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Design Talk: The New Face of Test

October 16, 2008 11:18 am | Articles | Comments

Internet mobility is growing today and is the way of the future.  The challenge we are seeing with the current generation of Wireless Internet devices is revealed in the battle between Internet upload performance and battery life. End (cell phone) users’ expectations are rising to match the high upload speeds like those of the wired Internet -- without the burden of constantly recharging their batteries.

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.

DoE Lab Prototype Sets Record for Solar Cell Efficiency

October 14, 2008 12:23 pm | by by Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor | Blogs | Comments

Regular Efficiency Zone readers know that photovoltaics is a very inefficient technology. While the technology is environmentally-friendly, and the energy source (the sun) will be viable for billions of years, the conversion process (and viability) is undercut by a number of factors. These include shade, dirt, and panel-to-panel mismatch. In addition, detractors of the technology point to its high cost, but this is a socio-economic factor that won’t be solved by science alone. But scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have made a huge technological leap.

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Online Event Promotes Green Technology

October 8, 2008 11:17 am | by by Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor | Blogs | Comments

Registration is now open for Premier Farnell’s green event, “Designing for Energy Efficiency,” to be held at the online venue, Live EDGE EcoSphere, on October 15. This coincides with the design competition, “Live EDGE – Electronic Design for the Global Environment.” For the latter, entrants have until January 31, 2009 to submit environmental technologies, with the winner of the student and open/general competitions each receiving a cool $25,000. The online event, “Designing for Energy Efficiency,” will showcase green technologies from such manufacturers as National Semiconductor, Vishay Intertechnology, and Ohmite Manufacturing.

Brainstorm: Energy Star

October 7, 2008 11:45 am | by Edited by Jason Lomberg | Articles | Comments

What are your thoughts on the EPA’s Residential Light Fixture “Technical Amendment,” and their attempts to remove a “competitive disadvantage” for legacy technologies?

Electric Bike Sports Revolutionary Half-hour Recharge Time

October 2, 2008 6:31 am | by by Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor | Blogs | Comments

Bicycling is generally considered one of the most efficient forms of transportation. In many countries (particularly ones where the average income precludes weekly gasoline fill-ups), the bike is the primary mode of transport. Yet for a variety of reasons, the bike has yet to catch on in this country as a viable means of transportation. Schwinn could adjust the paradigm with its new Toshiba-powered Tailwind electric bike. Schwinn, a constant fixture in the bicycling industry since 1895, is no stranger to the E-bike market. Their current lineup, including the Continental, World GSE, and Campus, gets 40-60 miles on a 4 hour charge (decent stats for the E-bike market), and costs anywhere from $1,480 to $2,080.

Industry Focus- Automotive Infotainment Drives Vehicle Trends

September 26, 2008 5:48 am | by Christopher Keuling, Associate Editor | Articles | Comments

When consumers shop for a new vehicle, they look at price and gas mileage as key factors in their purchasing decision. Technology, now more portable than ever, is also on the mind of the American consumer. Cell phones, GPS navigation devices, mp3 players, and other video applications are becoming both a necessity and a convenience for drivers.

Semiconductor Highlight: Low-Cost Embedded NVM for Power Management Designs

September 26, 2008 5:23 am | by Yakov Roizin, Evgeny Pikhay, Amos Fenigstein, Avi Strum, Tower Semiconductor | Articles | Comments

In this paper we present two unique NVM solutions which can close two significant gaps in the embedded  memory  IC world. Today’s designers have a large choice of  embedded non-volatile memories (NVM) verified in different production technologies. These memories can be divided into three groups

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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 Power Conference Strives to Fill Power Vacuum

September 22, 2008 12:19 pm | by Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor | Blogs | Comments

From September 17-18, the Marriott Hotel in San Jose hosted the first annual Embedded Power Conference, focusing on “increasing power-management issues.” I attended this inaugural event, and it was well worth the price of admission (press get in free). Seriously though, it was a great first effort, and will fill a void in the industry. Embedded Power was comprised of over 20 lectures, classes, and discussions. The highlight (in this humble editor’s opinion) was a panel moderated by ECN’s skipper, Alix Paultre. Entitled “Open-Source vs. Proprietary Methodologies in Digital Power Management,” the panel addressed a hot industry topic in a town hall format.

Performance Enhancement For Residential Light Fixtures

September 10, 2008 11:51 am | by by Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor | Blogs | Comments

In a recent beer commercial, a woman asks for a low-calorie beer, and the host proceeds to spill out half the bottle, and hand it to her. In similar fashion the EPA believes that, through the use of add-ons, one can improve the innate efficiency of legacy technologies. In reference to their new Energy Star “technical amendment,” the EPA’s Lightning Program Manager, Alex Baker, told me, “With this approach, the Program currently has nearly 12,000 qualified fixtures from more than 120 manufacturing Partners…even incandescent technologies (the latter only allowed when used with a motion sensor to minimize operating time)” (emphasis mine).

Biomechanical Energy Harvester Converts Human Motion Into Electricity

September 4, 2008 7:22 am | by Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor | Blogs | Comments

The inherent weakness of any portable device is its isolation from a constant power source, such as electricity. Thus, battery technology has evolved alongside the iPod and laptop computer. But batteries themselves are inefficient, because they either deplete themselves, or in the case of rechargeables, require electricity supplied from a power grid. But what if you could harness the energy produced by the natural motion of the human body? Bionic Power is endeavoring to accomplish that with its “Biomechanical Energy Harvester.”

SMH: Direct RF Sampling with High Performance ADC

August 29, 2008 10:11 am | by Philip Pratt, Texas Instruments | Articles | Comments

Previously analog-to-digital converters (ADC) at high input frequencies were limited in usefulness due to distortion and noise performance. Today, however, ADCs can provide nearly 9.5 bits of effective number of bits (ENOB) at radio frequencies (RF) of 1 GHz with signal bandwidths greater than 200MHz. Such performance at high frequencies eliminates a mixer stage, simplifying receiver design to improve overall system performance.

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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.

Design Talk: The Shrinking Design Cycle

August 27, 2008 9:39 am | Articles | Comments

The recent cries over shoddy manufacturing performance have put electronic product designers in a tough spot – and frankly, left them baffled. Time after time, their design concepts that had the makings of a sure bet evolved into a product with deficiencies reported from thousands of customers – leaving many unanswered questions.

Brainstorm: Designing New Technology

August 26, 2008 10:01 am | Articles | Comments

What are the most important factors to consider when developing a new product?

The Mathworks Kicks Off EcoCAR Competition

August 25, 2008 9:19 am | by Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor | Blogs | Comments

On August 14th, 2008, The Mathworks held the kick-off to “EcoCAR,” a collegiate advanced technology vehicle competition (ATVC). EcoCAR’s subtitle (“The NeXt Challenge”) says it all- this is the spiritual successor to “Challenge X,” a similarly-themed ATVC contest that, last year, ended with Mississippi State University taking home the gold. In speaking with personnel from the DOE, The Mathworks, and GM (all event sponsors), I concluded that the biggest obstacle to ATV’s greater viability is a lack of young, qualified engineers.

Industry Focus: Taking Advantage of Power Conditioning

August 20, 2008 10:49 am | Articles | Comments

Power has the essential role in the operation of a factory since no machinery can run without it, but power isn’t a guarantee. Companies performing industrial automation lose up to millions of dollars and hours of production time annually due to power anomalies. There are two types of power anomalies: natural phenomena which are harder to control and internal anomalies which are easier to control.

“Green” Project Aspires to Reduce IT's Carbon Footprint

August 7, 2008 11:42 am | by Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor | Blogs | Comments

According to Doug Ramsey of UC San Diego, “The information technology industry consumes as much energy and has roughly the same ‘carbon footprint’ as the airline industry.” This is because of the unparalleled growth in high-speed electronic equipment, and the corresponding electricity requirements. Not only is energy necessary for the systems themselves, but as IT equipment blossoms, so does their cooling requirements.  It’s an implacable scenario that currently plagues the IT industry. Similar to hipster environmentalist celebrities who globe-trot on private jets, how do you conduct scientific research into efficiency issues when your investigative process gobbles up energy?

Semiconductor Highlight: Designing with CPLDs

August 6, 2008 11:55 am | by Gordon Hands, Lattice Semiconductor | Articles | Comments

Many designs require a small amount of high-speed, instant-on programmable logic. These designs drive the thriving market for Complex Programmable Logic Devices (CPLDs). This article examines the definition of CPLDs, their applications, design methodologies and which factors to consider when selecting a CPLD.

Developing Comprehensive, Cost-Effective Hardware and Software Solutions for the Cardiac Device Market

August 6, 2008 10:46 am | by Jose Villasenor Fernandez, M.D., Global Medical Applications Specialist, Freescale Semiconductor and David Niewolny, Medical Product Marketing Manager, Freescale Semiconductor | Articles | Comments

According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally. An estimated 17.5 million people died from cardiovascular disease in 2005, representing 30 percent of all global deaths. Of these deaths, 7.6 million were due to heart attacks, and 5.7 million were due to stroke. By 2015, an estimated 20 million people will die from cardiovascular disease every year, primarily from heart attacks and strokes. Many of these deaths may occur with no previous symptoms of cardiovascular disease.

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.

Energizer Stays One Step Ahead by Catering to Diminutive Device Trend

July 31, 2008 9:55 am | by by Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor | Blogs | Comments

“Quad A” may soon become part of the common vernacular. Although the AAAA battery (or Quad A) has been commercially available since 1989, it’s mostly been a niche product, difficult to find on shelves. But with consumer electronics moving towards smaller, more lightweight devices, with decreasing power requirements, the battery industry is adapting. Quad A has long been an internal industry standard for 9 V batteries (6 Quad A’s linked together, each generating 1.5 V, equals 9 V), but it could soon displace the AAA as the battery of choice for portable electronics.

Semiconductor Highlight: Using A Current Monitor

July 28, 2008 10:01 am | by Peter Abiodun A. Bode, Senior Applications Engineer, Zetex Semiconductors | Articles | Comments

Traditionally, precision full wave rectifiers1 used in a range of instrumentation applications have employed between 7 and 9 discrete circuit components.  These are typically 2 op-amps, 2 diodes and 3 to 5 resistors.  This article will show that an alternative approach, using a standard current monitor IC, reduces the component count to just five and greatly simplifies circuit configuration and produces a more elegant overall solution.

Industry Focus: Defining Distributor Design

July 28, 2008 9:10 am | by Chris Keuling, Associate Editor | Articles | Comments

The electronics distributor plays an important role in the electronic components industry, selling engineers the components and subsystems they need to use in their designs. A growing number of distributors also provide value-added services such as design support to their customers. With the combined pressure of the shrinking design cycle and expanded technology availability, it’s important for engineers to be able to talk to someone who can help them throughout the design process. We recently cold-called a number of major distributors without identifying ourselves as press and simply asked what design services they perform.

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