Design West remained true to its embedded-systems roots and companies offered a cornucopia of new products for engineers.
This year, the Embedded Systems Conference occurred as part of the larger Design West conference and exhibition, but clearly the emphasis remained on embedded systems. During my visits with manufacturers I learned about many new hardware and software products classified under the headings of chips, boards, test-and-measurement, and software. This column gives you a quick overview of these announcements and links to more information. Enjoy.
Microchip PIC16F(LF)178X expands analog and digital capabilities
The 8-bit PIC16F(LF)178X microcontroller (MCU) family now includes devices that offer enhanced analog peripherals, such as 12-bit analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), 8-bit digital-to-analog converters (DACs), operational amplifiers, high-speed comparators, and mTouch capacitive-touc- sensing circuits. The MCUs also supply better PWM control and accuracy via new Programmable Switch-Mode Controllers (PSMCs). The LF versions of the MCUs feature eXtreme Low Power Technology, for an active current of 32 µA/MHz and a sleep current of 50 nA, which help extend battery life. Microchip suggests this low-power consumption and the new analog and digital capabilities make the general-purpose PIC16F(LF)178X MCUs ideal for LED-lighting, battery-management, digital-power-supply, motor-control, and similar circuits. For data sheets, visit: http://www.microchip.com/TechDoc.aspx?type=datasheet&product=16F178. For Low Power Technology information, visit: http://www.microchip.com/pagehandler/en-us/technology/xlp/.
The MCUs provide a 32-MHz internal oscillator, 2k to 8k words of Flash, 128 to 512 bytes of RAM, and 256 bytes of data EEPROM. Microchip sells a complete set of development tools for the PIC16F(LF)178X MCUs that includes the MPLAB integrated development environment (IDE), PICkit 3, MPLAB REAL ICE, and MPLAB ICD 3 debuggers/programmers. The company also has a new series of three MPLAB XC8 compilers for 8-bit PIC MCUs.
Infineon demonstrates XMC4500 hardware and tools
The XMC4500 series of industrial microcontrollers gives engineers and product designers a 120-MHz ARM Cortex-M4 processor, which takes the Cortex-M3 core and adds to it a floating-point unit and as well as new digital-signal-processing capabilities. According to Infineon, the XMC4500 has timer modules optimized for electric-motor control, fast ADCs, integrated delta-sigma demodulators, and the chip can operate at up to 125°C. For MCU information, visit: http://tinyurl.com/7hocjbg.
The company provides an integrated development environment (IDE) called DAVE 3 that includes a GNU compiler, a debugger, and data visualization tools. The DAVE 3 software--now in beta release--includes automatic code generation that simplifies setup of control and peripheral operations, many of which can take place without waking or involving the CPU. In essence, you use component-based software tools. I saw a demonstration of the DAVE 3 tools and was impressed by their ease of use and capability to create good code. Infineon provides many application examples and information about the XMC4500-series peripherals. The tools alone make this MCU family worth investigating further. For information about the DAVE 3 software or to download it, visit: http://tinyurl.com/8yt9hes. The DAVE 2 software supports other MCU families.
Infineon offers a Hexagon Application Kit that comprises small boards, three of which can connect to the main XMC4500 board. The add-on boards communicate with external equipment, can control actuators and read sensors, and supply a basic human-machine interface. Communication interfaces include Ethernet, USB, and a socket for SD/MMC cards. In addition, you have three CAN nodes, six serial communication channels and one external bus interface. For kit information, visit: http://tinyurl.com/6mrdpsh.
STMicro Wireless MCU helps smart-grid engineers
The STM32W microcontroller gives engineers an ARM Cortex-M3 MCU that includes an IEEE 802.15.4 transceiver that can use the ZigBee Smart Energy Profile version 2.0 (SEP 2.0). This profile uses an Internet Protocol (IPv6) stack that ensures compatibility of products from different manufacturers. Smart-grid products, such as appliances, energy meters, and infrastructure monitors, can use an MCU such as the STM32W to reduce peak loads, improve power-network stability, and encourage power conservation. The STM32W MCU will serve well in devices that require pre-paid services, load response, and energy-demand management. For more information about the ZigBee IP MCUs, STM32W108CC and STM32W108CZ, visit: http://tinyurl.com/8yh4ptm.
Engineers who choose the STM32W for new wireless products will benefit from the device’s close links and compatibility with other STM32 microcontrollers and their development hardware and software. A large and active STM32 developer community also provides support and expertise.
FTDI X-Chip simplifies USB interface and device charging
Recent changes to the USB specification concern rapid charging of portable electronics devices. To take charging burdens from a processor, the new X-Chip family of USB-interface chips from FTDI includes circuits that detect a charging port and cause logic to switch from the data-transfer to the battery-charging mode. Thus a device can include a simpler detection process and may charge a battery at a higher current level and thus over a shorter time.
The X-Chip ICs offer 13 package styles and they provide a broad selection of interface types, such as basic UART, full UART, FIFO and I2C, as well as FTDI’s proprietary FT1248 I/O (which includes provision for enhanced SPI). An internal 2048-byte memory lets designers store configuration information within the USB-interface device. And because the ICs handle the entire USB protocol, programmers avoid the need for USB firmware. Product users can download free USB drivers for Windows, Mac-OS-X, Linux, and Android from the FTDI website. For more information, datasheets, application notes, and product-support material, visit: http://www.ftdichip.com/FT-X.htm.
Energy Micro puts Gecko Cortex-M3 in BGA48 package
By placing the EFM32 family of ARM Cortex-M3 MCUs in thin BGA48 packages, Energy Micro gives product designers more space on a PCB, or lets them create a smaller board. Space-sensitive products such as wireless sensing nodes, home-automation systems, and portable-health and -fitness products. In spite of their small size (4 x 4 x 1 mm), the VFBGA48 Tiny Gecko MCUs include all of the standard Gecko energy-saving peripherals, such as a sensor interface (LESENSE) and a low-power LCD driver. The LESENSE function block lets the MCU monitor as many as 16 capacitive, inductive, or resistive sensors independent of the processor core. So engineers can maintain basic functions even while they keep the processor in sleep or shut-off mode.
The Cortex-M3 Tiny Gecko microcontroller runs at a clock speed of up to 32 MHz and requires a current of 150 µA/MHz when active. Memory configurations range to 32 kbytes of Flash memory and 4 kbytes of RAM. For product information, visit: http://www.energymicro.com/products/efm32-tiny-gecko-microcontroller-family.
Freescale Vybrid controllers take on display and multimedia challenges
The new Vybrid family of MCUs from Freescale Semiconductor aims to simplify the creation of applications that need "rich" human-machine interfaces (HMI), connect with other devices and equipment, and operate with deterministic real-time control. Vybrid devices employ an asymmetrical multiprocessing (AMP) design that combines ARM Cortex-A5 and Cortex-M4 cores. According to Freescale, the Vybrid devices will find use in building/home automation, industrial equipment, point-of-sale systems, energy meters, and appliances, among others. The chips also will help engineers create products that need low-power and timing-critical wired and wireless network communication protocols, such as IEEE 1588, Smart Energy 2.0, low-power WiFi, and so on.
The first Vybrid devices – those in the VF series – use the Cortex-A5 to handle a high-level operating system for HMI, connectivity, and computing needs, while the Cortex-M4 executes safe and secure real-time functions. Software and hardware let two operating systems, such as Linux and Freescale MQX, communicate with each other simultaneously. The use of the ARM cores lets programmers take advantage of code available from other sources or from independent suppliers. Freescale expects to have samples of the first Vybrid VF devices in Q2 2012. Programmers and engineers can expect tools and larger quantities of samples in Q3. For more information about Vybrid controllers, visit: www.freescale.com/Vybrid. Freescale has devoted its 64-page magazine, Beyond Bits, Issue 7, to the Vybrid devices. It's worth a look: http://www.freescale.com/files/32bit/doc/brochure/VYBRIDBYNDBITS.pdf.
Dual-processor Blackfin chips accelerate vision analytics
Four new ADSP-BF60x series processors expand the Analog Devices Blackfin family of signal-processing devices. The ADSP-BF608 and ADSP-BF609 include a Pipelined Vision Processor (PVP) that engineers and programmers can use for embedded-vision applications. The PVP comprises a set of sections optimized for convolution and wavelet-based object detection and classification, and tracking and verification algorithms. Those sections include four 5 x 5 16-bit convolution blocks, a 16-bit cartesian-to-polar-coordinate conversion block, a pixel-edge classifier that supports 1st and 2nd derivative modes, an arithmetic unit with 32-bit addition, multiply and divide, and others. For more chip information, visit: http://www.analog.com/static/imported-files/data_sheets/ADSP-BF606_607_608_609.pdf.
The ADSP-BF606 and ADSP-BF607 lack PVP and serve in a variety of general-purpose digital-signal-processing applications such as wireless communications, industrial process control, and power-grid monitoring and protection. All processor cores operate at 500 MHz and include a new high-bandwidth switched-fabric data-movement infrastructure, a large variety of standard peripherals, and safety-oriented features such as dual-core supervision and memory error detection and correction. To view a video on the application of the ADSP-BF60x family, visit: http://ez.analog.com/community/dsp/blackfin-video.
Blackfin ADSP-BF60x processors are supported by the Analog Devices CrossCore Embedded Studio, which runs in an Eclipse framework. The company has integrated the Micrium µC/OS-III RTOS, USB drivers and file system into CrossCore Embedded Studio. For more information, visit: www.analog.com\blackfin.
TI’s CC4000 puts a GPS receiver in MCU-based applications
If the lack of an inexpensive easy-to-use GPS receiver has held back a design that requires position, timing, and velocity information, the SimpleLink CC4000 module from Texas Instruments will jump you over the hurdle. All you need is a power source, one I/O pin, a serial-input pin, power, and an antenna. The I/O pin turns on the GPS receiver that then sends standard National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) strings that contain location, time and velocity information. The simple interface cuts down on the software needed in a host MCU. (TI has documentation and sample software for designs that use MSP430 microcontrollers.) For complete details, visit: www.ti.com/cc4000-pr.
According to TI's announcement, the SimpleLink GPS CC4000 delivers better than 2.5-meter accuracy and a pulse-per-second output with an accuracy of better than 100 nsec. The module includes a “watchful-eye” feature that saves previously decoded satellite information that keeps the fast time to first fix (TTFF) at under one second for a warm start. A "cold start" fix requires about 35 seconds
The SimpleLink GPS CC4000 is in production and you can purchase SimpleLink GPS modules (part number TC6000GN) through Arrow Electronics World Wide. For more information on the GNS TC6000GN module visit: http://www.tc6000.gns-gmbh.com/index.php?article_id=16&feature=1. The SimpleLink GPS CC4000 evaluation kit (CC4000GPSEM) is available today through the TI eStore for $US 39.99, and will be available through authorized distributors.
If you want to add SimpleLink GPS CC4000 capabilities to an ultra-low-power MCU, TI offers documentation and sample software for the MSP430F5529 Experimenter Board (MSP-EXP430F5529), available separately. You can use a GPS CC4000 with any MSP430 MCU including those in the 16-bit ultra-low-power MCU Value Line.
WinSystems Atom CPU board integrates PCI Express with PC/104
The PXM-C388-S, a PC/104-compatible single board computer from WinSystems, includes an Intel 1.66-GHz Atom processor and it adds the new Stackable Unified Modular Interconnect Technology (SUMIT) I/O expansion connector to the board. This combination lets product designers easily enhance and expand I/O capabilities via PC-104 boards. They also can enhanced performance and throughput by adding stackable PCI Express and USB boards. The Intel Atom processor lets engineers upgrade existing PC/104-based equipment, and the board creates a bridge from legacy systems to future designs.
The Atom-based board provides a Gigabit Ethernet port; simultaneous CRT and LVDS flat-panel video outputs, eight USB ports, four serial COM ports, a SATA controller, a PATA controller for the CompactFlash socket, 24 digital I/O lines, and HD audio. The RoHS-compliant board operates between -40° to +85°C and it operates with Linux, Windows, and other x86-compatible RTOSs. Visit the WinSystems Web site for more information and free drivers: http://sumit.winsystems.com/products/PXM-C388-S.cfm.
National Instruments introduces single-board RIO for embedded devices
For designers who like the National Instruments RIO line of I/O modules, the company now has four new NI Single-Board RIO embedded devices that include a real-time processor, Spartan-6 field-programmable gate array (FPGA), analog and digital I/O and built-in peripherals for custom embedded-control and monitoring applications. The new devices give engineers off-the-shelf FPGA and real-time-processor technologies they control through NI LabVIEW software. The new boards also offer a RIO Mezzanine Card connector that provides FPGA digital lines and processor-specific functions for use with custom daughter cards often required in high-volume applications. The modules also feature built-in analog I/O so engineers can take advantage of National Instruments' linear-circuit-design expertise
The modules' small size, built-in I/O, real-time processor, and FPGA provide a solid platform for medical and energy equipment, for example. For information about the NI sbRIO-9623, NI sbRIO-9626, NI sbRIO-9633, and NI sbRIO-9636, visit: www.ni.com and search by product number.
Renesas motor-control kit helps reduce design complexity
Engineers interested in control of brushless DC (BLDC) motors should take a look at a new kit from Renesas Electronics America that uses an RX62T MCU that incoprorates a single-precision floating point unit (FPU) and a high-performance RX CPU core. Renesas created the RX62T MCU family specifically for circuits that implement the high-efficiency motor control required by white goods such as washers, dryers, refrigerators, as well as HVAC equipment and industrial drives. The RX62T-based motor-control kit offers a complete package that helps engineers learn about sensor-less vector control algorithms, evaluate the motor performance via a graphical user interface (GUI), and implement sensor-less vector control in their applications.
The kit includes an RX62T MCU with IEEE 754-compliant FPU and on-chip programmable-gain amplifiers on the kit's board, a 24V, 4-pole BLDC motor with encoder and Hall-effect sensors, algorithms and source code, MOSFETs, Renesas E1 debugger and
HEW integrated development environment. Renesas expects to have individual kits available this spring and larger quantities available at the end of September. For more information on the new RX62T motor-control kit, visit: www.renesas.com/rxmotorkit.
TEST, MEASURE, and DEBUG
Digital data logger simplifies debugging
Unlike some logic analyzers and data loggers, the new LOG Storm instrument from Byte Paradigm can pre-qualify the data you want to record. Simple logic expressions let you set up sampling conditions so you save only the information you need. Triggers provide logical-AND and -OR conditions and can detect signal-edge transitions and patterns. The trigger settings also let you specify a start or stop condition and how many samples to acquire. "We have addressed one of the most common problems in digital embedded-system debugging; that is, the need to understand the history of events that lead to a bug," said Frederic Leens, sales and marketing manager at Byte Paradigm. "Most scopes and logic analyzers do not let you record digital-trace data for hours or days." The LOG Storm samples data at up to 100 MHz. "There is usually no point filling a trace memory with bus samples when nothing of interest takes place," added Leens.
The LOG Storm includes a 20-bit-wide 8-Msample memory buffer that automatically "extends" to a PC's memory and hard drive via a USB 2.0 so you can capture gigabytes of trace data. When combined with the company's LOG Storm Studio software, you can use the combination to organize, sort, and visualize data down to individual bits. For product information, visit: http://www.byteparadigm.com/product-log-storm-40.html. For a 7-page white paper about data capture and analysis, visit: http://www.byteparadigm.com/files/documents/LogStormIntro.
Express Logic and IAR Systems introduce ThreadX-Lite RTOS
The ThreadX-Lite real-time operating system (RTOS) gives programmers and engineers a subset of the popular Express Logic ThreadX RTOS, and it provides many ThreadX features and capabilities in a compact object library used with IAR Systems Embedded Workbench. ThreadX-Lite operates as a real-time, priority-based, preemptive-scheduling RTOS with services that manage threads, queues, timers, semaphores, event-flag groups, byte pools and block pools. It shares the ThreadX API for these services so applications written using ThreadX-Lite can immediately run with ThreadX, if developers choose to upgrade to it at another time. ThreadX-Lite is sold exclusively through IAR Systems for ARM Cortex-M0, M0+, M3, and M4 MCUs from Atmel, Freescale, Fujitsu, Infineon, NXP, STMicroelectronics, and Texas Instruments. The ThreadX-Lite package can "plug into" IAR tools already in use. For more information, visit: http://www.iar.com/en/Products/RTOS/Express-Logic/ThreadX-Lite/.
The Lite RTOS requires only 2 kbytes of ROM (Flash) and less than one kbyte of RAM. On a 100-MHz Cortex-M3 processor, for example, ThreadX-Lite executes a context switch in less than one microsecond. Developers just starting to use an RTOS will find the software easy to use, fully supported, and completely documented. Price: $US 4,500 per seat. You pay no royalties and can use the RTOS on as many projects as you wish. ThreadX-Lite makes available many run-time development capabilities, including support for the Express Logic TraceX (available separately) graphical event-trace tool, and extensive RTOS awareness in the IAR C-SPY Debugger.
ThreadX tackles multicore RTOS challenges
Programming complexity continues to thwart the adoption of multicore architecture by even the hardiest of programmers unless a design absolutely needs it. The Express Logic ThreadX real-time operating system (RTOS) now handles operations in multicore systems that operate in either asymmetric multiprocessing (SMP) or asymmetric multiprocessing (AMP) modes with processors, such as the ARM MPCore, the Xilinx Zynq, the MIPS 34K and 1004K, and the Analog Devices’ Blackfin BF561. Each processor runs the same code from a single copy in memory. Homogeneous processors also can operate in an asymmetric mode and run different code from each CPU's local memory.
In AMP mode, on homogeneous or heterogeneous multicore systems, ThreadX runs on one or more processors, generally from a processor’s local memory, with separate copies for each processor. If the system comprises heterogeneous processors, then each copy of ThreadX is different, built for operation on a particular processor architecture. In AMP mode, ThreadX supports the Xilinx Zynq dual-Cortex-A8 architecture, as well as virtually any heterogeneous architecture. For ThreadX information, visit: http://rtos.com/products/threadx/.
LDRA improves requirements traceability
Software from LDRA helps engineers comply with standards, automatically verify software, perform source-code analysis, and test code. To further help design teams and companies trace design requirements from start to finish, the company has integrated the IRQA requirements engineering tools from Visure Solutions with TBmanager, a test management and traceability component within the LDRA tool suite. This combination will ease regulatory compliance and validation for safety- and mission-critical software. For more information, visit: http://www.visuresolutions.com/irqa-requirements-tool. And visit: http://www.ldra.com/.
System designers now can specify clear, precise requirements that improve the quality of an entire software project. Because IRQA includes a requirements analyzer, each requirement has a quality rating that lets programmers avoid weaknesses such as ambiguous words, conditional sentences, poor structure, suggestions, overlapping requirements, and inconsistent use of units. LDRA links the well-defined requirements to related source code and tests, which the company's TBmanager displays in a graphic format. Thus development teams, even when distant, can immediately understand the complexities and the hierarchy of software projects.
LDRA’s standard-specific templates for DO-178C, ISO 26262, IEC 61508, and IEC 62304 detail both certification and programming requirements, and create checklists and identify tasks needed for certification compliance. For more information, visit: http://www.ldra.com/index.php/en/solutions/by-standard-adherence.
GrammaTech software shows source-code relationships
A new display module added to GrammaTech's CodeSonar static-analysis tools lets programmers and engineers see the relationships between sections of their code. Many "visualization" tools can displaying small parts of a program structure, but they cannot show the structure of an entire program, particularly one that runs to 10-million lines of code. The new display format presents data in layers so programmers can see only the information appropriate to their desired level of abstraction. They also can explore a program from top to bottom to reveal more details as they go deeper. Or they can take a bottom-up approach if they need to work with individual lines of code. For CodeSonar, visit: http://www.grammatech.com/products/codesonar/overview.html.
A CodeSonar visualization displays a program’s call graph, organized according to its module structure. Programmers can change graph layouts to show information in tree, map, circuit, cluster, flow, and other layouts. And users can search the graph for functions of interest, and move to or from source code. CodeSonar visualization runs through a standard web client such as Microsoft Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome. Customers can obtain an early-release version now.
Microchip simplifies MCU C-compiler choices
Microchip Technology has taken a new approach to development software and now offers three C-language-compilers options, MPLAB XC8, XC16 and XC32 for the company's 8-, 16- and 32-bit MCUs. Each XC compiler lets programmers use three levels, Free, Standard and Pro, that all run under the Linux, Mac OS and Windows operating systems. For a short presentation about these new C compilers, visit: http://www.microchip.com/get/6FCS.
Programmers can obtain the MPLAB XC8 and MPLAB XC32 compilers now and they can expect the MPLAB XC16 compiler later in April. Microchip expects to make a discounted suite of all three compilers available in May. To download the Free editions, or evaluate the paid options with increased code and speed optimizations, visit http://www.microchip.com/get/E1C4. The MPLAB XC compilers make it easy to move and reuse code from any of Microchip’s other compilers. The MPLAB XC software works within the universal MPLAB X integrated development environment and MPLAB XC compilers work with the legacy MPLAB IDE.
Even the Free editions of Microchip’s MPLAB XC compilers offer many optimizations. For those who want to test their code with the Pro optimization levels, Microchip offers 60-day evaluation editions with Pro optimization levels. After this period, the tools revert to the Free compilers. All compiler editions function fully and have no license restrictions for commercial usage.
Icon Labs' embedded firewall protects eZ80 MCUs
Engineers concerned about the security of "connected" MCUs should take a look at the Floodgate packet filter from Icon Labs. Zilog recently announced the use of Floodgate in the eZ80Acclaim family of MCUs to provide a firewall, called ZGATE, for networked devices. According to Alan Grau, President of Icon Labs, Floodgate provides protection from Internet-based threats by controlling what packets an embedded device is allowed to process. "Encryption and authentication may protect a device from a hacker trying to access the device, but Floodgate prevents the hacker from even connecting. Floodgate’s filtering engine can block denial of service attacks, packet floods, port scans, or other Internet-based threats,” said Grau.
Floodgate gives product designers a complete embedded firewall that offers a critical layer of security for networked devices. It supplies static (rules-based) filtering, Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI) and threshold-based filtering. Floodgate is the first embedded firewall to provide all three types of filtering to protect embedded devices from the growing number of Internet-based threats. For more information, visit: http://www.iconlabs.com/products/floodgate-packet-filter/.
Wireless kit links M2M applications with Internet cloud
In June 2012, collaboration between Digi International and Wind River will yield the M2M Solutions Builder kit that combines hardware, software, and cloud connectivity to help engineers and product designers create machine-to-machine products and offer M2M development services. M2M communications and information in applications, such as real-time vehicle traffic-data services and smart meters that transmit information about utility use, can help people and companies become more efficient, cut costs, and create business opportunities.
The M2M Solution Builder kit will help engineers involved with transportation, smart energy, building automation, access control, security/surveillance, digital signs, kiosks, and so on. By using the kit engineers can immediately use and test the iDigi Manager Pro remote-management capabilities and cloud-based desktop and mobile web dashboard applications. In addition, through iDigi Application Development Services and Digi’s Spectrum Design Services, Digi offers custom iDigi web and mobile application development as well as full wireless and hardware design services, addressing needs from product customization to complete turnkey development. Wind River supplies the Linux environment with an M2M software development kit (SDK) and the Wind River Workbench, a collection of tools based on Eclipse. For more information about the kit, visit: www.digi.com/M2MBuilder. For more information about the iDigi Device Cloud, visit: www.idigi.com.