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ESC 2010 Update

Thu, 06/17/2010 - 4:37am
Jon Titus, Senior Technical Editor
Jon TitusIn late April I visited the exhibits at the annual Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose, CA. For the most part, people I met with discussed microcontrollers, communication, and development kits. The short descriptions below represent only a snapshot of the interesting products announced or unveiled at ESC.

 Future Technology Devices International (FTDI) now has VNC2 evaluation modules (V2DIP-x), a VNC2 evaluation kit ($US 79, V2-EVAL) and a VNC2 debug module ($US 17) that will help designers quickly develop embedded USB 2.0 Host/Slave circuits based on the company's new Vinculum VNC2 devices. The VNC2 operates as a programmable dual USB 2.0 host/slave intelligent controller that includes a 16-bit MCU core as well as flash memory and RAM. The V2-EVAL kit comprises a main development board that can accept a 32-, 48- or 64-pin evaluation module for the VNC2 package type chosen for investigation or development work. Two USB type-A connectors and a USB type-B connector provide interfacing, configuration, and debug connections for the royalty-free Vinculum software development tools and integrated development environment. The board provides I/O headers for all supported interfaces such as UART, FIFO, SPI and GPIO. In addition, ESC Update Fig 1user configurable LEDs and switches are provided. Pricing for modules: V2DIP1-48 $US 21.50 and V2DIP2-48 $US 25.24. Visit: http://www.ftdichip.com/Products/VNC2.htm.

Renesas Electronics America has collaborated with Redpine Signals to simplify the use of IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n wireless communications with the Renesas R8C, RX and SuperH microcontrollers (MCUs). The Redpine devices use the company's Connect-io-n ICs that employ an SPI (10 Mbps) or UART (4Mbps) interface to communicate with a host MCU. The combination of an MCU and a wireless chipset provides all the functions needed for a wireless LAN (WLAN), so designers need not become RF experts to create wireless equipment. Applications for the Renesas/Redpine IC combinations include appliances, medical equipment, security systems, and lighting-control products. Developers can start with a Redpine WiFi starter kit ($US 299, part number RS2201R8C25). The kit includes the Renesas Electronics Starter Kit for the R8C/25 MCU, one 802.11n companion board based on the Redpine Connect-io-n module, an E8a hardware-debug pod, the Renesas High-performance Embedded Workshop software, software examples, and documents. The kit comes pre-loaded with demonstration code. For more information: http://www.redpinesignals.com/connection.html and http://am.renesas.com.

Engineers might also take advantage of W2CBW003 system-in-package radio devices from Wi2Wi. This radio includes a separate IEEE 802.11b/g transceiver and a Bluetooth V2.0 + EDR radio. The latter provides an enhanced data rate of up to about 2.1 Mbits/sec. Wi2Wi had a development kit for this device ($US 399, part number. W2CBW003-DEV). For information, visit: http://www.wi2wi.com.

Many designs do not require the complexity or capabilities of Wi-Fi or ZigBee communications. In those cases, the SNAP instant-on mesh network stack from Synapse Wireless deserves attention. The wireless network still relies on standard IEEE 802.15.4 radios that the SNAP protocol (actually its own operating system) uses to create an auto-forming multi-hop network that requires no router nodes. Individual modules--all peer devices--use Python-language scripts that give programmers control over every hardware pin on a low-cost RF Engine module. Synapse offers a Network Starter Kit ($US 99, EK2100) and a Network Evaluation Kit ($US 199, EK2500). For more information, go to: http://www.synapse-wireless.com.

Wireless Cables demonstrated its AIRcable generic wireless controller development kit that includes an onboard BASIC interpreter and file system, and data-logger capabilities. The kit relies on the company's Bluetooth wireless programmable module that uses the AIRcable operating system. Wireless Cables also sells a variety of other wireless devices and modules that can communicate over distances as long as 30 km. For information, visit: http://www.aircable.net/products.html.

If you must monitor information from a variety of sensors, Monnit has M+WIT modules that will do the job over about a 600-ft range in the 900, 866, 433 MHz bands. The modules use a Texas Instruments CC111x RF IC. Each module measures about one cubic inch and incorporates a lithium-ion battery that can last as long as eight years when transmissions occur every 20 minutes. Monnit has 15 types of sensor modules that measure or detect a temperature, low fluid level, light, proximity, shake, water leak, and so on. Developers can purchase an OEM Introductory Kit ($US 139), an OEM Developer's Kit ($US 259), kits for specific applications, and individual sensor modules. The modules communicate with an M+Link USB dongle, an M+Link cellular, or an Ethernet gateway, so people can monitor sensor conditions locally or from remote locations. For information: http://www.monnit.com.

Engineers have likely heard about Digi International's line of MCU boards and wireless devices, but they might not know about the company's iDigi service, a machine-to-machine on-demand service "platform" that lets engineers connect, manage, and move from legacy communication products to wireless gateways. According to Digi, "The iDigi platform is an on-demand service platform with no infrastructure requirements. Customers pay only for the devices that subscribe to the platform. Devices attach to the iDigi platform using a connector application; business applications connect via standards-based Web Services."

From now on, all Digi and Rabbit Semiconductor MCU embedded products come configured to easily connect to the iDigi “cloud” right out of the box. iDigi lets engineers create secure remote-access devices, and control and manage network-connected devices. It also lets manufacturers deliver products with advanced features such as faster resupply of products, remote configuration services, and sale of downloaded premium product features. iDigi integrates easily with Digi’s wired, wireless, embedded and non-embedded communication products. Operating environments including a wide variety of languages and operating systems. For information, visit: http://www.idigi.com.

New microcontrollers made a splash at ESC, too. Freescale Semiconductor introduced five new MCUs aimed primarily at medical-equipment designs that require low power consumption coupled with high-end performance. The MC9S08LH64 provides an 8-bit CPU, 16-bit ADC, low-power LCD driver and SPI, I2C, and SCI interfaces. The MC9S09MM includes the capabilities above, less the LCD controller, but with a "measurement engine." The engine provides a 16-bit ADC, a 12-bit DAC, transconductance op amps, voltage op-amps, a voltage reference, and an analog comparator. If you need the capabilities of a 32-bit CPU, the MCF51MM provides it, along with a built-in USB host/device block and the measurement engine. For the five MCUs, Freescale lists "stop" currents of from 400 to 650 nA. For more information on these medical MCUs, visit: http://www.freescale.com/medical.

The new STM32L family of MCUs from STMicroelectronics gives engineers a low-power ARM Cortex-M3 MCU microcontrollers that can operate in one of six power-saving modes. The standby mode with no real-time clock consumes only 270 nA but maintains back-up registers. The top low-power run mode provides full operation at a 32 kHz clock frequency but consumes only 10.4 ?A. The STM32L family offers capabilities such as a brown-out reset, flash memory with error-correction-code support, a memory-protection unit, and JTAG fuse that assist with data security and safe-system operation. MCU analog circuits can operate with a supply voltage as low as 1.8V. Digital functions remain active down to 1.65V. Large-quantity production for this MCU family begins in Q4 2010. For preliminary data sheets, visit: http://www.st.com and search for STM32L.

Designers often need enhanced security in computer equipment to protect communications and authentication of applications. At ESC, Atmel presented its SAM9M11 and SAM9G46 ARM-based "embedded microprocessors." According to the company, the new devices will give designers capabilities that enhance industrial and building controls, HVAC systems, POS terminals, alarm systems, printers and medical equipment. An integrated hardware-encryption engine, which includes a true random-number generator, handles industry security standards such as AES (256, 192, and 128-bit key algorithms), 3DES (single or three-key algorithms), and digital-signature authentication using SHA1 and SHA256 algorithms. I could not find a data sheet for either device when I searched Atmel's Web site in early May, but they might have information available now. Atmel notes, though, "The SAM9G46 and SAM9M11 are supported by a free Linux distribution and Microsoft Windows Embedded CE BSP, including a video driver and GStreamer and DirectShow multimedia frameworks, respectively." More information can be downloaded from the following websites: http://www.at91.com/windows4sam and www.linux4sam.org."

In February 2010, ARM introduced the ARM Cortex-M4 architecture that gives programmers floating-point math and signal-processing capabilities. So, MCUs based on a Cortex-M4 processor will find use in audio, motor-control, power management, medical, and other applications that can take advantage of the new capabilities. The get programmers off to a quick start, the IAR Embedded Workbench, from IAR Systems, suite of tools supports the new instructions and hardware floating-point math capabilities. The IAR Embedded Workbench is available now. For information, visit: http://www.iar.com/ewarm.
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