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Embedded Systems: A Legacy and a Bright Future for the VMEbus

December 5, 2008 11:05 am | by Ray Alderman, Executive Director, VITA | Articles | Comments

In October of 1981, three semiconductor companies announced the open-architecture VMEbus, spawned by the introduction of the Motorola 68000 microprocessor. After 27 years, the VMEbus still holds the largest market share of all buses and boards. Today's bus technologies have lives measured in months, so why has the VMEbus survived and prospered while other buses have rapidly gone by the wayside? (Engineers use the terms VMEbus and VME interchangeably.)

Embedded Systems: C and C++ Tools Reduce Code Errors

November 19, 2008 8:44 am | by Jon Titus, Senior Technical Editor | Articles | Comments

Programmers now have many tools that help reduce or eliminate problems. Unfortunately, they might not know these tools exist. "In 1998, the UK's Motor Industry Software Reliability Association (MISRA) published their standard for the C language to promote 'safe C' in the UK automotive industry," explained Chris Tapp, a field-applications engineer at LDRA. "The software industry has seen MISRA-C as a way to encourage good programming practice, focus on coding rules, and ensure well designed and tested safe code."

Embedded Systems: Take a New Look at Ada

October 28, 2008 11:14 am | by Robert Dewar, President and CEO, AdaCore | Articles | Comments

The world of computer technology has two incompatible characteristics. First, many computer systems have long lives. Second, students and many engineers pay attention to only the latest technologies and they believe old technologies have died out. The "yesterday's-fashion” phenomenon has applied to the Ada programming language, too. If engineers have heard of Ada at all, they may assume it is an old US Department of Defense technology that disappeared long ago.


Embedded Systems: Kits for Kids

October 15, 2008 6:17 am | by Jon Titus, Senior Technical Editor | Articles | Comments

I'll begin this column with a recommendation: Start kits with a set of basic hand tools. When my son went to college, he had tools to hang pictures, connect TV sets and CD players, and tighten desks and shelves. As a result, he met most of the people on his co-ed floor. When our daughter went to college she got a tool kit, too. I suggest Phillips and flat-blade screwdrivers, pliers, diagonal cutters, wire strippers and a couple of adjustable wrenches. Later you could add a set of nut drivers, sockets wrenches and an inexpensive soldering iron.

Embedded Systems: Safeguard Ethernet Interfaces from Cable Discharges

September 26, 2008 4:39 am | by Timothy Puls, Product Marketing Engineer and Hani Geske, Senior Applications Engineer, Semtech Corporation | Articles | Comments

Protecting Ethernet interfaces from cable discharges can create a challenge for engineers because good protection must meet two criteria. First, and most important, a protective device must effectively clamp a transient to a safe voltage. Second, the device must present an acceptable capacitive load on high-speed differential transmission lines. Good planning and careful selection of transient voltage-suppression devices can adequately protect Ethernet interfaces from electrostatic discharges (ESDs) and cable discharge events.

Embedded Systems: Sniff ZigBee Packets

August 29, 2008 9:14 am | by Jon Titus, Senior Technical Editor | Articles | Comments

When engineers tackle a project that uses ZigBee communications they may get a surprise. Unlike point-to-point communications, ZigBee involves a network that can establish nodes, repeaters and complex mesh topologies. The proper test tools--often called "sniffers"--help engineers diagnose ZigBee-network problems that could otherwise turn into nightmares.

Embedded Systems: The 16-to-32-Bit Migration Gets Smoother(2)

August 4, 2008 12:30 pm | by Jon Titus, Senior Technical Editor | Articles | Comments

At one time, the gulf between 16- and 32-bit processors seemed wide and deep, so engineers had a difficult time making the transition from one realm to the other. Many processor manufacturers have helped eliminate that gulf and many development boards and tools simplify the migration between those realms.

Embedded Systems: ESC Update

July 1, 2008 12:50 pm | by Jon Titus, Senior Technical Editor | Articles | Comments

If you have not recently--or ever--attended the Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose, you owe it to yourself and your company to go. This conference and its many exhibits give you opportunities to talk with colleagues and technical experts. Unlike some shows, vendors send their engineering gurus to ESC, so when you stop at an exhibit you can talk about hardware and software with fellow engineers who speak your languages. You will get a taste of some of the products introduced at ESC in this column. Our online column includes information about more new products announced at the show.


Embedded Systems: Two Routes Lead to Software Defined Radio

June 30, 2008 6:35 am | Articles | Comments

A bit of C code that runs on a microprocessor does not create a software-defined radio (SDR). Most SDRs use a traditional signal-sampling technique, followed by much software massaging of data. But semiconductor companies can now put more of the analog signal-handling elements on a chip. This column provides an update on both techniques.

ESC Update(2)

May 19, 2008 1:45 pm | Articles | Comments

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.”


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.

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.

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."

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