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Embedded PCs Gear Up for In-Vehicle Duties

Written by Jeff Child

Intelligent Transportation

Today’s transportation systems need many of the functions common to IoT edge devices, but must be designed for rugged, mobile operation. Embedded PC vendors have evolved their products to meet those needs.

Transportation systems—ranging from railway systems to trucking fleets—are relying on advanced embedded PC technology for both the control side and passenger entertainment side of systems. Transportation systems need sophisticated networking, data collection and real-time control, all while meeting safety standards.

To meet these demands, makers of embedded PCs continue to roll out box-level solutions that combine, wireless connectivity, advanced processing, rich I/O and often special features such as Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) or advanced security. Essentially, these transportation embedded PCs have evolved into mobile IoT systems. Over the last 12 months, a variety of these solutions have emerged, including several in this calendar year.

COMPLETE TELEMATICS SOLUTION
Exemplifying all those trends, in February, NEXCOM announced its VTC 7251-7C4 vehicle telematics computer. Based on the Intel Core processor family and incorporating state-of-the-art wireless communication hardware (PoE, WWAN, GNSS tracking), the cost-efficient computing solution provides a variety of connectivity and expansion ports to ensure that system integrators can link every one of their devices (Figure 1).

FIGURE 1 – The VTC 7251-7C4 is a vehicle telematics computer based on the Intel Core processor family and incorporating state-of-the-art wireless communication hardware (PoE, WWAN, GNSS tracking). The variety of connectivity and expansion ports ensures that system integrators can link every one of their devices.

With a flexible and durable design that’s MIL-STD-810G tested and e-Mark certified, the VTC 7251-7C4 is especially suitable for communication and surveillance uses in smart cities (public transportation, government facilities) and specialty vehicles (for law enforcement, video surveillance and so forth.)

According to NEXCOM, the unit is intended for intelligent transportation systems where speed and performance are necessities. The VTC 7251-7C4 utilizes an Intel Core 8th/9th Generation CPU, as opposed to industry-standard Atom processors, to guarantee that vehicles can quickly process information and relay to communication hubs for better management. The four onboard, independent PoE 802.3af/at ports are useful for powering surveillance cameras so that the system can monitor anytime, anyplace.

The VTC 7251-7C4 is designed with flexibility and versatility in mind, says NEXCOM. The unit comes with a rich array of mini-PCIe and M.2 B key expansion slots most suitable for installing three WWAN modules and pairs of SIM cards—with an optional fourth—to easily access LTE networks. NEXCOM especially recommends reserving the M.2 slot for WWAN modules that are designed with extra space and support 5G networks, which have rapidly increased in deployments, so that you can attain quicker transmission speeds.

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With extra bandwidth and network redundancy, users can transfer data worry-free, especially because surveillance cameras require greater volumes. Mass storage is similarly easy with two SATA SSD drives and two mSATA slots. Moreover, a variety of I/O ports, including USB and serial, assure that all of your equipment and devices can easily connect to this transportation computer.

Because it’s constructed with higher-quality aluminum instead of iron, the thermal dispatch system reliably maintains higher clock speeds at elevated operating temperatures, up to a maximum 60°C. It meets E-Mark and MIL-STD-810G standards, ensuring its environmental friendliness and functionality in suboptimal conditions.

FANLESS DESIGN
Because fans can be a risky single-point-of-failure, fanless embedded PCs are desired in many transportation systems. An example is the VBOX-3611-IP65, a wide-temperature, fanless box computer from Sintrones. The system is designed and manufactured to withstand dust, moisture and temperature changes (Figure 2). It’s based on the Intel Gen6 Core i7-6600U CPU with HD 520 GPU. With its IP65 certification, VBOX-3611-IP65 can effectively support vehicles—such as snow plows, complex excavators and stackers—in bad weather and extreme working conditions.

FIGURE 2 – The VBOX-3611-IP65 is a wide-temperature, fanless box computer that is manufactured to withstand dust, moisture and temperature change. The Intel Gen6 Core i7-6600U-based box can effectively support vehicles in bad weather and extreme working condition such as snow plow operations, complex excavator operations and stacker applications.

The system also has CE, FCC Class A and E-13 certifications. Operating temperature is -40ºC to 70ºC, storage temperature is -40ºC to 80ºC and relative humidity is 10% RH – 90% RH non-condensing. Other specifications including memory up to 32GB 2x DDR3 2133MHz SO-DIMM, optional Internal Battery Kit for 10-minute operation (Patent No. M447854 Build-in Battery), 9VDC to 48VDC power input with automatic recovery short circuit power protection.

Construction sites typically are full of dust and water splash, where raw material and waste transportation access are also frequent and difficult—especially in bad weather conditions. With its waterproof, dustproof and snow proof specs, the VBOX-3611-IP65 can be used to power and easily connect to vehicles for remote and real-time management.

Because of all these features, the VBOX-3611-IP65 is well-suited suited in extreme and harsh environments for the control of heavy-duty vehicles. Wireless support includes LTE, WLAN, GPS and optional Bluetooth. Smart Vehicle Power Ignition support enables the system to work with a variety of vehicles. I/O includes 4x DI / 4x DO with Relay 5V/100mA.

ROAD AGENT
Also offering a fanless solution, in December, Axiomtek announced the Agent336, its RISC-based fanless embedded box PC with E-Mark certification for in-vehicle applications. The in-vehicle box computer is powered by the NXP i.MX 8M processor with the Arm Cortex-A53 microarchitecture and has a 2GB onboard LPDDR4 memory (Figure 3). The compact IP40-rated Agent336 offers operational reliability, rugged design, flexibility and rich features for in-vehicle use, such as devices controller, fleet management, surveillance and gateways.

FIGURE 3 – The Agent336 fanless embedded box PC has E-Mark certification for in-vehicle applications. The in-vehicle box computer is powered by the NXP i.MX 8M processor with the Arm Cortex-A53 microarchitecture and has a 2GB onboard LPDDR4 memory.

The Agent336 provides high performance and offers reliable operation with intelligent power management for ACC on/off delay, shutdown delay and over/under voltage protection. It can withstand harsh operating environments with a wide operating temperature range of -40°C to +70°C and power input of 9VDC to 36VDC.

The embedded platform also features rich I/O interfaces with isolation protection. Its I/Os include 1x Gbit LAN port, 2x RS 232/422/485 ports, 2x USB 3.0 A-type ports, 1x isolated DIO, 1x HDMI port, 1x console port, 1x RTC battery, 1x reset button and 5x antenna openings. The RISC-based Agent336 has high integration ability with two full-size PCI Express Mini Card slots and one SIM card. For extensive storage needs, it has one onboard 8GB eMMC and one Micro SD card socket. The Agent336 runs on Linux (Yocto) and Android 8.1 operating systems.

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PoE SUPPORT
Power-over-Ethernet is a much sought-after feature for transportation systems. Being able to use the same wires for data communication and power helps consolidate cabling, saving space and weight. With that in mind, a number of today’s transportation embedded PCs offer PoE functionality. One example is AAEON’s VPC-3350S, the company’s latest mobile Network Video Recorder (NVR) system, introduced in October last year.

Featuring the Intel Apollo Lake processors, four PoE ports and a modular design, the VPC-3350S provides system developers with a system that is flexible, customizable and budget friendly. The VPC-3350S is powered by the Intel Atom x5 E3940 (formerly Apollo Lake) as standard. Users can opt for more powerful processors, including the Pentium N4200, Celeron N3350 and Atom x7 E3950.

The core feature of the VPC-3350S is its four PoE ports. The VPC-3350S not only offers up to 60W of power supply for connected devices, but also Gbit Ethernet speeds (Figure 4). Additionally, the VPC-3350S offers users expandability with up to four mPCIe card slots, allowing the system to scale to project needs. The VPC-3350S can even support our AI Core X module, bringing the processing power of the Intel Movidius Myriad X VPU. The VPC-3350S is also built tough, with a fanless design and operating temperature range from -20°C up to 70°C.

FIGURE 4 – The core feature of the VPC-3350S is its four PoE ports. The VPC-3350S not only offers up to 60W of power supply for connected devices, but also Gbit Ethernet speeds.

TWO CONFIGURATIONS
The modular VPC-3350S is available in two configurations: the compact Industrial VPC-3350S and the flexible In-Vehicle VPC-3350S (per project basis). The industrial VPC-3350S mobile NVR offers a compact form factor built for embedded applications. The Industrial VPC-3350S offers a rich complement of I/O features allowing it to easily integrate and deploy as a machine controller or in machine vision applications such as license plate recognition.

The In-Vehicle VPC-3350S offers the same features as the Industrial configuration, but with additional features that are easy to customize and configure. The In-Vehicle VPC-3350 brings important features such as built-in GPS and G-Sensor, CANbus, and wide operating voltage range of 9V to 36V. Most importantly, the In-Vehicle VPC-3350S features power ignition, allowing it to receive E-Mark certification, giving users peace of mind knowing the system won’t drain or damage vehicle batteries.

In addition to those two configurations, the modular design allows a broad range of customization options. Users can opt for different I/O configurations, built-in AI modules, or even voltage inputs up to 72V or 110V. The modular design also means faster turn around and quicker deployment for less cost, bringing a project to life sooner without the worry of going over budget.

MULTI-PURPOSE SOLUTION
There’s a lot of commonality between applications using rugged embedded PCs. As a result, sometimes a product designed for general use is appropriate for transportation applications. An example is the Karbon 700, announced by OnLogic last Summer. Designed for reliability in challenging environments, Karbon 700 can be used as a data logger, NVR or edge device in heavy industrial, in-vehicle or remote installations in the manufacturing, physical security and energy management industries.

To help ensure reliability in extreme conditions, Karbon 700 has been tested to MIL-STD-810G standards to resist damage from prolonged vibration and shock up to 50G (Figure 5). The system also meets automotive power immunity according to the requirements of E-Mark (UNECE Reg. 10), and EN50155 rolling stock standards, features an operating temperature range of -40° to 70°C, and includes a user-configurable intelligent automotive power management system with remote power monitoring capabilities.

FIGURE 5 – Karbon 700 has been tested to MIL-STD-810G standards to resist damage from prolonged vibration and shock up to 50G. The system also meets automotive power immunity according to the requirements of E-mark (UNECE Reg. 10) and EN50155 rolling stock standards.

The system’s voltage input has a range of 9VDC to 48VDC and a suite of power protections including transient voltage suppression, over, under, and reverse-voltage and over-current protection. All other I/O is ESD-rated to 15kV, making the system compatible with medical 60601-1 4th edition standards. Karbon 700’s onboard user-programmable Micro Control Unit provides additional functionality and power management flexibility.

Karbon 700 can be configured with a range of 9th generation Intel processors, including Core i7 or Xeon CPUs. Optional discrete GPU capabilities provide advanced graphics processing, while integrated CAN bus and customizable DIO give the system a range of interface and control capabilities. The system supports up to 6 PoE ports, while wireless connectivity is available via Wi-Fi/Bluetooth, CAT M1 or 4G LTE.

Additional expansion, VPU capabilities via Intel Movidius, or optional I/O can be added using OnLogic’s proprietary ModBay, which enables flexible expandability to meet specific application requirements. Two models of Karbon 700 are available. The standard model K700-SE, and the K700-X2, which adds dual PCIe slots and support for a range of dedicated graphics cards.

RAILWAY COMMUNICATIONS
Modern railway systems have very demanding wireless communications needs. Feeding such needs, in February, Advantech released its latest addition to the ITA series of wireless rackmount controllers for railway applications: the ITA-5231W. With multiple wireless connectivity modules for seamless, uninterrupted Wi-Fi, and LTE network connectivity, the ITA-5231 is well-suited for onboard infotainment systems and reliable train-to-ground data communication.

In order to provide an uninterrupted wireless connectivity network to passengers while enabling real-time data connection with train control centers, ITA-5231W supports multiple WWAN/WLAN modules that allow for simultaneous multi-device transmission while balancing each individual module’s transmission loading.

The system features, two mini-PCIe and four M.2 sockets for GPS/3G/LTE/Wi-Fi modules with 18 antenna ports (SMA, QMA, or N-Type). ITA-5231W supports up to 10 SIM slots (5 dual SIM slots) to ensure an effective network service redundancy solution for reliable data communication for long distance train travel.

Dual SIM card slots play a critical role in facilitating roaming between different telecom operators. When a carrier signal is unstable or disconnects, ITA-5231W can roam in search of a different carrier to ensure fluent data transmission. When trains enter a station, Wi-Fi transmits relevant data to the control center in order to reduce transmission costs. During operation, cellular transmission is performed via TCMS data to allow for remote monitoring.

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Adhering to the strictest possible safety standards, ITA-5231W meets the EN 50155 and IEC 61373 standard for rolling stock applications. It is capable of operating under an extreme temperature range of -40°C to 70°C (class TX), and provides four optional power input (24/48/72/110 VDC) for different train needs. To enhance the train passenger experience, ITA-5231W’s seamless network connectivity delivers a range of multimedia infotainment content that maximizes passenger experience.

Multiple wireless connectivity modules ensure an uninterrupted Wi-Fi and/or LTE connection, giving railway passengers the luxury of movies, music and e-books during train travel. ITA-5231W features an easy-swap 2.5″ SSD module for operational data storage and onboard infotainment content storage. Locker design ensures data security by only allowing specified personnel to access data.

SAFETY FIRST
Safety is key design criteria in any transportation system, particularly railway applications. Feeding such needs, in September last year, Kontron and SYSGO teamed up to release the SAFe-VX for safety-critical railway solutions. The platform was the first result of the joint technology development from Kontron and SYSGO and is based on Kontron’s COTS hardware and SYSGO’s real-time operating system PikeOS. It allows users to quickly switch to a SIL-certified system to meet the IEC 61508 standards for electronic systems (Figure 6).

FIGURE 6 – Designed for safety-critical railway systems, SAFe-VX allows users to quickly switch to a SIL-certified system to meet the IEC 61508 standards for electronic systems.

PikeOS is currently the only real-time operating system with a certifiable kernel according to Common Criteria EAL 3+, supporting tasks segregation, and implementing functional safety and IT security in one system. With its flexible and modular VPX-based architecture, the Safety Computing platform enables faster time-to-market and a major shrink of the total cost of ownership.

The SAFe-VX systems in a compact half 19″ 4U format is particularly suitable for controlling safety-critical applications in rail transport, whether in rolling stocks or in station/wayside, as it can be used in large temperature ranges and harsh environments, compliant with EMC/EMI standards. It is also shock and vibration resistant. Thanks to its modularity, SAFe-VX is easy to customize and can be easily adapted to requested I/O subsets in multiple use cases.

SYSGO’s real-time operating system, PikeOS serves as a hypervisor and ensures functional and software security through its strict partitioning. The versatility and clear separation of software tasks allow the concurrent operation of critical and non-critical partitions in one system when needed. Train operators can perform multiple applications, such as data analytics and artificial intelligence for autonomous driving, on a single platform. The connection to existing communication systems in trains takes place via Ethernet or fieldbus.

In addition, SAFe-VX development platform comes with safety documentation packages, local technical software support and long-term product support of up to 30 years adjusted to the project needs. This makes the platform suitable for the control of all safety-relevant functions for smart railway systems, both for new trains and for the modernization of existing train fleets.

ENCLOSED SBC APPROACH
It’s no surprise that many of the most successful rugged embedded PC products have emerged from companies with long expertise in rugged SBC design. Such products are well suited for transportation applications. Along just those lines, in February, WINSYSTEMS announced its latest enclosed SBC for extreme operating temperatures and environments.

The SYS-427 is a complete system in a rugged aluminum enclosure that measures a mere 6.5″ × 4.5″ and only 1.38″ in height (165mm x 115mm x 35mm) (Figure 7). Packed within those chassis’ confines are WINSYSTEMS’ SBC35-427 SBC, dual Gbit Ethernet controllers, two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports and dual DisplayPort outputs. Mini-Card and M.2 connectors provide additional expansion options.

FIGURE 7 – The SYS-427 is a complete system in a compact, rugged aluminum enclosure. Packed within those chassis’ confines are WINSYSTEMS’ SBC35-427 single board computer, dual Gbit Ethernet controllers, two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports and dual DisplayPort outputs.

The system has ample performance for Windows 10 IoT and Linux operating systems. The SYS-427 embedded computing platform has 15-year product life cycle support and is well-suited for digital signage, industrial IoT, energy management and transportation applications. Despite its low-profile form factor, designers can count on it to reliably operate at temperatures of -40°C to +85°C. The SYS-427 is designed and tested to operate without throttling performance or needing an external heatsink or fans.

The rugged new SYS-427 SBC easily withstands the shock and vibration demands of industrial environments while also accommodating DC power inputs ranging from 10VDC to 50VDC. Further, the Trusted Platform Modules (TPM) 2.0 device is soldered onboard to authenticate root of trust and enable security. 

RESOURCES
AAEON | www.aaeon.com
Advantech | www.advantech.com
Axiomtek | us.axiomtek.com
Kontron | www.kontron.com
OnLogic | www.onlogic.com
Sintrones | www.sintrones.com
SYSGO | www.sysgo.com
WINSYSTEMS | www.winsystems.com

PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • APRIL 2020 #357 – Get a PDF of the issue


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Editor-in-Chief at Circuit Cellar | Website | + posts

Jeff Child has more than 28 years of experience in the technology magazine business—including editing and writing technical content, and engaging in all aspects of magazine leadership and production. He joined the Circuit Cellar after serving as Editor-in-Chief of COTS Journal for over 10 years. Over his career Jeff held senior editorial positions at several of leading electronic engineering publications, including EE Times and Electronic Design and RTC Magazine. Before entering the world of technology journalism, Jeff worked as a design engineer in the data acquisition market.