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Kits for Kids 2008

April 28, 2008 10:55 am | by Jon Titus, Senior Technical Editor | Articles | Comments

With summer vacation on the way, keep kids occupied with engineering-like activities and projects.

Side Bar: Get a Trusted Security Certificate

March 24, 2008 6:46 am | by Jon Titus, Senior Technical Editor | Articles | Comments

Jon Titus exlains that you can buy digital certificates to identify your products and provide a public/private key for each.

Security Goes Beyond Cryptography

March 20, 2008 9:45 am | by Jon Titus, Senior Technical Editor | Articles | Comments

“When engineers start to network devices, security becomes a top design requirement,” said Tim Stapko, lead software engineer at Digi International. “But many designers of embedded systems just don’t think about security. When they do, they might consider security as an add-in option or think of security as simply encrypting communications.”

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Books and Boards 2006

March 5, 2008 5:56 am | Articles | Comments

Jon Titus reviews Silicon Labs ToolStick Starter Kit and Robert Oshana's DSP Software Development Techniques for Embedded and Real-Time Systems.

Small Logic Analyzers Pack in the Bits

February 25, 2008 10:09 am | by Jon Titus, Senior Technical Editor | Articles | Comments

Small logic analyzers put many digital channels, trigger options and I/O capabilities in an instrument that engineers can consider as their own. These small analyzers connect through a USB port to a host PC that controls functions and displays, and saves information.

Silicon Temp Sensors Measure by Degrees

January 25, 2008 6:05 am | by Jon Titus, Senior Technical Editor | Articles | Comments

People measure temperature more than any other physical characteristic. As a result, semiconductor vendors offer a large variety of silicon-based temperature sensors that usually operate in a range from -40°C to 125°C, although vendors sometimes tailor sensor spans for specific applications. Sensors used in PCs and servers, for example, may measure in a narrower range — about 75°C to 110°C. Depending on your application and budget, you can purchase inexpensive sensors with an accuracy of ±1°C to ±2°C.

Tips Help Reduce Power Demands

January 2, 2008 10:09 am | by Jon Titus, Senior Technical Editor | Articles | Comments

Jon Titus provides tips aimed at helping embedded-systems designers save power. Areas covered are peripherals, power sources, memory and more.

Serial Ports Still Bash the Bits

December 19, 2007 10:43 am | by Jon Titus, Senior Technical Editor | Articles | Comments

Like many inexpensive desktop PCs, my Dell Dimension C521 lacks a serial port. But, don't write off serial communications which will continue to play important roles in industrial controls, point-of-sale terminals and other equipment. USB and Ethernet have a place, but simple serial I/O still solves a lot of problems.

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Transceivers Connect You To the CAN Bus Lines

November 28, 2007 9:51 am | by Jon Titus, Senior Technical Editor | Articles | Comments

Most likely you know a bit about the Controller Area Network, also called CAN or CAN bus, developed for communications between equipment in vehicles. The CAN has spread into embedded systems, too, but unlike chip-to-chip I2C or SPI connections, CAN communications may occur between cards and systems over a bus that can extend from 10's to 100's of meters. (The ISO-11519 and ISO-11898 standards covers CAN protocols and physical-layer specifications.)

ATCA: It's More Than a Bus

November 15, 2007 6:45 am | by John Titus, Senior Technical Editor | Articles | Comments

Competitive telecom businesses have realized they can no longer design proprietary hardware. In response to this changed business climate, members of the PICMG, a consortium of industrial-computer vendors, developed PICMG 3.0, or the Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture (ATCA). Marc LeClaire, a product manager in the Advanced Blades and Servers Division at Kontron, stressed that the ATCA standard covers boards, enclosures, interconnections, communications, and other architectural components. "Designers must think of the ATCA as a complete architecture, not simply as a bus."

Dial-Up Modems Still Ring a Bell

October 25, 2007 10:41 am | by Jon Titus, Senior Technical Editor | Articles | Comments

Years ago I ditched my 9600 bps modem, but I still rely on dial-up modems. Those modems exist in automated teller machines, gasoline pumps, traffic controllers, medical instruments, security systems, point-of-sale (POS) equipment, and other devices. According to several sources, dial-up modems still provide the largest number of access points to the Internet. Fortunately, several OEM vendors supply dial-up modem modules that offer drop-in communications in small packages.

Compiler Cuts Code in Half

October 23, 2007 11:01 am | Atmel Corporation | Product Releases | Comments

Hi-Tech Software has announced a new compilation technology that generates object code based on call- and pointer-reference graphs derived from all the modules in an embedded program. The new technology, called Omniscient Code Generation (OCG), overcomes problems in conventional compilers that can miss inconsistent calling conventions, variable declarations and redundant code because they compile each module independently and separately. OCG results in more easily ported code that is nearly 50 percent more dense than code from competing compilers.

Get a Hardware Head Start

September 25, 2007 12:30 pm | by Get a Hardware Head Start | Articles | Comments

The Connect ME JumpStart development kit from Digi International includes a Comment ME module and development board. Software provides a 90-day evaluation version of Microsoft's Visual Studio 2005 Professional and the Microsoft .NET Micro Framework SDK plug-in for Visual Studio. This kit provides a quick and easy way to investigate .NET Micro Framework and its related tools and to build an embedded product that requires an Ethernet connection.

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Dot NET: Embedded Development for the Rest of Us

September 17, 2007 12:52 pm | by John Leier, Digi International | Articles | Comments

On a recent flight I talked with a software-engineering manager about the challenges of finding good embedded-system developers. She told me she has a team of 12 developers, but only three had proficiency with drivers, board-support packages, and boot-loaders. The other nine -- all good application developers -- lacked low-level coding experience. I asked if she had heard of the Microsoft .NET Micro Framework.

8-Bit MCUs Keep Going Strong

August 29, 2007 5:22 am | by Jon Titus, Senior Technical Editor | Articles | Comments

"Cost still rules applications," said Ross Bannatyne, Marketing Director at Silicon Laboratories, a supplier of 8051-based MCUs. "If 8-bit MCUs solve problems, why use more expensive 32-bit chips?" Newer 8051 derivatives, for example, execute 100 MIPS and on-chip multiply-accumulate accelerators let them handle signal-processing tasks. According to Bannatyne, some engineers might not realize 32-bit MCUs can incur code penalties. "They might assume an algorithm that requires 16 KB in an 8-bit MCU also needs 16 KB in a 32-bit processor. Often the code takes more memory in the 32-bit processor, often much more."

Kits for Kids

July 30, 2007 7:57 am | by Jon Titus, Senior Technical Editor | Articles | Comments

As a youngster I enjoyed wiring up circuits with knife switches, lamps, buzzers and large dry cells. While in high school I made frequent trips to surplus-electronics stores in New York City and ordered components from mail-order supply houses. My projects included a 4-bit binary adder -- built from switches and relays -- and a tic-tac-toe machine. I also built my share of kits from Knight, Eico and Heath. My friend Bill Kuhn designed and built relay-logic learning machines.

Serial Buses Free I/O Pins

June 25, 2007 11:14 am | by Jon Titus | Articles | Comments

More times than designers might like to admit, they wish for just one more I/O pin on a microcontroller. Three chip-to-chip serial buses can help overcome I/O pin limits. The following information provides a quick overview and points you to sources of more information.

An Introduction to RapidIO

June 4, 2007 7:07 am | by Tom Cox, Executive Director, RapidIO Trade Association | Articles | Comments

Years ago, designers involved with high-performance computer systems realized the parallel-bus structures found in most computers had run their course. New computer systems, such as those based on VME64x, move data across switched-fabric networks. Unlike a bus that connects all boards to all signals, a switched-fabric network routes communications through switches. Thus communications can take one of several high-speed paths and no longer create a bus bottleneck. In this context, "fabric" implies a point-to-point network that designers can "scale" to accommodate thousands of nodes. But a fabric does not imply the use of a specific hardware or software architecture.

Timeless Sensor Sources

May 2, 2007 5:12 am | by Jon Titus, Senior Technical Editor | Articles | Comments

Over the years, I have accumulated articles, books and application notes that relate to sensors and measurement techniques. In this column – a change of pace from ECN's usual Embedded Systems column format – I share many of those resources with you. Some of this information may seem "old," so you may not know about these sources or an Internet search will not find them.

Rotary Encoders take the Shaft

April 2, 2007 6:46 am | Product Releases | Comments

Rotary shaft encoders convert an angular position into an electrical quantity or digital code that a computer can use to determine the location of a connected object. Encoders come in two varieties - absolute and incremental - and most rely on optoelectric or magnetic sensors. Both types divide a 360° rotation into hundred or thousands of equally spaced units, or counts. Thus, engineers can choose an angular resolution that meets their needs. An absolute encoder indicates a specific position within the shaft's 360° rotation and an incremental position indicates the change in rotation from one position to another. (You also can derive velocity and acceleration from encoder signals.)

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