrates into the Device Cloud by Etherios, the kit is a simple way for anyone with an interest in M2M and the IoT to build a hardware prototype and integrate it into an Internet-based application. This kit is suitable for electronics engineers, software designers, educators, and innovators.

Exclusive Offer: The XBee Wi-Fi Cloud Kit includes an XBee Wi-Fi module; a development board with a variety of sensors and actuators; loose electronic prototyping parts to make circuits of your own; a free subscription to Device Cloud; fully customizable widgets to monitor and control connected devices; an open-source application that enables two-way communication and control with the development board over the Internet; and cables, accessories, and everything needed to connect to the web. The Cloud Kit costs $149.

Compact Wi-Fi Transceiver

Lemos

The LEMOS-LMX-WiFi wireless transceiver

The LEMOS-LMX-WiFi is a compact wireless transceiver that can operate on IEEE 802.11 networks. It is supported by a 32-bit microcontroller running a scalable TCP/IP stack. The transceiver is well suited for wireless embedded applications involving digital remote control, digital and analog remote monitoring, asset tracking, security systems, point of sale terminals, sensor monitoring, machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, environmental monitoring and control.

The 40.64-mm × 73.66-mm transceiver is available in two models: integrated PCB antenna or external antenna. Its features include software-selectable analog and digital I/O pins, a 2-Mbps maximum data rate, and a unique IEEE MAC address.

The LEMOS-LMX-WiFi can be powered by any 3.3-V to – 6-VDC source that can deliver 200 mA of current. The transceiver can interface to external devices that communicate via USART, I2C, and SPI. It also supports infrastructure and ad hoc networks.

Contact Lemos International for pricing.

Lemos International, Inc.
www.lemosint.com

Low-Cost, High-Performance 32-bit Microcontrollers

The PIC32MX3/4 32-bit microcontrollers are available in 64/16-, 256/64-, and 512/128-KB flash/RAM configurations. The microcontrollers are coupled with Microchip Technology’s software and tools for designs in connectivity, graphics, digital audio, and general-purpose embedded control.

The microcontrollers offer high RAM memory options and high peripheral integration at a low cost. They feature 28 10-bit ADCs, five UARTS, 105-DMIPS performance, serial peripherals, a graphic display, capacitive touch, connectivity, and digital audio support.
The PIC32MX3/4 microcontrollers are supported with general software development tools, including Microchip Technology’s MPLAB X integrated development environment (IDE) and the MPLAB XC32 C/C++ compiler.

Application-specific tools include the Microchip Graphics Display Designer X and the Microchip Graphics Library, which provide a visual design tool that enables quick and easy creation of graphical user interface (GUI) screens for applications. The microcontrollers are also supported with a set of Microchip’s protocol stacks including TCP/IP, USB Device and Host, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. For digital audio applications, Microchip provides software for tasks such as sample rate conversion (SRC), audio codecs—including MP3 and Advanced Audio Coding (AAC), and software to connect smartphones and other personal electronic devices.

The PIC32MX3/4 family is supported by Microchip’s PIC32 USB Starter Kit III, which costs $59.99 and the PIC32MX450 100-pin USB plug-in module, which costs $25 for the modular Explorer 16 development system. Pricing for the PIC32MX3/4 microcontrollers starts at $2.50 each in 10,000-unit quantities.

Microchip Technology, Inc.
www.microchip.com

Client Profile: Oscium

Oscium

Oscium’s WiPry-Spectrum

Oscium
5909 NW Expressway, Suite 269
Oklahoma City, OK 73132

www.oscium.com

Contact: Bryan Lee, bryan@oscium.com

Product Information: The WiPry-Spectrum transforms an iPhone, an iPad, or an iPod into a 2.4-GHz spectrum analyzer. It is the first 2.4-GHz industrial, science, and medical (ISM) band spectrum analyzer designed specifically for the iPhone, the iPad, and the iPod. The analyzer is simple and intuitive to use. It enables you to “pry” into your wireless environment to detect and avoid noisy channels. The WiPry-Spectrum has a 2.4-to-2.495-GHz frequency range and is compatible with Lightning and 30-pin connectors (with an adapter, it works with the iPhone 5, the iPad mini, and the iPad 4). The WiPry-Spectrum analyzer costs $99.97. For more information, visit www.oscium.com/products/wipry-spectrum-spectrum-analyzer.

Wi-Fi-Connected Home Energy Monitor

The Kunzig brothers of Pennsylvania use the word “retired” loosely.

Donald and Robert are both retired—each from long careers in the telecommunications industry. And after retirement, each took on a new job (Donald developing software to track and manage clinical trials managed by BioClinica, Inc., and Robert at a large data center).

So while other semi-retirees might prefer relaxing in poolside chairs or on the couch, what do these two do? They eagerly take on some technologies they haven’t worked with before and build a Wi-Fi-connected device to monitor a home’s power usage. And after two years of trial, error, and, finally, success, they develop an e-commerce website to sell it.

“Robert’s son, Jay, a design engineer working in San Jose, CA, suggested the project,” the two brothers say in article they wrote for the May 2013 edition of Circuit Cellar. “The main purpose was to design a Wi-Fi-connected monitor that would be able to measure usage from both a utility and an alternate source of power such as solar or wind.”

Their article describes how they designed a usable device that offers programmability and function. They used a Microchip MRF24WB0MB 802.11 transceiver for Wi-Fi access and a Microchip Technology PIC24FJ256GB108 microprocessor in their design. They eventually wrote the article about the ups and downs of the process (which included five prototypes) because they felt elements of their work would help readers developing their own embedded electronics devices.

“All this effort has been rewarding, perhaps not financially (yet), but certainly intellectually,” the brothers say. “After almost two years of effort, we have produced a product with an excellent hardware design, coupled with software that is better than average. The platform can be used for just about any implementation.”

“We wanted to produce an energy monitor that was fully wireless, very accurate, extremely easy to use, and based on hardware and software that is very stable. We think we were successful on all counts.”

Check out the May issue of Circuit Cellar for their article. And for more information, visit their e-commerce website at www.wattsmyusage.com.

The Future of Data Acquisition Technology

Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio

Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio

By Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio

Data acquisition is a necessity, which is why data acquisition systems and software applications are essential tools in a variety of fields. For instance, research scientists rely on data acquisition tools for testing and measuring their laboratory-based projects. Therefore, as a data acquisition system designer, you must have an in-depth understanding of each part of the systems and programs you create.

I mainly design data acquisition software for physics-related experiments and industrial applications. Today’s complicated physics experiments require highly complex data acquisition systems and software that are capable of managing large amounts of information. Many of the systems require high-speed connections and digital recording. And they must be reconfigurable. Signals that are hard to characterize and analyze with a real-time display are evaluated in terms of high frequencies, large dynamic range, and gradual changes.

Data acquisition software is typically available in a text-based user interface (TUI) that comprises an ASCII configuration file and a graphic user interface (GUI), which are generally available with any web browser. Both interfaces enable data acquisition system management and customization, and you don’t need to recompile the sources. This means even inexperienced programmers can have full acquisition control.

Well-designed data acquisition and control software should be able to quickly recover from instrumentation failures and power outages without losing any data. Data acquisition software must provide a high-level language for algorithm design. Moreover, it requires data-archiving capability for verifying data integrity.

You have many data acquisition software options. An example is programmable software that uses a language such as C. Other software and data acquisition software packages enable you to design the custom instrumentation suited for specific applications (e.g., National Instruments’s LabVIEW and MathWorks’s MATLAB).

In addition to data acquisition software design, I’ve also been developing embedded data acquisition systems with open-source software to manage user-developed applications. The idea is to have credit-card-sized embedded data acquisition systems managing industrial systems using open-source software written in C. I’m using an ARM processor that will give me the ability to add small boards for specific applications (e.g., a board to manage data transmission via Wi-Fi or GSM).

A data acquisition system’s complexity tends to increase with the number of physical properties it must measure. Resolution and accuracy requirements also affect a system’s complexity. To eliminate cabling and provide for more modularity, you can combine data acquisition capabilities and signal conditioning in one device.

Recent developments in the field of fiber-optic communications have shown longer data acquisition transmission distances can cause errors. Electrical isolation is also an important topic. The goal is to eliminate ground loops (common problems with single-ended measurements) in terms of accuracy and protection from voltage spikes.

During the last year, some new technological developments have proven beneficial to the overall efficacy of data acquisition applications. For instance, advances in USB technology have made data acquisition and storage simpler and more efficient than ever (think “plug and play”). Advances in wireless technology have also made data transmission faster and more secure. This means improved data acquisition system and software technologies will also figure prominently in smartphone design and usage.

If you look to the future, consumer demand for mobile computing systems will only increase, and this will require tablet computers to feature improved data acquisition and storage capabilities. Having the ability to transmit, receive, and store larger amounts of data with tablets will become increasingly important to consumers as time goes on. There are three main things to consider when creating a data acquisition-related application for a tablet. Hardware connectivity: Tablets have few control options (e.g., Wi-Fi and Bluetooth). Program language support: Many tablets support Android apps created in Java. Device driver availability: Device drivers permit a high-level mode to easily and reliably execute a data acquisition board’s functionality. C and LabVIEW are not supported by Android or Apple’s iOS. USB, a common DAQ bus, is available in a set of tablets. In the other case, an adapter is required. In these instances, moving a possible data acquisition system to a tablet requires extra attention.

For all of the aforementioned reasons, I think field-programmable arrays (FPGAs) will figure prominently in the evolution of data acquisition system technology. The flexibility of FPGAs makes them ideal for custom data acquisition systems and embedded applications.