ESC Update

by Jon Titus, Senior Technical Editor

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.

Capture Timed Events

RamtronRamtron  has introduced a clever IC, the FM6124, that monitors 12 digital inputs and detects when they change state. The chip records each state change and gives it a real-time time stamp. Each event input increments a 16-bit counter and simultaneous events are counted individually at up to 10K events/sec. The device provides 32 Kbytes of nonvolatile ferroelectric RAM (F-RAM) that stores event data, and 24 Kbytes of F-RAM that a design can use to store other information or additional event data. Communications with a host controller take place through an I2C interface. Ramtron can customize the chip design to record pulse widths and frequencies. The F-RAM requires no power for backup, but designers can provide a battery to back up event counters and the RTC. This chip could report on power glitches, alarm conditions, interrupts, and so on. The chip includes security features and alarm settings.

1024 Neural Nets on a Chip

Smart sensors and imaging equipment can take advantage of the 1024 neurons in the CogniMem (CM-1K) chip produced by Recognetics. The device can recognize one vector from among 1024 within 10 µsec because the 1024 identical neurons operate in parallel, although they communicate briefly with each other during 16 clock cycles to find a best match. Recognition time does not depend on the number of models the device has "seen," and learning a new vector takes only about 10 µsec. Engineers can use this chip for parts inspections, voice identification, cryptography, spectrum recognition, and similar applications. The company also supplies stackable neural-network boards, a prototyping module and a vision board as well as many manuals and application notes.

Linux Runs on ARM9 MCU

TimeSys offers a free Linux board-support package (BSP) for Atmel’s ARM9-based AT91CAP9 MCU. The BSP provides the Linux 2.6.23 kernel for the "CAP9" chip and developers can upgraded to a full LinuxLink subscription that provides a suite of software, tools and support for custom Linux-based designs. Typically, developers validate Linux on an AT91CAP9A Development Board that includes an FPGA for emulation of the Atmel's CAP Metal Programmable Block that lets developers create custom logic. This BSP includes Atmel’s Linux kernel and drivers, BusyBox utilities for basic commands and features, and a Linux tool chain that can re-build the Linux kernel and the basic packages included in the BSP. A LinuxLink subscription includes a robust collection of open source and TimeSys-developed tools, including the TimeStorm Eclipse-based IDE, as well as extensive documentation and support. and

Multicore Chip Breaks New Ground

X MosIf a future design calls for a multi-core processor, take a look at the XS1-G family coming from XMOS Semiconductor. According to the company, these chips will find use in home networks, display-panel controls and consumer electronics. The first chip, the XS1-G4, includes four 32-bit XCORE RISC processors or "tiles." Each tile can run as many as eight threads and tiles communicate with each other through an internal XLink Switch. Each core processor can control up to 64 I/O lines structured as 1-, 4-, 8-, 16-, or 32-bit ports. Developers can use two compilers, an ANSI C Compiler from Associated Compiler Experts and the XMOS XC compiler to write application code. XC is an XMOS-originated variant of C that supports parallel processing, event-driven control and time-based programming. The company expects to have development hardware and software in Q3 2008.

Wireless Processor Simplifies ZigBee Designs

Engineers need not master the ZigBee protocol to use this wireless standard. The new Z-Accel family of 2.4 GHz ZigBee-certified network processors from Texas Instruments simplifies development of networks. The CC2480 ZigBee Processor includes a Z-Stack, IEEE 802.15.4 radio and an SPI serial port. So, engineers can use this transceiver with almost any microcontroller or processor. The device supports SimpleAPI, a ZigBee API with only 10 functions. Engineers can use an eZ430-RF2480 USB-based wireless demonstration tool ($99) to evaluate the CC2480 network processor and a companion MSP430 MCU. 

Wireless Modules go Long Range

DigiDigi Internationa l now offers designers the XBee-PRO XSC embedded-RF module that operates in the 900-MHz band over a line-of-sight distance of up to 15 miles. The postage-stamp size XBee-module family now lets engineers choose IEEE 802.15.4, ZigBee and long-range point-to-multipoint communications in pin-compatible modules. The long-range XBee-Pro module lets engineers design hub-and-spoke networks that operate over long distances without repeaters. XBee-PRO XSC modules are available now for $57.40 (1000) and Digi also offers a development kits for $149.

Chips Put USB On The Go

LuminaryUSB On the Go lets people connect USB devices without an intermediate host PC. New members of the Luminary Micro ARM Cortex-M3 MCU family provide USB ports engineers can configure for the USB OTG mode. Thus, an embedded controller can serve as either a host or as a device, in compliance with the USB 2.0 specification for full-speed operation. The Stellaris LM3S3748 USB Host+Device Evaluation Kit ($109) and the Stellaris LM3S3768 USB On-the-Go Evaluation Kit ($119) give developers a quick start with these new devices. Each kit includes evaluation boards, cables, a choice of tools, documentation, applications notes, and the Stellaris Graphics Library. Luminary Micro expects to have the Stellaris MCUs with USB OTG capability and the Stellaris LM3S3768 USB On-the-Go Evaluation Kit available in Q3 2008.

Dev Kit Helps Customize ARM7-based MCUs

AtmelSome designs need a bit of customizing, but without large FPGAs and ASICs. To answer that need, Atmel provides an AT91CAP7 family of ARM7 MCUs that include a metal-programmable block of 450K gates; the equivalent of 56K FPGA logic elements. Designers can port any function implemented in an FPGA directly to a CAP7 MCU with no special EDA tools or extra engineering effort. The Atmel AT91CAP7X-DK development kit lets designers evaluate, develop, emulate, and ultimately transfer ARM7-plus-FPGA designs to Atmel’s CAP7 customizable microcontrollers. In contrast to embedded soft-core ARM CPUs in FPGAs, Atmel’s CAP product has a pre-synthesized and hardened ARM7 core--including the AMBA bus architecture and peripherals--already placed and routed in the design. Designers can include Atmel-owned peripherals such as SPI master and slave, SSC, MCI, USARTs, Ethernet MAC, CAN, and others at no extra charge. Dev-kit price: $3500. Production AT91CAP7S250 devices cost $5.44 (50,000). Atmel charges a one-time fee of $150,000 for design, mask fees, and prototypes of a customized ARM7-based MCU.  

PIC Family Adds USB Ports

MicrochipMicrochip Technology  announced USB capabilities in its new 12-member PIC24FJ256GB1 family of 16-bit MCUs. USB 2.0 operations include embedded-host, dual-role and On-the-Go (OTG). Microchip provides software, via free USB class drivers, and USB applications that easily fit within the PIC24FJ256GB1 MCU's code space. I/O devices include four UARTs, three SPI ports and three I2C ports. The new MCU family can control USB flash drives and interface to wireless networks. The company's development tools include the MPLAB IDE, the MPLAB C30 C compiler, an emulation system and an in-circuit debugger. Microchip’s free USB Host Stack, Device Stack, USB OTG Stack, Class Drivers (HID, MSD, CDC, Custom), and File Management software are available now. The MPLAB Starter Kit for PIC24F costs $60.

Chips Have Designs on the Ethernet

A trio of new Ethernet ICs from SMSC includes the LAN931x family of multi-port embedded Ethernet switches, the LAN9420 PCI Ethernet controller and the LAN9500 USB-to-Ethernet controller. The LAN931x family provides two- and three-port switches for 16 and 32-bit interfaces. And the switches incorporate the IEEE 1588 Precision Time Protocol. The LAN9420 PCI MAC/PHY controller integrates SMSC’s scatter-gather based DMA engine to give embedded system designers a controller that reduces processor loading. Lastly, the LAN9500 USB-to-Ethernet controller lets developers add an Ethernet connection to USB-2.0 based devices. The company offers samples now.   

Group Defines New Module Standards

SFF-SIGThe Small Form Factor Special Interest Group (SFF-SIG) has defined a small stackable module, called Express104 that relies on a Stackable Unified Module Interconnect Technology (Sumit) expansion interface. Express104 boards measure 90x96 mm and can include one or two 52-pin Sumit connectors that handle PCI Express, USB and other interfaces for I/O expansion.  The stackable multi-board and Sumit-connector arrangement is independent of any processor or chipset. A single SUMIT connector allows for one x1 PCI Express lane, three high-speed USB 2.0 interfaces, LPC (Low Pin Count) Bus, SPI, SMBus/I2C Bus, and ExpressCard signals. A second SUMIT-B connector supports an additional x1 PCI Express lane, one x4 PCI Express lane plus additional power, ground, and control signals. The SFF-SIG has Q&A and white papers on its Web site:  

Dev Kits Go Sub-Atomic

SubatomicSub-Atomic Particle Board kits from Renesas highlight the company's M16C, R8C and H8 MCU families. The boards and software are easy to set up and use. An integrated suite of hardware and software tools lets users exercise and assess on-chip MCU peripherals. Interactive tutorials included with each kit provide information that helps users properly install hardware and software, and provide hands-on instructions to guide users to create, build, debug and download a project. In addition, the tutorials illustrate how to use the support tools from Renesas and third-party suppliers as well as how to make MCU performance measurements and evaluate MCU peripheral functions. Each board comes with one Mbytes of SPI flash memory, an audio jack, a sound jack, pushbutton, light sensor, four LEDs, and an external header. Price: $70 per kit.


Aonix Perks Java Update

In the Java realm, Aonix launched Version 5.1 of PERC Ultra, a virtual machine and toolset expressly created for demanding embedded and real-time systems that require J2SE support. In addition to improving performance, PERC Ultra 5.1 has broadened its RTOS support, added security enhancements, and implemented support for Java 6 class files. PERC 5.1 adds support for Java Secure Socket Extension (JSSE) and Java Cryptography Extension (JCE), both of which improve and secure web services technologies for embedded applications, and upgrade all security packages for compatibility with Java 5.0. Aonix also added PERC 5.1 support for Wind River Linux, Sysgo PikeOS, Mentor Graphics Nucleus and Green Hills Integrity to its large RTOS portfolio.

Ada Gets New Workbench

The Ada language received an update in the form of GNATbench 2.1.0 from AdaCore, which provides Ada tools and support services. The company’s Eclipse-based development environment for Ada now includes enhancements of project-management, presentation, and source-navigation capabilities, new features within the language-sensitive editor and an enhanced builder. As a result, GNATbench now will work more closely with Wind River’s Workbench development suite, and can take advantage of the many enhancements available within the Eclipse framework.

LabVIEW Gives ARM a Hand

Embedded developers who use LabVIEW can now obtain the Embedded Module for ARM Microcontrollers that targets the ARM7, ARM9 and Cortex-M3 MCU families. National Instruments' new module lets engineers create embedded applications in LabVIEW for ARM processor cores included in processors from Analog Devices, Atmel, Luminary Micro, NXP, Freescale Semiconductor, Intel and Texas Instruments. The LabVIEW Embedded Module for ARM Microcontrollers features LabVIEW drivers that let engineers graphically program all components of the ARM microcontroller including its analog and digital I/O ports. The module also features desktop simulation capabilities so users can run the programs they develop for an ARM MCU on a desktop PC without additional hardware. The LabVIEW ARM module also includes a project wizard that automates configuration and overall setup and a "manager" that simplifies interrupt-driven programming. Priced from $8999.

RTOS Vendor Bench Presses new IDE Tools

A new integrated development environment (IDE) from Express Logic gives engineers low-cost, industrial-grade software-development tools for a variety of processor families. The company's BenchX software relies on the Eclipse Europa CDT Release (4.0) fr4amework and includes a project builder and wizard, GNU C/C++ compilers, a GDB debugger with graphical interface, and a target instruction-set simulator. The BenchX IDE can develop code to work with the company's ThreadX RTOS and will also work with an in-house RTOS or with a commercial RTOS. Initially, developers can use BenchX with the ColdFire, Power Architecture, ARM7, ARM9, ARM Cortex-M3/R4/A8, and the MIPS 4k/24k/34k/74k processor families. For each architecture family, BenchX includes a hardware debug probe, but it can accommodate other compilers and debug probes. License: from $1,000 per seat.

Compiler Cuts Latency and Interrupt Overhead

Hi TechThe HI-TECH C PRO compiler for the PIC10/12/16 family of MCUs offers nearly a two-fold increase in code density and 38 percent better RAM usage than IAR’s compiler for PIC16/17, and 30 percent better code density with 80 percent better RAM utilization than CCS’ PCM C without using any C-extensions or assembly code. By optimizing interrupt-related contexts, "omniscient code generation" (OCG) technology in the compiler reduces interrupt latency by 40 to 60 percent. By providing efficient "push-button" compilation, the new compiler makes PIC10/12/16 MCUs more accessible to non-experts who increasingly use MCUs to replace mechanical sensors and controls. Another benefit of OCG is low interrupt latency. Conventional compilers cannot determine how an interrupt routine will handle functions and registers. Thus, they waste time by saving every register an interrupt function might use, which increases interrupt latency. Developers can download a free time-limited (45-day) copy of HI-TECH C PRO for the PIC10/12/16 MCU Family at: Price: $1495.  

Take Linux Mobile Devices for a Run

Mobile devices that run software on a Texas Instruments OMAP3430 applications processor can take advantage of MontaVista Mobilinux 5.0. This version of embedded Linux comes with development tools for engineers who design wireless handsets, mobile Internet devices, GPS instruments and portable medical products. According to the company, customers have already started to use Mobilinux 5.0 on the OMAP3430 processor.

Eval Kits Feature Power Architecture CPUs

Two evaluation boards from Applied Micro Circuits Corporation (AMCC) give developers access to the company's Power Architecture 460EX and 460GT processors. Each kit comes with software-development tools, sample applications, system-level benchmarks and hardware-design files. The Linux-based kits (2.6 kernel) let customers use the baseline hardware and software designs as starting points for their own projects. The "Canyonlands" 460EX eval board includes 256 Mbytes of DDR2 SDRAM, 64 Mbytes of NOR Flash, 32 Mbytes of NAND flash, Ethernet, USB 2.0 host port, a USB 2.0 OTG port, two PCI-Express connectors, PCI connectors, and a SATA connector. The "Glacier" 460GT eval board offers similar capabilities but substitutes two Ethernet ports for the SATA and USB ports. Price: $995.

ARM On-Chip Tool Puts Bugs on ICE

Macraigor Systems has added the ability to access the debug communications channel (DCC) within the ARM Embedded ICE via its proprietary on-chip debug technology. A host computer accesses the DCC through a JTAG connection while the target processor--running in real time--accesses the channel via coprocessor instructions. This technique allows for additional methods of debug and real-time sharing of information. Macraigor Systems has augmented its tool suite to take advantage of this capability. OCD Commander users can now pop up a virtual terminal that lets them type in commands and receive responses to/from software they load and run on the target CPU.

Scribe a Line on Electronic Paper

Electronic paper--essentially a display technology that maintains its state until erased--got easier to use with the introduction of a display controller IC jointly developed by Seiko Epson Corporation (Epson) and E Ink Corporation. The chip expands the capabilities of electronic-paper display technologies. Epson will offer its new controller IC (S1D13521B) in production volumes and E Ink's upcoming AM300 Broadsheet prototype kit will give developers an e-paper display, a controller chip and a processor for overall system control. Epson expects to deliver samples in mid 2008 ($18) and E-Ink has started to take orders for its Broadsheet AM300 EPD Prototype Kit (from $3000). and

Quickly Program Secure Networks

The Lantronix MatchPort modules let developers quickly add secure Ethernet communication ports to embedded designs. Now, developers can get the MatchPort AR Evolution OS Development Kit that includes CodeSourcery’s Sourcery G++; a complete C/C++ development environment based on GNU software tools. The kit simplifies the task of using the MatchPort's processor as a powerful 32-bit embedded computer. The Evolution OS SDK for MatchPort AR includes a MatchPort AR with BDM (background debug module) connector, the COLDfire USB Multilink BDM interface module, a MatchPort AR demo board and CodeSourcery’s Sourcery G++ (30-day trial version).

Package EPIC and EBX Computers with Care

If your products will use EPIC or EBX single-board computers, take a look at the ENC-EPX-G-1000 ($89) EPIC enclosure and the ENC-EBC-G-1000 ($129) enclosure for EBX computer. WinSystems designed these packages for equipment that requires mounting computers inside NEMA boxes, OEM machinery, wiring closets and equipment rooms. The aluminum enclosures are RoHS compliant and easy to mount with only four screws. The extruded aluminum ENC-EPX-G-1000 enclosure measures 9x6x3 in. and the ENC-EBC-G-1000 enclosure measures 9.5x9x3 in. and is formed from 2 half shells with end plates attached. Engineers can choose from standard or custom designed end plates.

ARM-Family Memory Shows its Strength

STMicroelectronics has increased the capacity of the flash-memory on its STR91xFA ARM966E-S based MCU family by introducing 1.1-Mbyte and 2.1-Mbyte variants. The new devices are pin- and function-compatible with existing 288- and 544-Kbyte versions in LQFP-80, LQFP-128 and BGA-144 packages, so engineers can "drop in" a new processor without changing circuit-board layouts. The increased memory capacity and the ARM966E-S CPU core will let these new ICs serve in networked web servers, printer controllers and other applications that require large memories for code or data storage. Designers also can take advantage of ST's royalty-free TCP/IP stack that requires less than 12 Kbytes of memory. The 1.1 Mbyte STR91xFAx46 and 2.1 Mbyte STR91xFAx47 are available now. Price: from $6.89 (10K).

ZigBee Chips Get New Software

The Wireless Connectivity Group at Freescale Semiconductor will now include IAR Systems development tools and debug probe in the latest ZigBee dev kits based on the MC1322x IC. Previously, Freescale used its own CodeWarrior tools. The high-end versions of the Freescale dev kits will include a Baseline Edition of IAR Embedded Workbench for ARM. Buyers of low and mid-range kits may choose to install either the 32-Kbyte code-limited KickStart Edition of IAR Embedded Workbench or a 30-day evaluation license for the full version of the software. Each kit includes a J-Link JTAG debug probe.

Verify and Debug SoC Projects

The PROC_SoC family of boards and software from GiDEL help engineers debug and verify SoC designs that range from 3M to 180M gates. The hardware uses Altera Stratix III EP3SL340 FPGAs and it lets any FPGA device directly connect to any other programmable device in the entire system. Typically, developers would connect FPGAs on single or multiple boards and link FPGAs to I/O devices. The system operates with a clock frequency as high as 300 MHz. Debugging techniques use both distributed memories within the FPGAs and on-board memories to capture signal data. A PROCWizard debug GUI runs tests and provides direct access to the design's I/O pins. The system's software automatically generates scripts of test processes that users can replay. Price: from $30,000.

Software Finds Faults, Tests Security and Quality

TBvision, a software product from LDRA, lets programmers see how their source code performs against security vulnerabilities, fault-detection and adherence to quality standards. Now, managers, team members and individual developers can collectively monitor test and quality metrics. Users have the capability to quickly and easily view results in call graphs (see figure), flow graphs and code review reports. This type of display graphically represents the system and show project teams the quality of the code generated in an easy-to-read format. LDRA provides industry standard support for the MISRA-C:1998 and MISRA-C:2004, HIS (Herstellerinitiative Software), GJB (Chinese Military Standard) and the CERT C secure coding standard for the C programming language. LDRA allows lets users enforce many of the known security vulnerabilities identified in the SAMATE Reference Dataset (SRD).

FPGAs Get Onboard at Innovation Station

WorkstationDesigners who use the Actel ProASIC3, Xilinx Virtex-5, Spartan-3AN or Spartan-3A DSP FPGAs can take advantage of new daughter cards that drop these devices into the Altium Innovation Station. That unit combines Altium Designer software with the Desktop NanoBoard development station to give engineers an all-in-one approach to FPGA programming. Daughter cards also add other types of FPGA chips to the station. Peripheral add-on boards can monitor and control power, interface to video signals and offer wireless connections. The Innovation Station lets designers--even those with limited FPGA experience--link ready-to-use functional blocks in a project. An Innovation Station includes three standard peripheral boards and one FPGA daughter board. $4,300.