September Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The September issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is out next week! This 84-page publication stitches together a fine tapestry of fascinating embedded electronics articles crafted for your reading pleasure.

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Here’s a sneak preview of September 2019 Circuit Cellar:

TECHNOLOGY FOR SECURITY, SENSORS & THE IoT

Security Solutions for IoT
By Jeff Child
In this IoT era of connected devices, microcontrollers have begun taking on new roles and gaining new capabilities revolving around embedded security. MCUs are embedding ever-more sophisticated security features into their devices-both on their own and via partnerships with security specialists. Here, Circuit Cellar’s Editor-in-Chief, Jeff Child, looks at the latest technology and trends in MCU security.

Electromagnetic Fault Injection: A Closer Look
By Colin O’Flynn
Electromagnetic Fault Injection (EMFI) is a powerful method of inserting faults into embedded devices, but what does this give us? In this article, Colin dives into a little more detail of what sort of effects EMFI has on real devices, and expands upon a few previous articles to demonstrate some attacks on new devices.
 
Product Focus: IoT Gateways
By Jeff Child
IoT gateways are a smart choice to facilitate bidirectional communication between IoT field devices and the cloud. Gateways also provide local processing and storage capabilities for offline services as well as near real-time management and control of edge devices. This Product Focus section updates readers on these technology trends and provides a product gallery of representative IoT gateways.
 
Comparing Color Sensor ICs
By Kevin Jensen
Driven by demands from mobile phone, display and specialty lighting equipment manufacturers, the need for sophisticated and accurate chip-scale color and spectral sensors has become stronger than ever. In this article, ams’ Kevin Jensen describes the types of optical sensors and detectors. He also provides ideas on evaluating the suitability of each type for specific applications.

PC-BASED SOLUTIONS FOR EMBEDDED SYSTEMS
 
Mini-ITX, Pico-ITX and Nano-ITX Boards
By Jeff Child
Products based on the various small-sized versions of the ITX form factor—Mini-ITX, Pico-ITX and Nano—ITX-provide system developers with complete PC-functionality and advanced graphics. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child explores the latest technology trends and product developments in these three ITX architectures.
 
Using Small PCs in New Ways
By Wolfgang Matthes
Even simple MCU-based projects often require some sort of front panel interface. Traditionally such systems had to rely on LEDs and switches for such simple interfaces. These days however, you can buy small, inexpensive computing devices such as mini-PCs and notebook computers and adapt them to fill those interfacing roles. In this article, Wolfgang steps you through the options and issues involved in connecting such PC-based devices to an MCU-based environment.



FOCUS ON MICROCONTROLLERS
 
Guitar Game Uses PIC32 MCU
By Brian Dempsey, Katarina Martucci and Liam Patterson
Guitar Hero has been an extremely popular game for decades. Many college kids today who played it when they were kids still enjoy playing it today. These three Cornell students are just such fans. Learn how they used Microchip’s microcontroller and 12-bit DAC to craft their own version that lets them play any song they wish by using MIDI files.
 
Offloading Intelligence
By Jeff Bachiochi
While some embedded systems do just fine with a single microcontroller, there are situations when offloading some processing into a second processing unit, such as a second MCU, offers a lot of advantages. In this article, Jeff explores this question in the context of a robotic system project that uses Arduino and an external motor driver.
 
Building a Portable Game Console
By Juan Joel Albrecht and Leandro Dorta Duque
32-bit MCUs can do so much these days—even providing all the needed control functionality for a gaming console. Along just those lines, learn how these three Cornell students built a portable game console that combines a Microchip PIC32 MCU embedded in a custom-designed 3D-printed case, printed circuit board and in-house gameplay graphics. The device includes a 320 x 240 TFT color display.
 


… AND MORE FROM OUR EXPERT COLUMNISTS
 
Variable Frequency Drive Part 2
By Brian Millier
In Part 1 Brian started to describe the process he used to convert a 3-phase motor and OEM Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) controller—salvaged from his defunct clothes washer—into a variable speed drive for his bandsaw. In this article, he completes the discussion this tim,e covering the Cypress Semi PSoC5LP SoC he used, the software design and more.
 
Semiconductor Fundamentals Part 1
By George Novacek
Embedded systems—or even modern electronics in general—couldn’t exist without semiconductor technology. In this new article series, George delves into the fundamentals of semiconductors. In Part 1 George examines the math, chemistry and materials science that are fundamental to semiconductors with a look at the basic structures that make them work.
 

 

August Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The August issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is out next week! This 84-page publication rustles up a powerful herd of compelling embedded electronics articles prepared for your reading pleasure.

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Here’s a sneak preview of August 2019 Circuit Cellar:

MCU AND EMBEDDED SYSTEM TECHNOLOGIES

MCUs for Driverless Cars
By Jeff Child
Driverless cars are steadily advancing toward becoming a mainstream phenomenon. Building toward that goal, chip vendors are evolving their driver assistance technologies into complete driver replacement solutions. These solutions make use of powerful microcontroller solutions to analyze a car’s surroundings, process the information and employ control functionality to steer cars safely. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child examines the MCU technology and product trends that are key to driverless vehicle evolution.

Product Focus: Small and Tiny Embedded Boards
By Jeff Child
An amazing amount of computing functionality can be squeezed on to a small form factor board these days. These small—and even tiny—board-level products meet the needs of applications where extremely low SWaP (size, weight and power) beats all other demands. This Product Focus section updates readers on this technology trend and provides a product album of representative small and tiny embedded boards.

Portable Digital Synthesizer
By T.J. Hurd and Ben Roberge
Gone are the days when even a basic music synthesizer was a bulky system requiring highly specialized design knowledge. These two Cornell students developed a portable musical synthesizer using a Microchip PIC32 MCU. The portable system performs digital audio synthesis on the fly and produces sounds that range from simple sine waves to heavily modulated waveforms.

Displays for Embedded Systems
By Jeff Child
Thanks to advances in displays and innovations in graphics ICs, embedded systems can now routinely feature sophisticated graphical user interfaces. What used to require a dedicated board-level graphics/video board, now can be integrated into a chip or just a part of a chip. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child dives into the latest technology trends and product developments in displays for embedded systems.

Building a Twitter Emote Robot
By Ian Kranz, Nikhil Dhawan and Sofya Calvin
Social media is so pervasive these days that it’s hard to image life without it. But digital interactions can be isolating because the physical feedback component gets lost. Using PIC32 MCU technology, these three Cornell students built an emotionally expressive robot which physically reacts to tweets in a live setting. Users can tweet to the robot’s Twitter account and receive near instant feedback as the robot shares its feelings about the tweet via physical means such as sounds, facial expressions and more.

Understanding the Role of Inference Engines in AI
By Geoff Tate, Flex Logix
Artificial Intelligence offers huge benefits for embedded systems. But implementing AI well requires making smart technology choices, especially when it comes to selected a neural inferencing engine. In this article, Flex Logix CEO Geoff Tate explains what inferencing is, how it plays into AI and how embedded system designers can make sure they are using the right solution for their AI processing.


FUN WITH LIGHT AND HEAT

Watt’s Up with LEDs?
By Jeff Bachiochi
When Jeff puts his mind to a technology topic, he goes in deep. In this article, he explores all aspects of LED lighting—including the history, math, science and technology of LEDs. He discusses everything from temperature issues to powering LEDs. After purchasing some LEDs, Jeff embarks on a series of tests and shares his results and insights.

Automating the Art of Toast
By Michael Xiao and Katie Bradford
The emergence of culinary robotics and automation has already begun to revolutionize the way we prepare our meals. In this article, learn how these two Cornell undergraduates designed an advanced toaster that’s able to toast any pattern—image, text or even today’s weather—onto a piece of bread. The project makes use of Microchip’s MIC32 MCU and a Raspberry Pi Zero W board.

Build an RGB LED Controller
By Dirceu R. Rodrigues Jr.
There are a lot of fun and interesting things you can do with LEDs and different ways to control them. In this article, Dirceu describes an alternative approach to control RGB LEDs using the parallel FET dimming technique. He steps through his efforts to design and build an alternative lightning system based on power RGB LEDs. To control them he goes very old school and uses an 8-bit MCU and the BASIC programming language.


… AND MORE FROM OUR EXPERT COLUMNISTS

Energy Monitoring Part 3
By George Novacek
This is the final installment of George’s energy monitoring article series. He discussed the solar power supply in Part 1 and the utility power data acquisition in Part 2. In Part 3, he wraps up the series by looking at the remaining modules that comprise his home energy monitoring setup, including the sensors, the natural gas monitor and the real-time clock.

The Fundamentals of Fuseology
By Robert Lacoste
Just because an electronic device is simple you shouldn’t relegate it to an afterthought in your embedded system design. Such is the case with fuses. Robert explores the fundamentals of this seemingly simple device. In this article, he dives into the history, key specifications and technology of fuses. He also steps you through an experiment to analyze the performance of fuses and shares his results.

Bluetooth Mesh (Part 4)
By Bob Japenga
In this next part of his article series on Bluetooth mesh, Bob looks at how models are defined in the Bluetooth Mesh specification and how practical it is to use them. He looks at the models defined by the Bluetooth SIG and discusses creating your own models for Bluetooth Mesh.

 

 

 

MCU Family Adds EtherCAT, Ethernet and CAN FD Capabilities

Texas Instruments (TI) has introduced new communications capabilities on its C2000 MCUs. C2000 F2838x 32-bit MCUs enable designers to use a single chip to implement connectivity, including EtherCAT, Ethernet and Controller Area Network with Flexible Data Rate (CAN FD), in AC servo drives and other industrial systems.

Systems with communication interfaces often require an external application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) or dedicated host control microprocessor, which limits the flexibility of the design architecture, adds complexity and takes up space on the board. The new C2000 F2838x MCUs do not require an external ASIC, therefore reducing overall solution size and bill of materials.

By integrating three industrial communication protocols, the F2838x MCUs give designers the ability to tailor one MCU to the unique needs of each system. A key component in achieving this is a new connectivity manager, an Arm Cortex-M4-based subsystem, which offloads processing-intensive communications and optimizes connectivity. In addition to these capabilities, C2000 F2838x MCUs offer enhanced real-time control performance and higher flexibility than previous C2000 series MCUs.

For electrically isolated architectures, the new MCUs use a fast serial interface with eight receiving channels to facilitate chip-to-chip communication at up to 200 Mbps using minimal pins. Designers can build on this high level of integration in CAN FD designs and quickly increase the number of available CAN FD ports by pairing the F2838x with a TI system basis chip (SBC), such as the TCAN4550 SBC with integrated CAN FD controller and transceiver.

With a 64-bit floating-point unit and fast integer division hardware, the C28x central processing unit-based control allows for differentiated capability and high-precision designs. For servo drive applications, the fast current-loop technology processes field-oriented control in less than 500 ns to enable more precise position control.

The C2000 F2838x series also integrates a single-ended 16-bit analog-to-digital converter, which doubles the number of available channels compared to previous C2000 MCUs to minimize external components, minimize system latency and maximize control-loop accuracy. An expanded configurable logic block enables designers to customize peripherals and removes or reduces the need for a field-programmable gate array.

Pre-production samples of the C2000 TMS320F28388D are now available through the TI store in a 337 ball-grid-array package. Pricing starts at US$14.00 in 1,000-unit quantities. Developers can get started with the C2000 TMDSCNCD28388D development kit, available through the TI store for $249.

Texas Instruments | www.ti.com

 

EOG-Controlled Video Game

Eyes as Interface

There’s much be to learned about how electronics can interact with biological signals—not only to record, but also to see how they can be used as inputs for control applications. With ongoing research in fields such as virtual reality and prosthetics, new systems are being developed to interpret different types of signals for practical applications. Learn how these three Cornell graduates use electrooculography (EOG) to control a simple video game by measuring eye movements.

By Eric Cole, Evan Mok and Alex Huang

The human eye naturally acts as a dipole, in which the retina at the back of the eye is negatively charged, and the cornea at the front of the eye is positively charged. EOG is a recording technique that measures this potential difference, and can be used to

Figure 1
Electrode placement for recording. An Ag-AgCl (silver-silver chloride) electrode was placed at each of the labeled points. Points A and B record the EOG signal for the right and left eyes, and point C provides a ground reference.

quantify eye movement [1]. A typical electrode placement pattern for EOG is shown in Figure 1. Each of the electrodes A and B records a voltage related to eye movement, and an electrode at point C serves as a ground reference.

When a user looks left, the cornea is close to electrode B and it records a positive voltage, while the retina is closer to electrode A, yielding a negative voltage. Similarly, looking right produces a negative voltage at B and a positive voltage at A. The difference between VB and VA relative to ground at C changes monotonically with gaze direction, and can be reliably used to model horizontal eye movement.

System Overview

The system we designed uses eye movements to play a video game on a display screen. Electrodes are placed on a player’s head to record only the horizontal EOG signal as shown in Figure 2. This signal is then filtered and amplified via an analog circuit and sent to an ADC on a Microchip Technology PIC32 microcontroller (MCU) (Figure 3). The PIC32 MCU stores the reading as a digital value and uses it to control a cursor on an LCD display screen. A program on the PIC32 continually displays obstacles that move across the screen, and the player moves his or her eyes to control the cursor and avoid obstacles.

Figure 2
Characterization of EOG signal. An example signal output is shown for a gain of approximately 885.

Figure 3
System overview. “Eye recording” is accomplished with the raw electrode signal.

This system is entirely powered without connection to an AC power source, instead using a 9 V battery to provide power for amplification and a chargeable power source to power the PIC32. This choice of a power source was important, because it enforces necessary safety considerations for biomedical recording. Connecting a high voltage source to a human user and accidentally completing a circuit path to AC ground could result in serious injury, so great care was taken to use battery power for this project.

A secondary oscilloscope program was also necessarily designed to satisfy a key safety need: The ability to view the recorded EOG signal and test the recording hardware while the circuit is isolated. A normal oscilloscope cannot be used for this purpose for the reasons stated earlier. Care was also taken to apply and fasten the electrodes properly before every session.

Recording and Application

Three Ag-AgCl (silver-silver chloride) electrodes are placed around the eyes using a skin-safe adhesive gel—one beside each eye, and one on the forehead as a ground reference—at points A, B, and C respectively, in Figure 1. These electrodes provide the gateway between the biological signal and the digital world, detecting the voltage generated by ions at the skin surface and transducing it into an equivalent electron-based signal.

This voltage is generated directly at the eye, and has some attenuation through the skin surface. A typical magnitude of the raw EOG signal is several millivolts. The voltage readings from the two eye electrodes are sent to a Texas Instruments (TI) INA121 differential amplifier, which amplifies the difference between the two input signals. This yields a negative or positive voltage based on direction of eye movement. The INA121 provides low noise, a high common-mode rejection ratio, and is suitable for the high-input impedance requirement associated with recording biological signals. Figure 4 shows the full schematic of the implementation.

A second amplification stage using a TI LM358-based balanced subtractor configuration provides further amplification. This stage reduces the DC voltage component output from the differential amplifier, while further amplifying the difference to a range of 0 to 3.3 V—the scale allowed by the PIC32 MCU’s on-chip ADC. The resulting signal is a voltage centered at approximately 1.6 V when the user looks straight, with about a 1 V increase or decrease when the user looks left or right, respectively. …

Read the full article in the July 348 issue of Circuit Cellar
(Full article word count: 3023 words; Figure count: 6 Figures.)

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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.

July Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The July issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is out next week! This 84-page publication will make a satisfying thud sound when it lands on your desk and it’s crammed full of excellent embedded electronics articles prepared for you.

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Here’s a sneak preview of July 2019 Circuit Cellar:

CONNECTED SYSTEMS IN ACTION

Embedded Computing
in Railway Systems
Railway systems keep getting more advanced. On both the control side and passenger entertainment side, embedded computers and power supplies play critical roles. Railway systems need sophisticated networking, data collection and real-time control, all while meeting safety standards. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child looks at the latest technology trends and products relevant to railway applications.

Product Focus:
IoT Interface Modules
The fast growing IoT phenomenon is driving demand for highly integrated modules designed for the IoT edge. Feeding those needs, a new crop of IoT modules have emerged that offer pre-certified solutions that are ready to use. This Product Focus section updates readers on this technology trend and provides a product album of representative IoT modules.

TECHNOLOGIES AND TECHNIQUES FOR ENGINEERS

FPGA Signal Processing
Offering the dual benefits of powerful signal processing and system-level integration, FPGAs have become a key technology for embedded system developers. Makers of chip and board-level FPGA products are providing complete solutions to enable developers to meet their application needs. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child explores the latest technology trends and product developments in FPGA signal processing.

Macros for AVR Assembler Programming
The AVR microcontroller instruction set provides a simplicity that makes it good for learning the root principles of machine programming. There’s also a rich set of macros available for the AVR that ease assembler-level programming. In this article, Wolfgang Matthes steps you through these principles, with the goal of helping programmers “think low-level, write high-level” when they approach embedded systems software development.

Inrush Current Limiters in Action
At the moment a high-power system is switched on, high loads can result in serious damage—even when the extra load is only for short time. Inrush current limiters (ICLs) can help prevent these issues. In this article, TDK Electronics’ Matt Reynolds examines ICLs based on NTC and PTC thermistors, discussing the underlying technology and the device options.

A Look at Cores with TrustZone-M
It’s not so easy to keep up with all the new security features on the latest and greatest embedded processors—especially while you’re busy focusing on the more fundamental and unique aspects of your design. In this article, Colin O’Flynn helps out by examining the new processor cores using TrustZone-M, a feature that helps you secure even low-cost and lower power system designs.

PROJECTS THAT REUSE & RECYCLE

Energy Monitoring Part 2
In Part 1 of this article series, George Novacek began describing an MCU-based system he built to monitor his household energy. Here, he continues that discussion, this time focusing on the electrical power tracking module. As the story shows, he stuck to a design challenge of building the system with as many components he already had in his component bins.

Variable Frequency Drive Part 1
Modern appliances claim to be more efficient, but they’re certainly not designed to last as long as older models. In this project article, Brian Millier describes how he reused subsystems from a defunct modern washing machine to power his bandsaw. The effort provides valuable insights on how to make use of the complete 3-phase Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) borrowed from the washing machine.

FUN PROJECT ARTICLES WITH ALL THE DETAILS

Windless Wind Chimes (Part 2)
In part 1 of this article series, Jeff Bachiochi built a system to simulate breezes randomly playing the sounds of suspended wind chimes. In part 2 the effort evolves into a less random, more orchestrated project. Jeff decided this time to craft a string of chromatically tuned chimes, similar to what an orchestra might use so the project could be used to play music. The project relies on MIDI, an industry standard music technology protocol designed to create and share music and artistic works.

Building a Smart Frying Pan
There’s almost no limit to what an MCU can be used for—-including objects that previously had no electronics at all. In this article, learn how Cornell University graduate Joseph Dwyer build a Microchip PIC32 MCU-based system that wirelessly measures and controls the temperature of a pan on a stove. The system improves both the safety and reliability of cooking on the stove, and has potentially interesting commercial applications.

EOG-Controlled Video Game
There’s much be to learned about how electronics can interact with biological signals—not only to record, but also to see how they can be used as inputs for control applications. With ongoing research in fields such as virtual reality and prosthetics, new systems are being developed to interpret different types of signals for practical applications. Learn how Cornell graduates  Eric Cole, Evan Mok and Alex Huang use electrooculography (EOG) to control a simple video game by measuring eye movement.

Infineon Technologies to Acquire Cypress Semiconductor

Infineon Technologies and Cypress Semiconductor have announced that the companies have signed a definitive agreement under which Infineon will acquire Cypress for US $23.85 per share in cash, corresponding to an enterprise value of €9.0 billion.

With the addition of Cypress, Infineon expects to strengthen its focus on structural growth drivers and serve a broader range of applications. This will accelerate the company’s path of profitable growth of recent years. Cypress has a differentiated portfolio of microcontrollers as well as software and connectivity components that are highly complementary to Infineon’s leading power semiconductors, sensors and security solutions.

According to their joint press release, combining these technology assets will enable comprehensive advanced solutions for high-growth applications such as electric drives, battery-powered devices and power supplies. The combination of Infineon’s security expertise and Cypress’s connectivity know-how will accelerate entry into new IoT applications in the industrial and consumer segments. In automotive semiconductors, the expanded portfolio of microcontrollers and NOR flash memories will offer great potential, especially in light of their growing importance for advanced driver assistance systems and new electronic architectures in vehicles.

Under the terms of the agreement, Infineon will offer US$23.85 in cash for all outstanding shares of Cypress. This corresponds to a fully diluted enterprise value for Cypress of €9.0 billion. The offer price represents a 46 percent premium to Cypress’s unaffected 30-day volume-weighted average price during the period from 15 April to 28 May 2019, the last trading day prior to media reports regarding a potential sale of Cypress.

Cypress expects to continue its quarterly cash dividend payments until the transaction closes. This includes Cypress’s previously announced quarterly cash dividend of US$0.11 per share, payable on July 18, 2019 to holders of record of Cypress’s common stock at the close of business on June 27, 2019.

The funding of the acquisition is fully underwritten by a consortium of banks. Infineon is committed to retaining a solid investment grade rating and, consequently, Infineon intends to ultimately finance approximately 30 percent of the total transaction value with equity and the remainder with debt as well as cash on hand. The financial policy to preserve a strategic cash reserve remains in place.

The acquisition is subject to approval by Cypress’s shareholders and the relevant regulatory bodies as well as other customary conditions. The closing is expected by the end of calendar year 2019 or early 2020.

Cypress Semiconductor | www.cypress.com
Infineon Technologies | www.infineon.com

June Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The June issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is out next week!. We’ve been tending our technology crops to bring you a rich harvest of in-depth embedded electronics articles. We’ll have this 84-page magazine brought to your table very soon..

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Here’s a sneak preview of June 2019 Circuit Cellar:

TOOLS AND CONCEPTS FOR ENGINEERS

Integrated PCB Design Tools
After decades of evolving their PCB design tool software packages, the leading tool vendors have the basics of PCB design nailed down. In recent years, these companies have continued to come up with new enhancements to their tool suites, addressing a myriad of issues related to not just the PCB design itself, but the whole process surrounding it. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child looks at the latest integrated PCB design tool solutions.

dB for Dummies: Decibels Demystified
Understanding decibels—or dB for short—may seem intimidating. Frequent readers of this column know that Robert uses dB terms quite often—particularly when talking about wireless systems or filters. In this article, Robert Lacoste discusses the math underlying decibels using basic concepts. The article also covers how they are used to express values in electronics and even includes a quiz to help you hone your decibel expertise.

Understanding PID
As a means for implementing feedback control systems, PID is an important concept in electronics engineering. In this article, Stuart Ball explains how PID can be applied and explains the concept by focusing on a simple circuit design.

DESIGNING CONNECTED SYSTEMS

Sensor Connectivity Trends
While sensors have always played a key role in embedded systems, the exploding Internet of Things (IoT) phenomenon has pushed sensor technology to the forefront. Any IoT implementation depends on an array of sensors that relay input back to the cloud. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child dives into the latest technology trends and product developments in sensors with an emphasis on their connectivity aspects.

Bluetooth Mesh (Part 3)
In this next part of his article series on Bluetooth mesh, Bob Japenga looks at how to create secure provisioning for a Bluetooth Mesh network without requiring user intervention. He takes a special look at an attack which Bluetooth’s asymmetric key encryption is vulnerable to called Man-in-the-Middle.

PONDERING POWER AND ENERGY

Product Focus: AC-DC Converters
To their peril, embedded system developers often treat their choice of power supply as an afterthought. But choosing the right AC-DC converter is critical to the ensuring your system delivers power efficiently to all parts of your system. This Product Focus section updates readers on these trends and provides a product album of representative AC-DC converter products.

Energy Monitoring (Part 1)
The efficient use of energy is a topic moving ever more front and center these days as climate change and energy costs begin to affect our daily lives. Curious to discover how efficient his own energy consumption was, George Novacek built an MCU-based system to monitor his household energy. And, in order to make sure this new device wasn’t adding more energy use, he chose to make the energy monitoring system solar-powered.

Building a PoE Power Subsystem
Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) allows a single cable to provide both data interconnection and power to devices. In this article, Maxim Integrated’s  and Maxim Integrated’s Thong Huynh and Suhei Dhanani explore the key issues involved in implementing rugged PoE systems. Topics covered include standards compliance, interface controller selection, DC-DC converter choices and more.

Taming Your Wind Turbine
While you can buy off-the-shelf wind power generators these days, they tend to get bad reviews from users. The problem is that harnessing wind energy takes some “taming” of the downstream electronics. In this article, Alexander Pozhitkov discusses his characterization project for a small wind turbine. This provides a guide for designing your own wind energy harvesting system.

MORE PROJECT ARTICLES WITH ALL THE DETAILS

Windless Wind Chimes (Part 1)
Wind chimes make a pleasant sound during the warm months when windows are open. But wouldn’t it be nice to simulate those sounds during the winter months when your windows are shut? In part 1 of this project article, Jeff Bachiochi builds a device that simulates a breeze randomly playing suspended wind chimes. Limited to the standard 5-note pentatonic chimes, this device is based on a Microchip PIC18 low power microcontroller.

GPS Guides Robotic Car
In this project article, Raul Alvarez-Torrico builds a robotic car that navigates to a series of GPS waypoints. Using the Arduino UNO for a controller, the design is aimed at robotics beginners that want to step things up a notch. In the article, Raul discusses the math, programing and electronics hardware choices that went into this project design.

Haptic Feedback Electronic Travel Aid
Time-of-flight sensors have become small and affordable in the last couple years. In this article, learn how Cornell graduates Aaheli Chattopadhyay, Naomi Hess and Jun Ko detail creating a travel aid for the visually impaired with a few time-of-flight sensors, coin vibration motors, an Arduino Pro Mini, a Microchip PIC32 MCU, a flashlight and a sock.

May Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The May issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is out next week!. We’ve been hard at work laying the foundation and nailing the beams together with a sturdy selection of  embedded electronics articles just for you. We’ll soon be inviting you inside this 84-page magazine.

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Here’s a sneak preview of May 2019 Circuit Cellar:

EMBEDDED COMPUTING AT WORK

Technologies for Digital Signage
Digital signage ranks among the most dynamic areas of today’s embedded computing space. Makers of digital signage players, board-level products and other technologies continue to roll out new solutions for implementing powerful digital signage systems. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child looks at the latest technology trends and product developments in digital signage.

PC/104 and PC/104 Family Boards
PC/104 has come a long way since its inception over 25 ago. With its roots in ISA-bus PC technology, PC/104 evolved through the era of PCI and PCI Express by spinning off its wider family of follow on versions including PC/104-Plus, PCI-104, PCIe/104 and PCI/104-Express. This Product Focus section updates readers on these technology trends and provides a product gallery of representative PC/104 and PC/104-family boards.

TOOLS & TECHNIQUES FOR EMBEDDED ENGINEERING

Code Analysis Tools
Today it’s not uncommon for embedded devices to have millions of lines of software code. Code analysis tools have kept pace with these demands making it easier for embedded developers to analyze, debug and verify complex embedded software. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child explores the latest technology trends and product developments in code analysis tools.

Transistor Basics
In this day and age of highly integrated ICs, what is the relevance of the lone, discrete transistor? It’s true that most embedded systems can be solved by chip level solutions. But electronic component vendors do still make and sell individual transistors because there’s still a market for them. In this article, Stuart Ball reviews some important basics about transistors and how you can use them in your embedded system design.

Pressure Sensors
Over the years, George Novacek has done articles examining numerous types of sensors that measure various physical aspects of our world. But one measurement type he’s not yet discussed in the past is pressure. Here, George looks at pressure sensors in the context of using them in an electronic monitoring or control system. The story looks at the math, physics and technology associated with pressure sensors.

MICROCONTROLLERS DO IT ALL

Robotic Arm Plays Beer Pong
Simulating human body motion is a key concept in robotics development. With that in mind, learn how these Cornell graduates Daniel Fayad, Justin Choi and Harrison Hyundong Chang accurately simulate the movement of a human arm on a small-sized robotic arm. The Microchip PIC32 MCU-based system enables the motion-controlled, 3-DoF robotic arm to take a user’s throwing motion as a reference to its own throw. In this way, they created a robotic arm that can throw a ping pong ball and thus play beer pong.

Fancy Filtering with the Teensy 3.6
Signal filtering entails some tricky tradeoffs. A fast MCU that provides hardware-based floating-point capability eases some of those tradeoffs. In the past, Brian Millier has used the Arm-based Teensy MCU modules to serve meet those needs. In this article, Brian taps the Teensy 3.6 Arm MCU module to perform real-time audio FFT-convolution filtering.

Real-Time Stock Monitoring Using an MCU
With today’s technology, even very simple microcontroller-based devices can fetch and display data from the Internet. Learn how Cornell graduates David Valley and Saelig Khatta built a system using that can track stock prices in real-time and display them conveniently on an LCD screen. For the design, they used an Espressif Systems ESP8266 Wi-Fi module controlled by a Microchip PIC32 MCU. Our fun little device fetches chosen stock prices in real-time and displays them on a screen.

… AND MORE FROM OUR EXPERT COLUMNISTS

Attacking USB Gear with EMFI
Many products use USB, but have you ever considered there may be a critical security vulnerability lurking in your USB stack? In this article, Colin O’Flynn walks you through on example product that could be broken using electromagnetic fault injection (EMFI) to perform this attack without even removing the device enclosure.

An Itty Bitty Education
There’s no doubt that we’re living in a golden age when it comes to easily available and affordable development kits for fun and education. With that in mind, Jeff Bachiochi shares his experiences programming and playing with the Itty Bitty Buggy from Microduino. Using the product, you can build combine LEGO-compatible building blocks into mobile robots controlled via Bluetooth using your cellphone.

PIC MCU Development Board for Cloud IoT Core

Microchip Technology has announced an IoT rapid development board for Google Cloud IoT Core that combines a low-power PIC MCU, CryptoAuthentication secure element IC and fully certified Wi-Fi network controller. The solution provides a simple way to connect and secure PIC MCU-based applications. It’s designed to remove the added time, cost and security vulnerabilities that come with large software frameworks and RTOS.
As part of Microchip’s extended partnership with Google Cloud, the PIC-IoT WG Development Board enables PIC MCU designers to easily add cloud connectivity to next-generation products using a free online portal at www.PIC-IoT.com. Once connected, developers can use Microchip’s MPLAB Code Configurator (MCC) rapid development tool to develop, debug and customize their application.

The board includes:

  • eXtreme Low-Power (XLP) PICMCU with integrated Core Independent Peripherals: Well suited for battery-operated, real-time sensing and control applications, the PIC24FJ128GA705 MCU provides the simplicity of the PIC architecture with added memory and advanced analog integration. With the latest Core Independent Peripherals (CIPs) designed to handle complex applications with less code and decreased power consumption, the device provides the ideal combination of performance with extremely low power consumption.
  • Secure element to protect the root of trust in hardware: The ATECC608A CryptoAuthentication device provides a trusted and protected identity for each device that can be securely authenticated. ATECC608A devices come pre-registered on Google Cloud IoT Core and are ready for use with zero-touch provisioning.
  • Wi-Fi connectivity to Google Cloud: The ATWINC1510 is an industrial-grade, fully certified IEEE 802.11 b/g/n IoT network controller that provides an easy connection to an MCU of choice via a flexible SPI interface. The module relieves designers from needing expertise in networking protocols.

Google Cloud IoT Core provides a fully managed service that enables designers to easily and securely connect, manage and ingest data from devices at a global scale. The platform collects, processes and analyzes data in real time to enable designers to improve operational efficiency in embedded designs.

The PIC-IoT WG development board is supported by the MPLAB X Integrated Development Environment (IDE) and MCC rapid prototyping tool. The board is compatible with more than 450 MikroElektronika Click boards that expand sensors and actuator options. Developers who purchase the kit will have access to an online portal for immediate visualization of their sensors’ data being published. Supported by complete board schematics and demo code, the PIC-IoT WG development board helps get customers to market quickly with differentiated IoT end products.

The PIC-IoT WG Development Board (AC164164) is available in volume production now for $29 each.

Microchip Technology | www.microchip.com

IoT Monitoring System for Commercial Fridges

Using LoRa Technology

IoT implementations can take many shapes and forms. Learn how these four Camosun College students developed a system to monitor all the refrigeration units in a commercial kitchen simultaneously. The system uses Microchip PIC MCU-based monitoring units and wireless communication leveraging the LoRa wireless protocol.

By Tyler Canton, Akio Yasu, Trevor Ford and Luke Vinden

In 2017, the commercial food service industry created an estimated 14.6 million wet tons of food in the United States [1]. The second leading cause of food waste in commercial food service, next to overproduction, is product loss due to defects in product quality and/or equipment failure [2].

While one of our team members was working as the chef of a hotel in Vancouver, more than once he’d arrive at work to find that the hotel’s refrigeration equipment had failed overnight or over the weekend, and that thousands of dollars of food had become unusable due to being stored at unsafe temperatures. He always saw this as an unnecessary loss—especially because the establishment had multiple refrigeration units and ample space to move product around. In this IoT age, this is clearly a preventable problem.

For our Electronics & Computer Engineering Technologist Capstone project, we set forth to design a commercial refrigeration monitoring system that would concurrently monitor all the units in an establishment, and alert the chefs or managers when their product was not being stored safely. This system would also allow the chef to check in on his/her product at any time for peace of mind (Figure 1).

Figure 1
This was the first picture we took of our finished project assembled. This SLA printed enclosure houses our 10.1″ LCD screen, a Raspberry Pi Model 3B and custom designed PCB.

We began with some simple range testing using RFM95W LoRa modules from RF Solutions, to see if we could reliably transmit data from inside a steel box (a refrigerator), up several flights of stairs, through concrete walls, with electrical noise and the most disruptive interference: hollering chefs. It is common for commercial kitchens to feel like a cellular blackout zone, so reliable communication would be essential to our system’s success.

System Overview

We designed our main unit to be powered and controlled by a Raspberry Pi 3B (RPi) board. The RPi communicates with an RFM95W LoRa transceiver using Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI). This unit receives temperature data from our satellite units, and displays the temperatures on a 10.1″ LCD screen from Waveshare. A block diagram of the system is shown in Figure 2. We decided to go with Node-RED flow-based programming tool to design our GUI. This main unit is also responsible for logging the data online to a Google Form. We also used Node-RED’s “email” nodes to alert the users when their product is stored at unsafe temperatures. In the future, we plan to design an app that can notify the user via push notifications. This is not the ideal system for the type of user that at any time has 1,000+ emails in their inbox, but for our target user who won’t allow more than 3 or 4 to pile up it has worked fine.

Figure 2
The main unit can receive temperature data from as many satellite units as required. Data are stored locally on the Raspberry Pi 3B, displayed using a GUI designed by Node-RED and logged online via Google Sheets.

We designed an individual prototype (Figure 3) for each satellite monitoring unit, to measure the equipment’s temperature and periodically transmit the data to a centralized main unit through LoRa communication. The units were intended to operate at least a year on a single battery charge. These satellites, controlled by a Microchip Technology PIC24FJ64GA704 microcontroller (MCU), were designed with an internal Maxim Integrated DS18B20 digital sensor (TO-92 package) and an optional external Maxim

Figure 3
This enclosure houses the electronics responsible for monitoring the temperatures and transmitting to the main unit. These were 3D printed on Ultimaker 3 printers.

Integrated DS18B20 (waterproof stainless steel tube package) to measure the temperature using the serial 1-Wire interface.

Hardware

All our boards were designed using Altium Designer 2017 and manufactured by JLCPCB. We highly recommend JLCPCB for PCB manufacturing. On a Tuesday we submitted our order to the website, and the finished PCB’s were manufactured, shipped, and delivered within a week. We were amazed by the turnaround time and the quality of the boards we received for the price ($2 USD / 10 PCB).

Figure 4
The main unit PCB’s role is simply to allow the devices to communicate with each other. This includes the RFM95W LoRa transceivers, RPi, LCD screen and a small fan

Main Unit Hardware: As shown in Figure 4, our main board’s purpose is communicating with the RPi and the LCD. We first had to select an LCD display for the main unit. This was an important decision, as it was the primary human interface device (HID) between the system and its user. We wanted a display that was around 10″—a good compromise between physical size and readability. Shortly after beginning our search, we learned that displays between 7″ and 19″ are not only significantly more difficult to come by, but also significantly more expensive. Thankfully, we managed to source a 10.1″ display that met our budget from robotshop.com. On the back of the display was a set of female header pins designed to interface with the first 26 pins of the RPi’s GPIO pins. The only problem with the display was that we needed access to those same GPIO pins to interface with the rest of our peripherals.

Figure 5
Our main board, labeled Mr. Therm, was designed to attach directly to the LCD screen headers. RPi pins 1-26 share the same connectivity as the main board and the LCD.

We initially planned on fixing this problem by placing our circuit board between the RPi and the display, creating a three-board-stack. Upon delivery and initial inspection of the display, however, we noticed an undocumented footprint that was connected to all the same nets directly beneath the female headers. We quickly decided to abandon the idea of the three-board-stack and decided instead to connect our main board to that unused footprint in the same way the RPi connects to display (Figure 5). This enabled us to interface all three boards, while maintaining a relatively thin profile. The main board connects four separate components to the rest of the circuit. It connects the RFM95W transceiver to the RPi, front panel buttons, power supply and a small fan.

Read the full article in the April 345 issue of Circuit Cellar
(Full article word count: 3378 words; Figure count: 11 Figures.)

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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.

High-Temp Motor Control is Target for 32-Bit MCU Offerings

Renesas Electronics has announced the expansion of its RX24T and RX24U Groups of 32-bit MCUs to include new high-temperature-tolerant models for motor-control applications that require an expanded operating temperature range. The new RX24T G Version and RX24U G Version support operating temperatures ranging from −40°C to +105°C, while maintaining the high speed, high functionality and energy efficiency of the RX24T and RX24U MCUs.
As device form factors shrink, the heat challenge is growing for motor-control applications. In industrial machinery and office equipment, as well as home appliances that handle hot air and heated water, circuit boards are increasingly being mounted in high-temperature locations. In the case of home appliances such as dishwashers or induction hotplates in particular, demand for designs with larger interior capacity or heating areas is increasing, which restricts the space available for circuit boards.

The resulting shift toward circuit board design with a smaller surface area addresses the space constraints but also reduces the board’s capacity to disperse heat, causing the circuit board itself to become quite hot. To address these application needs, Renesas is adding new high-temperature-tolerant products to its MCU lineup that can operate in high-temperature spaces and on hot circuit boards. The new devices will provide greater flexibility for designers of products that operate in high-temperature environments, enabling the trend toward more compact devices to advance.

Software can be developed using the RX24T and RX24U CPU cards combined with the 24 V Motor Control Evaluation Kit which enables developers to create motor control applications in less time. The 32-bit RX24T and RX24U features a maximum operating frequency of 80 MHz. It is equipped with peripheral functions for motor control such as timers, A/D converter, and analog circuits that enable efficient control of two brushless DC motors by a single chip. Renesas has shipped 10 million units of the popular RX24T and RX24U Groups since their launch two years ago. With the addition of the G versions, all 32-bit RX MCU family products for motor-control applications now support operating temperature from −40°C to +105°C, extending the scalability of the RX Family and providing system manufacturers a rich and scalable lineup to choose from.

The RX24T G Version and RX24U G Version are available now in mass production. The RX24T covers 11 models with pin counts ranging from 64 to 100 pins and memory sizes from 128 KB to 512 KB. The RX24U covers six models with pin counts ranging from 100 to 144 pins and memory sizes from 256 KB to 512 KB.

Renesas Electronics | www.renesas.com

Flexible Embedded/IoT OS Targets 8-/16-/32-bit MCUs

Segger has introduced emPack, a complete operating system for IoT devices and embedded systems. It is delivered in source code for all 8-/16-/32-bit microcontrollers and microprocessors. emPack is optimized for high performance, and small memory footprint and easily fits onto typical MCUs without requiring expensive external memory, keeping the cost of the embedded computing system to a minimum.
emPack components are written in plain C and can be compiled by standard ANSI/ISO C compilers. The software package includes embOS, emWin, emFile, embOS/IP, emUSB- Device, emUSB-Host, emModbus, emCompress, emCrypt, emSecure, emSSL, emSSH, and SEGGER’s IoT Toolkit.

All emPack components work seamlessly together and are continuously tested on a variety of microcontrollers from different vendors. According to the company, it is very easy to get started with emPack. And it significantly reduces the time it requires to deliver a product using robust and well tested components that simply work.

Another benefit of using emPack as a platform is portability: Switching to a different microcontroller even with a different core requires minimal changes. Standardizing on emPack enables you to enhance your products when newer, more powerful processors are introduced, or can target a wider customer base with cost-optimized products using less expensive MCUs.

Because all components work together through well-defined interfaces, existing projects that already have a mandated RTOS can use emPack’s components by simply customizing a small number of OS adaptation functions. emPack has been fully tested with Amazon FreeRTOS and example configurations are available upon request.

Segger | www.segger.com