Analog Devices has announced the ADuM4122, an isolated, dual-drive strength output driver that uses iCoupler technology. It’s designed to empower designers to harness the benefits of higher efficiency power switch technologies. Electric motor-driven systems account for 40% of global electricity consumption, according to the International Energy Agency, and improvements in motor efficiency can have wide-reaching economic and environmental benefits.
With the increased adoption of industrial automation and IoT within smart factories, there is a growing demand for intelligent technology and features within systems to ensure maximum efficiency. The ADuM4122 is the first simple solution that accomplishes this by controlling how fast or slow a MOSFET or IGBT turns on or off by user command, on the fly, thereby controlling motor currents.
The new ADuM4122 is a simple dual-drive strength output driver that efficiently toggles between two slew rates controlled by a digital signal. Smaller than existing discrete or complex integrated solutions that have 20 or more pins, the ADuM4122 features only eight pins and works in a variety of operating conditions. The ADuM4122 further improves system capabilities with high common-mode transient immunity and low propagation delay for high performance applications such as motion control, robotics and energy.
Pricing for an ADuM4122 an 8-lead SOIC package starts at $2.53 (1,000s).
Texas Instruments (TI) has introduced the newest addition to the TI Robotics System Learning Kit (TI-RSLK) family, the TI-RSLK MAX, a low-cost robotics kit and curriculum that is simple to build, code and test. Designed for the university classroom, the solderless assembly allows students to have their own fully functioning embedded system built in under 15 minutes. Classrooms that may not have access to soldering equipment benefit from the solderless, hands-on kit and curriculum that can be reused year after year.
Designed for the university classroom, the TI-RSLK MAX is a low-cost robotics kit and curriculum that is simple to build, code and test.
TI launched the TI-RSLK series last year to help universities across the globe keep students engaged from their first day of class until graduation with hands-on, customizable options for learning embedded systems design. The TI-RSLK MAX completes all tasks and robotic challenges covered in the previous TI-RSLK Maze Edition kit, such as solving a maze, line following and avoiding obstacles. It also provides a user-friendly assembly of the various sub-systems, speeding up the building and testing of the robot.
The new kit includes TI’s SimpleLink MSP432P401R microcontroller (MCU) LaunchPad Development Kit, easy-to-connect sensors, and a versatile chassis board that turns the robot into a mobile learning platform. Through accompanying core and supplemental curriculum, students learn how to integrate their hardware and software knowledge to build and test a system. For advanced learning, wireless communication and Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities can be added to the TI-RSLK MAX to remotely control the robot or even establish robot-to robot communication.
The TI-RSLK MAX is available for purchase for US$109 from the TI Store and includes the SimpleLink MSP432P401R MCU LaunchPad Development Kit, as well as all additional components required for assembly. To expand kit functionality and learning paths, optional accessories are available for purchase. Further information about the TI-RSLK can found at www.ti.com/rslk
The Service Robotics Research Center of Ulm University of Applied Sciences is developing a modular software framework to make it easier to program robots. The goal is to provide software components that can be used universally, for instance to swap robotic gripping arms from different manufacturers as required to generate new robotics solutions via plug and play. The team at Ulm University relies on congatec to address the need for highly scalable and standardized embedded computing hardware.
Marketing Engineer, congatec
Prof. Dr. Christian Schlegel
Service Robotics Research Group’ Ulm University of Applied Sciences
Today’s modern robots are highly complex constructions with numerous subsystems. They use manipulators with various axis and drive units, at the ends of which specific tools, gripper systems or measuring instruments are installed. Additional sensor systems are needed for controlling the kinematics as well as for object and position recognition, for example in pick-and-place applications. With the advent of autonomous and collaborative robots—sharing the same workspace with humans—many more tasks and building blocks are added. Examples include localizing and navigating mobile robots in industrial settings and safe man-machine interaction. In Industry 4.0 environments, an M2M interface to the surrounding machines and systems is also required. The goal is mutual task coordination. All of these different robot types—from autonomous to cooperative to collaborative—require enormously powerful software components and high-performance embedded systems.
Collaborative robotics needs hardware and software components that can be modularly assembled to suit their task. There should be minimal to no programming effort—it should be enough for the modules to be parameterized. (Source: Zentilia | Dreamstime.com (ID 18864362)
High market demand for smart robots
Market demand for smart robots will grow rapidly in the coming years. For example, the market for autonomous robot systems is expected to grow at a CAGR of 23.7% until 2023, while the new market segment of collaborative robots is due to grow twice as much at an average 59% per annum. OEMs are under immense pressure to develop and to bring such new systems to market maturity as quickly as possible in order to participate in this high market growth. But the software development is a particularly great challenge for OEMs, system integrators and users: More subsystems have to be integrated into the already complex autonomous robotics solutions if they are to become collaborative and/or cooperative.
The Software Challenge
Today, the software for robots is frequently still implemented as a closed system— usually with individually tailored x86 or Arm hardware including ASICs or FPGAs. Often, the software is even individually tailored for each robot making reuse difficult. All tasks such as manipulator control, navigation, machine vision, task coordination and HMI are programmed as a unit. It is therefore currently nearly impossible to exchange software components even for the most frequently required functions or to use them on another hardware platform. This means that for every new design, the robotics software has to be re-implemented. This is both error-prone and time-consuming, and can significantly delay the rollout of much-needed innovative solutions—not to mention the hassle this causes operators who have to program each robot initially for its specific task.
Modular and Reusable
The development team of the Service Robotics Research Center of Ulm University of Applied Sciences under Professor Schlegel is now replacing this closed system approach, which perpetually creates new software projects for the system integrator and user, with a modular software approach that divides the complex overall robot system into several independent functional units, and then in a second step specifies the interaction between the individual units via fully and transparently defined interfaces. This concept, which is called SmartSoft, is now being expanded and widely marketed at the European level (EU H2020 project “RobMoSys – Composable Models and Software for Robotic Systems”) and national level (BMWi PAiCE project “SeRoNet – a platform for the joint development of service robot solutions”) in cooperation with partners from industry and research.
Essentially, this approach aims to make it possible to assemble robotic systems from fully developed and tested modular software building blocks. This allows software developers to focus on individual function modules without having to consider the internals of the other components. More importantly, it makes it possible to combine functions such as the cooperative or collaborative elements as well as the logic for specific manipulators and a lot more in a modular way – even across manufacturers. Ultimately, this also reduces the effort required for system integrators and end users to make customer-specific adaptations, and will significantly drive the widespread adoption of robotics.
So, let’s assume you have a manipulator from company A, combined with a chassis from manufacturer B, and a stereoscopic machine vision system from manufacturer C. The dedicated control software, for instance for use in intralogistics applications, is then easily assembled from the ready-made software components thanks to the high level of abstraction and requires only minor adjustments. This application is by no means a dream of the future, but already being tested in the real world. For example, the Ulm team has already implemented the service robotics duo Larry and Robotino, which, in a pharmaceutical intralogistics application for Transpharm Logistik GmbH, assembles drug packages from individual trays completely autonomously and takes them to a specified delivery point. In a slightly different configuration, the two robots have autonomously taken coffee orders and delivered them to the customer’s table. Thanks to the ready-made, freely combinable software components, the redesign took only a few hours. The video to see the two robots in action is posted here:
Containers with Clearly-Defined Interfaces
To enable virtually any assembly of elements, the team from the Service Robotics Research Center of Ulm University of Applied Sciences has developed a software model with individual service-oriented components and a model-driven open-source software toolchain for the Eclipse development environment. This environment provides component developers with tools that they can use to build their own code for each functional unit and then secure those algorithms by automatically generated component containers. These containers communicate with other containers based on uniform communication interfaces. In addition, the wrapping also protects the component developer’s IP. The team has already developed several such functional modules and makes them available for use in own projects. These include navigation modules, machine vision, HMI, manipulator control and task coordination, to name just a few examples. As a unifying communication interface, SmartSoft also relies on OPC UA. This allows manufacturers to focus on specific containers and build their core competencies here. Customers benefit from a much more flexible offer.
The SmartMDSD Toolchain allows component developers to develop software components for individual functional units that can be combined as required and reused in new robot designs. The underlying hardware should therefore be flexibly scalable.
Generic Embedded Hardware Instead of Proprietary Designs
For the logic hardware, the Ulm team uses x86 technology to decouple the software development as far as possible from any specific hardware. With the appropriate glue logic, such an approach is particularly easy to implement with x86 technology also as far as the later migration of such systems is concerned.
Embedded x86 hardware is also particularly apt in this context because of the high standardization and comprehensive documentation. The form factors are standardized not only as regards dimensions but also in terms of the application programming interface. This facilitates replacement of hardware – provided the boards comply with the eAPI specification of the PICMG or SGET’s UIC standard. Under those circumstances, it is even possible to vary freely between different form factors such as motherboards and Computer-on-Modules depending on the requirements of the application without having to significantly change the way of accessing the hardware during the migration. One supplier who attaches great importance to this standardization and its documentation as well as the simplest possible hardware integration is congatec, whose products the Service Robotics Research Center of Ulm University of Applied Sciences uses in its projects.
“Next to basic requirements such as maximum computing power, energy efficiency and reliability, we also attach great importance to high standardization and the capability to migrate universally,” explains Matthias Lutz from Ulm University of Applied Sciences. “Every additional abstraction level in the software requires additional computing performance, so we’re currently working with powerful dual-core technology. A standardized approach to board components and GPIOs to control the robotics modules also gives us the abstraction required for independence at the embedded computing level.”
The autonomous picking robot Larry with congatec conga-IC175 Mini-ITX carrier board: High computing power, little heat waste, small form factor and highest reliability are the key factors here.
The choice ultimately fell on the fully industrial Mini-ITX carrier board conga-IC175. That’s because the standardized Mini-ITX form factor offers many advantages for developing the prototypes of the innovative software components into real systems: It already integrates all interfaces on a standardized board, and congatec lets you realize the power supply via standard ATX power supplies, industrial 12 V feed-in, or SMART batteries, which is essential for mobile robots such as Robotino and Larry. Extensions can also be implemented quickly and efficiently via PCIe expansion cards. The board is highly energy efficient and uses robust embedded components, so it can be operated without expensive cooling.
Evolution of embedded computing hardware from congatec for smart robots: Depending on the design concept and lot sizes in the series, OEMs can choose either embedded Mini-ITX motherboards (1), standardized carrier boards (here Mini-ITX) with Computer-on-Modules (2), customized carrier boards with Computer-on-Modules (3), or full custom designs (4), which congatec can implement comparatively quickly and easily on the basis of module upgrades.
Future commercial robot designs from Ulm will be implemented on Computer-on-Modules. But regardless of whether it’s a Mini-ITX motherboard, module with standard Mini-ITX carrier, module and individual carrier, or full-custom design: It is the Total cost of Ownership (TCO) that ultimately matters to OEMs, and when using modular software this is also determined by the software support of the hardware. To make it even easier to integrate more functionalities in the future, comprehensive support for real-time hypervisor technology can bring added benefits. This will give customers the option to integrate additional functionalities, such as their own IoT gateway, without having to use a dedicated hardware platform, which saves hardware costs.
“We see clear benefits in such modular approaches as they mirror the modular approach of our software. In this respect, it is very interesting to see that with the acquisition of Real-Time Systems congatec now has virtually direct access to the hypervisor technology of these robotics and automation experts,” concludes Lutz.
Coupled with the Technical Solution Center (TSC), in which congatec consolidates all its OEM services, this results in a complete package for customers such as the Service Robotics Research Center of Ulm University of Applied Sciences or Transpharm Logistik GmbH.
Intralogistics Application at Transpharm Logistik GmbH Picking tasks are performed by a heterogeneous robot fleet in an intralogistics application at congatec’s industrial partner Transpharm Logistik GmbH. The autonomous picking robot Larry is equipped with a UR5 manipulator module and uses a Segway chassis. The transport robot Robotino has a conveyor belt instead of a manipulator to take the picking robot to any point. Orders are received directly from the warehouse management system via WLAN. The fleet management system selects two picking robots, which then execute the order. The application is based on results from the BMBF project “LogiRob – Multi-Robot Transport System in a Shared Human-Machine Workspace” and “ZAFH Intralogistics – Collaborative Systems to Increase Intralogistics Flexibility” (Baden-Württemberg and EU ERDF 2014-2020).
About the Authors
Zeljko Loncaric is Marketing Engineer, congatec. Prior to joining congatec mid-2010, he held various positions with international companies in product management, marketing and sales marketing in Germany and Australia. Zeljko holds an MBA in business management and a degree in Media Technology from the University of Deggendorf.
Prof. Dr. Christian Schlegel is in the ,Service Robotics Research Group’ Ulm University of Applied Sciences. Christian Schlegel (45) has been a professor at the Faculty of Computer Science at Ulm University of Applied Sciences since 2004. Schlegel, who received the Science Prize of the City of Ulm in 2010, is the coordinator of the “Service Robotics” joint project.
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congatec is a leading supplier of industrial computer modules using the standard form factors COM Express, Qseven and SMARC as well as single board computers and EDM services. www.congatec.com
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Aetina announced a partnership to build an autonomous, solar-powered mobile robot with GPS tracking, sensors, and 6x HD cameras, based on its “AX710” carrier for the Linux-driven Jetson AGX Xavier.
Taiwan-based Aetina and an undisclosed third party are developing the UGV (Unmanned Ground Vehicle) robot for border and shore patrol and other remote inspection and exploration applications. The robot will be built around Nvidia’s powerful, AI-enabled Jetson AGX Xavier module via Aetina’s new AX710 carrier board.
AX710, front and back (click images to enlarge)
We missed the AX710 when it was announced in February, but have detailed it farther below. The AX710, which follows Aetina’s earlier ACE-N310 carrier for the Jetson TX1/TX2/TX2i modules, joins CTI’s Rogue and Mimic Adapter carriers for the Xavier.
Nvidia’s 105 x 87 x 16mm Jetson AGX Xavier module has greater than 10x the energy efficiency and more than 20x the performance of the Jetson TX2, claims Nvidia. The module is equipped with 8x ARMv8.2 cores and a high-end, 512-core Nvidia Volta GPU with 64 tensor cores with 2x Nvidia Deep Learning Accelerator (DLA) engines. The Xavier is further equipped with a 7-way VLIW vision chip, as well as 16GB 256-bit LPDDR4 RAM and 32GB eMMC 5.1.
The upcoming UGV built around Aetina’s AX710 board will use the deep learning algorithms running on the Xavier to “understand and react to the surroundings” in real time based on camera and environmental sensor input, says Aetina. The company’s chief partner in the project will provide a GPS-based vehicle tracking system.
The robot will be equipped with solar panels. Their facing orientation will be continually adjusted to the best solar zenith angle calculated by the Xavier with the help of an optical sensor. Other sensors include thermal, infrared sensor, and metal detection sensors.
The UGV will be equipped with 6x Full HD, 360-degree cameras. Other features include LED lighting and the third-party, cloud-connected GPS tracking system, which features geofencing. The system will support up to 5G cellular connectivity as well as Innodisk’s iCAP remote monitoring system.
Like CTI’s Rogue carrier, Aetina’s compact, 112 x 107mm AX710 is designed to stack nicely with the 105 x 87 x 16mm Xavier module for deployment on robots and other space-constrained devices. Available with -25 to 80°C or -40 to 85℃ support with 10% to 90% humidity tolerance, the carrier board has a 9-20V DC input.
AX710 block diagram and Jetson AGX Xavier (click images to enlarge)
The AX710 carrier provides coastline ports including 2x HDMI, 2x USB 3.1, and single USB 3.1 Type-C and micro-USB ports. There’s also a GbE port via RJ45, as well as two more GbE ports via an extension adapter.
AX710 portside view
The AX710 is equipped with 2x CANBus, 2x UART, 5x GPIO, and single RS-232, I2C, and “front panel” interfaces. There are also 4x I-PEX connectors, as well as M.2 M-Key and M.2 E-Key slots.
The board also provides a 60-pin extension slot. It’s unclear if that is the source of the MIPI-CSI-2 connections for Aetina’s optional camera modules. Although the robot will offer 6x HD cameras, the AX710 supports up to 8x HD cams. Alternatively, you can have 4x 4K cameras or an undisclosed number of GSML/FPD-LINK III SerDes(PDF) cameras.
The AX710 is available with an “iNAVI” optimization service featuring an embedded OS based on Linux, including secure boot and system recovery features. Aetina pre-integrates the necessary driver porting and and can customize OS specifications. Other technical services are also available.
No ship date or name was listed for the upcoming AX710-based UGV. Aetina Corporation will share a booth with its UGV partner at DSEI (Defence & Security Equipment International) at the Exhibition Centre London UK (EXCEL) from Sep. 10-13 at booth S4-205.
The AX710 carrier board appears to be available at an undisclosed price. More information may be found on Aetina’s AX710 product page.
While some embedded systems do just fine with a single microcontroller, there are circumstances 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 situation in the context of a robotic system project that uses Arduino and an external motor driver.
By Jeff Bachiochi
When your tasks begin to slip, it might be time to get help. At home, when the job jar begins to overflow, it’s often time to call in a professional to fix the leak, repaint, change the oil and so forth. At work, your project might require additional help from a programmer, purchaser, designer, or other specialist. I believe a good manager is one who is able to handle any facet of the project, but can also step back and let those associates handle their areas of expertise without micromanaging.
And so it is with programming a MCU. You can write the project yourself or—with confidence in your function library—you can make calls to complete a task without having to code those library functions. You can do more by having to do less. All that said, computationally intensive routines can eat up all your computing power. This might suggest that you move up to a more capable processor, or divide and conquer the project by using multiple MCUs.
Case in Point
I have a robot wheel base that uses an Arduino and an external motor driver board. The motors required more than the typical 2 A most Arduino motor shields can provide, so I went to an external motor driver for about $20. This requires direction and speed control outputs for each of the two motors. The wheel encoders require phase A and phase B inputs for each wheel.
It wasn’t long until the basic movement routines were written. Then I added encoder routines to handle measuring wheel movements. Finally, I made routines for adding acceleration/deceleration, positional and speed cooperation between the wheels. At that point, it was becoming clear that I was going to run out of processing power and application space. And I had not yet added a single sensor!
I considered using this Arduino as a separate processor just for wheel base movement. Certainly, someone must have integrated an MCU with motor drivers. Enter the motor controller. I chose to use a Basicmicro Roboclaw 2x7A motor controller (Figure 1) . This is the smallest in a line of compatible controllers. At $70, it cost more than my motor driver. However, it incorporates the use of the wheel encoders, so it has some pretty good intelligence. It can handle two motors at 7 A of continuous current each. I like the fact that I can substitute other models should I need more current—up to 2 x 160 A!
Figure 1 Basicmicro’s Roboclaw motor controller  handles two motors and associated wheel encoders. This allows the user to command motor movements without needing to drive motor phases or count wheel encoder outputs. Its on-board MCU offloads the need to deal with low-level functions.
While I plan to connect this via serial to the Arduino, it can be used stand-alone with an RC receiver, or with analog inputs from potentiometers. The serial link can be “simple” TX only or “packet” TX/RX to provide feedback.
Your motor (and gearing system) can produce some maximum torque or rotational force on a wheel to overcome the load or weight of the robot. Larger loads require more torque. Motors are rated by the maximum torque they can produce. The load or resistance to move must be less than the motor torque, or the motor will not be able to move the load. This is the stalled state of the motor, and will draw maximum current, the “stall state current.” Motor drivers must be able to withstand this current, or the driver will be destroyed trying to dissipate excess heat—not to mention overheating the motor.
Starting from a standstill will most likely require this current until movement has started. High currents while starting are typical but temporary. As the speed increases, the torque required goes down, and so does the current. With the load completely removed, the motor rotates at its maximum speed, requiring minimum current. You will typically see this “no-load” rating (no-load current vs. speed) for a motor. You may also see a continuous current rating. This will be much less than the stall current, and your motor selection should be based on the ability to provide the required torque to run continuously without exceeding the continuous current rating. This is assuming you will need to run continuously.
I’ve measured the stall current of my wheel assembly and found it to be around 5 A. The no-load current is 1 A. The calculated stall torque at the wheel is about 44 foot-pounds (ft-lb) of force after all the gearing. That may sound like a lot, but this robot carries three gel-cell batteries, and the batteries themselves are over 22 lbs. Besides the six motor/power connections, there are seven other control inputs. Two of these are relegated to the wheel encoders, and two are for the motor control mode. The last three are up for grabs, but have specific functions that you might need, depending on the control mode chosen. For instance, if you are using the controller for a remote control (RC) vehicle, you might want to use S3 for a flip input. This input reverses the direction controls when it detects that the vehicle has been flipped upside down, like in the Robot Wars TV show. …
Read the full article in the September 350 issue of Circuit Cellar
(Full article word count: 3231 words; Figure count: 4 Figures. plus 9 code Listings).
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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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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.
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.
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.
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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CONNECTED SYSTEMS IN ACTION
Embedded Computing in RailwaySystems
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.
WIN Enterprises has announced the PL-80580, a fanless, small form factor for use as an Industrial IoT (IIoT) Gateway, and for networking applications requiring the small footprint and temperature tolerance of industrial applications. The small footprint of the PL-80580 (216 mm x 142 mm x 37.5 mm) also provides a good fit for robotics, cart-based medical and digital signage applications.
The unit features a choice of three Intel Atom E3800 3-D processors with Tri-gate design in single-, dual, and quad-core versions with 2x GbE LAN ports. The Intel processor is high performance, low-power consuming at 5 W, 7 w or 10 W. The E3845 SoC provides up to 1.91 GHz performance with its quad-core design. CPUs are partnered with the Intel i210AT GbE LAN controller. System I/O includes 1x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0, 2x Intel PCIe GbE, and 1x RS-232/422/485 & 3x RS232, plus expansion capabilities. The unit is RoHS, FCC, and CE compliant.
Intel Atom Processor E3800 SoC (up to 1.91 GHz)
Supports -10°C~60°C operating temperature range
1 x HDMI, 1 x VGA1 x SATA III, 1 x Half-size mSATA
2 x Intel i210AT Gigabit Ethernet
4 x COM, USB 2.0, USB 3.0
1 x Full-size mini-PCIe, 1 x Half-size mini-PCIe (mSATA)
DC 8V-32V input
WIN Enterprises will customize the PL-80580 based on customer’s specific market requirements.
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.
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.
Advantech has announced the release of its newest UTX form factor motherboard: the AIMB-U117. Measuring 116.8 mm x 111.8 mm, this palm-sized industrial motherboard is equipped with Intel Atom E39XX processors and features 3 independent displays, onboard eMMC storage and rich I/O capabilities. It supports a wide range of DC power inputs from 12 V to 24 V. The AIMB-U117 supports extended operating temperatures from -20 to 70°C. Small in size, the AIMB-U117 targets multiple applications: digital signage, passenger information systems, automation, robot AGV, robotics and vending.
The AIMB-U117 integrates an Intel Gen 9 graphics engine for improved throughput, media acceleration, and 4K2K display resolution. It offers substantial display interfaces, including DisplayPort1.2, HDMI1.4, and eDP (or LVDS). It supports three simultaneous, independent display outputs to deliver advanced graphics and media performance (DirectX 12.0, OpenGL 4.4, OpenCL 2.0). The 4096 x 2160 high resolution output meets the requirements of high-quality display applications—making it well suited for digital signage applications requiring a slim-sized solution with high resolution graphics and up to 3 independent display outputs.
The AIMB-U117 offers a rich set I/O, including: dual GbE LAN ports, 4 x USB 3.0, 1 x SATAIII, and 2 x COM (RS-232, RS-422 or 485). For expansion, it supports 1 x M.2 (E key) and 1 x full-sized MiniPCIe (colay mSATA) for flexible modular add-on card installation. Moreover, the AIMB-U117 supports onboard eMMC storage (optional). The optional standard protocol interfaces include 1 x MDB and 1 x ccTalk for vending applications. 1 x CAN bus is highly suitable for automation applications.
The AIMB-U117 is designed for wide-ranging DC power source input (12V~24V) and features a lockable DC Jack to ensure power cables remain securely connected in high vibration environments. The AIMB-U117 (I SKU) operates under a wide temperature range, -20~70°C, designed for a variety of thermal solutions. It is therefore an ideal solution for use in automation applications and/or semi-outdoor public environments where passenger information systems, signage walls, and vending machines are located such as airports or train stations.
Intel AtomTM E39XX processor.
Supports single channel DDR3L-1866 MHz 204-pin SODIMM socket up to 8 GB.
Renesas Electronics has unveiled the RX66T Group of microcontrollers (MCUs). The chips are the first members of Renesas’ flagship 32-bit RX MCU family based on the new third-generation RXv3 CPU core. The new MCUs leverage advanced CPU core technology to achieve substantially improved performance, as much as 2.5 times better than previous RX family MCUs.
Combining the powerful new RXv3 core with the strengths of the current RX62T and RX63T MCUs, the new RX66T MCUs address the real-time performance and enhanced stability required by inverter control. The new MCUs are ideal for use in industrial applications in next-generation smart factory equipment, such as industrial motors, power conditioners and robots, as well as smart home appliances, including air conditioners and washing machines. When operating at 160 MHz, the RX66T MCUs achieve best-in-class performance of 928 CoreMark 2, enabling more precise inverter control. The MCUs can control up to four motors simultaneously, making them well-suited for conventional motor control and applications requiring multi-axis motor control, such as compact industrial robots and personal robots, which are quickly growing in popularity.
In addition, the RX66T’s extra processing capacity allows developers to add programs utilizing embedded AI (e-AI) for motor fault detection. Such programs can detect motor faults and identify fault location in real time based on the motor’s current or vibration characteristics. Providing this capability offers developers the significant value-add of productivity, safety, and quality. The RX66T MCUs also integrate a 5V power supply that delivers excellent noise tolerance.
With more and more devices ranging from robots and power conditioners to washers and dryers joining the Internet of Things, motorized devices in the field will require online firmware updates throughout their life cycles. Applying e-AI for predictive failure diagnostics requires endpoint MCUs to be securely updated with learning results generated in the cloud. The RX66T MCU Group incorporates Renesas’ Trusted Secure IP (TSIP), which has a track record of CAVP certification3 and provides secure firmware updates and encrypted communication.
Key Features of the RX66T MCU Group:
Supports inverter control with a maximum operating frequency of 160 MHz, 928 CoreMark, on-chip floating point-unit (FPU), and 5V power supply
High-speed flash memory with 120 MHz maximum read operation to reduce speed differential with the CPU and realize both high performance and a consistent execution
Reduces footprint and component count by generating three-phase complementary pulse width modulation (PWM) output for up to four motors using 112-pin and 144-pin package MCUs, and up to three motors using 64-pin, 80-pin and 100-pin package MCUs
Configurations available with 16 KB of error correction code (ECC) SRAM, and up to 128 KB of SRAM with single-cycle access and single-bit error detection (parity checking) for high reliability
Ability to generate high-resolution PWM signals with a minimum state change duration of 195 picoseconds (1.6 times better than existing RX products) for power conditioner or digital power supply control applications
Renesas’ Trusted Secure IP (TSIP) provides secure firmware updates and encrypted communication with a track record of CAVP certification
The Renesas Motor Workbench 2.0 supports 20kHz real-time debugging and adds 10 new functions and an RX66T CPU card for the 24V Motor Control Evaluation Kit are available now.
The new RX66T Group comprises 80 MCUs with pin counts ranging from 64 to 144 pins and on-chip flash memory sizes of 256 KB to 1,024 KB. Mass production starts today for the widely used 100-pin package MCU with 256 KB or 512 KB of program flash and 64 KB of SRAM. Other MCU versions will release over time. Pricing for the RX66T MCU Group starts at $3.25 per unit in 10,000-unit quantities.
Adafruit has released a $35 robotics HAT add-on for any 40-pin Raspberry Pi board. The Adafruit Crickit (Creative Robotics & Interactive Construction Kit) HAT is designed for controlling motors, servos, or solenoids using Python 3. The board is limiting to powering 5V devices and requires a 5 V power supply.
Adafruit Crickit HAT with Pi and connected peripherals
(click image to enlarge)
The Crickit HAT incorporates Adafruit’s “i2c-to-whatever” bridge firmware, called seesaw. With seesaw, “you only need to use two data pins to control the huge number of inputs and outputs on the Crickit,” explains Adafruit founder and MIT engineer Limor Fried in an announcement on the Raspberry Pi blog. “All those timers, PWMs, NeoPixels, sensors are offloaded to the co-processor. Stuff like managing the speed of motors via PWM is also done with the co-processor, so you’ll get smooth PWM outputs that don’t jitter when Linux gets busy with other stuff.”
Crickit HAT with and without Raspberry Pi
(click images to enlarge)
The Crickit HAT uses a “bento box” approach to robotics, writes Fried. “Instead of having eight servo drivers, or four 10A motor controllers, or five stepper drivers, it has just a little bit of everything,” she adds.
Specifications listed for the Adafruit Crickit HAT include:
4x analog or digital servo control, with precision 16-bit timers
2x bi-directional brushed DC motor control, 1 Amp current-limited each, with 8-bit PWM speed control (or one stepper)
4x high-current “Darlington” 500mA drive outputs with kick-back diode protection — for solenoids, relays, large LEDs, or one uni-polar stepper
4x capacitive touch input sensors with alligator pads
8x signal pins, which can be used as digital in/out or analog inputs
1x NeoPixel driver with 5V level shifter connected to the seesaw chip (not the Pi), so you won’t be giving up pin 18. It can drive over 100 pixels.
1x Class D, 4-8 ohm speaker, 3W-max audio amplifier connected to the I2S pins on the Pi for high-quality digital audio — even works on Zeros
1x micro-USB to serial converter port for updating seesaw with the drag-n-drop bootloader, or plugging into a computer; it can also act as a USB converter for logging into the console and running command lines on the Pi.
Crickit HAT, front and back
(click images to enlarge)
The Adafruit Crickit HAT is currently listed as “out of stock” at $34.95. More information may be found in Adafruit’s Crickit HAT announcement and product page.
Axiomtek has announced its ongoing collaboration with Alert Innovation. Alert Innovation has been tapped by Walmart to use its robotics technology to automate their grocery operations. The company has developed the Alphabot system, an Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS) that is also an Automated Each-Picking System (AEPS). Axiomtek’s embedded computers and SMARC System on Modules (SOMs) are used in the system. For a period of almost two years prior to the announcement of the Alphabot pilot test in a Walmart Supercenter, the Axiomtek team worked alongside Alert Innovation’s engineering team, helping to identify and customize products for Alert’s use, participating in schematic reviews and supporting driver development to ensure seamless integration. Since then, Axiomtek has continued to invest in and support the Alert Innovation Alphabot system’s mission.
A number of products have been tailored to balance performance and cost effectiveness, mitigate the challenges associated with refrigerated and frozen environments by adding conformal coatings and integrate application-specific interfaces. According to Alert Innovation, said Matthew Coady, Senior Director of Electrical Engineering and Controls. “We chose them because their products and team consistently met our stringent project requirements, delivering quality, performance, support, and all the features our applications required,” said Matthew Coady, Alert Innovation’s Senior Director of Electrical Engineering and Controls, “The SMARC SOM that we selected fits in our space-constrained application and helped us come to market quickly. If (and when) our application needs more processing power, memory or storage, Axiomtek has a range of products in their portfolio and roadmap that will help keep our hardware platform viable for many years to come. Axiomtek was quick to provide us with a BSP for our QNX operating system, and carrier integration support.”
Mouser examines a human-centric approach to robotics. Soft Robotic designs are less metal and mechanical and utilize gentle, compliant mechanisms and actuators built using fluids and flexible materials. These enable a wide range of motion and are suitable for exoskeletons or wearables.