Rugged Apollo Lake SBC is Credit-Card Sized

VersaLogic has announced a new SWaP-optimized embedded SBC with ECC memory. Named “Harrier”, this new embedded computer features the Intel’s latest 5th generation Apollo Lake Atom processors with error-correcting memory. The Harrier includes a TPM 2.0 security chip, on-board power regulation, USB and Ethernet I/O ports and Mini PCIe expansion sockets. The soldered-on ECC RAM enhances both the reliability and ruggedness of the product.

According to the company, applications such as High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAVs and High Altitude Pseudo Satellite (HAPS) systems present a considerable challenge related to memory errors. ECC memory is beneficial in environments where single bit memory errors may occur due to cosmic ray interactions, which increase dramatically at altitude. The Harrier is available with up to 8 GB of Error Correcting Code (ECC) memory to address the risk of memory errors in any high-reliability applications.

Within its 55 mm x 95 mm x 27 mm package, the Harrier is well suited for space-limited applications such as in unmanned vehicles, whether on land, underwater or in the air. The Harrier is designed and tested for full industrial temperature (-40°C to +85°C) operation and meets MIL-STD-202H specifications for shock and vibration. In addition, on-board power regulation ensures reliable operation with fluctuating or noisy power sources. The built-in TPM 2.0 security chip provides hardware-level security for applications that require secure log-ins, encrypted data storage, protected files and so on.

On-board I/O includes dual Gigabit Ethernet, one USB 3.0 and four USB 2.0 ports and two serial ports. A SATA interface, eMMC Flash, mSATA slot and a microSD socket provide a range of data storage options. Dual Mini PCIe sockets accommodate plug-in A/D, Wi-Fi modems, GPS receivers, MIL-STD-1553, Ethernet, FireWire and other mini cards.

Like other VersaLogic products, the Harrier is designed from the ground up for long-term availability (10+ year typical production lifecycle). Customization services to help customers create unique solutions will be available for the Harrier, even in low OEM quantities. Customization options include conformal coating, revision locks, custom labeling, customized testing and screening, etc.

Harrier will be available in production volumes Q1 of 2020.

VersaLogic | www.versalogic.com

 

 

 

 

November Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The November issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is out soon! Energy harvesting technology, panel PCs, analog ICs in industrial systems, drone design, mesh networks, MQTT, current loop devices and more—this 84-page magazine mixes together a tasty spread of embedded electronics articles for your reading pleasure.

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

TECH FOR THE IoT AND CONNECTED SYSTEMS

Energy Harvesting Approaches
By Jeff Child
While many edge devices—particularly in IoT applications—-often need to run off of extremely low power, having an ability to harvest their own power is an even better scenario. Long-battery life is one thing, but not having to replace batteries at all is even better. In this article, Circuit Cellar’s Editor-in-Chief, Jeff Child, looks at the latest technology and product trends in energy harvesting for the IoT.

MQ Telemetry Transport (Part 2)
By Jeff Bachiochi
In Part 1 Jeff described the MQTT protocol and how it can be used by an MQTT server to keep all of your IoT projects tied together and managed from a centralized server running a program like Mosquitto on a local PC. He presented a simple project connecting two IoT nodes together via communications with the server. In Part, Jeff looks at modifying systems he uses to monitor his neighborhood well system and his weather station for integration into the MQTT server.

Self Organizing Wi-Fi Mesh Network
By Daniel Weber and Michaelangelo Rodriguez
Gone are the days when networking embedded devices was a big deal. Today, such devices can be linked in powerful mesh networks over wireless protocols. In this article, learn how these two Cornell students use Microchip PIC32 MCUs and Espressif’s ESP8266 Wi-Fi module to create a mesh network of wirelessly connected devices. The mesh network is able to configure itself and requires no manual intervention to connect the nodes.

Bluetooth-Enabled ECG Monitor
By Brian Millier
Brian has done project articles in the past using Cypress Semiconductor’s PSoC MCUs, including his most recent story about his variable frequency drive project he built using the SoC5LP MCU. This month he explores the latest offering from this MCU family, the PSoC6 5LP MCU. In this project article, Brian selects the Cypress’s CY8CPROTO-063-BLE to build a Bluetooth-enabled ECG monitor.

INDUSTRIAL SYSTEMS AND PROCESS CONTROL

Analog ICs for Industrial Systems
By Jeff Child
Analog and mixed-signal ICs play important roles in industrial automation and process control applications. These system applications depend heavily on innovations in amplifiers, data converters, sensor solutions and more. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child explores the latest technology trends and product developments in these areas.

Product Focus: Panel PCs
By Jeff Child
Panel PCs are a category of display systems that are meant to be mounted on a factory wall or on the side of an industrial machine. And rather than simply being a display, panel PCs embed complete single board computing functionality, providing a complete embedded solution. This Product Focus section updates readers on these technology trends and provides a product gallery of representative panel PCs.

4-20 mA Current Loop Devices and SBCs
By Derek Hildreth
In this article, Technologic Systems’ Derek Hildreth helps you gain deeper understanding of 4-20 mA current loop devices and process control systems. He looks at some history, explains why things are the way they are, looks at simple example components of a process control system (sensor, transmitter, receiver) and works through a practical example with working code.

RESOURCES FOR ENGINEERS

Designing Manufacturing Test Systems
By Nishant Mittal
Manufacturing tests are arguably the most important aspect in any kind of hardware design company, be it small or big. Quality is a factor which no company or individual wants to compromise because quality defines the product and ultimately is the main thing which retains a customer. In this article, Xilinx’s Nishant Mittal discusses various techniques to manage quality, cost and corner case catching scenarios in a manufacturing test environment of a board fabrication house.

Multi-Scale Electronic Flute
By Trisha Ray, Parth Bhatt and Qing Yu
Musical instruments such as the piano allow musicians to play in different scales on the same instrument. In contrast, flutes are designed for one scale only. This means a flute player must own an additional flute for every additional scale they want to play in. Learn how these three Cornell students built an PIC32 MCU-based electronic flute that reduces the need for owning multiple flutes by incorporating two buttons that allow a flute player to change the scale and octave.


… AND MORE FROM OUR EXPERT COLUMNISTS

Embedded System Security: Live from Las Vegas
By Colin O’Flynn
This month, Colin summarizes some interesting presentations from the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas, NV—along with an extra bonus event. This will help you keep up-to-date with some of the latest embedded attacks, including execute only memory attacks, fault injection on embedded devices, 4G cellular modems and FPGA bitstream hacking.

Semiconductor Fundamentals (Part 3)
By George Novacek
In Part 2, George discussed devices built with one P-N junction, appropriately named diodes. In this article, he considers devices with more junctions. He starts with two and looks at the ubiquitous, three-terminal bipolar junction transistor, or BJT for short. George looks at the math, science and circuitry of these devices.

 

 

A Drone By Any Another Name

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

JeffHeadShot

For over a decade before I joined the Circuit Cellar team, I was Chief Editor of a magazine that covered embedded computing technologies used in military systems. At that publication, I naturally wrote and edited a lot of articles about UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). Just as am now, I was very particular about terminologies and what they represent. And one word I quite adamantly wouldn’t allow used in that magazine was “drone.” Back then I didn’t like the term for a number of reasons. First, drone is a word that implies mindlessness or lack of intelligence. To me that didn’t feel right when covering military UAVs, because they typically embedded massive amounts of computing. Large military UAVs like the Global Hawk even had full backplanes of FPGA-based boards to do processing of imaging data and other functions. A second reason is that within the defense electronics industry, UAV was the term preferred over drone. Drone was what the unknowing, non-industry public called them—the word used for them in news stories. Most news stories using the word drone were—often justifiably—bad news.

So, for those reasons I banished any use of the word drone in that publication—at least I did before a change started happening in drone world. It’s important to understand that there are very few areas where the defense industry is ahead of the commercial industry. One exception, however, is UAVs—for many years the defense industry was way out ahead of the commercial world in UAV technology and development activity.

But around 2014 or 2015 a shift happened where biggest growth area for drone technology became dominated by commercial/civil unmanned platforms. Within that the largest chunk is the huge number of small hobbyist kinds of air vehicles. But as commercial uses blossomed for drones—ranging from film making to agriculture to construction and more—the drone market morphed toward a multi-billion-dollar market.

With that trend happening, I softened my stance, and I did start using the term drone when referring to consumer and commercial drones. And I knew that the defense electronics industry in this day and age has to keep tabs on the consumer technology market, because that’s where the rapid innovations happen. It’s too soon to tell what impact the rapid growth of the commercial/consumer drone industry will have on the defense side of drone technology. And since most (but not all) military drones are fixed-wing and commercial drones are mostly (but not all) rotary-wing, they may continue down separate paths. But it will be important for the defense industry to keep its eyes on where commercial drone technology is going.

Interestingly, this transition from defense to commercial also played out in the tradeshow realm. When I was at that military publication, the AUVSI Unmanned Systems show was a key event that I attended every year—this was even before they shifted to the new name Xponential and then to AUVSI Xponential. That show was dominated by companies marketing to the defense UAV market, along with all the defense primes (their customers). But in the 2014/2015 time frame, that show transitioned to where the number of consumer and commercial drone companies exhibiting began to be in the majority, and that’s been its direction ever since. While that wasn’t a positive trend for me when I was covering defense technologies, it’s very much welcome for me here on Circuit Cellar.

I have to be honest, writing about consumer and commercial drones is way more fun than covering military drone technology. As I’ve said before in this column, drone technology fascinates me partly because it represents one of the clearest examples of an application that wouldn’t exist without today’s level of chip integration driven by Moore’s law. That high level of integration has enabled 4k HD video capture, image stabilization, new levels of autonomy and even highly compact supercomputing to fly aboard today’s commercial and consumer drones. I’m looking forward to attending this year’s AUVSI Xponential event in Chicago, and next month I’ll be sure to share with you my thoughts about what I saw there. And as far as my objections to the word drone? Clearly, I’m over it.

This appears in the April 345 issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

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Drone Video Technologies are Flying High

Cameras, Boards and Kits

The video technologies available for today’s drones continue to advance. New products and solutions are adding new intelligence, features and performance levels to enhance how video is captured and processed aboard both consumer and commercial drones.

By Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

While drones can have a variety of sensor types, clearly video ranks the most common capability of today’s consumer and commercial drones. Long gone are the days when placing an ordinary camera on a quadcopter style drone is a big deal. Today, drone cameras are highly sophisticated with designs evolved for drone use. In fact, some cameras embed so much processing, the term camera-computer is gaining steam.

Drone cameras are linked with board-level solutions that support multiple camera video streams and even perform AI-based intelligence functions aboard drones. Add those to the emergence of complete drone design platforms—that include camera and all—and it’s clear that we’re in a golden age for designing and developing powerful drones.
Video technology for drones spans a wide area of subjects including chip-level video processing, 4K HD video capture, image stabilization, complex board-level video processing, drone-mounted cameras, hybrid IR/video cameras and drone development platforms. Over the past 12 months, vendors at the camera-, board- and system-level have been evolving their existing drone video technologies while also creating new innovative solutions.

Complete Reference Platform

Starting at the platform level, drone development has definitely become easier these days, with companies both large and small providing complete drone development kits. One of these on the large company side is Qualcomm. In December, Qualcomm’s partner Intrinsyc Technologies announced it will distribute the Qualcomm Flight Pro reference platform (Figure 1). The platform is Qualcomm’s latest optimized board and development kit targeted specifically for consumer drones.

Figure 1
The Qualcomm Flight Pro reference platform is Qualcomm’s latest optimized board and development kit targeted specifically for consumer drones. 

The Qualcomm Flight Pro reference platform for consumer drones and robotics applications is a follow-on to the Qualcomm Flight platform, which was previously launched under the name Snapdragon Flight. The Qualcomm Flight Pro steps up from a 2.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 with 4x Cortex-A53 like Krait cores to a Snapdragon 820 (APQ8096SG) with 4x higher-end Kryo cores—2x at 2.15 GHz and 2x at 1.6 GHz. The Snapdragon 820 also integrates an Adreno 530 GPU and Hexagon 680 DSP.

The system runs on a Linux 3.18 and Yocto/OpenEmbedded based stack with SDK, a Docker container and support for the Robot Operating System (ROS). An optional Qualcomm Navigator SDK supports autonomous, vision-supported Wi-Fi-based flight controls with advanced flight modes, built-in sensor calibration and automatic flight logging.

The Qualcomm Flight Pro is slightly larger than the original at a still very compact 75  mm x 36 mm, making room for 4x cameras driven by MIPI-CSI interfaces. The kit includes a pair of forward-facing stereo-vision cameras using Omnivision OV7251 black and white VGA sensors by way of a Sunny GP161C module, as well as a forward-facing, 13-megapixel, 4K-at-30-fps camera with a Sony IMX214 color sensor in a KLT Module. There’s also a downward-facing camera with a black and white VGA OV7251 sensor via a Sunny MD102A module.

The Pro board includes 4 GB LPDDR4, a microSD slot and 32 GB UFS 2.0 (HS-G3 1-Lane) storage. Other features include a Qualcomm QCA6174 wireless module with 802.11ac 2×2 MIMO and Bluetooth 4.2 (with antenna mounts), as well as a Qualcomm WGR7640 GNSS location chip that supports an optional U-blox GPS module. The SBC is further equipped with an IMU with gyroscope, accelerometer, compass (Dual Invensense MPU9250) and a barometer/pressure sensor (Bosch BMP280).

More recently, in late February, Qualcomm and Thundercomm launched their Robotics RB3 Platform” that includes an octa-core Snapdragon 845 via a new “DragonBoard 845c” 96Boards SBC and tracking cameras. While that platform appears to be marketed toward terrestrial robots, Qualcomm did tell us that it can also be used for developing drones.

Cameras, Cameras, Cameras

Switching to the camera side of drone video, the latest crop of drone-based camera systems includes a wide range of solutions, some focusing on photo and video quality, others on new features and capabilities. For its part, in December, FLIR Systems announced three Neutrino midwave infrared (MWIR) camera cores. These include the small, lightweight FLIR Neutrino LC and two FLIR Neutrino Performance series cores, the SX12 and QX (Figure 2). The latest models expand the FLIR Neutrino cooled camera core family for commercial, industrial and defense OEMs and system integrators.

Figure 2
The Neutrino LC (left) is FLIR’s first High Operating Temperature (HOT) MWIR camera core and the first model in the SWaP+C series. The Neutrino QX, with more than 3.1 megapixels, is FLIR’s highest resolution MWIR camera core.

The Neutrino LC is FLIR’s first High Operating Temperature (HOT) MWIR camera core and the first model in the SWaP+C (Size, Weight, Power and Cost) series. As the smallest, lightest weight and lowest power consuming Neutrino model available, the LC can be integrated with smaller drones and allow drone operators to fly longer. With HOT technology, Neutrino starts imaging two times faster than previous models, allowing optical gas imaging professionals to detect gases faster. Additionally, the Neutrino’s longer operational lifetime allows installation in security applications where maintenance access is restricted, difficult or costly.

The two new Neutrino Performance series products, the Neutrino SX12 and the Neutrino QX, offer the highest-resolution MWIR performance from FLIR. The Neutrino SX12 produces high-definition (HD) thermal imaging video, while Neutrino QX, with more than 3.1 megapixels, is FLIR’s highest resolution MWIR core. Both Neutrino Performance models provide crisp imagery at long distances while maintaining a wide field of view and are well suited for ground-based or airborne intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and counter-drone solutions. The Neutrino SX12, QX and LC are dual-use camera cores for commercial, industrial and defense products and are classified under the U.S. Department of Commerce Export Administration Regulations as Export Control Classification Number 6A003.b.4.a.

Intelligent Camera

One area of innovation in drone cameras is adding more intelligence to them. Exemplifying this trend, in August last year Aerialtronics launched a new version of its Pensar camera-computer driven by artificial intelligence. According to te company, Pensar is one of the world’s first platforms with dual spectrum digital vision that allows real-time analysis of images or data (Figure 3). Infinitely customizable, it can be mounted on a professional drone, mobile robot or used as an independent camera. The dual spectrum is provided by a built-in Sony 30x full HD optical zoom camera with 1920 x 1080 resolution and a 30 fps Boson FLIR integrated thermal camera. The Pensar is 112.5 mm x 98.5 mm x 67.5 mm in size and weighs 672 g.

Figure 3
The Pensar is a dual spectrum digital vision platform that does real-time data analysis using a miniaturized Nvidia embedded processor with 1.5 teraflops of power. The dual spectrum is provided by a built-in Sony 30x full HD optical zoom camera with 1920 x 1080 resolution and a 30 fps Boson FLIR integrated thermal camera.

Pensar does real-time data analysis using a miniaturized Nvidia embedded processor with 1.5 teraflops of power. Its computing power, accelerated by the Nvidia Jetson TX1 GPU processor in the Nvidia Jetson module, enables it to detect, recognize, analyze and classify objects or people in real time. Simultaneous data acquisition and processing allows for immediate decision making.

Pensar’s integrated camera with a 30x optical zoom makes it possible to spot very small details. Also embedded in Pensar is a FLIR thermal camera used to identify heat sources and determine their temperature. The streams from these two cameras, recorded simultaneously, help optimize image analysis in day and night time and bad weather conditions.

This camera-computer can be customized and adapted for multiple applications: surveillance, inspection, public security and anti-terrorist operations, search and rescue and so on. It’s equipped with a system for facial recognition, object recognition such as license plates, animal recognition and similar tasks. A digital “privacy mask” can be integrated into the images to guarantee confidentiality and anonymity. The intelligent platform comes with an Ubuntu Linux Open Source operating system that allows system integrators to customize it to suit their needs. Pensar is compatible with open source libraries such as Google’s Tensor Flow.

Fancy Photography

As today’s drone cameras have evolved, they’re now offering many very sophisticated features for high-end photography. Along those lines, Lucint Systems’ Lucint12 camera basically provides a complete aerial image collection system in a small, rugged, low-power box (Figure 4). Lucint12 is a 12-megapixel high-quality color or monochrome

Figure 4
Lucint12 is a 12-megapixel high-quality color or monochrome image sensor with all the controls, metadata, processing and storage needed for a complete system.

image sensor with all the controls, metadata, processing and storage needed for a complete system. The unit also features a powerful built-in GPU processor to handle real time georeferencing, image preprocessing, and custom user algorithms.

Designed for photogrammetry the camera features large pixels that result in excellent dynamic range. It has lightweight, high-quality Micro Four Thirds lenses and captures metadata and precise GPS timestamp with each frame. Lucint12 provides a number of automated functions including auto-exposure designed for aerial capture ensures consistent exposures, auto-focus optimized for aerial, automotive or ground installations, and auto-trigger at fixed rate, percent image overlap, or external trigger.

The Lucint12 is complete system with rugged and reliable design features. Its global electronic shutter has no moving parts and no rolling shutter distortion. Industrial components extend operating temperature range. The unit has a fully sealed housing for harsh operating environments. The Lucint12 integrates an internal GPS to record image capture location, on-board mSATA-based image storage up to 1TB. Users can configure settings over Wi-Fi by phone or tablet.

Camera with V-SLAM Tech

Qualcomm isn’t the only big chip vendor with a hand in drone technology. Intel’s latest drone video offering is its RealSense Tracking Camera T265. Announced in January, the T265 uses proprietary visual inertial odometry simultaneous localization and mapping (V-SLAM) technology and is suited for applications that require a highly accurate and low-latency tracking solution, including robotics, drones, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality. V‑SLAM uses a combination of cameras and Inertial Measurement Units (IMU) to navigate in a similar way, using visual features in the environment to track its way around even unknown spaces with accuracy.

At the heart of the T265 is the Intel Movidius Myriad 2 vision processing unit (VPU), which directly handles all the data processing necessary for tracking on the machine (Figure 5). According to Intel, the T265 is good for applications where tracking the location of a device is important, especially in locations without GPS service, such as warehouses or remote outdoor areas where the camera uses a combination of known and unknown data to accurately navigate to its destination. The T265 is also designed for flexible implementation and can be easily added to small-footprint mobile devices like lightweight robots and drones, as well as for connectivity with mobile phones or AR headsets.

Figure 5
Intel’s RealSense Tracking Camera T265 uses proprietary visual inertial odometry simultaneous localization and V-SLAM technology. V‑SLAM uses a combination of cameras and Inertial Measurement Units (IMU) to navigate in a similar way, using visual features in the environment to track its way around unknown spaces with accuracy.

The T265 uses inside-out tracking, which means the device does not rely on any external sensors to understand the environment. Unlike other inside-out tracking solutions, the T265 delivers 6-degrees-of-freedom (6DoF) inside-out tracking by gathering inputs from two onboard fish-eye cameras, each with an approximate 170-degree range of view. The V-SLAM systems construct and continually update maps of unknown environments and the location of a device within that environment.

Because all position calculations are performed directly on the device, tracking with the T265 is platform independent and allows the T265 to run on very low-compute devices. The only hardware requirements are sufficient non-volatile memory to boot the device and a USB 2.0 or 3.0 connection that provides 1.5 W of power. The camera measures 108 mm x 25 mm x 13 mm in size and weighs only 55 g.

Multi-Camera Support

In August last year, Aetina launched its first carrier board for Nvidia’s Jetson TX1 and TX2 modules that supports up to 6x cameras and offers -40°C to 85°C support. The ACE-N310 enables “360-degree surrounded view application in vehicles, drones, robots, surveillance and automation and intelligent systems at the edge,” says Aetina. With the help of the Jetson modules’ AI-enabled Pascal GPU, the ACE-N310 lets you build multi-visual intelligent systems with advanced on-premises analytics and inference, according to the company (Figure 6).

Figure 6
The ACE-N310 enables 360-degree surrounded view applications in vehicles, drones and robots. With the help of the Jetson modules’ AI-enabled Pascal GPU, the ACE-N310 lets you build multi-visual intelligent systems with advanced on-premises analytics.

The module integrates its iNAVI Linux distribution, which adds customizable security, system recovery and backup features. iNAVI is also available with the ACE-N310 and other Aetina Jetson carrier boards, which similarly support the TX1, TX2 and TX2i. The 87 mm x 70 mm board is most closely comparable to the ACE-N510 carrier, which has an 87 mm x 50 mm footprint that matches that of the TX2 and TX2i modules themselves. Aetina also offers the Nano-ITX (120 mm x 120 mm) form factor ACE-N261 and ACE-N622 boards.

The ACE-N310 can be configured with up to 12x lanes of MIPI-CSI connectors through CSI-II or FPD-LINK III extension modules. This enables the connection of 6x 2-lane, 2-megapixel cameras with 1080p/30fps resolution or 3x 4-lane 4K cameras. Aetina offers a variety of Sony IMX based, HD resolution MIPI-CSI camera modules to choose from, as well as an optional, FPC-connected ACE-CAM6C camera board with 6x CSI-2 cameras. There are also “certified” mini-PCIe based I/O modules including dual isolated GbE and PoE add-ons and a 4x USB 3.0 option, all with 0 to 70°C and -40°C to 85°C support.

Other ACE-N310 features include HDMI, GbE, micro-USB 2.0 and 2x USB 3.0 host ports. Onboard interfaces include RS-232, I2C and 5x GPIO, as well as 2x CAN Bus connections that work only with the Jetson TX2 and TX2i. A mini-PCIe slot supports PCIe and mSATA, and there’s a 9-19 VDC input. Other options include fan and heatsink add-ons, cable kits, and a 100-240 V, 60 W 12V/5A adapter.

Board for Small Drones

Last summer Gumstix released a version of its Aerocore 2 drone control board that runs Linux on Nvidia’s Jetson TX2. The Aerocore 2 drone control board arrived in 2014 and was followed in 2016 by a more advanced version that swapped out the original’s Gumstix Overo module for a DragonBoard 410C SBC. This most recent 2018 board—dubbed Aerocore 2 for Nvidia Jetson—works with Jetson TX1 and Jetson TX2 modules and can be customized in Gumstix’s Geppetto online design service (Figure 7).

Figure 7
Aerocore 2 for Nvidia Jetson works with Nvidia’s Jetson TX1 and Jetson TX2 modules and can be customized in Gumstix’s Geppetto online design service.

The Jetson TX2 is equipped with dual high-end “Denver 2” Arm cores and 4x Arm Cortex-A57 cores. The 256-core Pascal GPU with CUDA libraries for running AI and machine learning algorithms offer the potential for improved image recognition applications in drones and robotics. The Aerocore 2 is best suited for small drones called micro-aerial vehicles (MAVs), but it can also be used for larger drones, robots and other image processing applications.

The Jetson TX2 module provides the Aerocore 2 for Nvidia Jetson with 8 GB of LPDDR4 RAM, 32GB of eMMC 5.1 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The Aerocore 2 carrier board adds an STMicroelectronics STM32F427 Cortex-M4 chip clocked at 168 MHz. This MCU is pre-loaded with the open source NuttX RTOS and APM-based PX4 firmware for real-time drone autopilot operation. It should also work with PX4-compatible projects such as QGroundControl and MAVLink. Because the Jetson boards are modules rather than an SBC, the Aerocore 2 carrier board has added more ports and other features to compensate. The board ships with a microSD slot, as well as micro-HDMI, USB 3.0 host, micro-USB OTG and micro-USB device ports.

There are two separate 4-lane MIPI-CSI-2 interfaces that support Gumstix’s $30 Caspa 4K cameras, which are built on Sony’s 13-megapixel IMX214 AF Camera sensor and support 4208 x 3120-pixel stills and 4K video at 30 fps. In addition, you get a pair of 2-lane CSI-2 connectors for 5-megapixel cameras with 2592 x 1944 resolution. The Aerocore 2 board is capable of driving 4x cameras with HD or higher resolution simultaneously.

Like other Aerocore boards and most other Gumstix boards, the Aerocore 2 for Nvidia Jetson can be customized with the Gumstix Geppetto D2O online development platform. The Geppetto drag-and-drop GUI interface lets developers add network connections or I/O, as well as create multiple projects and compare alternative designs for features and costs. Geppetto supplies free automated documentation on demand with all saved designs. The service lets you develop custom BSPs and go straight from a design to an order in one session, with 15-day manufacturing turnaround.

We’re obviously far past the days when commercial drone video was just a straightforward proposition of mounting a camera on a drone. Today there are many technology options for building drones for a variety of applications and mission types. Camera, board and system vendors are keeping pace with these trends, feeding the demands of this dynamic and growing market.

RESOURCES

Aerialtronics | www.aerialtronics.com
Aetina | www.aetina.com
FLIR Systems | www.flir.com
Gumstix | www.gumstix.com
Intel | www.intel.com
Intrinsyc Technologies | www.intrinsyc.com
Lucint Systems | www.lucintsystems.com
Nvidia | www.nvidia.com
Qualcomm | www.qualcomm.com

 

This article appeared in the April 345 issue of Circuit Cellar

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April Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The April issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is out next week (March 20th)!. We’ve worked hard to cook up a tasty selection of in-depth embedded electronics articles just for you. We’ll be serving them up to in our 84-page magazine.

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

VIDEO AND DISPLAY TECHNOLOGIES IN ACTION

Video Technology in Drones
Because video is the main mission of the majority of commercial drones, video technology has become a center of gravity in today’s drone design decisions. The topic covers everything including single-chip video processing, 4k HD video capture, image stabilization, complex board-level video processing, drone-mounted cameras, hybrid IR/video camera and mesh-networks. In this article, Circuit Cellar’s Editor-in-Chief, Jeff Child, looks at the technology and trends in video technology for drones.

Building an All-in-One Serial Terminal
Many embedded systems require as least some sort of human interface. While Jeff Bachiochi was researching alternatives to mechanical keypads, he came across the touchscreen display products from 4D Systems. He chose their inexpensive, low-power 2.4-inch, resistive touch screen as the basis for his display subsystem project. He makes use of the display’s Espressif Systems ESP8266 processor and Arduino IDE support to turn the display module into a serial terminal with a serial TTL connection to other equipment.

MICROCONTROLLERS ARE EVERYWHERE

Product Focus: 32-Bit Microcontrollers
As the workhorse of today’s embedded systems, 32-bit microcontrollers serve a wide variety of embedded applications-including the IoT. MCU vendors continue to add more connectivity, security and I/O functionality to their 32-bit product families. This Product Focus section updates readers on these trends and provides a product album of representative 32-bit MCU products.

Build a PIC32-Based Recording Studio
In this project article, learn how Cornell students Radhika Chinni, Brandon Quinlan, Raymond Xu built a miniature recording studio using the Microchip PIC32. It can be used as an electric keyboard with the additional functionality of recording and playing back multiple layers of sounds. There is also a microphone that the user can use to make custom recordings.

WONDERFUL WORLD OF WIRELESS

Low-Power Wireless Comms
The growth in demand for IoT solutions has fueled the need for products and technology to do wireless communication from low-power edge devices. Using technologies including Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE), wireless radio frequency technology (LoRa) and others, embedded system developers are searching for ways to get efficient IoT connectivity while drawing as little power as possible. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child explores the latest technology trends and product developments in low-power wireless communications.

Bluetooth Mesh (Part 2)
Continuing his article series on Bluetooth mesh, this month Bob Japenga looks at the provisioning process required to get a device onto a Bluetooth mesh network. Then he examines two application examples and evaluates the various options for each example.

Build a Prescription Reminder
Pharmaceuticals prescribed by physicians are important to patients both old and young. But these medications will only do their job if taken according to a proper schedule. In this article, Devlin Gualtieri describes his Raspberry-Rx Prescription Reminder project, a network-accessible, the Wi-Fi connected, Raspberry Pi-based device that alerts a person when a particular medication should be administered. It also keeps a log of the actual times when medications were administered.

ENGINEERING TIPS, TRICKS AND TECHNIQUES

The Art of Current Probing
In his February column, Robert Lacoste talked about oscilloscope probes—or more specifically, voltage measurement probes. He explained how selecting the correct probe for a given measurement, and using it as it properly, is as important as having a good scope. In this article, Robert continues the discussion with another common measurement task: Accurately measuring current using an oscilloscope.

Software Engineering
There’s no doubt that achieving high software quality is human-driven endeavor. No amount of automated code development can substitute for best practices. A great tool for such efforts is the IEEE Computer Society’s Guide to the Software Engineering Body of Knowledge. In this article, George Novacek discusses some highlights of this resource, and why he has frequently consulted this document when preparing development plans.

HV Differential Probe
A high-voltage differential probe is a critical piece of test equipment for anyone who wants to safely examine high voltage signals on a standard oscilloscope. In his article, Andrew Levido describes his design of a high-voltage differential probe with features similar to commercial devices, but at a considerably lower cost. It uses just three op amps in a classic instrumentation amplifier configuration and provides a great exercise in precision analog design.

Control and Comms Solutions Enhance Drone Designs

Synched in the Sky

There’s no slowing down the pace of commercial drone innovation. Helping system developers keep pace, technology vendors provide a wide range of communications and control products to improve the capabilities of both drone designs and the infrastructure supporting drones.

By Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

Commercial drones continue be among the most dynamic segments of embedded system design today. The sophistication of commercial/civilian drone technologies are advancing faster than most people could have imagined just a few years ago. Feeding those needs, chip, module and software vendors of all sizes have been creating new solutions to help drone system developers create new drone products and get to market quickly.

While drone technology encompasses several areas—from processing to video to power—here we’re focusing on communication and control solutions for drone system designs. Commercial drones rely on advanced wireless communications technologies for both control and for streaming captured video from drone-based cameras. Meanwhile, a variety of solutions have emerged for aspects of drone control, such as autonomous flight management and IoT-style integration of drones into powerful IoT networks.

Small Size, Long Range

Datalink modules are an important technology for drone communication. It’s a tricky mix to be able to provide long-range communication with a drone, and still keep it to a small solution that’s easy to embed on a commercial drone. With just that in mind, Airborne Innovations offers its Picoradio OEM, the company’s latest miniature OEM product based on the pDDL (Digital Data Link) from Microhard Systems. The board is a full-featured pico-miniature advanced datalink module geared at demanding miniature long range drone applications (Figure 1).

Figure 1
The Picoradio OEM board is a full-featured pico-miniature advanced datalink module geared for demanding miniature, long-range drone applications.

With the Picoradio advanced single link system, you can perform three functions in one: HD video capable data rates, autopilot command/control and manual control with the company’s add-on SBUS passthrough module. Delivering a high-power, long-range broadband COFDM link, the board provides a variety of features in a tiny 17.6 g board that measures 40 mm × 40 mm × 10 mm.

Picoradio OEM’s 1 W COFDM RF output has a typical range of 5 miles with very basic antennas—much longer range is possible using high gain antennas, RF amplifiers, tracking antennas and so on. Output power is software selectable from 7 dBm to 30 dBm in 1 dBm steps. The dual Ethernet ports can be used as Ethernet bridge ports or separate LAN segments. Two transparent serial ports are provided—one is switchable RS-232/3.3V TTL, one is TTL only.

The board features wide input range efficient buck-boost operation. Inputs of 8  V to 58 V is supported at full output power, and 5 V to 58 V with limitations. Auxiliary power output is 12 V at 2 A typical or up to 12 V at 5 A (with input voltage limitations). These specs make it capable of powering cameras, gimbals and so on from wide input range battery power. Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) is possible using separate power and data lines.

According to the company, the first revision of this board was highly successful and functional. The new version uses the 2.4 GHz unlicensed band at up to 1 W RF output. This is not a Wi-Fi radio, but rather uses a superior Coded Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (COFDM) modulation which is optimized for drone use. The default version has no encryption, and it can be exported outside the US. 128-bit encryption is available for some customers but has export restrictions. 256-bit encryption is available to domestic users.

Digital Data Link

Aside from the one used in Airborne Innovations’ board, Microhard Systems offers a variety of DDL solutions. Among its newest of these products is its pMDDL5824 module, a dual-frequency 5.8 GHz and 2.4 GHz MIMO(2X2) digital data link. The module is a miniature OEM, high power, 2X2 MIMO wireless OEM solution (Figure 2). This dual- frequency solution allows software selectable operation in the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequency bands. The DDL uses maximal ratio combining (MRC), maximal likelihood (ML) decoding and low-density parity check (LDPC) to achieve robust RF performance.

Figure 2
The pMDDL5824 module is a dual- frequency 5.8 GHz and 2.4 GHz MIMO(2X2) digital data link in a miniature, wireless OEM module solution.

According to the company, the miniature, lightweight and robust design allows the pMDDL5824 to be well suited for size sensitive applications like commercial drones. The high-speed, long-range capabilities of the pMDDL5824 allow for high-quality wireless video and telemetry communications. The device provides up to 25 Mbps IPERF throughput at 8 MHz channel (-78 dBm) and up to 2 Mbps IPERF throughput at 8 MHz channel ( -102 dBm). It provides dual 10/100 Ethernet Ports (LAN/WAN) and supports point-to-point, point-to-multipoint and mesh (future) networks. It has Master, Remote and Relay operating modes and an adjustable total transmit power (up to 1 W). Interfacing to the unit can be done through local console, telnet and by web browser.

Video Modem for Drones

It goes without saying that one the most common forms of data that drones need to transmit is video captured by the drone. The company Amimon has solutions to provide here. As a developer and provider of ICs and complete solutions for the wireless High-Definition audio-video market, they target markets beyond just drones, but its technology is very well suited for drones.

According to the company, its video modem solution utilizes both MIMO and OFDM technologies, combined with Joint Source Channel Coding (JSCC) capability to transmit Full-HD 1080p60 video resolution over a bandwidth of 40 MHz or 20 MHz. Amimon’s latest 3rd generation baseband ICs allow for the delivery of 4K wireless video in high quality, while still maintaining zero latency (<1 ms) capabilities.

The multiple inputs and multiple outputs, or MIMO, is the term used for multiple antennas at both the transmitter and receiver to improve communication bandwidth and performance. MIMO technology offers a significant increase in data throughput and link robustness without additional bandwidth or increased transmit power. It achieves this by spreading the same total transmit power over the antennas to achieve an array gain that improves the spectral efficiency—more bits per second per hertz of bandwidth—or to achieve a diversity gain that improves the link reliability (reduced fading). Because of these properties, MIMO is an important part of modern wireless communication standards, such as 4G, 3GPP Long Term Evolution (LTE) and WiMAX.

Traditional wireless video compression systems use source-channel separation method, which leads to modular system design allowing independent optimization of source and channel coders. For its part, Amimon uses Joint-Source-Channel-Coding or JSCC approach. This approach enables a far better utilization of the channel capacity and handles better channel interference. Traditional systems transmit packetized information at a rate that is below the worst-case channel capacity to avoid high bit error rate (BER) and frequent retry operations. The traditional communication methods using H.264 or H.265 compression are prone to errors and thus uses buffering to ensure retransition of data when the BER exceed a certain level. They also use error correction overhead equality applied to all the transmitted bits unrelated to their visual importance. The use of JSCC eliminates these limitations.

Figure 3
Amimon’s CONNEX product line includes a variety of wireless link products. Shown here is CONNEX Mini.

Amimon productizes its video modem technology in several ways, including its CONNEX line of wireless video modems for the drone market (Figure 3). Its embedded solution is called CONNEX Embedded, designed to enable drome system designers to embed a wireless HD link into their systems with simple integration effort. The CONNEX Embedded provides a small-size, low-weight transmitter that can reach varied ranges and can be configured based on application needs. The unit is available in different configurations enabling uncompressed HD video with zero delay, Data Down/Uplink for control, standard HDMI output interfaces, SDK for controlling the link parameters and software management tools for users and operators.

Drone Control App

Just as the computing inside drones has grown more sophisticated, so too have the methods used to remote control commercial drones. An example along those lines is the Pilot app made by DroneSense. Pilot lets users control their drone using a tablet. Users can download ground control station software directly onto a tablet and then plug the tablet into the drone remote and begin flying manually, or pre-plan autonomous flights for an upcoming mission.

Users can use Pliot’s autonomous flight planning functions to create a low-altitude orbit or undertake 2D/3D mapping (Figure 4). The can fly the drone fly manually to achieve a variety of tactical objectives, all while having a complete view of telemetry, video feeds and other relevant flight data. The app’s mapping engine enables drone pilots to clearly visualize all drones collaborating in an operation, helping to prevent redundancies or collisions. They can use chat functionality to enhance communications. It lets users view multiple live video feeds of various types, including thermal.

Figure 4
The Pilot app lets users control their drone using a tablet. Users can use the app’s autonomous flight planning functions to create a low-altitude orbit or undertake 2D/3D mapping.

Another feature of Pilot is that it is drone agnostic. Users can train once on the Pilot app, and use it on whatever drone is best-suited to each mission. Whether it is a fixed-wing or a quadcopter, the pilot interface remains the same—no additional training is required for different types or brands of drones. Users can just pick the drone and sensor required to accomplish their goals and fly. No hardware configuration required.
Users of the Pilot app can upload customized checklists from DroneSense’s AirBase software into the Pilot app, ensuring pilots follow established pre-flight procedures.

Users can create and implement post-flight checklists, such as proper handling of any captured media. It allows you to enforce compliance with user policies and procedures, thereby minimizing risk and making sure assets are always handled properly. The Pilot app lets users bring in feeds from various sensor packages, such as a thermal imager, and see the output directly in the app. They can collect and view the data in the Pilot app (and DroneSense’s OpsCenter) from numerous sources for even greater situational awareness. The app’s flexible architecture allows for integration with third-party systems that may exist in a user’s organization.

Drones as IOT Edge Nodes

In many ways a commercial drone can be thought of as an IoT device. IoT implementations are comprised of edge devices with sensors, a cloud infrastructure and some sort of network or gateway linkng the edge with the cloud. SlantRange, a specialist in remote sensing and analytics systems for agriculture, made just such a drone-IoT connection in October with a new partnership with Microsoft. The deal combines Microsoft’s latest IoT connectivity and cloud analytics with SlantRange’s edge-computing capabilities into an integrated product offering for implementation developers operating large-scale drone programs in agriculture.

SlantRange has patented technologies for aerial crop inspections and introduced analytical methods that deliver valuable agronomic data within minutes of collection, anywhere in the world, using low-power edge-computing devices. Microsoft’s Azure IoT Edge is a fully managed service that delivers cloud intelligence locally by deploying and running artificial intelligence (AI), Azure services and custom logic directly on cross-platform IoT devices.

Figure 5
Through the addition of Azure IoT Edge, SlantRange’s platform provides a secure, scalable and fully integrated solution to deploy new cloud computing capabilities on top of SlantRange’s existing edge-computing architecture.

SlantRange’s current products can do data analytics conducted completely offline, without the need for an Internet connection. Through the addition of Azure IoT Edge, the new platform provides a secure, scalable and fully integrated solution to deploy new cloud-computing capabilities on top of SlantRange’s existing edge-computing architecture (Figure 5). Their edge-based solutions can now be complimented by cloud-based services to seamlessly ingest, manage and analyze data from large networks of distributed sensors. Custom analytics as well as automated machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms can be deployed both in the cloud and at the edge to create new data insights for a variety of stakeholders within an agriculture enterprise.

SDK for Drone Control

The giant chip manufacturer Qualcomm has a foothold in the drone market on both the developer side and the end product side. For drone control, the company offers its Qualcomm Navigator software development kit (SDK). Qualcomm Navigator is an autonomous, vision-supported flight controller SDK with related modules and tools. It features multiple different flight modes with varying levels of sophistication, it is engineered to provide stable and aggressive flight for a host of applications. It includes several built-in sensor calibration procedures as well as automatic flight logging and real-time introspection tools along with post-processing, log parsing capabilities.

The SDK supports various flight modes, from manual (for expert pilots) to assisted modes (for novice pilots). The tool fuses the machine vision SDK’s VISLAM for stable flight and DFS for visual obstacle avoidance. Meanwhile, Wi-Fi-based flight control can be done using the drone controller app. The SDK enables C API’s to get telemetry and control the flight path.

Navigator is comprised of multiple libraries, executables and configuration files. The core flight controller runs on the aDSP, and other components run on the applications processor and GPU. Navigator provides a low-level C API for applications to interact with the flight controller. Supported interactions include accessing telemetry data such as battery voltage, status of sensors and current flight mode. It also supports sending remote control (RC)-style or velocity-style commands to the flight controller. With Navigator you can also send RPM or PWM commands directly to the ESCs and initiate sensor calibration procedures.

Complete Drone Solution

Most of the leading microcontroller vendors market their technologies toward drone designs in some way or another. Among the more direct of these efforts is from Infineon Technologies, offering development kits and design resources. The company provides a complete system solution that includes all essential semiconductors for drones. These Infineon products include its AURIX and XMC controllers, its iMotion motor controller, its IMU (inertial measurement units) and its XENSIV sensors line that includes pressure, radar, magnetic sensors and more.

Figure 6
This complete multicopter XMC4500 demoboard is built around an Infineon XMC4500 Arm CortexM4 32-bit MCU. IR2301 drivers, low-voltage MOSFETs and the MPU9250 Invensense IMU provide the additional units that make up the drone’s electronic powertrain, motor control and flight sensing functional blocks.

Among Infineon’s drone design offerings is a complete multicopter XMC4500 demoboard (Figure 6). At the heart of the board is the flight controller, which is built around an Infineon XMC4500 Arm CortexM4 32-bit MCU. IR2301 drivers, low-voltage MOSFETs and the MPU9250 Invensense IMU provide the additional units that make up the electronic powertrain, motor control and flight sensing functional blocks.

There’s no doubt that today’s quad-copter- style commercial drones wouldn’t be possible without today’s high levels of chip integration. But even as developers push for more autonomous operations and AI aboard drones, they will also be need to send and receive control and video data to and from drones. Embedded control and communication technologies will continue to play a major role is these efforts. Later this year, in July, Circuit Cellar will take a closer look at the video and embedded camera sides of drone system design.

Airborne Innovations | www.airborneinnovations.com

Amimon | www.amimon.com

DroneSense | www.dronesense.com

Infineon Technologies | www.infineon.com

SlantRange | www.slantrange.com

Qualcomm Technologies | www.qualcomm.com

Read the full January 342 issue of Circuit Cellar

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January Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

Happy New Years! The January issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is coming soon. Don’t miss this 1st issue of Circuit Cellar 2019. Enjoy pages and pages of great, in-depth embedded electronics articles.

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

TRENDS & CHOICES IN EMBEDDED COMPUTING

Comms and Control for Drones
Consumer and commercial drones represent one of the most dynamic areas of embedded design today. Chip, board and system suppliers are offering improved ways for drones to do more processing on board the drone, while also providing solutions for implementing the control and communication subsystems in drones. This article by Circuit Cellar’s Editor-in-Chief Jeff Child looks at the technology and products available today that are advancing the capabilities of today’s drones.

Choosing an MPU/MCU for Industrial Design
By Microchip Technology’s Jacko Wilbrink
As MCU performance and functionality improve, the traditional boundaries between MCUs and microprocessor units (MPUs) have become less clear. In this article, Jacko examines the changing landscape in MPU vs. MCU capabilities, OS implications and the specifics of new SiP and SOM approaches for simplifying higher-performance computing requirements in industrial applications.

Product Focus: COM Express Boards
The COM Express architecture has found a solid and growing foothold in embedded systems. COM Express boards provide a complete computing core that can be upgraded when needed, leaving the application-specific I/O on the baseboard. This Product Focus section updates readers on this technology and provides a product album of representative COM Express products.

MICROCONTROLLERS ARE DOING EVERYTHING

Connecting USB to Simple MCUs
By Stuart Ball
Sometimes you want to connect a USB device such as a flash drive to a simple microcontroller. Problem is most MCUs cannot function as a USB host. In this article, Stuart steps through the technology and device choices that solve this challenge. He also puts the idea into action via a project that provides this functionality.

Vision System Enables Overlaid Images
By Daniel Edens and Elise Weir
In this project article, learn how these two Cornell students designed a system to overlay images from a visible light camera and an infrared camera. They use software running on a PIC32 MCU to interface the two types of cameras. The MCU does the computation to create the overlaid images, and displays them on an LCD screen.

DATA ACQUISITION AND MEASUREMENT

Data Acquisition Alternatives
By Jeff Child
While the fundamentals of data acquisition remain the same, its interfacing technology keeps evolving and changing. USB and PCI Express brought data acquisition off the rack, and onto the lab bench top. Today solutions are emerging that leverage Mini PCIe, Thunderbolt and remote web interfacing. Circuit Cellar’s Editor-in-Chief, Jeff Child, dives into the latest technology trends and product developments in data acquisition.

High-Side Current Sensing
By Jeff Bachiochi
Jeff says he likes being able to measure things—for example, being able to measure load current so he can predict how long a battery will last. With that in mind, he recently found a high-side current sensing device, Microchip’s EMC1701. In his article, Jeff takes you through the details of the device and how to make use of it in a battery-based system.

Power Analysis Capture with an MCU
By Colin O’Flynn
Low-cost microcontrollers integrate many powerful peripherals in them. You can even perform data capture directly to internal memory. In his article, Colin uses the ChipWhisperer-Nano as a case study in how you might use such features which would otherwise require external programmable logic.

TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES FOR EMBEDDED SYSTEM DESIGN

Easing into the IoT Cloud (Part 2)
By Brian Millier
In Part 1 of this article series Brian examined some of the technologies and services available today enabling you to ease into the IoT cloud. Now, in Part 2, he discusses the hardware features of the Particle IoT modules, as well as the circuitry and program code for the project. He also explores the integration of a Raspberry Pi solution with the Particle cloud infrastructure.

Hierarchical Menus for Touchscreens
By Aubrey Kagan
In his December article, Aubrey discussed his efforts to build a display subsystem and GUI for embedded use based on a Noritake touchscreen display. This time he shares how he created a menu system within the constraints of the Noritake graphical display system. He explains how he made good use of Microsoft Excel worksheets as a tool for developing the menu system.

Real Schematics (Part 2)
By George Novacek
The first part of this article series on the world of real schematics ended last month with wiring. At high frequencies PCBs suffer from the same parasitic effects as any other type of wiring. You can describe a transmission line as consisting of an infinite number of infinitesimal resistors, inductors and capacitors spread along its entire length. In this article George looks at real schematics from a transmission line perspective.

Linux-Powered Jetson Xavier Module Gains Third-Party Carriers

By Eric Brown

Connect Tech (CTI) has released two new developer options for Nvidia’s octa-core Jetson AGX Xavier computer-on-module, which is already supported by Nvidia’s innovative, $1,299 Jetson Xavier Developer Kit. Like the official dev kit, CTI’s 105 mm x 92 mm Rogue board is approximately the same size as the 105 mm x 87 mm x 16 mm Xavier, making it easier to use for robotics applications.


 
Rogue carrier with Xavier module (equipped with fan)
(click images to enlarge)
CTI also launched a Jetson AGX Xavier Mimic Adapter board that mediates between the Xavier and any CTI carrier for the Jetson TX1, TX2, and the latest industrial-focused version of the TX2 called the Jetson TX2i. These include the three TX2 boardsannounced in early 2017: the Cogswell carrier with GigE Vision, the Spacely carrier designed for cam-intensive Pixhawk drones, and the tiny, $99 Sprocket. CTI’s Jetson TX1 boards include the original Astro, as well as its later Orbitty and Elroy.

 
Jetson AGX Xavier Mimic Adapter with Xavier and Elroy carrier (left) and exploded view
(click images to enlarge)
The Jetson Xavier “enables a giant leap forward in capabilities for autonomous machines and edge devices,” says CTI. Nvidia claims the Xavier has greater than 10x the energy efficiency and more than 20x the performance of its predecessor, the Jetson TX2. The module — and the new CTI carriers — are available with a BSP with Nvidia’s Linux4Tegra stack. Nvidia also offers an AI-focused Isaac SDK.

The Xavier features 8x ARMv8.2 cores and a high-end, 512-core Nvidia Volta GPU with 64 tensor cores with 2x Nvidia Deep Learning Accelerator (DLA) — also called NVDLA — engines. The module is also equipped with a 7-way VLIW vision chip, as well as 16 GB 256-bit LPDDR4 RAM and 32GB eMMC 5.1.


Nvidia Drive AGX Xavier Developer Kit
(click image to enlarge)
Since the initial Xavier announcements, Nvidia has added AGX to the Jetson Xavier name. This is also applied to the automotive version, which was originally called the Drive PX Pegasus when it was announced in Nov. 2017. This Linux-driven development kit recently began shipping as part of the Nvidia Drive AGX Xavier Developer Kit, which supports a single Xavier module or else a Drive AGX Pegasus version with dual Xaviers and dual GPUs.

Rogue

CTI’s Rogue carrier board provides 2x GbE, 2x HDMI 1.4a, 3x USB 3.1, and a micro-USB OTG port. Other features include MIPI-CSI, deployable either as 6x x2 lanes or 4x x4 lanes, and expressed via a high-density camera connector breakout that mimics that of the official dev kit. CTI will offer a variety of rugged camera add-on expansion boards with options described as “up to 6x MIPI I-PEX, SerDes Inputs: GMSL or FPD-Link III, HDMI Inputs).”


 
Rogue, front and back
(click images to enlarge)

For storage, you get a microSD slot with UFS support, as well as 2x M.2 M-key slots that support NVMe modules. There’s also an M.2 E-key slot with PCIe and USB support that can load optional Wi-Fi/BT modules.

Other features include 2x CAN 2.0b ports, 2x UARTs, 4-bit level-shifted, 3.3 V GPIO, and single I2C and SPI headers. There’s a 9-19 V DC input that uses a positive locking Molex Mini-Fit Jr header. You also get an RTC with battery connector and power, reset, and recovery buttons and headers.

Mimic Adapter

The Jetson AGX Xavier Mimic Adapter has the same 105 x 92mm dimensions as the Rogue, but is a simpler adapter board that connects the Xavier to existing CTI Jetson carriers. It provides an Ethernet PHY and regulates and distributes power from the carrier to the Xavier.


 
Mimic Adapter, front and back
(click images to enlarge)

The Mimic Adapter expresses a wide variety of interfaces detailed on the product page, including USB 3.0, PCIe x4, SATA, MIPI-CSI, HDMI/DP/eDP, CAN, and more. Unlike the Rogue, it’s listed with an operating range: an industrial -40 to 85°C.

Further information

The Rogue carrier and Mimic Adapter for the Nvidia AGX Xavier are available now with undisclosed pricing. More information may be found in Connect Tech’’s Xavier carrier announcement, as well as its Rogue and Mimic Adapter product pages.

This article originally appeared on LinuxGizmos.com on October 17.

Connect Tech | www.connecttech.com

Drones and The Wright Stuff

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

JeffHeadShot

Commercial and consumer drones are among the most dynamic areas of embedded system design today. The industry that Circuit Cellar covers—and is a part of—is a vital enabler of these markets. Drone designs continue to leverage advances in processor/chip technologies, sensor innovations and power solutions that make up the heart of a drone’s electronics.

More than most areas of embedded system design, drones must be looked at within the broader perspective of issues beyond technology—in particular the many safety and regulatory issues surrounding them. After all, drones have to operate within the same air space as manned aircraft. And unlike the automobile industry, for example, the drone industry is relatively new with a regulatory landscape that’s still evolving and with many safety issues still to be resolved.

Acting FAA Administrator Daniel K. Elwell offered some insights on these subjects in his keynote address at this year’s InterDrone show early last month. He drew parallels to the high-level of safety that’s been achieved in commercial aviation to what the goal should be for drone safety. “Aviation is the gold standard,” said Elwell, “The safest form of transportation in the world. That’s not a position we’re about to take a step back on. I’ve heard this argument a few times: Back in Orville and Wilbur Wright’s era, people were willing to risk their lives for the birth of a new form of transportation. Now that we’re on the cusp of aviation’s next great era (drones), shouldn’t we be willing to accept some of the same risks in the name of progress? Folks, there’s a really simple answer to that question: No.”

“Manned aviation already learned those lessons. We paid that price. We’re not going to do it again. And the public wouldn’t let us, anyway.” Elwell made the point that with drones, you’re not starting from scratch like the Wright brothers. “The FAA has spent six decades working with airlines, manufacturers and countless others to get where we are now. And we’re ready to use everything we’ve learned so that the drone industry can reach its full potential as quickly as possible.”

Elwell went on to list some of the progress along these lines in the FAA and Department of Transportation. “We’re building flexible, responsive regulatory processes that can keep up with all your creativity while ensuring safety isn’t compromised,” he said, “We’ve automated how drone operators get permission to fly in controlled airspace. We’re laying the groundwork for a comprehensive Unmanned Traffic Management System. We’ve authorized low-risk small drone flights, and created a performance-based waiver and exemption process to allow more advanced operations.”

Another key effort is the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program launched last October by US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao. The initiative partners the FAA with local, state and tribal governments, which then partner with private sector participants to safely explore the further integration of drone operations. In May of this year, the USDOT selected 10 state, local and tribal governments as participants in the UAS Integration Pilot Program. Data gathered from these pilot projects will form the basis of a new regulatory framework to safely integrate drones into the national airspace.

According to the USDOT, the 10 final selectees will work with the FAA to refine their operational concepts. Over the next two and a half years, the selectees will collect drone data involving night operations, flights over people and beyond the pilot’s line of sight, package delivery, detect-and-avoid technologies and the reliability and security of data links between pilot and aircraft. The data collected from these operations will help the USDOT and FAA craft new enabling rules. These will include rules for complex low-altitude operations and improving communications and addressing security and privacy risks.

In Elwell’s keynote he cited a fun story about the pilot program’s first test that happened just recently in Blacksburg, Virginia. A Project Wing drone delivered a popsicle to a two-year-old boy, just six minutes after the order was placed. “It was historic—the first beyond visual line-of-sight residential drone delivery in the United States,” said Elwell, “It was the ‘Mr. Watson, I want to see you’ for the 21st century. But to little Jack, it was just cool. In his words: ‘Airplane brought me a Popsicle!’ These are important steps forward—steps that bring drones closer to just being a routine operator in our airspace.”

This appears in the October 339 issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

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Silicon APDs are Optimized for LIDAR Applications

The Series 9 from First Sensor offers a wide range of silicon avalanche photodiodes (APDs) with very high sensitivity in the near infrared (NIR) wavelength range, especially at 905 nm. With their internal gain mechanism, large dynamic range and fast rise time the APDs are ideal for LIDAR systems for optical distance measurement and object recognition according to the time of flight method. Application examples include driver assistance systems, drones, safety laser scanners, 3D-mapping and robotics.

The Series 9 offers detectors as single elements as well as linear and matrix arrays with multiple sensing elements. The package options include rugged TO housings or flat ceramic SMD packages. The slow increase of the gain of the Series 9 photodiodes with the applied reverse bias voltage allows for easy and precise adjustments of high gain factors. For particularly low light levels, hybrid solutions are also available that further enhance the APD signal with an internal transimpedance amplifier (TIA). The integrated amplifier is optimally matched to the photodiode and allows compact setups as well as very large signal-to-noise ratios.

Using its own semiconductor manufacturing facility and extensive development capabilities, First Sensor can adapt its silicon avalanche photodiodes to specific customer requirements, such as sensitivity, gain, rise time or design.

Important features of the Series 9 APDs:

  • Very high sensitivity at 905 nm
  • Large dynamic range and fast rise time
  • Single element photodiodes as well as linear and matrix arrays
  • Rugged TO housings or flat ceramic SMD packages
  • Hybrid solutions with integrated TIA

First Sensor | www.first-sensor.com

Barometric Pressure Sensor Serves Consumer Drone Needs

Bosch Sensortec has introduced a new high performance barometric pressure MEMS sensor: the BMP388 is ideally suited for altitude tracking in Consumer Electronics (CE) drones, wearables, smart homes and other applications. The BMP388 delivers outstanding altitude stabilization in drones, where accurate measurement of barometric pressure provides the essential altitude data for improving flight stability and landing accuracy. The new barometric pressure sensor is part of Bosch Sensortec’s comprehensive sensor solution for drones, which includes the BMI088 Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) for accurate steering and the BMM150 geomagnetic sensor for the provision of heading data.

The BMI088 is a 6-axis IMU, consisting of a triaxial 16-bit acceleration sensor with excellent performance and a triaxial automotive-proven 16-bit gyroscope. Drones can take full advantage of the IMU’s superior vibration suppression and robustness and unmatched stability in dynamic conditions such as sudden temperature fluctuations. The BMM150 is a low power and low noise triaxial digital geomagnetic sensor designed for compass applications. Due to its stable performance over a wide temperature range, this geomagnetic sensor is especially suited for determining accurate heading for drones.

In addition to drones, the BMP388 provides a very flexible, one-size-fits-all solution for increasing the accuracy of navigation and fitness applications in wearables and smart homes, for example by utilizing altitude data to improve GPS precision or to determine floor levels inside buildings. It can also improve the precision of calorie counting in wearables and mobile devices, for example by identifying if a person is walking uphill or downhill when using a step counter.

With an excellent temperature coefficient offset (TCO) of 0.75 Pa/K between -20°C to 65°C, the BMP388 further improves the accuracy of altitude measurement over a wide temperature range. The new sensor provides an attractive price-performance ratio coupled with low power consumption and a high level of design flexibility – combined in a compact LGA package measuring only 2.0 x 2.0 x 0.75 mm³.

FIFO and interrupt functionality provide simple access to data and storage. This enables power consumption to be reduced to only 2.7 µA at 1 Hz during full operation, while simultaneously making the sensor easier to use. Tests in real-life environments have proven a relative accuracy of +/-0.08 hPa (+/-0.66 m) over a temperature range from 25°C to 40°C. The absolute accuracy between 900 and 1100 hPa is +/- 0.40 hPa over a temperature range from 25°C to 40°C.

Bosch Sensortec | www.bosch-sensortec.com

Drones Tap a Variety of Video Solutions

Eyes in the Skies

In one way or another, much of today’s commercial drone development revolves around video. Technology options range from single-chip solutions to complex networked arrays.

By Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

Commercial drones represent one of the most dynamic, fast-growing segments of embedded systems design today. And while all aspects of commercial drone technology are advancing, video is front and center. Because video is the main mission of the majority of commercial drones, video technology has become a center of gravity in today’s drone design decisions. But video covers a wide set of topics including single-chip video processing, 4k HD video capture, image stabilization, complex board-level video processing, drone-mounted cameras, hybrid IR/video camera and mesh-networks for integrated multiple drone camera streams.

Technology suppliers serving all of those areas are under pressure to deliver products to integrate into video processing, camera and communications electronics inside today’s commercial drones. Drone designers have to pack in an ambitious amount of functionality onto their platforms while keeping size, weight and power (SWaP) as low as possible. Feeding these needs, vendors at the chip, board and system-level continue to evolve their existing drone video technologies while also creating new innovative solutions.

Video Processing SOC

Exemplifying the cutting edge in single-chip video processing for drones, Ambarella in March introduced its CV2 camera SoC (Photo 1). It combines advanced computer vision, image processing, 4Kp60 video encoding and stereovision in a single chip. Targeting drone and related applications, the company says it delivers up to 20 times the deep neural network performance of Ambarella’s first generation CV1 chip. Fabricated in advanced 10nm process technology, CV2 offers extremely low power consumption.

Photo 1
The CV2 camera SoC combines advanced computer vision, image processing, 4Kp60 video encoding and stereovision in a single chip.

The CV2’s CVflow architecture provides computer vision processing up to 4K or 8-Megapixel resolution, to enable object recognition and perception over long distances and with high accuracy. Its stereovision processing provides the ability to detect generic objects without training. Advanced image processing with HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing delivers outstanding imaging even in low light and from high contrast scenes. Its highly efficient 4Kp60 AVC and HEVC video encoding supports the addition of video recording to drone platforms.

At the heart of the CV2 is a Quad-core 1.2 GHz ARM Cortex A53 with NEON DSP extensions and FPU. CV2 includes a full suite of advanced security features to prevent hacking, including secure boot, TrustZone and I/O virtualization. A complete set of tools is provided to help embedded systems developers easily port their own neural networks onto the CV2 SoC. This includes compiler, debugger and support for industry standard training tools including Caffe and TensorFlow, with extensive guidelines for CNN (Convolutional Neural Network) performance optimizations.

Board-Level Solutions

Moving up to the board-level, Sightline Applications specializes in onboard video processing for advanced camera systems. Its processor boards are designed to be integrated at the camera level to provide low-latency video processing on a variety of platforms including commercial drones. Sightline offers two low SWaP board products. Both products are supported by SLA’s Video Processing Software: a suite of video functions that are key in a wide variety of ISR applications. The processing software has two pricing tiers, SLE and SLA. SLE provides processing only and SLA processes the video and provides telemetry feedback. . …

Read the full article in the May 334 issue of Circuit Cellar

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

Drones Ascend to New Heights: Bringing Unique Perspective to Broadening Markets

Fewer emerging technologies have captured the imagination as dramatically as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or as they are more commonly referred to, drones. The same technological innovations that have brought us smartphones, IoT and wearables have brought us an explosion of drones. See what expanding horizons of application development await.

Power Alternatives for Commercial Drones

330 Power Drones for Web

Solution Options Expand

The amount of power a commercial drone can draw on has a direct impact on how long it can stay flying as well as on what tasks it can perform. But each kind of power source has its tradeoff.

By Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

Because extending flight times is a major priority for drone applications, drone system designers are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve the power performance of their products. For smaller, consumer “recreational” style drones, batteries are the obvious power source. But when you get into larger commercial drone designs, there’s a growing set of alternatives. Tethered drone power solutions, solar power technology, fuel cells and advanced battery chemistries are all power alternatives that are on the table for today’s commercial drones.

According to market research firm Drone Industry Insights, the majority of today’s commercial drones use batteries as a power source. As Lithium-polymer (LiPo) and Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries have become smaller with lower costs, they’ve been widely adopted for drone use. The advancements in LiPo and Li-ion battery technologies have been driven mainly by the mobile phone industry, according to Drone Industry Insights.

Batteries Still Leading

The market research firm points to infrastructure as the main advantage of batteries. They can be charged anywhere. While Li-Po and Li-Ion are the most common battery technologies for drones, other chemistries are emerging. Lithium Thionyl Chloride batteries (Li-SOCl2) promises a 2x higher energy density per kg compared to LiPo batteries. And Lithium-Air-batteries (Li-air) promise to be almost 7x higher. However, those options aren’t widely available and are expensive. Meanwhile, Lithium-Sulfur-batteries (Li-S) is a possible successor to Li-ion thanks to their higher energy density and the lower costs of using sulfur, according to Drone Industry Insights.

Photo 1 The Graphene Drone FPV Race series LiPo batteries provide lower internal resistance and less voltage sag under load than standard LiPo batteries. As a result, the battery packs stay cooler under extreme conditions

Photo 1
The Graphene Drone FPV Race series LiPo batteries provide lower internal resistance and less voltage sag under load than standard LiPo batteries. As a result, the battery packs stay cooler under extreme conditions

Meanwhile battery vendors continue to roll out new battery products to serve the growing consumer drone market. As an example, in June 2017 battery manufacturer Venom released its new Graphene Drone FPV Race series LiPo batteries. The batteries were engineered for the extreme demands of today’s first person view (FPV) drone racing pilots (Photo 1). The new batteries provide lower internal resistance and less voltage sag under load than standard LiPo batteries. As a result, the battery packs stay cooler under extreme conditions. The Graphene FPV Race series Li-ion batteries are 5C fast charge capable, allowing you to charge up to five times faster. All of the company’s Drone FPV Race packs include its patented UNI 2.0 plug system (Patent no. 8,491,341). The system uses a true Amass XT60 connector that attaches to the included Deans and EC3 adapter.

Chip vendors from the analog IC and microcontroller markets offer resources to help embedded system designers with their drone power systems. Texas Instruments (TI), for example, offers two circuit-based subsystem reference designs that help manufacturers add flight time and extend battery life to quadcopters and other non-military consumer and industrial drones.  …

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

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

January Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The January issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is coming soon. And it’s got a robust selection of embedded electronics articles for you. Here’s a sneak peak.

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Here’s a sneak preview of January 2018 Circuit Cellar:

 

                                     IMPROVING EMBEDDED SYSTEM DESIGNS

Special Feature: Powering Commercial Drones
The amount of power a commercial drone can draw on has a direct effect on how long it can stay flying as well as on what tasks it can perform. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child examines solar cells, fuel cells and other technology options for powering commercial drones.

CC 330 CoverFPGA Design: A Fresh Take
Although FPGAs are well established technology, many embedded systems developers—particularly those used the microcontroller realm—have never used them before. In this article, Faiz Rahman takes a fresh look a FPGAs for those new to designing them into their embedded systems.

Product Focus: COM Express boards
COM Express boards provide a complete computing core that can be upgraded when needed, leaving the application-specific I/O on the baseboard. This brand new Product Focus section updates readers on this technology and provides a product album of representative COM Express products.

TESTING, TESTING, 1, 2, 3

LF Resonator Filter
In Ed Nisley’s November column he described how an Arduino-based tester automatically measures a resonator’s frequency response to produce data defining its electrical parameters. This time he examines the resultsand explains a tester modification to measure the resonator’s response with a variable series capacitance.

Technology Spotlight: 5G Technology and Testing
The technologies that are enabling 5G communications are creating new challenges for embedded system developers. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child explores the latest digital and analog ICs aimed at 5G and at the test equipment designed to work with 5G technology.

                                     MICROCONTROLLERS IN EVERYTHING

MCU-based Platform Stabilizer
Using an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), two 180-degree rotation servos and a Microchip PCI MCU, three Cornell students implemented a microcontroller-based platform stabilizer. Learn how they used a pre-programmed sensor fusion algorithm and I2C to get the most out of their design.

Designing a Home Cleaning Robot (Part 2)
Continuing on with this four-part article series about building a home cleaning robot, Nishant Mittal this time discusses the mechanical aspect of the design. The robot is based on Cypress Semiconductor’s PSoC microcontroller.

Massage Vest Uses PIC32 MCU
Microcontrollers are being used for all kinds of things these days. Learn how three Cornell graduates designed a low-cost massage vest that pairs seamlessly with a custom iOS app. Using the Microchip PIC32 for its brains, the massage vest has sixteen vibration motors that the user can control to create the best massage possible.

AND MORE FROM OUR EXPERT COLUMNISTS:

Five Fault Injection Attacks
Colin O’Flynn returns to the topic of fault injection security attacks. To kick off 2018, he summarizes information about five different fault injection attack stories from 2017—attacks you should be thinking about as an embedded designer.

Money Sorting Machines (Part 2)
In part 1, Jeff Bachiochi delved into the interesting world of money sort machines and their evolution. In part 2, he discusses more details about his coin sorting project. He then looks at a typical bill validator implementation used in vending systems.

Overstress Protection
Last month George Novacek reviewed the causes and results of electrical overstress (EOS). Picking up where that left off, in this article he looks at how to prevent EOS/ESD induced damage—starting with choosing properly rated components.