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16 Posts authored by: GardenState

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Flash is the storage technology used inside the thinnest, lightest laptops and nearly every cellphone, tablet and mobile device. With users of these devices constantly demanding increasing functionality the amount of NAND flash memory needed has grown accordingly. Traditional planar NAND flash memory, however, is nearing its practical scaling limits, posing significant challenges for the memory industry.


Happily, once again technology is coming to the rescue. Last week, coincidentally on the same day and in separate announcements, Micron/Intel and Toshiba/SanDisk announced the availability of flash cells that are vertically stacked in multiple layers, known as 3D NAND technology. Products using 3D NAND are expected to be able to keep flash storage solutions on track for continued performance gains and cost savings, driving more widespread use of flash storage. This is important because solid state drives (SSDs) employing flash have had a significant impact on computing, but although prices have dropped, the capacities still lag far behind those of traditional magnetic hard drives.


The 3D NAND technology jointly developed by Intel and Micron (who have partnered to make 3D NAND Flash since the formation of their joint venture in 2006) stacks 32 layers of data storage cells vertically.  It uses floating gate cells a universally utilized design refined through years of high-volume planar flash manufacturing and enables what the companies say is the highest-density flash device ever developed—three times higher capacity than other NAND die in production. The immediate result will be seen in gum stick-sized SSDs with more than 3.5 terabytes (TB) of storage and standard 2.5-inch SSDs with greater than 10TB capacity.

Because capacity is achieved by stacking cells vertically, the individual cell dimensions can be considerably larger. This is expected to increase both performance and endurance and make the technology well-suited for data center storage. What is more, in the Intel/Micron design a new sleep modes enable low-power use by cutting power to inactive NAND die (even when other die in the same package are active), dropping power consumption significantly in standby mode.


The 256Gb multilevel cell version of 3D NAND is sampling today with select partners, and the 384Gb triple-level cell design will begin sampling later this spring.


Toshiba's 3D NAND structure (which will also appear under the SanDisk label since the two have a NAND joint venture) is called BiCS, for Bit Cost Scaling., Toshiba’s new flash memory stores two bits of data per transistor, meaning it's a multi-level cell (MLC) flash chip. It can store 128Gbits (16GB) per chip. Toshiba said its 48-layer stacking process enhances the reliability of write/erase endurance, boosts write speed, and is suited for use in diverse applications, but primarily solid-state drives (SSDs).Sample shipments of products using the new process technology began last Thursday. Toshiba is preparing for mass production in their new Fab2 at Yokkaichi Operations,


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For its part last year Samsung became the first company to announce it was mass-producing 3D flash chips, which it calls V-NAND. Samsung’s chips stack 32-layers of transistors. V-NAND crams in 3-bits per transistor in what the industry refers to as triple-level cell (TLC) NAND. Because Samsung uses TLC memory, its chips are said to be able to store as much as Toshiba's 48-layer 3D NAND -- 128Gbits or 16GB.


Going forward these and subsequent 3D NAND announcement could mean SSDs will have the density to see it eclipsing hard drives as the primary storage medium in devices meeting most people’s needs.

Texas Instruments has announced the Sensor Hub BoosterPack for its Tiva C Series TM4C123G LaunchPad at Design West 2013. The new BoosterPack is a plug-in daughter card that allows ARM Cortex-M4 MCU developers to create products with up to seven types of motion and environmental sensing capabilities. This BoosterPack and accompanying TivaWare software enables measurement of pressure, humidity, ambient and infrared (IR) light along with temperature and motion (including acceleration, orientation and compass).

 

Developers can use the board to create sensor fusion applications such as global positioning system (GPS) tracking, home and building automation, portable consumer electronics, games and many more applications.

 

The  BoosterPack leverages the processing, floating-point and communication capabilities of TI's Tiva C Series TM4C123GH6 ARM Cortex-M4 MCU for enhanced sensor accuracy. TI's TivaWare software, provided with the LaunchPad kit, includes a Sensor Driver Library, providing developers with a sensor fusion API and several example applications that demonstrate how each of the sensors operate individually or in collaboration.

 

Similarly, TivaWare software also includes the Peripheral Driver Library to configure and operate the on-chip peripherals with a set of example applications. These applications demonstrate the capabilities of the Tiva TM4C123GH6 MCU, as well as provide a starting point for users to develop their final applications.

Coto Technology introduced its RedRock RS-A-2515 Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS)-based magnetic reed switch at Design West in San Jose.  Based on its high aspect ratio MEMS design and manufacturing processes, the switch is said to provide all of the advantages of conventional magnetic reed switch technology, including zero power operation and high-power hot switching.

 

The switch has a footprint of less than 2.1 mm2 (1.01 x 2.08 mm), is 0.94 mm high and is claimed by the company to be the smallest MEMS-based reed switch available on the market today. The first of a new Coto Technology switch family, the switch exhibits all of the high performance characteristics inherent in classical reed switches, according to the company. These include closure sensitivity ranges from 5 to 25 millitesla, permitting operation up to 20mm using a small NdFeB magnet. The switch has a release sensitivity greater than 15 millitesla (5mT), minimizing the risk of sticking when the magnetic field is removed.  The RS-A-2515 has a maximum switching voltage of 100 VDC with a switching current of 50mA DC or 35mA AC, RMS.  Its zero operating power is a key advantage in power sensitive applications, particularly those operating with battery power.

Atmel Corporation used the forum of Design West to launch a new integrated development tools platform, a complete hardware and software product specifically designed to support Atmel MCUs including its recent ARM Cortex-M4-based SAM4L family.

 

Specifically tailored to allow developers to take advantage of Atmel's MCUs,the new platform consists of hardware and development tools, embedded software and an embedded 'app' store where engineers can utilize Atmel Xplained Pro; Atmel Studio 6; Atmel Software Framework; and  Atmel Gallery.

 

Atmel's Xplained Pro evaluation kit, provides engineers with a low-cost out-of-the-box board that includes an Atmel MCU, embedded debugger, and connectors for extension boards. When designers plug the Xplained board into their system, they can pull-up Atmel Studio 6 and Atmel Software Framework with over 2,000 ready-to-run project examples. Atmel Gallery, which is fully integrated into Studio 6, allows embedded designers to pull up a development App Store to download third party extensions and plug-ins for their projects.

At Design West AMD announced its new Embedded G-Series System-on-Chip (SOC) platform, a single-chip solution based on its “Jaguar” CPU architecture and AMD Radeon 8000 Series graphics. According to the company the AMD Embedded G-Series signifies a strategic push to focus on high-growth markets outside the PC industry, with an emphasis on embedded systems.

 

The AMD Embedded G-Series SOC platform is said to offer up to 113 percent improved CPU performance compared to the prior generation AMD Embedded G-Series APU, and up to a 125 percent advantage compared to the Intel Atom when running multiple industry-standard compute intensive benchmarks, according to AMD.

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For embedded applications, the new platform  includes support for DirectX 11.1, OpenGL 4.2x and OpenCL 1.22 that enables parallel processing and high-performance graphics processing, yielding up to a 20 percent graphics improvement over the previous AMD Embedded G-Series APU and greater than 5x advantage over Intel Atom when running multiple industry-standard graphics-intensive benchmarks, according to AMD.

 

The AMD Embedded G-Series SOC supports Windows Embedded 8 and Linux, and is designed for such embedded applications as industrial control and automation, digital signage, electronic gaming systems, SMB storage, IP-TV, medical and network appliances, set-top boxes and more. AMD will ship the AMD G-Series SOC platform with general availability in the second quarter of 2013,

At Design West embedded and mobile software supplier Wind River introduced the latest version of its VxWorks platform, a secure separation kernel that provides Type 1 hypervisor–based, multiple independent levels of security (MILS) for systems that may require high assurance evaluation or certification and accreditation (C&A).

 

VxWorks MILS Platform partitions a single processor among multiple software components, with time and space resource allocation, information flow control, and fault isolation.  It can also host a range of guest operating systems and provides scalability for Intel and PowerPC architecture processors.

 

For avionics systems, Wind River plans to enhance VxWorks MILS Platform to be conformant to the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) Technical Standard, an open standard published by the FACE Consortium, a managed consortium of The Open Group.

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BeagleBone Black, the next-generation offering from BeagleBoard.org, is a low-cost ($45), community-supported development platform for ARM Cortex-A8 processor developers and hobbyists. Its Sitara AM335x processor (from TI) enhances the user experience by enabling an advanced graphical user interface and more than 2x higher performance than ARM11-based solutions.

 

BeagleBone Black includes all the necessary components in the box to connect a display, keyboard and network. It boots Linux in under 10-seconds and according to its proponents you can get started on Sitara AM335x ARM Cortex-A8 processor development in less than 5 minutes with just a single USB cable.

 

BeagleBone Black ships with the Ångström Linux distribution in onboard FLASH to start evaluation and development. Other Linux distributions and operating systems are also supported on BeagleBone Black including: Ubuntu, Android and Fedora.

 

BeagleBone Black's capabilities can be extended using plug-in boards called “capes” that can be plugged into BeagleBone Black's two 46-pin dual-row expansion headers. Capes are available for, VGA, LCD, motor control, prototyping, battery power and other functionality.

Visitors to the Newark element14 booth at Design West found it overflowing with hands-on demos, product giveaways, video Q&As, and tutorials on Arduino-based applications, ARM development tools, the next-generation BeagleBone, and, of course,  Raspberry Pi.

 

Industry luminaries including Raspberry Pi co-creator and Gertboard creator, Gert Van Loo (Gertboard enables the Raspberry Pi to interface to the outside world through analog and digital converters and I/O, as well as motor controllers) and element 14’s own Ben Heck made their talents available to booth visitors..

 

Heck will be filming his popular element14-sponsored online TV series, "The Ben Heck Show," directly from the show floor, as well as conducting one-on-one interviews with key members of the design community to uncover today's most sought-after questions about the latest technology, design tools, and top manufacturers. Heck and Van Loo, will offer 45-minute informational tutorials including a sessions entitled "Beagles, Boards and Raspberry Pi…Oh my!"

 

This morning in the session “What the Heck is That? Prototyping Tales of Horror” element 14’s Heck tells tales about his Element14 Internet video program that has been viewed by about seven million viewers worldwide. A veteran of 77 episodes on element14 Heck shows engineers how to prototype more than 50 build it yourself projects including a mailbox that tells you when it’s got mail and robot luggage that follows you around the airport hands-free.

Just when it seems like wireless communications has reached a cost/performance peak, one supplier or another comes along and pushes the bar even higher. As a result the market for semiconductors covering such wireless protocols as Bluetooth, for example, is expected to rise to 3.1 billion units in 2017, up a whopping 91% from 1.6 billion in 2011, according to IMS Research, with the majority of the growth driven by demand for wireless combination ICs and mobile system-on-chip (SoC) devices with integrated wireless connectivity for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

 

Nowhere is the wireless trend more evident than at Design West where companies ranging from well-known MCU supplier Microchip to RF specialists such as Nordic Semiconductor unveiled expanded embedded wireless portfolios.

 

Microchip’s new entries include Bluetooth ,Wi-Fi and ZigBee products.The Bluetooth additions include the PIC32 Bluetooth Audio Development Kit, featuring modules, stacks and CODECs, and XBee footprint-compatible socket modules with integrated stacks.  The new Wi-Fi offerings comprise IEEE 802.11b/g Wi-Fi modules with Microchip’s free source-code TCP/IP stack running on a PIC microcontroller, as well as XBee footprint-compatible socket modules with integrated stacks for ease of use.  Microchip is also adding a low-power 2.4 GHz radio that supports—for the first time in one chip—both the IEEE 802.15.4 and proprietary data rates (from 125 kbps to 2 Mbps), including the ZigBee, MiWi and other proprietary protocols.

 

Microchip’s new 2.4 GHz IEEE 802.15.4 MRF24XA transceiver radio provides a very low operating voltage range of 1.5 to 3.6V, and receive power consumption of only 13 mA, according to the company, which enables years of battery life. This is also Microchip’s first radio that can support both the IEEE 802.15.4 and proprietary data rates and protocols.

 

For designers who want an easy way to migrate their 802.15.4 designs to either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth-- to make them accessible from smart phones and tablets, or to add Internet connectivity—Microchip’s RN XV series of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth socket modules provide agency-certified, drop-in connectivity for any XBee socket.  To simplify designs the stacks are integrated on the module, configured via simple ASCII commands, and can easily connect to any MCU via a serial interface.

 

For those designers who want to add more extensible Wi-Fi functionality, such as a complete Web server and email, via a configurable source-code TCP/IP stack that is resident on one of many PIC microcontrollers, the company’s new low-power and agency-certified MRF24WG0MA/MB modules connect at all IEEE 802.11b/g data rates, up to 54 Mbps, and are Microchip’s first to support a sustained throughput of 5 Mbps. This provides a footprint-compatible migration path for users of Microchip’s existing Wi-Fi modules who need greater speed or increased access-point compatibility, along with more features.

 

As noted previously Bluetooth digital audio is rapidly expanding in high-volume applications such as accessories for smart phones and tablets, as well as audio sound bars. To meet this demand, Microchip’s 32-bit PIC32 microcontrollers provide a platform for developing digital-audio playback and accessories.  The new PIC32 Bluetooth Audio Development Kit builds on Microchip’s existing stack-integrated Bluetooth audio module with a new low-cost, agency-certified Bluetooth HCI transceiver module based on a standard radio, AVRCP and A2DP Bluetooth profiles tailored for the PIC32, as well as both standard and advanced audio CODECs such as SBC, AAC and MP3.  Additionally, this kit can be used with Microchip’s existing Made for iPod and Android stacks. 

 

Also at Design West Ultra low power (ULP) RF specialist Nordic Semiconductor today demonstrated its ULP 2.4GHz wireless connectivity solutions for smart home, security, sports and fitness and toy sectors . Nordic demo’ed RF modules developed by Japanese ODMs Hosiden Corporation and Fujitsu Component. The modules are based on Nordic's nRF51822 Bluetooth low energy and 2.4GHz proprietary System-on-Chip (SoC) and are supplied complete with Nordic's verified and qualified Bluetooth low energy stack. The nRF51822's clean boundary between application code and protocol stack simplifies development by removing the need to struggle with integration of application code as part of a vendor-imposed application development framework.

 

Other Nordic demonstrations at Design West include Nordic's nRFready Desktop 2 and nRFready Smart Remote 2. The nRFready Desktop 2 is said to be the world's first combined Bluetooth low energy and proprietary 2.4GHz wireless mouse and keyboard 'combo' reference design and the nRFready Smart Remote 2 is a complete hardware and software remote control reference design featuring a multi-touch touchpad, 6-axis motion sensing, and full QWERTY keyboard. The reference designs are based on the nRF51822 SoC; Nordic's reference designs and sample applications provide designers with a suitable starting point and design framework to accelerate development of nRF24L Series 2.4GHz proprietary, ANT+, and Bluetooth Smart applications and accessories.

Held in San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley the four-day Design West event (April l 22-25) is a technical conference and expo for systems designers, entrepreneurs and technology professionals in the electronics industry.

 

Over 250 exhibitors will be showing their wares during the event. Newark element14 will be exhibiting, displaying, among other products and solutions Raspberry Pi and Accessories, the Next Gen BeagleBone and Sabre Lite, element14's exclusive development kit based on Freescale's i.MX6.  Other notable exhibitors at Design West include ARM, Atmel, Emerson Network Power, Intel, Microchip Technologies, Mentor Graphics, National Instruments, Renesas Electronics, STMicroelectronics, Tektronix, Texas Instruments and Zilog.

 

Keynote speakers scheduled to appear at Design West include: 

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          Luke Dubord, Avionics System Engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Dubord is currently the cross cutting infrastructure and autonomous fault protection lead on the Mars Science Laboratory mission;

 

·                   Mayim Bialik, Actress & Neuroscientist. Bialik has made a name for herself in the entertainment business while at the same time developing a fascinating career in neuroscience, very similar to her Big Bang Theory character; and

 

·                   Hugh Herr, Biomechatronics Director at the MIT Lab who focuses on developing physically assistive technologies that will be intimate extensions of the human body—structurally, neurologically, and dynamically.  A double amputee, Herr is the holder (or co-holder) of 14 patents related to assistive devices, including those for a computer-controlled artificial knee, commercially available as the Rheo Knee, an active ankle-foot orthosis, and the world's first powered ankle-foot prosthesis.

 

Conference tracks are (alphabetically):  Connectivity and Networking; Debugging and Test; Embedded Android; Hardware: Design, I/O and Interfacing; Internet of Things; Linux Kernel and Operating Systems; Low-Power Design; Processors and Programmable Devices ; Programming; Prototyping; Real Time Operating Systems; Safety, Security and Hacking Embedded Systems; Software Architecture and Design; Software Development; Systems Engineering and Tech Fundamentals.

 

Look for our daily blogs from Design West beginning Tuesday April 23.

Joe Alderson reports from Embedded World 2012 in Nuremberg:

 

 

With a rare chance to leave the Farnell/element14 stand and take a trip around the rest of the exhibition, the final day of Embedded World 2012, intended for students and academics, really brought home the incredible level of knowledge among young engineers who are just finishing university and heading out into the work-a-day world.  Young engineers were present at many of the stands, demonstrating proficiency with the applications they were showcasing. Many of them had started with simple 8-bit MCUs, using boards like the Arduino Uno, and were now experts working with products from ARM, Intel, AMD, Microsoft and too many others to list.

 

Looking at the young people at Embedded World I was reminded that society has now seen multiple generations of computer gamers and, I’m relieved to say, these gamers have left a positive impact on today’s technology. One outgrowth of gaming-driven technology could be seen in the Microsoft exhibit, where the Xbox manufacturer was demonstrating projected touch screen technology (think of the film Minority Report), while plenty of the autonomous RC cars demonstrated elsewhere ran real-time 3D models and transmitted back camera feed from multiple angles.

 

One of the many great student projects that I saw included object recognition and augmented reality gaming, where real world objects were used as walls in virtual games with computer generated balls bouncing between them. Other young engineers, this time having constructed a giant chess playing robot guided by ultrasound, were keen to demonstrate how they had integrated Atmel’s 8-bit MCU and ubiquitous demo board (I’ll leave you to guess which one) into the motor control system.

 

As I checked out more and more development boards, their increasing level of connectivity really struck me and it’s no surprise that the Embedded World internet backbone was creaking under the weight of many thousands of web-connected demo boards, laptops and mobile devices. A mighty download speed of 9 kb/s made it quite challenging to get a true measure of the functionality of some of the more powerful development kits as they were running apps that relied on APIs from various Internet locations. However, given the popularity of touch screens (both capacitive and resistive) across so many different applications, I think it’s safe to say that the next 2 – 3 years will see massive growth in every day devices making use of this technology.

 

 

At the Philips stand, even the humble washing machine was interfaced with wireless connectivity and a touch screen in order to monitor and improve motor efficiency. I’d initially thought that the idea would be to implement smart control of the washing machine so that it could be activated remotely, but the real goal was increasing energy efficiency and extending the product’s life span.

 

This drive towards energy efficiency and green technology really impressed me at Embedded World this year, with many of the exhibiting companies placing emphasis on what you can do with only a couple of Watts, rather than what you can do by cramming a massive heat sink on your processor. Of course for this reason ARM seemed to be everywhere at Embedded World 2012. From the autonomous Zeppelin circling above the press area to the smart vending machine on the ARM stand to well over half of the development boards that we were showcasing, ARM cores were the most outwardly obvious sign of the emphasis shifting from energy hungry processors to silent, powerful and well designed cores.

Going into the 2011 Embedded Systems Conference Silicon Valley I was looking forward in particular to seeing and hearing more about new MCUs and ecosystem developments.


 

The show did not disappoint.


 

If there was one product to capture “best in show” honors a good argument could be made on behalf of TI’s MSP430FR57xx, a 16-bit microcontroller said to be the industry's first low power ferroelectric random access memory (FRAM) MCU. TI has been working on FRAM technology for about a decade, but this is the first time that the memory has been integrated into a microcontroller. The new MCU is said to reduce active power by up to 50 percent when executing code from FRAM,  operating at 100 µA/MHz in active mode and 3 µA in real-time clock mode.


 

What’s more, the on-chip FRAM allows data retention in all power modes, supports more than 100 trillion write cycles, and allows developers to partition data and programming memory with changes in software.


For product designers, the new technology provides the ability to deploy and monitor sensors for years at a time. TI engineers foresee it being used on many of the country's 600,000 bridges, or on other types of remote structures where safety and security is critical.

 

Microchip Technology has expanded its 8-bit Enhanced Mid-range Core product portfolio with the new, PIC16F1516/7/8/9 and PIC16F1526/7 (PIC16F15XX). MCUs. These new, general-purpose MCUs feature Microchip’s eXtreme Low Power (XLP) technology—for sleep currents down to 20 nA, and active currents less than 50 micro Amperes/MHz, according to the company—which lowers overall power consumption and extends battery life.


 

This MCU family offers 5V operation, which is important for many home appliance and automotive applications. An on-chip, 10-bit Analog-to-Digital Converter (ADC) with up to 30 channels enables more mTouch capacitive touch-sensing keys and sliders in smaller packages. Up to two each of EUSART, I2C and SPI ports enable communication with on-board peripherals. The new MCUs are available in 28-, 40-/44- and 64-pin packages.


 

Renesas Electronics America announced new support for its RL78 microcontroller family including compiler support from IAR Systems, real-time operating systems (RTOS) from Micrium and CMX Systems, and Wi-Fi (802.11n) support from Redpine Signals. IAR Systems' Embedded Workbench provides an optimized C and C++ compiler for the RL78 MCU family and supports the E1 on-chip debugger and IECube in-circuit emulator tools, both from Renesas Electronics. Additionally, the Embedded Workbench comes bundled with C-SPY real-time debugger, and the instruction simulator.

 

 

 

Micrium's compact and scalable µC/OS-II and µC/OS-III kernels have been ported to the RL78 family of processors so power-sensitive and environmentally conscious applications can further benefit from Micrium's µC/OS-II's and µC/OS-III's ability to enter the RL78 MCUs' SNOOZE and HALT modes when idling.

 

 

 

Similarly CMX Systems has ported its CMX-RTX operating system to Renesas Electronics' RL78 MCU family and Renesas and Redpine Signals have jointly developed 802.11a/b/g/n wireless-connectivity solutions to add low-power, single-stream 802.11n Wi-Fi capability to embedded systems that use Renesas Electronics' RL78 MCUs.

 

 

 

Contest Winners, Too


 

At ESC STMicroelectronics and EE Times  announced the winning design of the STM32 Design Challenge. Community members rated and voted from an original pool of nearly 200 designs submitted in the competition. Winners were chosen from ten finalists with the most imaginative and innovative solutions using the STM32 Discovery Kit, which was given away free to registered contestants.


 

Taking the title of Grand Prize Winner was Nghia Tran with Navicane, a talking navigation cane intended for use by visually impaired individuals. The goal of the design was to provide navigation information via audible messages and haptic feedback, helping users localize where they are and where they are headed, while improving overall mobility and decreasing dependency upon other resources. Included in this design were a magnetometer, accelerometer, proximity sensor, GPS, light and temperature sensors, audio codec and more. Mr. Tran was awarded $3,500 in addition to a free conference pass to attend ESC.


 

Honorable Mentions include the Delta Robot Clock by Justin Smith, a standard digital display on the end actuator of a delta robot; the eDiaper by Lakshmi Balasubramanian, an intelligent and hygienic moisture detection unit that alerts caregivers when to change a diaper; and a House Wide Audio System by David Erickson that included 8 inputs and up to 8 channels. Each Honorable Mention recipient received $1,000.


 

Freescale Semiconductor took the occasion of ESC to announce its “Make It Challenge”. Engineers enter the contest by enrolling in a hands-on workshop, where they receive a free biped robot replete with Freescale sensors and they are tasked with creating a unique mechatronics application. There is a $12,000 contest purse.


 

The Freescale Robot (FreeBot) is a 4-degree-of-freedom biped walking robot controlled by a Tower mechatronics board housing a 32-bit ColdFire microcontroller, 64k of RAM and 512k of flash. Four pulse-width-modulated RC servos work the leg mechanics for the FreeBot, with accelerometer, touch and other Freescale Xtrinsic sensors available via plug-in daughterboards.


The Make It Challenge live competition will take place at the Freescale Technology Forum, slated for June 20-23 in San Antonio.


 

Wozniak Assails U.S. Education


 

In a fireside chat format Q and A session with Brian Fuller of EE Times, Steve Wozniak, one of the original co-founders of Apple delivered the keynote at the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) and was highly critical of the American education system, particularly math, science and engineering education, suggesting at one point that that the American public schools had outgrown their usefulness.

Wozniak, currently chief scientist at Fusion-io, described American education as stagnant, testing-obsessed and destructive of creativity. He said children in American schools, crowded into large classes, where they are pressured to complete and pass statewide and national standardized tests. “They’re not allowed different ways to think” he said adding that they become discouraged. Wozniak said his own children had attended public schools, but conceded, “I actually think home-schooling is very, very good as an alternative” and suggested that middle-class parents send their children to private schools.


 

Wozniak noted that over an eight year period during his career he spent some eight years “secretly” teaching at the middle and high schools levels

 

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The Embedded Systems Conference, along with chowder (pronounced chow-dah) and Fenway Park, is one of the better reasons for visiting Boston. Traditionally the first day of the show is reserved for half-day tutorials and the main block of conference sessions, lectures and keynote addresses kick off on Day Two.


The lead-off keynoter this year was Dr. Hugh Herr, associate professor at MIT. When he was 17, Herr suffered a rock climbing accident that resulted in the amputation of both legs below the knee. His dis-satisfaction with conventional prostheses led him to a career working on development of technology-enhanced artificial limbs.


Today Herr directs the Biomechatronics group at the MIT Media Lab. His keynote focused on the science of biomechatronics, which combines human function with sensing, computation and mechanical activation that promises to accelerate the merging of body and machine. Biomechatronics research encompasses the disciplines of biology, mechanics, material science and “even art and design," Herr told the embedded system design audience.

 

Having heard Prof. Herr deliver a talk earlier this year at the Freescale Technology Forum (see my previous blog )his mid-presentation show and tell moment where he first reveals his titanium prosthetic lower legs that contain a battery, five motors, three internal microprocessors and 12 sensors to closely simulate natural biological movement was, for me, lacking the original “wow” factor of seeing it for the first time. Nonetheless, witnessing Dr. Herr walk around on stage with a natural gait and none of forced, jerky movements typical of a mechanical prosthetic device is inspiring even after multiple viewings.


Herr puts the market for active prosthetics that work off mechanical parts controlled by computers at approximately $1 billion. His company, iWalk, expects to market the biomechatronic legs next year, priced in the $30K-$50K range.

In his ESC Boston keynote address the researcher also offered examples of other biomechatronic projects, including two taking place at MIT.


One of the disorders associated with autism--there are about 1 million to 1.5 million Americans with the affliction-- is a condition sometimes called "mind blindness," the inability to know other people react and understand that person's emotions. As a result people with autism often fail to notice that they are being repetitive, boring or confusing their listeners.


By developing technology that can help understand facial expressions and emotions and using that information to augment human-to-human interaction PeopleSense, a project under the direction of Prof. Rosalind Picard and Rasa El-Kaliouby of the MIT Media Lab, is a wearable device that gives people with autism or other people who have trouble reading emotions the opportunity to go out in the real world and learn about emotions and facial expressions of the people they usually interact with.


The "emotional social intelligence prosthetic" device consists of a camera small enough to be pinned to the side of a pair of glasses, connected to a hand-held computer running image recognition software. PeopleSense will alert its user if the person they are talking to starts showing signs of getting bored or annoyed.


Nexi, the first of a new class of robot being also being developed at MIT’s Media Lab, is a small mobile humanoid robot that possess a novel combination of mobility, dexterity, and human-centric communication and interaction abilities. Nexi eventually will be able to move around on wheels and it can pick up objects. But its most striking feature is its humanlike face, which can express an wide range of emotions.

To do so Nexi’s head moves at speeds equivalent to a human and is capable of human head gestures such as nodding and shaking. The 15 degrees-of-freedom face has several facial features to support a diverse range of facial expressions including gaze, eyebrows, eyelids and an articulate mandible for expressive posturing. The robot’s neck mechanism has 4 degrees-of-freedom to support a lower bending at the base of the neck as well as pan-tilt-yaw of the head.


Immediately following Prof. Herr’s presentation was the first of a series of industry talks at ESC Boston,  given by Kevin Dallas, General Manager of Microsoft Windows Embedded. Dallas covered the impact of the Cloud on the embedded device market, more specifically describing how Windows Embedded software and Services Platforms enables engineers to take advantage of the new revenue opportunities the so-called computing “cloud” presents.


As for what the cloud is, Dallas defined it as an approach to computing that has internet scale as well as offering connectivity to a variety of devices and endpoints. He noted that server systems can take several forms: It can be embedded into or near a product, can be available to enterprise through their IT department or be totally off-site as a shared (public) or dedicated (private) server.



The first Embedded Systems Conference in Chicago (well, truth be told, Rosemont,  IL, which is just off the runway at O’Hare) was “co-located” this week with the somewhat larger Sensors Expo & Conference. The notion of co-location doesn’t always succeed—you would probably not want to be co-located in the same house with your neighbor, for example—but since sensors play a key role in embedded technology, especially in the automotive and industrial space, the combination worked well.

 

 

Attending both events gave one the opportunity to see similar technology patterns emerging in parallel. One common theme between MCU and sensor development, wireless sensors in particular, is the ongoing march toward ultra low power consumption. On the sensor side much progress has been made via improved circuitry and better signaling protocols to reduce energy consumption and prolong battery life.

 

 

The next step, closer the most would imagine, is to get rid of the battery altogether, relying for power on energy harvesting of ambient energy sources such as piezoelectric vibration, thermal, and solar energy. Transducers that create electricity from physical sources such as temperature differentials (thermoelectric generators), mechanical vibration (piezoelectric) and light (photovoltaic devices) are becoming viable sources of power for wireless sensing devices.

 

 

For example, at the Sensors Expo Powercast demonstrated a battery-free wireless sensor module powered by RF energy. The module provides temperature and humidity data to an access point along with the received signal strength and the ID number of the Powercaster transmitter from which it is receiving power. The company’s P1110 and P2110 Powerharvester Receivers  are capable of converting radio waves in the range of 850-950 MHz into DC power.  The demonstration sensor module used the P2110 Powerharvester receiver to store the received energy into a capacitor, and then performed a voltage boost to supply the module components will a regulated voltage.  Both the P1110 and P2110 enable an MCU to determine the signal strength of the received power, as well as to recover low-rate data encoded in the power broadcasted from the power transmitter.

 

 

If there isn’t an ambient RF source handy, you can also use a piezoelectric transducer attached to a vibrating mechanical source such as an HVAC duct or a window pane. Recently, Linear Technology’s introduced its LTC3588-1 piezoelectric energy-harvesting solution,  a device that can extract energy from almost any source of mechanical vibration or strain.

 

The LTC3588-1 integrates a low-loss full-wave bridge rectifier with an efficient buck converter. An ultralow quiescent current undervoltage lockout mode with a wide hysteresis window allows charge to accumulate on an input capacitor until the buck converter can efficiently transfer a portion of the stored charge to the output. In regulation, the LTC3588-1 enters a sleep state in which both input and output quiescent currents are minimal. The buck converter turns on and off as needed to maintain regulation.

 

 

Four output voltages, 1.8V, 2.5V, 3.3V and 3.6V, are pin selectable with up to 100mA of continuous output current; however, the output capacitor may be sized to service a higher output current burst. An input protective shunt set at 20V enables greater energy storage for a given amount of input capacitance.

I'll admit it: I'm envious of TI's Gene Frantz. Not because of his technical contributions to DSP--well, maybe a little--but mostly because his status as Principal Fellow at TI, an elite group to which few are invited, has made him somewhat bulletproof at his company, a position we would all love to achieve.

 

Here's what I mean. As a preamble to his talk, "What to do with a billion transistors" at the Multicore Expo segment of ESC, Frantz was asked by seior management whether he was going to express his views or those of TI. "Mine," Frantz said, to which management replied "OK but can we at least look at your presentation to see if it is close to our view." Frants replied "Sure" but told the ESC audience that anyone who assumes that his talk represents the postion of TI "is wrong, It might be someday, but isn't now."

 

You've got to love this kind of independence.

 

According to Frantz success in multicore will hinge on a number of factors, including:

 

Moore's Law to determine the number of transistors on a processor and Amdahl's Law to determine the proper number of processor cores

 

Three vectors: greater performance, lower cost and reduced power consumption

 

Overcoming the bottleneck of processor to processor communications

 

Choosing a system design that solves a particular customer problem rather than trying to make the problem fit into a given solution

 

Frantz also reminded the group that multicore is not new. In 1990 TI developed the TMS7000 with 1,000 DSPs. Although they were all 1-bit DSPs the chip worked well in the early days of digital TV, processing each pixel and each line in a progressive scan or picture-in-picture application. Before too long, Frantz reminded everyone, compressed signal technology took hold and the processing tasks could be handled by a single DSP.

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