Dr. Hugh Herr’s keynote address started off Tuesday at ESC off on an optimistic note. His talk was about integration of technology into the human body. He told us that he had both legs amputated at the knee, and he was walking around today on prosthetic legs. This was a surprise because he walked up to the stage like any person with biological legs. He showed us how his ankles contained twelve sensors and five microprocessors and were powered by a removable battery pack.
I could sense the audience’s enthusiasm for the topic. When Dr. Herr took questions, people restricted their questions to those that would be of interest to most of the audience. The questions were along the lines of what type of technologies we could develop that would be of use to biomechatronics.
This tenor of the show extended to the exhibit floor. Engineers in the café area sat at tables and shared diagrams of what they were working on. Many of the Sensor Expo exhibits were germane to embedded systems. There was a large section of energy harvesting components and power supplies. Marlow Industries had some Peltier modules with heat sinks on display, generating power from one side being near a space heater. North Pole Engineering had a Wi-Fi module with an ARM processor that could be soldered onto a board, taking up only an inch of real estate. There were several vendors with high-end scopes on display. Apparently SPI decoding is a standard feature now, something not included on a high-end scope from several years ago.
ESC and the Sensor Expo each had a small area for technical classes right in the middle of the exhibit area. One class I walked by in the ESC area was going over detailed aspects of coding. Despite the class being in the middle of a noisy exhibit hall, every chair was taken and many people took notes.
The classes given in the classrooms were similar. I attended two sessions on debugging embedded firmware. At one point the speaker said if all else fails you should start probing the hardware with a logic analyzer, even though it’s undesirable. As a hardware engineer, that’s usually the point where I get involved. It strikes me as being much easier than debugging code. It was interesting to hear it from the software point of view.
The “lab” class given by Rohde & Schwarz stood out because of its lab format. Since they did several sessions and the classes were open to exhibit-only attendees, I expected it to be sales roadmaps. It was actually just like an undergrad electronics lab: Two chairs around each table, with each table containing an oscilloscope that I barely knew how to operate. There was a lab procedure that required us to go through various oscilloscope settings. The person facilitating our class certainly didn’t look like anyone you’d meet in an engineering building but was knowledgeable about all the basics of the product. One part of the lab asked us to display two waveforms at a time. We immediately turned up the volts/div and added offsets to the channels. This was the wrong way to do it because you lose a bit of ADC resolution when you turn down the volts/div. On a modern scope you instead keep the volts/div low and display the signals separately by touching the screen and dragging them to opposite sides of the screen. This overview of a modern scope will be useful if I work with a recent EE grad.