A Game Console for Dogs and More ARM-Based Solutions at CES



Designers are leveraging a wide range of ARM cores to deliver innovative products for consumer applications.

Over the past decade, ARM® Ltd. has garnered an enviable position as the majority provider of processor cores for cell phones, tablets, and many wearable products. However, walking through the aisles at this year’s International CES show demonstrated that ARM processor cores have also become the engines of choice for many additional products such as 3D printers, robots, digital pens, wireless power transceivers, pet toys, wireless TV viewer with a pico projector, and many unusual products that show how innovative companies can be. Additionally, designers are employing cores ranging from the low-end Cortex® M0 up to multi-core A9 clusters to meet their cost and performance requirements.

Following are examples that caught my eye, of novel products employing various ARM cores to accomplish tasks and deliver new capabilities.

Processors Going to the Dogs

One of the more unusual products at the conference comes from CleverPet. The CleverPet Hub uses smart hardware, teaching as well as offering mental stimulation to dogs through advanced cognitive and behavioral science techniques. The Hub entertains and engages dogs through puzzles that combine lights, sounds and touchpads and rewards the dog with food or treats each time a puzzle is solved (Figure 1). The game controller uses a processor based on an ARM Cortex-M3 core, to manage the light sequences, monitor the touchpads, and open and close the treat dispenser. A WiFi connection allows the owner to adapt the game’s complexity and style in real-time to match an animal’s responses and progress, thus providing the dog with new learning experiences.

Figure 1:  A game console for dogs, the CleverPet Hub uses lights, touchpads and rewards to provide mental exercises for a dog. The system employs an ARM Cortex-M3 to manage all the activities. (Photo courtesy CleverPet.)

Figure 1: A game console for dogs, the CleverPet Hub uses lights, touchpads and rewards to provide mental exercises for a dog. The system employs an ARM Cortex-M3 to manage all the activities. (Photo courtesy CleverPet.)

Low Cost 3D Printer

A low-cost 3D printer demonstrated by New Matter targets the educational market and home users at a cost of $399 (Figure 2). The MOD-t uses a closed-loop servo control system based on an ARM Cortex-M4 microcontroller that is part of the STM-32 family from STMicro. The microcontroller leverages the ARM Cortex-M4 processor, which performs a calibration cycle and then does the positioning and dispensing of the low-cost plastic polylactic acid (PLA) filament material. The printer is controlled via a browser-based interface that can be found on most modern desktop and mobile browsers. Both a WiFi interface and a USB 2.0 port allow the printer files in .STL or .OBJ format to be transferred to the printer. A Texas Instruments CC3100 WiFi module provides the wireless connectivity; it also has its own embedded ARM processor.

Figure 2: The MOD-t 3D printer from New Matter leverages an ST32-family microcontroller from STMicro that employs an ARM Cortex A4 processor core to control the print head and material feed. (Photo courtesy New Matter.)

Figure 2: The MOD-t 3D printer from New Matter leverages an ST32-family microcontroller from STMicro that employs an ARM Cortex A4 processor core to control the print head and material feed. (Photo courtesy New Matter.)

In the robotics area, Wowwee showed off its latest creation, the Chip K9 robotic dog. Packing almost 20 sensors, as well as transmitters, receivers, infrared emitters, Bluetooth communications and mechatronics, the robot can respond to multiple commands (Figure 3). It can also interact with a smart ball that incorporates eight infrared LED sensors, a docking station for recharging, and a wireless wristband controller that has several dedicated control functions. A microcontroller based on an ARM Cortex M4 CPU processes all the sensor data and control inputs to make the robot respond, emulating a real dog’s actions. The company expects to formally deliver the product in July at a pre-order price of $179.

Figure 3: The Chip K9 robotic dog developed by Wowwee contains many sensors, infrared emitters, Bluetooth communications, and a lot of mechatronics, all managed by a microcontroller based on the ARM Cortex M4 processor. (Photo courtesy Wowwee.)

Figure 3: The Chip K9 robotic dog developed by Wowwee contains many sensors, infrared emitters, Bluetooth communications, and a lot of mechatronics, all managed by a microcontroller based on the ARM Cortex M4 processor. (Photo courtesy Wowwee.)

Handwriting and Image Printing

Able to capture and digitize your handwriting without any special paper or writing tablets, the Digipen from Stabilo uses two ARM Cortex-M0 cores that decode the motion information collected by the acceleration, rotation rate, magnetic field, and pressure sensors in the pen (Figure 4). The pen measures position, movement, and writing pressure (up to 2048 pressure levels). Both a USB connection for charging, and a Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) wireless link are built into the Digipen. The BLE link allows data exchange with any BLE-compatible device such as tablet or smartphone. The pen translates hand-written texts, numbers and figures into documents that can be both saved and edited or, if desired, it can interact with the user via an app, and so offer direct assistance when learning and working.

Figure 4:  The Digipen developed by Stabilo packs two ARM M0 cores to handle the sensor data capture and analysis to convert the motion into digital images that the software will display on devices such as a tablet or smartphone. (Photo courtesy the author.)

Figure 4: The Digipen developed by Stabilo packs two ARM M0 cores to handle the sensor data capture and analysis to convert the motion into digital images that the software will display on devices such as a tablet or smartphone. (Photo courtesy the author.)

With all the smartphones and tablets in the market, one of the biggest challenges is obtaining a printed copy of pictures taken by the phone or tablet, especially when you are not near a computer. To solve that problem, designers at Polaroid partnered with Zink Holdings to create the Zink hAppy zero ink printer (ZIP), shown in Figure 5, which connects wirelessly to Apple AirPrint enabled applications, as well as to smartphones and tablets using built-in WiFi communications. Controlled by an ARM 926-based processor, the printer uses an ink-free process that delivers full-color, photo-quality prints on special picture rolls that come in 3/8, ½, ¾, 1, and 2-in. widths.

Figure 5: A zero ink portable printer developed by Zink Holdings and Polaroid delivers full-color, photo-quality prints under the control of an ARM 926 processor. (Photo courtesy Polaroid.)

Figure 5: A zero ink portable printer developed by Zink Holdings and Polaroid delivers full-color, photo-quality prints under the control of an ARM 926 processor. (Photo courtesy Polaroid.)

Using quad-core processors, EzeeCube and Endless Computers have both developed nicely styled computer systems for entertainment and other applications. The EzeeCube Smart Media Center is based on a quad-core Cortex-A9 processor from Freescale Semiconductor (now part of NXP Semiconductors) serving as the main CPU in the base compute unit. A modular approach to the media system divides the functions into stackable building blocks—the base unit, a 2 Terabyte add-on storage module, and a Blu-Ray player module, each 6.3-inch long and about 1.65-inch high (Figure 6, top). Leveraging the resources on the Freescale chip, the base module includes 1-Gbit/s Ethernet, WiFi using 802.11n, Bluetooth 3.0, USB 2.0, HDMI output, and an optical digital audio output.

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Figure 6: Two computer systems, one from EzeeCube (top) and the other from Endless Computing (bottom) both employ quad-core processor chips based on the ARM Cortex A9 and A5, respectively.  (Photos courtesy EZeeCube and Endless Computing.)

Figure 6: Two computer systems, one from EzeeCube (top) and the other from Endless Computing (bottom) both employ quad-core processor chips based on the ARM Cortex A9 and A5, respectively. (Photos courtesy EZeeCube and Endless Computing.)

A complete computer/media player in a nicely styled, white egg-like package, the Endless Mini from Endless Computers is based on a multimedia SoC from Amlogic (Figure 6, bottom). The SoC contains a quad-core ARM Cortex-A5 compute cluster, an ARM Mali-450 quad-core GPU, hardware support for 1080p decoding and the ability to support multiple video formats including H.265, H.264 (30 frames/s). I/O consists of HDMI 1.4b, multiple audio output options, a 10/100/1000 Ethernet MAC, and other system resources. The Mini runs the company’s own OS, and is ready to use right out of the box—just plug it into a keyboard and monitor or TV and you have a system capable of browsing the Web, creating documents, editing music, and much more, says the company.

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