Avoid Reinventing the Wheel on Industrial Designs

Software updates are easy to roll out, but hardware upgrades on custom designs often require a major investment of time and money. A modular approach can speed up this process. In this article, congatec’s Dan Demers explains how.

Make slow progress or speed ahead with buy-in?

By Dan Demers, Director of Sales and Marketing – Americas, congatec

We are used to receiving software updates on-the-fly today. So why not utilize converged embedded computing platforms to upgrade our hardware? This would enable us to take direct advantage of the rapid development cycles of the computing, vision and AI industries.

There are plenty of examples on how to upgrade the hardware during running series production. In the medical sector, for instance, where medical devices even require certification. But it appears that some system developers have not yet learned how to consistently build computing core upgrades into their product development.

This is because full custom designs are still quite common. The integration of expensive navigation systems by premium vehicle manufacturers is a bad example of this. Although pretty and expensive, they are often much slower than the driver’s considerably cheaper mobile phone. Before the computer technology that’s installed in the vehicle gets used by the customer, it is usually already obsolete.  Market acceptance for such monolithic solutions is therefore dwindling noticeably.

The problem of these manufacturers is anchored in the design principles of mass production, where every cent matters, but no attention is paid to the innovation cycle demanded by users. This has fatal consequences: If the computing part is entirely custom designed, an upgrade will in many cases require a redesign, where the ability to reuse blocks of the previous generation is limited. So all in all, we’re talking about a major investment to always deploy the latest computer technology in an application.

But there’s another way: To avoid having to reinvent the wheel every time, the Computer-on-Module concept was developed at the end of the 90s. Modular approaches had existed before then, but it is only since the Computer-on-Module concept emerged, that modules stopped being proprietary and became available as standardized components from numerous providers.

congatec offers SFF Computer-on-Modules for all leading standards: SMARC 2.0, Qseven, COM Express Mini and COM Express Compact modules.

Computer-on-Modules are available in different designs. For low-power CPUs such as Intel Atom, AMD G-Series or the ARM i.MX6 and i.MX8 platforms from NXP, the Qseven and SMARC Computer-on-Module standards are particularly suitable. For higher computing power and interface demands, COM Express is the best standard. COM Express Type 6 modules support fast CPUs, like the AMD V1000 or the latest Intel Core processors.

Type 7 was defined for edge server processors and 10 Gbit Ethernet support; however, in true server fashion, it no longer supports any video interfaces. The upcoming PICMG COM-HPC standard will support even faster interfaces. The specification is due to be published in 2019, with first products expected in 2020.

With Server-on-Modules a modular approach is even suitable for the development and constant update of high-performance microservers by just exchanging the modules. This significantly reduce the efforts and cost connected for upgrades.

All in all, Computer-on-Modules are an ideal and easy way to equip machines and devices with the latest processor technology. So anyone who wants to use converged system platforms as part of their closed-loop engineering, will find that Computer-on-Modules are a perfect platform for performance upgrades. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t implement a full custom design when it comes to mass production. But here too, getting the module supplier to implement a fusion of modules and carrier board works significantly better than the OEM developing everything from scratch.

congatec | www.congatec.com/us

 

Sponsored by: congatec

Variscite Unveils Two i.MX8 QuadMax Modules

By Eric Brown

Variscite announced Linux-powered “VAR-SOM-MX8” and “SPEAR-MX8” modules with an up to an i.MX8 QuadMax SoC plus up to 8GB LPDDR4 and 64GB eMMC. It also previewed a VAR-SOM-6UL COM.

At Embedded World in Nuremberg, Germany, Variscite showcased its Linux and Android driven i.MX8-family computer-on-modules, including new VAR-SOM-MX8 and SPEAR-MX8 modules that feature NXP’s highest-end i.MX8 SoC up to a QuadMax model (see farther below). We have already covered most of the other showcased products, including the 14nm fabricated, quad -A53 i.MX8M Mini based DART-MX8M-Mini. When we covered the DART-MX8M-Mini in September, Variscite didn’t have an image or product page, but both are now available here


 
VAR-SOM-MX8 (left) and previously announced DART-MX8M-Mini
(click images to enlarge)
Other showcased COMs that we covered in recent months include the quad -A35 i.MX8X based VAR-SOM-MX8X and the quad -A53 i.MX8M based DART-MX8M. Variscite also announced a VAR-SOM-6UL module with support for the i.MX6 UL (UltraLite), ULL, and most recent ULZ low-power IoT SoCs. The board has yet to be fully documented, but we’ve listed what’s available farther below.



Variscite’s VAR-SOM and DART families
(click image to enlarge)
 VAR-SOM-MX8

Due to ship with the similar, but more advanced, SPEAR-MX8 (see farther below) in the second quarter, the 67.6 x 51.6mm VAR-SOM-MX8 is pin-to-pin compatible with other VAR-SOM modules, including the new wireless-enabled version of the circa-2014 VAR-SOM-MX6.

The VAR-SOM-MX8 ships with the high-end i.MX8 QuadMax or the mid-range QuadPlus models. The i.MX8 QuadMax features 2x Cortex-A72 cores, 4x Cortex-A53 cores, 2x Vivante GC7000XSVX GPUs, and 2x Cortex-M4F real-time cores. The QuadPlus is identical except that it only has one Cortex-A72 core.


 
VAR-SOM-MX8 rear view and block diagram
(click images to enlarge)
Other i.MX8 SoCs that support both the QuadMax and QuadPlus include Congatec’s Conga-SMX8 SMARC module, which also offers the DualMax variant. The others focus on the QuadMax, including the Toradex Apalis iMX and iWave iW-RainboW-G27M.

The VAR-SOM-MX8 runs Yocto Project based Linux (Sumo release) or Android 9.0 “Pie,” both with Linux kernel 4.14.78. The module ships with 2GB to 8GB LPDDR4 and 4GB to 64GB eMMC. It supports 2x GbE ports and offers a wireless module with certified 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.2 BLE.

Media I/O includes HDMI v2.0a, eDP 1.4, and DP 1.3, all with resolution up to 4Kp60. There are also MIPI-DSI and dual-channel LVDS connections for up to 1920 x 1080 pixels with resistive or capacitive touch support. For audio, you get analog I/O, a headphone driver, digital and analog stereo mic support, and I2S/SAI digital audio.

The module supports USB 3.0 OTG and USB 2.0 host ports, as well as 5x UART, 4x I2C, 4x SPI, and 2x CAN/CAN-FD (FlexibleData-Rate). Other I/O includes PCIe Gen 3.0, SD/MMC, and optional JTAG. The 3.3V module supports 0 to 70°C, -20 to 85°C, and -40 to 85°C temperature ranges. There’s a product longevity guarantee through 2033.

SPEAR-MX8

The SPEAR-MX8 is only slightly larger than the VAR-SOM-MX8, at 68 x 55mm, but it packs in a lot more features. On the other hand, it lacks the pin-to-pin compatibility with other VAR-SOM models. The module offers only the high-end i.MX8 QuadMax.


 
SPEAR-MX8 and block diagram
(click images to enlarge)
The SPEAR-MX8 appears to have all the features of the VAR-SOM-MX8 with several key additions. These include support for SATA III storage, an HDMI 1.4 input, and dual MIPI-CSI2 camera links. It adds a third USB connection, which is variably listed as a second USB 3.0 and a second USB 2.0 OTG. You also get a second PCIe link and a third CAN port. The module has a heftier 3.4-4.5V DC input.

VAR-SOM-6UL

Variscite did not have much to say about the upcoming VAR-SOM-6UL module, which like the smaller, 50 x 25mm DART-6UL, uses a slightly stripped down i.MX6 ULZ SoC in addition to the UL and ULL models. All these single Cortex-A7 SoCs, which are here clocked to 900MHz, are notable for their low power consumption.



VAR-SOM-6UL
The VAR-SOM-6UL will ship with certified dual-band WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth/BLE, and support for dual Ethernet ports, dual USB ports, and serial interfaces. Media interfaces include 24-bit Parallel LCD, 18-bit LVDS up to WXGA, audio I/O, and a camera input.

Further information

The VAR-SOM-MX8 and SPEAR-MX8 modules are available in eval kits for “early partners” and will launch in Q2. There’s no ship date for the VAR-SOM-6UL, which is now open for pre-orders for eval kits and samples.

More information may be found in Variscite’s i.MX Embedded World announcement, as well as the VAR-SOM-MX8 product page and wiki and the SPEAR-MX8 product page.

This article originally appeared on LinuxGizmos.com on February 22.

Variscite | www.variscite.com

Linux-Driven SMARC Module Supports Up to Five Time-Sensitive GbE Ports

By Eric Brown

Kontron invented the ULP-COM standard that formed the basis of the SMARC form factor, and it has delivered numerous SMARC modules over the years, including Arm products such as the Nvidia Tegra K1 based SMC-NTKE1. Now it has unveiled the first module we’ve seen in any form factor with NXP’s dual-core, Cortex-A72 powered QorIQ Layerscape LS1028 SoC.

The 82 mm x 50 mm SMARC-sAL28 module runs a Yocto Project based Linux stack (with U-Boot) on the LS1028. The module exploits the SoC’s Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) support with up 2x or 5x TSN-capable Gigabit Ethernet ports.



SMARC-sAL28
(click image to enlarge)
The SMARC-sAL28 module is compliant with the IEEE 802.1 TSN standard, which offers guaranteed latency and Quality of Service (QoS) with time synchronization to enable “a timely and highly available delivery of data packets,” says Kontron. TSN Ethernet can replace more expensive, proprietary fieldbus technology while also offering the advantage of being able to “simultaneously communicate seamlessly to the IT level.”

No clock rate was listed for the LS1028 SoC, which NXP refers to as the LS1028A. The SoC integrates a four-port TSN switch and two separate TSN Ethernet controllers. Like NXP’s other networking oriented LSx QorIQ Layerscape SoCs, it supports NXP’s EdgeScale suite of secure edge computing device management tools. It’s the only LSx SoC that features a 3D graphics capable GPU.

 
SMARC-sAL28 (left) and NXP LS1028A block diagrams 
(click images to enlarge)
The SMARC-sAL28 ships with 4GB of soldered DDR3L with optional ECC, as well as 2GB to 64GB eMMC 5.1 storage. The 3V-5.25V module supports -40 to 85°C operation.

Two models are available. One has 2x TSN-capable, switched GbE controllers “that can be directly used by the carrier,” says Kontron. The second version supports 4x switched TSN-capable GbE ports via the QSGMII interface with an additional TSN-capable GbE controller. This second option provides a total of 5x TSN-ready GbE ports ports “using a quad-PHY on the carrier.” This 5x GbE model sacrifices one of the 2x PCIe x1 interfaces, which can also be deployed as a single PCIe x4 connection.

The SMARC-sAL28 provides a dual-channel LVDS interface, one of which can be swapped out for eDP as a BOM option. The second LVDS offers a BOM option swap-out for either an HDMI or DisplayPort.

The module is further equipped with a single USB 3.0, 6x USB 2.0, and 4x RX/TX serial interfaces. Other I/O includes 2x I2C, 2x SPI, 12x GPIO, and single SDIO, CAN, and I2S connections. Options include a Wibu security chip with Kontron Approtect security software, as well as an RTC.

Further information

The SMARC-sAL28 is “coming soon” at an undisclosed price. More information may be found in Kontron’s SMARC-sAL28 announcement and product page.

Kontron | www.kontron.com

SMARC SOMs Used for Walmart Robotic Retrieval System

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.”

Axiomtek | us.axiomtek.com

SMARC Module Features Hexa-Core i.MX8 QuadMax

By Eric Brown

iWave has unveiled a rugged, wireless enabled SMARC module with 4 GB LPDDR4 and dual GbE controllers that runs Linux or Android on NXP’s i.MX8 QuadMax SoC with 2x Cortex-A72, 4x -A53, 2x -M4F and 2x GPU cores.

iW-RainboW-G27M (front)

iWave has posted specs for an 82 mm x 50 mm, industrial temperature “iW-RainboW-G27M” SMARC 2.0 module that builds on NXP’s i.MX8 QuadMax system-on-chip. The i.MX8 QuadMax was announced in Oct. 2016 as the higher end model of an automotive focused i.MX8 Quad family.

Although the lower-end, quad-core, Cortex-A53 i.MX8M SoC was not fully announced until after the hexa-core Quad, we’ve seen far more embedded boards based on the
i.MX8M , including a recent Seco SM-C12

iW-RainboW-G27M (back)

SMARC module. The only other i.MX8 Quad based product we’ve seen is Toradex’s QuadMax driven Apalis iMX8 module. The Apalis iMX8 was announced a year ago, but is still listed as “coming soon.”

 

 

i.MX8 Quad block diagram (dashed lines indicate model-specific features) (click image to enlarge)

 

Like Rockchip’s RK3399, NXP’s i.MX8 QuadMax features dual high-end Cortex-A72 cores and four Cortex-A53 cores. NXP also offers a similar i.MX8 QuadPlus design with only one Cortex-A72 core.

The QuadMax clock rates are lower than on the RK3399, which clocks to 1.8 GHz (A72) and 1.2 GHz (A53). Toradex says the Apalis iMX8’s -A72 and -A53 cores will clock to 1.6 GHz and 1.2 GHz, respectively.

Close-up of i.MX8 QuadMax on iW-RainboW-G27M

Whereas the i.MX8M has one 266 MHz Cortex-M4F microcontroller, the Quad SoCs have two. A HIFI4 DSP is also onboard, along with a dual-core Vivante GC7000LiteXS/VX GPU, which is alternately referred to as being two GPUs in one or having a split GPU design.

iWave doesn’t specifically name these coprocessors except to list features including a “4K H.265 decode and 1080p H.264 enc/dec capable VPU, 16-Shader 3D (Vec4), and Enhanced Vision Capabilities (via GPU).” The SoC is also said to offer a “dual failover-ready display controller.” The CPUs, meanwhile, are touted for their “full chip hardware virtualization capabilities.”

Inside the iW-RainboW-G27M

Like iWave’s SMARC 2.0 form factor Snapdragon 820 SOM, the iW-RainboW-G27M supports Linux and Android, in this case running Android Nougat (7.0) or higher. (Toradex’s Apalis iMX8 supports Linux, and also supports FreeRTOS running on the Cortex-M4F MCUs.)

Like Toradex, iWave is not promoting the automotive angle that was originally pushed by NXP. iWave’s module is designed to “offer maximum performance with higher efficiency for complex embedded application of consumer, medical and industrial embedded computing applications,” says iWave.

Like the QuadMax based Apalis iMX8, as well as most of the i.MX8M products we’ve seen, the iW-RainboW-G27M supports up to 4 GB LPDDR4 RAM and up to 16 GB eMMC. iWave notes that the RAM and eMMC are “expandable,” but does not say to what capacities. There’s also a microSD slot and 256 MB of optional QSPI flash.

Whereas Apalis iMX8 has a single GbE controller, iWave’s COM has two. It similarly offers onboard 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (4.1). The Microchip ATWILC3000-MR110CA module, which juts out a bit on one side, is listed by Digi-Key as 802.11b/g/n, but iWave has it as 802.11ac.

Interfaces expressed via the SMARC edge connector include 2x GbE, 2x USB 3.0 host (4-port hub), 4x USB 2.0 host, and USB 2.0 OTG. Additional SMARC I/O includes 3x UART (2x with CTS & RTS), 2x CAN, 2x I2C, 12x GPIO, and single PCIe, SATA, debug UART, SD, SPI and QSPI

Media features include an HDMI/DP transmitter, dual-channel LVDS or MIPI-DSI, and an SSI/I2S audio interface. iWave also lists HDMI, 2x LVDS, SPDIF, and ESAI separately under “expansion connector interfaces.” Other expansion I/O is said to include MLB, CAN and GPIO.

The 5 V module supports -40 to 80°C temperatures. There is no mention of a carrier board.

Further information

No pricing or availability was listed for the iW-RainboW-G27M, but a form is available for requesting a quote. More information may be found on iWave’s iW-RainboW-G27M product page.

iWave | www.iwavesystems.com

This article originally appeared on LinuxGizmos.com on March 13.

Qseven & SMARC Cards Boast i.MX8 CPUs

Congatec has announced support of the new 64-bit NXP i.MX8 processors for the Qseven and SMARC module standards. As a member of NXP’s Early Access Program, the new congatec modules will be available in time with the production launch of the new ARM Cortex A53 / A72 based processor family. This enables OEM customers to implement their first-to-market strategies efficiently, since they can start designing the carrier board for their applications now and will be able to leverage application-ready i.MX8 based Congatec modules from day one of the launch date.

conga-QMX8_pressThe new Qseven and SMARC modules with NXP i.MX8 real-time processors are well suited for a wide range of industrial, stationary and in-vehicle applications, as the processors integrate up to four cores and high-performance graphics for up to four independent displays with low energy consumption. Since the modules are designed for the extended ambient temperature range from -40°C to +85°C, they can also be used in fleet systems for commercial vehicles or in infotainment applications in cabs, buses and trains as well as all the new electric and autonomous vehicles. The acceptance of these new platforms is accelerated by the widespread use of ARM technologies in the consumer electronics market, which further reinforces the dominance of ARM technology, especially in the (ultra-) low-power segment of embedded computer technologies.

Congatec offers numerous important services around its modules, allowing design engineers to fully concentrate on the new features: The offer ranges from starter kits to EDM services and encompasses everything the developer’s heart desires. With congatec’s personal design-in support, OEMs also benefit from expert premium service from requirement engineering through to serial production. The first congatec modules and matching starter kits will be presented at Embedded World 2018 in Nuremberg. Customers can order starter kits with Qseven modules based on NXP i.MX6 processors today to enable them to switch to the new 64-bit platform the moment the new modules are launched. The first batches will be limited; interested OEM customers should register now for the exclusive congatec i.MX8 Early Access Program.

Congatec | www.congatec.com

SMARC Module Serves up Snapdragon 820 Chipset

iWave Systems has launched its latest System On Module based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 chipset in the SMARC R2.0 form factor. The SOM integrates Qualcomm’s APQ8096 SOC offering 64-bit Quad Kryo CPU, with on SOM 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, BT4.1 and the GPS support. The Qualcomm APQ8096 SOC incorporates 64-bit Quad Kryo CPU, among which are Dual Kryo cores Gold cluster operates at 2.15 GHz and Dual Kryo cores Silver cluster operates at 1.6 GHz. It also includes Adreno 530 3D Graphics at 624MHz, H.265 4K60 HW decode, 4K30 HW encode and Qualcomm Hexagon 680 DSP at 825MHz.

qualcomm-snapdragon820-smarc-som

The Snapdragon 820 SOM module is intended for high end embedded computing applications which require high processing power, graphics and multimedia capabilities such as augmented and virtual reality, 4K digital signage, media streaming, Connected home & entertainment, High end wearables, drones, secure POS, video analytics and more.  The modulesupports 3 Gbytes of LPDDR4 RAM and 32 Gbytes eMMC Flash with optional micro SD card support. This SOM is supported with Android BSP support at the launch and followed by Linux.

iWave Systems | www.iwavesystems.com