Circuit Cellar's editorial team comprises professional engineers, technical editors, and digital media specialists. You can reach the Editorial Department at [email protected], @circuitcellar, and facebook.com/circuitcellar
U‑blox and Arvento Mobile Systems have announced the imminent launch of the new imt.x1 vehicle tracking system. Arvento’s imt.x1 differentiates from other vehicle tracking devices on the market, thanks to its 6‑axis Gyro sensor which can sense 3‑dimensional movement caused by emergency acceleration, panic braking and directional yaw and drift.
With connectivity options including dual CANBus and Bluetooth, the system is also eCall compatible and captures and provides data for accident analysis and other vehicle tracking functions. The system also uses the next generation powerful Arm based microcontroller.
As for previous Arvento products, collaboration with U‑blox was a key factor in the imt.x1 product development process and the system’s high position sensitivity and accuracy are based on integration of U‑blox’s 2G, 4G and 5G‑ready cellular modules as well as GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Systems) modules. According to U-blow, the development of the imt.x1 aligns perfectly with Arvento’s vision and mission as a developer of advanced fleet telematics and vehicle tracking devices and will be available this month (August 2019).
Software updates are easy to roll out, but hardware upgrades on custom designs often require a major investment of time and money. A modular approach can speed up this process. In this article, congatec’s Dan Demers explains how.
Make slow progress or speed ahead with buy-in?
By Dan Demers, Director of Sales and Marketing – Americas, congatec
We are used to receiving software updates on-the-fly today. So why not utilize converged embedded computing platforms to upgrade our hardware? This would enable us to take direct advantage of the rapid development cycles of the computing, vision and AI industries.
There are plenty of examples on how to upgrade the hardware during running series production. In the medical sector, for instance, where medical devices even require certification. But it appears that some system developers have not yet learned how to consistently build computing core upgrades into their product development.
This is because full custom designs are still quite common. The integration of expensive navigation systems by premium vehicle manufacturers is a bad example of this. Although pretty and expensive, they are often much slower than the driver’s considerably cheaper mobile phone. Before the computer technology that’s installed in the vehicle gets used by the customer, it is usually already obsolete. Market acceptance for such monolithic solutions is therefore dwindling noticeably.
The problem of these manufacturers is anchored in the design principles of mass production, where every cent matters, but no attention is paid to the innovation cycle demanded by users. This has fatal consequences: If the computing part is entirely custom designed, an upgrade will in many cases require a redesign, where the ability to reuse blocks of the previous generation is limited. So all in all, we’re talking about a major investment to always deploy the latest computer technology in an application.
But there’s another way: To avoid having to reinvent the wheel every time, the Computer-on-Module concept was developed at the end of the 90s. Modular approaches had existed before then, but it is only since the Computer-on-Module concept emerged, that modules stopped being proprietary and became available as standardized components from numerous providers.
congatec offers SFF Computer-on-Modules for all leading standards: SMARC 2.0, Qseven, COM Express Mini and COM Express Compact modules.
Computer-on-Modules are available in different designs. For low-power CPUs such as Intel Atom, AMD G-Series or the ARM i.MX6 and i.MX8 platforms from NXP, the Qseven and SMARC Computer-on-Module standards are particularly suitable. For higher computing power and interface demands, COM Express is the best standard. COM Express Type 6 modules support fast CPUs, like the AMD V1000 or the latest Intel Core processors.
Type 7 was defined for edge server processors and 10 Gbit Ethernet support; however, in true server fashion, it no longer supports any video interfaces. The upcoming PICMG COM-HPC standard will support even faster interfaces. The specification is due to be published in 2019, with first products expected in 2020.
With Server-on-Modules a modular approach is even suitable for the development and constant update of high-performance microservers by just exchanging the modules. This significantly reduce the efforts and cost connected for upgrades.
All in all, Computer-on-Modules are an ideal and easy way to equip machines and devices with the latest processor technology. So anyone who wants to use converged system platforms as part of their closed-loop engineering, will find that Computer-on-Modules are a perfect platform for performance upgrades. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t implement a full custom design when it comes to mass production. But here too, getting the module supplier to implement a fusion of modules and carrier board works significantly better than the OEM developing everything from scratch.
Innocomm, which has produced NXP-based compute modules such as the i.MX8M Mini driven WB15 and i.MX8M powered WB10, will soon try on some MediaTek SoCs for size. First up is an SB30 SoM due to launch in October that will run Linux or Android on MediaTek’s 1.5 GHz, quad-core, Cortex-A35 based MediaTek i300 (MT8362) SoC. In November, the company plans to introduce an SB50 SoM based on the MediaTek i500 (MT8385).
SB30 SoM (left) and SB50 SoM (click images to enlarge)
Innocomm has provided us with specs for the SB30 (see farther below). As for the SB50 SoM, we know it has the same form-factor and edge connector as the WB15 and new SB30 SoM and similarly connects to its carrier board via a pair of M.2 E-Key expansion slots. Like the SB30, the SB50 will offer Linux and Android support.
The SB50 SoM (AKA SB50 MTK i500 SoM) is designed for AI/AR/VR applications. Its MediaTek i500 SoC was announced (translated) with the MediaTek i300 in April. In July, MediaTek followed up with its high-end MediaTek i700 (AI IoT platform i700). All three of these “AIoT” platforms are designed for media-enhanced edge computing, with the i500 and i700 also targeting AI on the edge.
The MediaTek i500 is the mid-range model of the three, despite having specs that would beat or match any Arm processor running on one of the 125 open-spec SBCs featured in our recent Linux hacker board roundup. The SoC combines 4x Cortex-A73 and 4x Cortex A53 cores, all clocked at 2.0GHz. There’s also an 800MHz Arm Mali-G72 MP3 and a 500MHz AI processor (APU) for deep learning, neural network acceleration and computer vision applications.
The “cost-effective MediaTek i300 (MT8362) inside the SB30 SoM is a more modest affair. The SoC is built around 4x power-efficient Cortex-A35 cores clocked up to 1.5GHz. Other Cortex-A35 SoCs include NXP’s quad-core i.MX8X and Rockchip’s RK3308, as well as an upcoming NXP i.MX8 variant optimized for Microsoft’s Azure Sphere platform that uses FD-SOI power management.
The MediaTek i300 is further equipped with an Imagination PowerVR Series8XE GE8300 GPU aimed at entry-level markets. Launched earlier this year, the GPU also appeared recently on the dual -A53 Renesas RZ/G2E SoC.
The MediaTek i300 integrates a PMIC and an RF chip for 2.4GHz 802.11/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0, and also supports integration of a MediaTek MT7668 chipset for 802.11ac (WiFi 5). The SoC has a 13-megapixel and 720P ready ISP and focuses on portable and HMI devices with up to 1920 x 1080-pixel touchscreens. Its audio subsystem targets voice-controlled devices.
Innocomm’s SB30 SoM (SB30 MTK i300 SoM) is designed for audio/video, kiosk, digital signage, and fitness console applications. It combines the MediaTek i300 with 1GB or 2GB LPDDR3, 16GB eMMC, and either dual-band 802.11ac and Bluetooth 5.0 or 2.4GHz 802.11n with Bluetooth 4.0.
The SB30’s media interfaces include MIPI-DSI, LVDS, and HDMI 1.4a, as well as I2S for audio. You also get USB 2.0 host and OTG connections plus I2C, SPI, UART, and more.
SB30 Evaluation Kit (click image to enlarge)
The SB30 Evaluation Kit (EVK) combines the module with 10/100 Ethernet, USB 2.0 host, and micro-USB device ports. There’s also a microSD slot, an RS232 header, and an expansion connector for I2C, SPI, I2S, USB, and UART interfaces. Judging from the photo, this does not appear to be the standard RPi-style 40-pin connector found on the WB15.
Display features include an HDMI 1.4a port, dual-channel LVDS for up to 21-inch displays, and a MIPI-DSI connector that supports the Raspberry Pi 7-inch LCM. The board is further equipped with a dual MIPI-CSI connector, a PDM-based digital mic, and a 10W stereo amp. The EVK has a 12V DC jack plus an antenna connector.
The SB30 SoM and EVK will launch in October and the SB50 SoM and EVK will launch in November. Pricing was undisclosed. More information should appear in the coming months on Innocomm’s very preliminary SB30 SoM and SB50 SoM product pages.
The October issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is out next week! Smart Home technologies, Smart Farming, antenna arrays, rugged SBCs and COMs—this 84-page publication gathers up a great selection of embedded electronics articles for your reading pleasure.
Not a Circuit Cellar subscriber? Don’t be left out! Sign up today:
Here’s a sneak preview of October 2019 Circuit Cellar:
TECHNOLOGIES FOR A CONNECTED WORLD
Smart Home Technologies By Jeff Child The evolution of Smart Homes is about more than pure convenience. Smart Home technologies are leveraging IoT concepts to improve energy efficiency and security, thanks to intelligent, connected devices. The topic encompasses things like power-saving motor control systems, predictive maintenance, cloud-based voice assistance, remote monitoring and more. In this article, Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child examines the MCU and analog ICs that are serving the needs Smart Home system developers.
MQ Telemetry Transport By Jeff Bachiochi Better known by the acronym MQTT, this lightweight messaging protocol is designed to minimize network bandwidth and device resource requirements. In this article, Jeff sets out to use MQTT via a cloud setup that he can do locally. For this, he turns to Eclipse Mosquitto, an open source message broker that implements the MQTT protocol. Jeff steps through the nitty gritty details of his implementation.
LoRa (Part 1) By Bob Japenga In this new article series, Bob discusses LoRa—the Long Range spread spectrum modulation technique that promises to solve a number of the key issues in fulfilling the wireless IoT requirements. In Part 1, Bob starts with an introduction to LoRa, looking at what it is, what are its limitations and how those limitations affect how we use this technology.
Smart Farming Device Gives Plants a Voice By Andrei Florian Smart Farming has many aspects, and among these the agriculture side. In this project article, Andrei discusses SmartAgro, a device that combines field autonomy with ease of use, allowing farmers to give their plants a “voice.” It lets you visualize the temperature, soil humidity, UV radiation and more wherever you are, in real time and take action when it is most needed—whether that means turning on an irrigation system or preparing for cultivation.
RESOURCES FOR ENGINEERS
Product Focus: Rugged SBCs By Jeff Child Single board computers are used in such a broad sweep of applications—some that must operate in harsh environmental conditions. Rugged SBCs offer a variety of attributes to serve such needs, including extended temperature range, high shock and vibration resilience and even high humidity protection. This Product Focus section updates readers on this technology trend and provides a product album of representative rugged SBCs.
An Intro to Antenna Arrays By Robert Lacoste As an expert in RF technology, Robert has deep knowledge about antennas. And in this era of IoT, his expertise more relevant than ever. That’s because every wireless device has some kind of antenna and these antennas are often the root cause of engineering headaches. With that in mind, in this article Robert discusses the math, technology and design issues that are basic to antenna arrays.
Using Digital Potentiometers By Stuart Ball A digital potentiometer probably can’t be considered the most glamorous of electronic components. But it is easy to use and versatile. In this article, Stuart digs into the uses, advantages and disadvantages of the digital potentiometer, including how they contrast to mechanical potentiometers.
Semiconductor Fundamentals (Part 2) By George Novacek In Part 1 George examined the basic structures that make semiconductors work. But a lot more needs to be said about diodes, which are a key element of semiconductors. In Part 2, George dives deeper, this time looking at the current flow, depletion layer and electron physics that are involved in diode operations. He covers various types of diodes and the details of their operations.
A Hardware Random Number Generator By Devlin Gualtieri Men first walked on the Moon fifty years ago. On the same week as that historic event, Dev divided his time between watching the event on television and building a unique desktop novelty circuit, a random digit generator. This circuit used a Nixie tube for display and a handful of TTL integrated circuits to implement a linear feedback shift register. In this article, Dev updates his original design using the CMOS digital circuits available today and a 7-segment LED display. He also presents an improved version that uses a Microchip PIC MCU.
MICRCONTROLLERS DO IT ALL
Application-Specific MCUs By Jeff Child In contrast to microprocessors, microcontrollers tend to be used for specific applications. But even among MCUs, there’s distinct difference between general purpose MCUs and MCUs that are designed for very specific application segments, or even sub-segments. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child examines this class of MCUs that target everything from factory automation to appliance control.
The Laser Harp By Alex Hatzis Normally, you’d think that taking the strings out of a harp would be a downgrade. But in this article, Cornell student Alex Hatzis presents a system that does just that—replacing the harp strings with red lasers. Phototransistors are used to detect when the beams are intercepted by a person’s hand playing the harp, and some convincing real-time sound synthesis helps to create a new, high tech instrument.
Chinese embedded vendor Forlinx Embedded Technology has unveiled a power-efficient FCU1201 IoT gateway equipped with NXP’s 1 GHz, dual-core Cortex-A9 i.MX6 DualLite. Like the company’s i.MX6 UL-equipped FCU1101, the system combines extensive serial interfaces with wireless connectivity.
FCU1201 (click images to enlarge)
In addition to general lightweight IoT gateway duty, the FCU1201 supports in-vehicle EV charging, vending machines, remote monitoring of CNC machines, and Ali Cloud (Alibaba Cloud) IoT aggregation applications built around Alibaba’s Link IoT Edge platform. The system runs Linux 3.0.35 on the i.MX6.
FCU1201 EV charging (left) and CNC control applications (click images to enlarge)
The 147.5 x 100 x 41.8mm system is equipped with 1GB DDR3, 8GB eMMC, and a microSD slot. There’s a 10/100 Ethernet port, a wireless module with 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0, and a Huawei ME909S 4G module with SIM slot. The 4G module can be swapped out for GPRS. A pair each of antennas are provided for WiFi and 4G.
The FCU1201 enables dual simultaneous displays via an HD-ready mini-HDMI port and a DVI-I style LVDS port with support for 7-inch displays. Audio features include a 3.5 mm stereo earphone jack and a single track microphone. In addition, “users could also expand with 1W x 2 speaker connectors or 3.5mm single track microphone jack,” says Forlinx.
FCU1201 detail views (click images to enlarge)
The system is further equipped with USB 2.0 host, micro-USB OTG, and serial debug console ports, as well as a variety of serial connections via terminal block connectors. These include 2x RS485 and 2x CAN 2.0 ports, all with electronic isolation. There are also several RS232 inputs.
Other features include 4x DI and 4x DO via terminal connectors. The digital inputs are “designed with photo coupler and wet node,” says Forlinx, which adds: “users can change it to dry node optionally.” The digital outputs feature electromagnet relay protection.
The FCU1201 supports any ISO7816-compliant ESAM/PSAM security module. It also provides a mini-SIM slot for loading a PSAM card.
The gateway runs on a 9-15 V DC input and offers a 15-second UPS function. There’s also an RTC, reset and boot buttons, and mounting holes. Both 0 to 70℃ and -40 to 70℃ SKUs are available, although the WiFi works only at commercial temperatures.
No pricing or availability information was provided for the FCU120. More information may be found in the Forlinx FCU1201 announcement and product page.
SlingShot Assembly is Offering Free Labor for First Time Customers.
SlingShot Assembly is changing the game in PCB assembly. Doing the impossible, everyday. For a limited time, SlingShot Assembly is offering FREE LABOR, up to $1,000, on new customer’s first turn-key order. Their 5-day turn includes parts, boards AND assembly. We challenge you to try something different. Click Here for your discount code! Only a limited number of offers are available each day.
Variscite has launched its SODIMM-style “VAR-SOM-6UL” module that runs Linux on NXP’s power-efficient i.MX6 UL, ULL, and ULZ SoCs. The WiFi-equipped, -40 to 85°C ready module ships with a new “Concerto” carrier.
Prior to Embedded World in late February, Variscite previewed the VAR-SOM-6UL with incomplete details. The SODIMM-200 form-factor module has now launched starting at $24 in volume along with a VAR-SOM-6UL Development Kit and Starter Kit equipped with a Concerto carrier board. New features include memory and storage details and the availability of 0 to 70°C and -40 to 85°C models.
VAR-SOM-6UL, front and back (click images to enlarge)
The VAR-SOM-6UL offers a choice of three Cortex-A7-based i.MX6 UltraLite variants at up to 900MHz: the original i.MX6 UL and almost identical i.MX6 ULL and the newer, stripped down i.MX6 ULZ. The i.MX6 ULZ is also available on Variscite’s smaller DART-6UL module along with the UL and ULL.
The headless, up to 900MHz Cortex-A7 ULZ SoC offers most of the I/O of the of the i.MX6 UL and ULL, including their extensive audio interfaces. However, it lacks features such as the 2D Pixel acceleration engine and dual Ethernet controllers.
Recently, NXP launched a next-gen follow-on to the UltraLite line with its 28nm, FD-SOI fabbed i.MX7 ULP. The SoC adds a 3D GPU and Cortex-M4 to the power-sipping, single-core -A7.
The 3.3V powered, 67.6 × 33mm VAR-SOM-6UL offers BSPs for Yocto Thud and Debian Stretch, both with Linux Kernel 4.14.78. Boot2QT is said to be coming soon. The module ships with 128MB to either 512MB or 1GB DDR3L RAM, depending on differing citations. You also get 128MB to 512MB SLC NAND and 4GB to 64GB eMMC storage.
The VAR-SOM-6UL provides certified dual-band WiFi 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.2 BLE, as well as dual 10/100 Ethernet controllers. (It’s unclear if these are included on the ULZ model.) Supported I/O includes USB 2.0 host and OTG ports, 8x UARTs at up to 5Mbps, and SD/MMC, 4x I2C, 4x SPI, and 2x CAN. There are also dual, 10-channel 12-bit ADC interfaces and support for a carrier-deployed RTC.
VAR-SOM-6UL block diagram and Development Kit (click images to enlarge)
Media interfaces include 24-bit Parallel LCD and 18-bit LVDS, both at up to 1366 × 768 pixels with resistive and capacitive touch support. There’s also a 24-bit Parallel camera interface and audio features including analog line-in/out, headphone support, and digital SPDIF and SSI.
The module offers extended lifetime availability, 3D and DXF mechanical files, and pin-to-pin compatibility with other VAR-SOM modules. These include the quad-core VAR-SOM-MX6 and more recent VAR-SOM-MX8X, among others.
VAR-SOM-6UL evaluation kits
The VAR-SOM-6UL is available with a $149 VAR-SOM-6UL Starter Kit and a more feature-rich, $269 Development Kit. Both kits provide the module and “Concerto” carrier board plus a debug cable, antenna, boot/rescue card, and a carrier board design package. The Development Kit adds an Ethernet cable, a 12V power supply, and a 7-inch capacitive touchscreen.
VAR-SOM-6UL Development Kit contents and Concerto carrier block diagram (click images to enlarge)
The Concerto carrier, which is available with schematics, is equipped with dual 10/100 Ethernet ports, a microSD slot, and an LVDS connector with backlighting controls and resistive and capacitive touch support. There are also dual audio jacks and an onboard digital mic.
The specs don’t include other features shown in the image and block diagram, including a USB 2.0 host port, a micro-USB OTG port, and a micro-USB debug port. There are also headers for CAN, UARTs, and other I/O.
Espressif Systems has announced the ESP32-S2, a truly secure, highly integrated, low-power, Wi-Fi microcontroller SoC supporting Wi-Fi HT40 and having 43 GPIOs. Based on an Xtensa single-core 32-bit LX7 processor, it can be clocked at up to 240 MHz. With state-of-the-art power management and RF performance, IO capabilities and security features, ESP32-S2 is well suited for a wide variety of IoT or connectivity-based applications, including smart home and wearables.
With an integrated 240 MHz Xtensa core, ESP32-S2 is sufficient for building the most demanding connected devices without requiring external MCUs. Users can leverage Espressif’s mature and production-ready software development framework (ESP-IDF).
ESP32-S2 supports fine-resolution power-control through a selection of clock frequency, duty cycle, Wi-Fi operating modes and individual power control of its internal components. When Wi-Fi is enabled, the chip automatically powers on or off the RF transceiver only when needed, thereby reducing the overall power consumption of the system. ULP co-processor with less than 5 uA idle mode and 24 uA at 1% duty-cycle current consumption. Improved Wi-Fi-connected and MCU-idle-mode power consumption.
CPU and Memory
Xtensa single-core 32-bit LX7 microcontroller
Clock frequency of up to 240 MHz
320 kB SRAM, 128 kB ROM, 16 KB RTC memory
External SPIRAM (128 MB total) support
Up to 1 GB of external flash support
Separate instruction and data cache
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
1×1 transmit and receive
HT40 support with data rate up to 150 Mbps
Support for TCP/IP networking, ESP-MESH networking, TLS 1.0, 1.1 and 1.2 and other networking protocols over Wi-Fi
Support Time-of-Flight (TOF) measurements with normal Wi-Fi packets
43 programmable GPIOs
14 capacitive touch sensing IOs
Standard peripherals including SPI, I2C, I2S, UART, ADC/DAC and PWM
LCD (8-bit parallel RGB/8080/6800) interface and also support for 16/24-bit parallel
Camera interface supports 8 or 16-bit DVP image sensor, with clock frequency of up to 40 MHz
Full speed USB OTG support
RSA-3072-based trusted application boot
AES256-XTS-based flash encryption to protect sensitive data at rest
4096-bit eFUSE memory with 2048 bits available for application
Digital signature peripheral for secure storage of private keys and generation of RSA signatures
Engineering Samples of ESP32-S2 beta will be available in June 2020.
Lauterbach has announced that Hypervisor trace capability is now available for Arm Cortex-A and NXP QorIQ. Hypervisor tracing, which also means multicore tracing, requires high bandwidths from the off-chip tracing interface. The TRACE32 debug tool can now be used to trace all components in a Hypervisor based embedded system, as well as debug them.
A Hypervisor is a low-level piece of code, or operating system that allows multiple ‘guest’ operating systems to run on a single piece of physical hardware. Each guest operating system is partitioned and is unaware of the existence of the Hypervisor or the other guest operating systems which share the system with it. Hypervisors are increasingly used in embedded systems, for example in the cockpit of a car: applications that are under the control of an AUTOSAR real-time operating system run in parallel to the infotainment managed by a rich OS such as Linux. Program flow and data trace are very important items in the embedded engineer’s toolbox. They allow a developer to see the path that has been taken through the code and to step backwards from an error or exception to see the root cause. Tracing from multiple cores allows a developer to easily see the interaction between software executing on disparate processors and readily identify bottlenecks, logic bombs or other errors that may only show up at runtime. Trace filters at task or virtual machine level allow developers to reduce the amount of trace generation to show only areas of interest in the system.
Program flow trace can be timestamped, allowing a picture of how long or how frequently something is executed to be built up. From this data it is also possible to determine code coverage metrics to satisfy the demands of safety certification for embedded systems.
NXP Semiconductors has unveiled what it claims is world’s first MCU-based solution for adding offline face and expression recognition capabilities to smart home, commercial and industrial devices. Built on NXP’s latest crossover MCU, the i.MX RT106F, running FreeRTOS, the new MCU-based face recognition solution enables original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to quickly, easily and inexpensively incorporate face, expression and emotion recognition into a diverse range of IoT products.
The i.MX RT106F leverages NXP’s OASIS face processing engine and uses a neural network to perform face detection, recognition and anti-spoofing, without the need for cloud connectivity. OEMs can take advantage of NXP’s hardware and software-based platform to offer advanced human machine interface (HMI) capabilities that can anticipate and personalize the end user’s experience with smart edge devices such as smart appliances, thermostats, lighting, alarms and power tools.
The MCU-based face recognition solution bundles everything required to implement accurate, low latency face and expression recognition using an ultra-small form factor that fits into existing applications. The self-contained platform includes production ready pre-certified hardware and software tools, and NXP’s fully integrated OASIS face processing engine for face and expression recognition with camera and display drivers. In addition to creating the easiest path to adding these capabilities to MCU-based devices, the all-inclusive offering clears away any need for specialized expertise, supply chains or logistics.
NXP is now engaging with OEMs to provide early access to the evaluation and development kit for this solution, and broad market availability is expected to begin in Q1 2020. More information can be found at www.nxp.com/mcu-face-recognition
Texas Instruments (TI) has introduced the newest addition to the TI Robotics System Learning Kit (TI-RSLK) family, the TI-RSLK MAX, a low-cost robotics kit and curriculum that is simple to build, code and test. Designed for the university classroom, the solderless assembly allows students to have their own fully functioning embedded system built in under 15 minutes. Classrooms that may not have access to soldering equipment benefit from the solderless, hands-on kit and curriculum that can be reused year after year.
Designed for the university classroom, the TI-RSLK MAX is a low-cost robotics kit and curriculum that is simple to build, code and test.
TI launched the TI-RSLK series last year to help universities across the globe keep students engaged from their first day of class until graduation with hands-on, customizable options for learning embedded systems design. The TI-RSLK MAX completes all tasks and robotic challenges covered in the previous TI-RSLK Maze Edition kit, such as solving a maze, line following and avoiding obstacles. It also provides a user-friendly assembly of the various sub-systems, speeding up the building and testing of the robot.
The new kit includes TI’s SimpleLink MSP432P401R microcontroller (MCU) LaunchPad Development Kit, easy-to-connect sensors, and a versatile chassis board that turns the robot into a mobile learning platform. Through accompanying core and supplemental curriculum, students learn how to integrate their hardware and software knowledge to build and test a system. For advanced learning, wireless communication and Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities can be added to the TI-RSLK MAX to remotely control the robot or even establish robot-to robot communication.
The TI-RSLK MAX is available for purchase for US$109 from the TI Store and includes the SimpleLink MSP432P401R MCU LaunchPad Development Kit, as well as all additional components required for assembly. To expand kit functionality and learning paths, optional accessories are available for purchase. Further information about the TI-RSLK can found at www.ti.com/rslk
Renesas Electronics has announced the Renesas RX65N Cloud Kit featuring onboard Wi-Fi, environmental, light and inertial sensors and support for Amazon FreeRTOS connected to Amazon Web Services (AWS). The kit gives embedded designers a fast start and secure connection to AWS. Using Renesas’ e2 studio Integrated Development Environment (IDE), IoT applications are easily created by configuring Amazon FreeRTOS, all the necessary drivers, and the network stack and component libraries.
Based on the Renesas RX65N MCU, the RX65N Cloud Kit provides an evaluation and prototyping environment, enabling embedded designers to create secure end-to-end IoT cloud solutions for sensor-based endpoint equipment. Employing Renesas’ browser-based software, users can visualize their sensor data using a smart device cloud dashboard to monitor a wide range of applications including networked smart meters, building, office and industrial automation systems, as well as home appliances. Renesas’ 32-bit RX65N MCUs offer dual bank flash for secure and easy program updating via the network, as well as remote over-the-air (OTA) firmware updates. Having dual bank flash integrated on the RX65N MCUs enables both BGO (Back Ground Operation) and SWAP functions, making it easier for system and network control manufacturers to securely and reliably execute in-the-field firmware updates. The MCUs also include Trusted Secure IP (TSIP) as part of their built-in hardware security engine. The TSIP driver uses strong encryption key management with hardware accelerators—AES, 3DES, SHA, RSA and TRNG—as well as a protected boot code flash area to securely boot customers’ IoT devices.
Key Features of RX65N Cloud Kit:
RX65N R5F565NEDDFP 32-bit, 120 MHz MCU Target Board with 2 MB code flash memory and 640 KB SRAM
Pmod Module with Silex SX-ULPGN Wi-Fi communications
Cloud Option Board with two USB ports for serial communications and debugging, and three sensors for sampling and sending measurement data to the cloud:
Renesas ISL29035 digital light sensor for ambient/infrared light measurement
Bosch BMI160 MEMS sensor for 3-axis acceleration and gyroscopic measurement
Bosch BME680 MEMS sensor for gas, temperature, humidity, and pressure measurements
Renesas e2 studio IDE allows designers to develop IoT applications with powerful features:
Create the latest Amazon FreeRTOS project from GitHub directory and immediately build it
Set up Amazon FreeRTOS network stack (TCP/IP, Wi-Fi, MQTT) and component libraries, like Device Shadow, without requiring detailed knowledge
Embed additional functions (based on Amazon FreeRTOS) such as USB and file-system on the IoT endpoint device
The RX65N Cloud Kit is available now from Renesas Electronics’ worldwide distributors with a recommended resale price of $50.00 USD.
Coming to your inbox tomorrow: Circuit Cellar’s Microcontroller Watch newsletter. Tomorrow’s newsletter keeps you up-to-date on latest microcontroller news. In this section, we examine microcontrollers along with their associated tools and support products.
Bonus: We’ve added Drawings for Free Stuff to our weekly newsletters. Make sure you’ve subscribed to the newsletter so you can participate.
Already a Circuit Cellar Newsletter subscriber? Great!
You’ll get your Microcontroller Watch newsletter issue tomorrow.
Not a Circuit Cellar Newsletter subscriber?
Don’t be left out! Sign up now:
Our weekly Circuit Cellar Newsletter will switch its theme each week, so look for these in upcoming weeks:
IoT Technology Focus. (9/17) Covers what’s happening with Internet-of-Things (IoT) technology–-from devices to gateway networks to cloud architectures. This newsletter tackles news and trends about the products and technologies needed to build IoT implementations and devices.
Embedded Boards.(9/24) The focus here is on both standard and non-standard embedded computer boards that ease prototyping efforts and let you smoothly scale up to production volumes.
Analog & Power. (10/1) This newsletter content zeros in on the latest developments in analog and power technologies including DC-DC converters, AC-DC converters, power supplies, op amps, batteries and more.
VersaLogic’s new Android Eval Kit provides an easy way to evaluate Arm/Android performance for rapid design and application development. It includes everything needed to run the Android OS on a high-reliability embedded system, including a Arm-based embedded computer board, and a touch-screen display. No additional carrier cards, companion boards, or other add-ons are needed.
The Android Eval Kit is designed to save start-up time and allow the user to focus on their product development.
The Service Robotics Research Center of Ulm University of Applied Sciences is developing a modular software framework to make it easier to program robots. The goal is to provide software components that can be used universally, for instance to swap robotic gripping arms from different manufacturers as required to generate new robotics solutions via plug and play. The team at Ulm University relies on congatec to address the need for highly scalable and standardized embedded computing hardware.
Marketing Engineer, congatec
Prof. Dr. Christian Schlegel
Service Robotics Research Group’ Ulm University of Applied Sciences
Today’s modern robots are highly complex constructions with numerous subsystems. They use manipulators with various axis and drive units, at the ends of which specific tools, gripper systems or measuring instruments are installed. Additional sensor systems are needed for controlling the kinematics as well as for object and position recognition, for example in pick-and-place applications. With the advent of autonomous and collaborative robots—sharing the same workspace with humans—many more tasks and building blocks are added. Examples include localizing and navigating mobile robots in industrial settings and safe man-machine interaction. In Industry 4.0 environments, an M2M interface to the surrounding machines and systems is also required. The goal is mutual task coordination. All of these different robot types—from autonomous to cooperative to collaborative—require enormously powerful software components and high-performance embedded systems.
Collaborative robotics needs hardware and software components that can be modularly assembled to suit their task. There should be minimal to no programming effort—it should be enough for the modules to be parameterized. (Source: Zentilia | Dreamstime.com (ID 18864362)
High market demand for smart robots
Market demand for smart robots will grow rapidly in the coming years. For example, the market for autonomous robot systems is expected to grow at a CAGR of 23.7% until 2023, while the new market segment of collaborative robots is due to grow twice as much at an average 59% per annum. OEMs are under immense pressure to develop and to bring such new systems to market maturity as quickly as possible in order to participate in this high market growth. But the software development is a particularly great challenge for OEMs, system integrators and users: More subsystems have to be integrated into the already complex autonomous robotics solutions if they are to become collaborative and/or cooperative.
The Software Challenge
Today, the software for robots is frequently still implemented as a closed system— usually with individually tailored x86 or Arm hardware including ASICs or FPGAs. Often, the software is even individually tailored for each robot making reuse difficult. All tasks such as manipulator control, navigation, machine vision, task coordination and HMI are programmed as a unit. It is therefore currently nearly impossible to exchange software components even for the most frequently required functions or to use them on another hardware platform. This means that for every new design, the robotics software has to be re-implemented. This is both error-prone and time-consuming, and can significantly delay the rollout of much-needed innovative solutions—not to mention the hassle this causes operators who have to program each robot initially for its specific task.
Modular and Reusable
The development team of the Service Robotics Research Center of Ulm University of Applied Sciences under Professor Schlegel is now replacing this closed system approach, which perpetually creates new software projects for the system integrator and user, with a modular software approach that divides the complex overall robot system into several independent functional units, and then in a second step specifies the interaction between the individual units via fully and transparently defined interfaces. This concept, which is called SmartSoft, is now being expanded and widely marketed at the European level (EU H2020 project “RobMoSys – Composable Models and Software for Robotic Systems”) and national level (BMWi PAiCE project “SeRoNet – a platform for the joint development of service robot solutions”) in cooperation with partners from industry and research.
Essentially, this approach aims to make it possible to assemble robotic systems from fully developed and tested modular software building blocks. This allows software developers to focus on individual function modules without having to consider the internals of the other components. More importantly, it makes it possible to combine functions such as the cooperative or collaborative elements as well as the logic for specific manipulators and a lot more in a modular way – even across manufacturers. Ultimately, this also reduces the effort required for system integrators and end users to make customer-specific adaptations, and will significantly drive the widespread adoption of robotics.
So, let’s assume you have a manipulator from company A, combined with a chassis from manufacturer B, and a stereoscopic machine vision system from manufacturer C. The dedicated control software, for instance for use in intralogistics applications, is then easily assembled from the ready-made software components thanks to the high level of abstraction and requires only minor adjustments. This application is by no means a dream of the future, but already being tested in the real world. For example, the Ulm team has already implemented the service robotics duo Larry and Robotino, which, in a pharmaceutical intralogistics application for Transpharm Logistik GmbH, assembles drug packages from individual trays completely autonomously and takes them to a specified delivery point. In a slightly different configuration, the two robots have autonomously taken coffee orders and delivered them to the customer’s table. Thanks to the ready-made, freely combinable software components, the redesign took only a few hours. The video to see the two robots in action is posted here:
Containers with Clearly-Defined Interfaces
To enable virtually any assembly of elements, the team from the Service Robotics Research Center of Ulm University of Applied Sciences has developed a software model with individual service-oriented components and a model-driven open-source software toolchain for the Eclipse development environment. This environment provides component developers with tools that they can use to build their own code for each functional unit and then secure those algorithms by automatically generated component containers. These containers communicate with other containers based on uniform communication interfaces. In addition, the wrapping also protects the component developer’s IP. The team has already developed several such functional modules and makes them available for use in own projects. These include navigation modules, machine vision, HMI, manipulator control and task coordination, to name just a few examples. As a unifying communication interface, SmartSoft also relies on OPC UA. This allows manufacturers to focus on specific containers and build their core competencies here. Customers benefit from a much more flexible offer.
The SmartMDSD Toolchain allows component developers to develop software components for individual functional units that can be combined as required and reused in new robot designs. The underlying hardware should therefore be flexibly scalable.
Generic Embedded Hardware Instead of Proprietary Designs
For the logic hardware, the Ulm team uses x86 technology to decouple the software development as far as possible from any specific hardware. With the appropriate glue logic, such an approach is particularly easy to implement with x86 technology also as far as the later migration of such systems is concerned.
Embedded x86 hardware is also particularly apt in this context because of the high standardization and comprehensive documentation. The form factors are standardized not only as regards dimensions but also in terms of the application programming interface. This facilitates replacement of hardware – provided the boards comply with the eAPI specification of the PICMG or SGET’s UIC standard. Under those circumstances, it is even possible to vary freely between different form factors such as motherboards and Computer-on-Modules depending on the requirements of the application without having to significantly change the way of accessing the hardware during the migration. One supplier who attaches great importance to this standardization and its documentation as well as the simplest possible hardware integration is congatec, whose products the Service Robotics Research Center of Ulm University of Applied Sciences uses in its projects.
“Next to basic requirements such as maximum computing power, energy efficiency and reliability, we also attach great importance to high standardization and the capability to migrate universally,” explains Matthias Lutz from Ulm University of Applied Sciences. “Every additional abstraction level in the software requires additional computing performance, so we’re currently working with powerful dual-core technology. A standardized approach to board components and GPIOs to control the robotics modules also gives us the abstraction required for independence at the embedded computing level.”
The autonomous picking robot Larry with congatec conga-IC175 Mini-ITX carrier board: High computing power, little heat waste, small form factor and highest reliability are the key factors here.
The choice ultimately fell on the fully industrial Mini-ITX carrier board conga-IC175. That’s because the standardized Mini-ITX form factor offers many advantages for developing the prototypes of the innovative software components into real systems: It already integrates all interfaces on a standardized board, and congatec lets you realize the power supply via standard ATX power supplies, industrial 12 V feed-in, or SMART batteries, which is essential for mobile robots such as Robotino and Larry. Extensions can also be implemented quickly and efficiently via PCIe expansion cards. The board is highly energy efficient and uses robust embedded components, so it can be operated without expensive cooling.
Evolution of embedded computing hardware from congatec for smart robots: Depending on the design concept and lot sizes in the series, OEMs can choose either embedded Mini-ITX motherboards (1), standardized carrier boards (here Mini-ITX) with Computer-on-Modules (2), customized carrier boards with Computer-on-Modules (3), or full custom designs (4), which congatec can implement comparatively quickly and easily on the basis of module upgrades.
Future commercial robot designs from Ulm will be implemented on Computer-on-Modules. But regardless of whether it’s a Mini-ITX motherboard, module with standard Mini-ITX carrier, module and individual carrier, or full-custom design: It is the Total cost of Ownership (TCO) that ultimately matters to OEMs, and when using modular software this is also determined by the software support of the hardware. To make it even easier to integrate more functionalities in the future, comprehensive support for real-time hypervisor technology can bring added benefits. This will give customers the option to integrate additional functionalities, such as their own IoT gateway, without having to use a dedicated hardware platform, which saves hardware costs.
“We see clear benefits in such modular approaches as they mirror the modular approach of our software. In this respect, it is very interesting to see that with the acquisition of Real-Time Systems congatec now has virtually direct access to the hypervisor technology of these robotics and automation experts,” concludes Lutz.
Coupled with the Technical Solution Center (TSC), in which congatec consolidates all its OEM services, this results in a complete package for customers such as the Service Robotics Research Center of Ulm University of Applied Sciences or Transpharm Logistik GmbH.
Intralogistics Application at Transpharm Logistik GmbH Picking tasks are performed by a heterogeneous robot fleet in an intralogistics application at congatec’s industrial partner Transpharm Logistik GmbH. The autonomous picking robot Larry is equipped with a UR5 manipulator module and uses a Segway chassis. The transport robot Robotino has a conveyor belt instead of a manipulator to take the picking robot to any point. Orders are received directly from the warehouse management system via WLAN. The fleet management system selects two picking robots, which then execute the order. The application is based on results from the BMBF project “LogiRob – Multi-Robot Transport System in a Shared Human-Machine Workspace” and “ZAFH Intralogistics – Collaborative Systems to Increase Intralogistics Flexibility” (Baden-Württemberg and EU ERDF 2014-2020).
About the Authors
Zeljko Loncaric is Marketing Engineer, congatec. Prior to joining congatec mid-2010, he held various positions with international companies in product management, marketing and sales marketing in Germany and Australia. Zeljko holds an MBA in business management and a degree in Media Technology from the University of Deggendorf.
Prof. Dr. Christian Schlegel is in the ,Service Robotics Research Group’ Ulm University of Applied Sciences. Christian Schlegel (45) has been a professor at the Faculty of Computer Science at Ulm University of Applied Sciences since 2004. Schlegel, who received the Science Prize of the City of Ulm in 2010, is the coordinator of the “Service Robotics” joint project.
THIS ARTICLE IS SPONSORED CONTENT BROUGHT TO YOU BY:
congatec is a leading supplier of industrial computer modules using the standard form factors COM Express, Qseven and SMARC as well as single board computers and EDM services. www.congatec.com
This article appeared in the September 350 issue of Circuit Cellar Don’t miss out on upcoming issues of Circuit Cellar. Subscribe today!
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.