Industrial equipment talking on the IoT? Better get a gateway (device).

Editor’s note: This particular blog is sponsored by ADLINK.

Forget about controlling your garage door or AC from your smartphone; these are just a hat trick on the Internet of Things. The real IoT deals with existing commercial and industrial devices becoming “wired” to the cloud.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a system of systems.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a system of systems.

Market data firm IDC estimates that 85 percent of the tens of billions of nodes and sensors needed for the Internet of Things (IoT) already exist “within installed infrastructure”.

That means they’re already powered up and doing their thing…but they’re not necessarily IoT-ready. They might be standalone stoplight controllers at a small town intersection blinking red-yellow-green in the middle of the night, or lower-tech vending machines stocked weekly with grape soda (in homage to the movie “Up”). More sophisticated—but still standalone—systems can include building HVAC or FACP (fire alarm control panel) equipment at a local senior center. None of these systems were designed for Internet connectivity. But all of them and billions more are candidates for being remotely controlled, maintained, and most importantly: sharing their data on the IoT.Vending machines outside Walmart

The promise of the IoT with legacy industrial systems like these is unlocking the data they contain (and monetizing it), remotely healing faults, predicting maintenance, and more. Some nodes can be retrofit with short-range wireless capability via 802.15.4 or 802.11x (Wi-Fi), but most will maintain their original analog or digital I/O interfaces from proprietary to TTL to RS-485. Concentrating individual nodes and sensors into a group requires a gateway that aggregates and secures data, makes intelligent decisions, and secures the connection to the Internet cloud using WiFi, 4G, or Ethernet.

The gateway will endure harsh environments: from vibrating factory floor to scorching rooftop—with no fans to lower MTBF. It’ll also be small, maybe shoebox-sized at most, easy on power, and flexible enough to accommodate modular hardware needed to work with any legacy sensor, system or future IoT node.

Data? Nope—We Want Decisions

The gateway needs some serious horsepower. From translating local protocols and legacy H/W interfaces into the IPV6, TLS and HTTPS language of the Internet, the gateway’s CPU needs to pass intelligent data onto the IoT—not just raw data. The distinction is huge. Merely routing data from local sensors onto the Internet is not the point of the IoT. Instead, aggregating that data and rolling it up via local algorithms (remotely loaded) into “actionable intelligence” allows the gateway’s operator to interpret machine or sensor trends and make big picture system-of-system decisions.

For instance, groups of local vending machines suddenly running low on one kind of soda provides valuable demographic data that can be sold to a beverage provider. Roll up dozens of machines across a city and correlate data with what’s on TV or which concerts are in town…and maybe the IoT says Lady Gaga fans prefer Diet Coke.

Example Gateway: ADLINK MXC-2300

The aforementioned gateway is more than a shoebox stuffed with flexible hardware.  It is this, of course, but much more is required. Knowledge of myriad legacy industrial systems is needed in order to properly interface with them. ADLINK, one of Intel’s few Premier partners in the Intel Internet of Things Solutions Alliance, provides rugged board and system products to many related industrial IoT applications and industries (Figure 1).

Figure 1: ADLINK products spanning myriad market segments that will eventually connect to the IoT. Domain knowledge is essential when interfacing to legacy sensors and equipment.

Figure 1: ADLINK products spanning myriad market segments that will eventually connect to the IoT. Domain knowledge is essential when interfacing to legacy sensors and equipment.

The company’s HPERC rugged chassis fit the gateway model flawlessly, while the MXC-2300 Atom E3845-based Matrix “expandable computer” (Figure 2) has enough I/O options to connect to those 85% existing IoT nodes mentioned above. Additionally, as Intel catalyzes the IoT with their Intel Gateway Solutions for the Internet of Things integrated solution, ADLINK is certain to include the obligatory Wind River Intelligent Device Platform XT software plus McAfee’s Embedded Control software for security and manageability.

Figure 2: The modular, fanless MX-2300 “Matrix” chassis makes an ideal IoT gateway to interface legacy industrial equipment, sensors and “nodes”.

Figure 2: The modular, fanless MX-2300 “Matrix” chassis makes an ideal IoT gateway to interface legacy industrial equipment, sensors and “nodes”.

Most importantly, ADLINK has something for the IoT few suppliers have: a remote control and management system built into every module called SEMA Cloud. This Smart Embedded Management Agent and its PICMG-based EAPI API, available on both x86 and ARM ADLINK modules, provides remote M2M/IoT connectivity via command line, GUI or HTTP (Figure 3). Essential for controlling the gateway and IoT nodes are: watchdog; failure forensics; fail-safe dual BIOS; info/stats such as CPU type; module SERNO and uptime; temp monitor and fan control; separate I2C controller; power monitoring and control; and more.

Figure 3: IoT use cases for ADLINK’s Smart Embedded Management Agent software and API.

Figure 3: IoT use cases for ADLINK’s Smart Embedded Management Agent software and API.

Gateway is a Drug for IoT Revenue

With so many billions of devices ready to spew their data onto the Internet, companies can scarcely contain their rabid enthusiasm to start monetizing all that data via information and action. The IoT gateway—especially targeting the large Industrial segment—is an essential piece in the cloud picture. Companies like ADLINK have the experience, hardware, and infrastructure software necessary to utilize all that aggregated IoT data.

 

Samsung Galaxy Gear Teardown

Surprise! ST Micro’s ARM Cortex M4 drives Galaxy Gear smart watch.

Now that Samsung has recognized users want to read the watch on their wrist like a regular watch (unlike their Gear Fit), this wearable has a chance of gaining traction. Wearables are heating up as fitness bracelets are replaced with more functionality in smart watches.

(Courtesy: Samsung.)

(Courtesy: Samsung.)

On the heels of Google’s round wearable concept, and while everyone waits for Apple to say something interesting, Samsung’s new Galaxy Gear was torn apart by the folks at ABIresearch.

The following graphic from ABIresearch provides the summary of their full report. For other wearables, check out this link.

ABIresearch's summary of the Samsung Gear teardown. {Courtesy: ABIresearch; all rights reserved.)

ABIresearch’s summary of the Samsung Gear teardown. {Courtesy: ABIresearch; all rights reserved.)

What’s in a name? We go from ADLINK to IoT.

There’s so much more than meets the eye to ADLINK; perhaps it’s why they’re one of only five Premier partners to Intel…and a likely leader in the coming embedded IoT phenomenon.

Editor’s note: this particular blog is sponsored by ADLINK, but the opinions represented are my own.

[UPDATE 6-26-14 4:57pm: The Intel Intelligent Systems Alliance is now called the Intel Internet of Things Alliance. This change was announced a few months ago by Intel.]

The ‘iceberg analogy’ applied to OEM ADLINK means that there’s much more substance below the water than what’s immediately visible. After more than 20 announcement “blips” on my PR meter recently, I dug a bit deeper into the company that started out in 1995 in test and measurement building A/D/A equipment and boards. (ADLINK meant “the link between analog and digital”.) The public company moved quickly into industrial computing and a steady 20% CAGR.

There’s much more IP to ADLINK than is immediately apparent. (Courtesy: Wiki Commons.)

There’s much more IP to ADLINK than is immediately apparent. (Courtesy: Wiki Commons.)

I know of ADLINK mostly as providing VME, VPX, COM Express, and PC/104 modules for rugged and harsh systems. They bought PC/104 creator Ampro in 2008, bringing that company’s robust COTS innovations in PC/104 and SWAP-C chassis (size, weight, power, cost) under the ADLINK logo. ADLINK is now the world’s second largest PC/104 supplier.

In 2012, ADLINK purchased Europe’s LiPPERT to round out their rugged SBC expertise and get closer to Intel. LiPPERT brought along a device-to-cloud framework (M2M stack, API, BIOS, web server, etc) called Smart Embedded Management Agent (SEMA) that seems ideal for remote control and query of IoT devices. SEMA, it turns out, works with both x86 and ARM—the architectures that will likely dominate the emerging IoT.

These acquisitions proved that rugged, of course, applies to lots of places besides mil/aero and defense; for example, automotive, transportation (mass transit), medical, industrial, and energy. Upon my closer inspection, I found the ADLINK ‘iceberg’ revealed products and customer testimonials in all of these markets, plus a pattern of innovation and unique intellectual property (IP) like SEMA.

This unique IP isn’t found at most of ADLINK’s competitors: I see it setting the stage for ADLINK’s morphing into an IoT/M2M systems supplier.

Not Buzzed on IoT

Fads evolve quickly, and the Internet of Things was M2M last year, and before that it started as Intel’s Intelligent Systems. (Intelligent Systems is also the name of the Alliance of which ADLINK is a Premier Member.)

Pull quote ADLINKIntel merely invented the phrase that envisioned millions of connected embedded systems—some with intelligence, some merely as endpoint sensors. Two key points: 1. Intel was bang-on correct that IoT is no mere fad but a fundamental, sustainable market shift; and 2. I believe ADLINK is supremely well positioned to capitalize on the IoT.

Intel has bets on the IoT in more places than I can list here, from Core, Atom and Quark CPUs and SoCs, to Wind River Intelligent Device Platform, to McAfee’s Embedded Security. Alphabet soup, for sure, but Intel also relies on partners—Premier Partners, those that are privy to Intel’s own iceberg—to round out the IoT ecosystem.

The collection of press releases I’ve received year-to-date point to ADLINK’s complete ‘iceberg’ for the IoT.

The company has hardware, software and systems that touch all of the following: sensor, endpoint note, IoT gateway, network/cloud communications, remote diagnostics, boards/chassis/systems, and demo/application code. And a deep knowledge of how to build rugged, survivable systems.

Over the next several months, I’ll be exploring and sharing with you ADLINK’s technology and IP for the embedded IoT and cloud.

You’ll see that the company’s technology ‘iceberg’ extends well below the water line.

 

Efficient Signal Switches are Today’s Digital Traffic Cops

Betcha your next embedded design has or needs a signal switch. Here’s a snapshot of what to look for. The devil’s in the details.

Editor’s note: This particular blog is sponsored by Pericom.

Like a traffic cop, signal switches route GHz data quickly and efficiently. (Courtesy: Wiki Commons.)

Like a traffic cop, signal switches route GHz data quickly and efficiently. (Courtesy: Wiki Commons.)

Planning for an upcoming vacation, I got to thinking about big cities at rush hour. An experienced policeman with a whistle and urgent hand signals can route traffic at busy 4-, 5- even 8-way intersections efficiently with little delay and no pile-ups.

At first glance, there’s nothing sexy about a traffic cop in uniform and helmet moving all those cars across the intersection.

But the efficiency with which it’s done is elegant poetry: timed perfectly, no collisions, and cars get from point A to point B quickly (and they never have to reverse course). Signal switches are the same thing. Not terribly exciting on the surface, but one has to appreciate their elegance and efficiency.

Pull quoteSo it is with a modern digital signal switch. In darned near every embedded system you’ve got all these USB hubs, PCI root complexes, multi-board backplanes, multi-page/bank memories, and PCIe-to-“GHz” digital channels interoperating and passing data.  And they all need signal switches of some sort. The switch is a one-to-many MUX, it moves data in a non-blocking way, and it neither throttles nor degrades the signals as they pass through the ports.

The key parameters of signal switches are:

  • high-speed throughput,
  • maximum signal integrity and low insertion loss,
  • flexible fanout (x inputs to y outputs), and
  • adherence to standards like USB 2.0/3.0, PCI Express, 10/100/1G Ethernet, and others.

Heavy_Switch_1I’m gaining a new appreciation for traffic cops and signal switches. Consider perhaps the simplest example of how a switch is used and how its parameters matter. The PCIe 3.0 2:1 MUX shown below routes a single input (of 2 channels) to two outputs (of 2 channels). Think of a big, clunky hard-wired A-B rotary switch and you get the idea. Simple, right?

PCIe 3.0 MUXThis kind of switch is commonly used to bridge different PCIe busses on the same card, or connect/enable different backplane slot cards, or move data between on- and off-card (mezzanine?) resources. In other words: it’s used in lots of places.

But PCIe 3.0 is based on differential, LVDS signals running 8B/10B encoding and moving data at an RF-like 8 Gb/s (8 giga-transfers/sec, to be precise). At this frequency, signals degrade, are attenuated, reflect and bounce around, and the signal “eye” can easily close—meaning poor speed and signal integrity; so much so that the signals may not even resemble PCIe at the output ports. So our “simple” MUX signal switch needs to move the data quickly, cleanly, and appear to the host/targets as if it wasn’t even there!

Switches like the PI3PCIE3212 from Pericom Semiconductor, have covered all the details, freeing designers to map their signal architecture without worrying about the nuances. What about all those dB numbers @ frequency in the figure? They add up to hassle-free designs and signals that move from A-to-B without any designer thought.

Sort of like cars at a busy intersection. When that cop is there waving his hand, data traffic is under control and moves smoothly. Your signal switch behaves similarly.

TI emphasizes “KISS” in new Wi-Fi ICs

Low cost is a “given”; TI instead focuses on the “simple, stupid” part of the connected IoT.  New Internet-on-a-chip Wi-Fi ICs.

By: Chris A. Ciufo

Hey, this IoT thing has got me really stoked. As a long-time geek, I’ve been hard-wiring automated stuff since I was a kid. Surrounded by my app-enabled Xfinity CATV and my AirPlay-connected home theater, I’m anxious to add some door cams, a remote controlled overhead garage door, basement temperature and flood sensors, and…so much more!

But if every embedded sensor, doodad, HVAC and industrial machine on the planet is to be connected to the Internet—which is the goal of the Internet of Things/Everything (IoT)—the ICs to connect them have got to be cheap. As in a couple of bucks per connection in high volume.

But more importantly, it’s got to be easy for non-RF designers to add Wi-Fi into their products. Can you imagine if every 110VAC replacement plug from Home Depot had built-in Wi-Fi? I’d pay $5-10 for one of those. How about a light switch? Ceiling fan? The office shredder? The burbling Zen water feature on the receptionist’s desk?

Most of these embedded “wannabe nodes” were created by engineers who’ve never before designed with Wi-Fi. Nor do they understand the hundreds of APIs needed for the most basic TCP/IP connection.

Or: how likely is it that designers have experience with IoT security requiring lock down to protect factory automation or your nanny cam? Forget it; Wi-Fi’s 3AES and the Internet’s TLS/SSL security is more complicated than the whole device itself!

TI is embedding new “Internet on-a-Chip” Wi-Fi ICs with the KISS principle: keep it simple, stupid. But price matters, too.

TI’s SimpleLink is “Internet on a Chip”

Available “with” (CC3200) or “without” (CC3100) an embedded ARM Cortex A4 MCU to run apps like email, SMS or a web server, TI’s new all-in-one SimpleLink Wi-Fi ICs make easy for designers all that complicated Wi-Fi and Internet stuff.  They’re easy on price so the “cheap” part is covered. The CC3100 is $6.70 @ 1KU; the CC3200 is about $8.00 for 1,000.

Texas Instruments’ new SimpleLink “Internet on-a-Chip” Wi-Fi devices. The CC3200 includes an application processor that can run email, SMS, a web server, and more. (Courtesy: TI.)

Texas Instruments’ new SimpleLink “Internet on-a-Chip” Wi-Fi devices. The CC3200 includes an application processor that can run email, SMS, a web server, and more. (Courtesy: TI.)

Keeping in mind “KISS”, according to Dana Myers, Channel Marketing and Product Manager for TI’s Wireless Connectivity Group, the company recognizes how difficult Wi-Fi can be to design into a system. If the IoT is ever to find its way into the all-around-us devices mentioned above, the design-in process must be easy.

The Internet of Things/Everything (IoT) is growing to add connectivity into all kinds of embedded devices. Each will become a connected “node”…only if it can be connected to the Internet. (Courtesy: TI).

The Internet of Things/Everything (IoT) is growing to add connectivity into all kinds of embedded devices. Each will become a connected “node”…only if it can be connected to the Internet. (Courtesy: TI).

According to Myers, “TI has done the hard work for designers.” For example, a mere one API is needed to handle Internet security protocols (versus “hundreds” if hand coded). Further examples of how TI has dramatically simplified things are shown in below.

SimpleLink devices emphasize the KISS principle: “keep it simple, stupid”. Adding Wi-Fi to an embedded device has never been simpler. (Courtesy: TI.)

SimpleLink devices emphasize the KISS principle: “keep it simple, stupid”. Adding Wi-Fi to an embedded device has never been simpler. (Courtesy: TI.)

 

Better than IEEE 802.15.4 and BLE

If Wi-Fi is to be the “last mile” of cloud connectedness to the IoT’s billions of devices, it will have to displace other wireless technologies. The collection of IEEE 802.15.4 “personal” network standards that include ZigBee and 6LoWPAN—plus the newer Bluetooth Low Energy standard (BLE)—are not competition for Wi-Fi.

“The reason,” said TI’s Myers, “is that Wi-Fi is already installed in most locations where the devices are.” And the 802.15.4 and BLE standards are reserved for “personal range” lower rate connectivity than Wi-Fi. And while most IoT sensors will wake from sleep and broadcast only small burst packets (in other words: not much M2M data), some IoT devices may consume loads of bandwidth. Wi-Fi’s advantage then is that it is low cost, ubiquitous, has long range, and is a fat pipe.

Yet Wi-Fi’s Achilles Heel has been its power consumption. Just look at your 4-hour connected laptop to convince yourself of how much power connectivity can burn.

One Year on Two “AA” Batteries

Besides making Wi-Fi cheap and easy, TI will make it long-lasting, too. The company states the intention of “bringing Wi-Fi power to a new low” with a year’s worth of connectivity on just two AA alkaline batteries.

The “always connected” use case (left, Figure below) shows 125 μA sleep current while still connected to the network. This is possible for up to 2 seconds at a time between Wi-Fi beacons (20x better), versus the typical 100 ms sleep period. While awake, the CC3100 Internet on-a-Chip burns a mere 37 mA awaiting Rx beacon reception.

Boasting a year’s worth of battery life on two alkaline AA batteries, the CC3100 and CC3200 employ some slick power conservation modes. Note: in the left-hand figure, the sleep current is 125 uA (not 120 uA) according to a TI spokeswoman. (Courtesy: TI.)

Boasting a year’s worth of battery life on two alkaline AA batteries, the CC3100 and CC3200 employ some slick power conservation modes. Note: in the left-hand figure, the sleep current is 125 uA (not 120 uA) according to a TI spokeswoman. (Courtesy: TI.)

In true M2M sensor mode, an “intermittently connected” node will burn just 4 μA in hibernation, requiring only 95 ms to wake up and establish a secure Wi-Fi connection. Add another 105 ms onto that and the network processor IC has established a secure TLS connection to the Internet.

All of these numbers—power consumption, sleep and hibernation current, and time to establish cloud connectivity—are impressive.

An Entire Ecosystem of SDKs, HDKs, Apps

Since the goal with these new devices is simplicity for designers, TI is making available both Launchpad (base cards with MCUs) and BoosterPack (mezzanine cards with I/O), plus over 30 sample applications. Apps range from email and SMS, to an integrated web server. Other applications are possible.

TI has also partnered with cloud aggregators like Exosite, IBM, Xively and others. This assures “big data” remote manageability of M2M notes and communication with the CC3100 and CC3200 ICs. When asked if TI plans on releasing its own MQTT protocol and cloud dashboard, the TI spokeswoman merely replied “no plans, right now”.

But at the rate TI’s going by pushing down the barriers to Wi-Fi connectivity—in price, simplicity, ease-of-use, and security—it’s only a matter of time before the company adds more SimpleLink goodies.

They’re really following the “KISS” principle.

Part 2: LynuxWorks becomes Lynx Software Technologies

LynuxWorks reboots to real time roots as “Lynux Software Technologies”.

In this Part 2 of 3, I editorialize three companies in the embedded market that are changing or enhancing their strategies. What you need to know…and why they’re doing it.

Lynx Software logoFor 25 years the company that created LynxOS has focused on real-time software for embedded systems. Successfully fending off RTOS challenges from Green Hills (INTEGRITY), Wind River Systems (VxWorks), Ready Systems (VRTX), and ISSI (pSOS), Lynx Real Time Systems has held its own and evolved with the times.

Once again the company is evolving: this time, the company is re-emphasizing the RTOS market with a nod to recent design win success in safety and security products. And like everyone else, they’ve announced an Internet-of-Things (IoT) initiative.

The New Old Focus

Company CEO Gurjot Singh explains the name change to “Lynx Software Technologies” this way: the new name “offers the best representation of the company’s forward direction” with products like LynxOS and LynxSecure. Both play well with the company’s core customers in mil/aero and safety-critical markets. As well, LynxSecure and ancillary products like a certifiable network stack have a strong play in the evolving embedded Internet of Things (IoT) movement.

The company’s core five markets are: Defense, Avionics, IoT, Cyber Security, and general Embedded (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The new Lynx Software Technologies (company) will focus on the five areas shown here.

Figure 1: The new Lynx Software Technologies (company) will focus on the five areas shown here.

As competitors like VRTX and pSOS came and went, LynxOS continued winning designs in deterministic, hard real-time systems. But as the market for Linux ballooned and even the company’s core defense and aerospace customers embraced the COTS goodness in Linux, Lynx Real Time Systems jumped on the open source movement.

Renamed years ago to “LynuxWorks” to give credibility to Linux, the company introduced BlueCat Linux and BlueCat RT products, while still maintaining the RTOS called LynxOS.  Competitors like Wind River Systems (now owned by Intel) were slower to embrace Linux and (initially) paid a price in design wins for lagging the market.

Today’s Announcement: Goodbye Linux

By removing the wordplay “Lynux” in the company name, Lynx Software Technologies clearly demonstrates the re-emphasis on its hard real time products like LynxOS (which it fortunately never gave up), LynxOS-178, and LynxSecure Separation Kernel Hypervisor (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Lynx Software Technologies will focus on these real-time software products.

Figure 2: Lynx Software Technologies will focus on these real-time software products.

According to marketing VP Robert Day, “We’re definitely de-emphasizing [our] Linux products.” As a long lifecycle defense and transportation software provider, Lynx Software (the company) plans to support Linux design wins for all customers as contractually promised.

By moving away from the “free distribution/money-by-maintenance” model, the company firmly asserts that profits will come from their proprietary products through traditional software licensing models. It’s a cleaner approach that customers understand.

Where To From Here?

In essence, the company will build its future on a single product: the LynxSecure separation kernel. Now at version 5.2, the certifiable kernel spawns multiple products. The original LynxOS—now in version 7.0—is targeted at deterministic embedded systems but with a new twist. Security features for networked Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices and gateways include IPv6, IPSec, OpenSSL/SSH, TCP wrappers and more. LynxOS remains viable for symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) designs.

LynxOS-178 is the FAA certifiable version of the OS and has won DO-178B designs in avionics and other applications, said marketing VP Robert Day.

My Take on This

In a discussion with Lynx Software’s Robert Day recently, I gave the company high marks for sticking to its core technology: real-time operating systems. As well, I remember when in 2004 the company started a forklift upgrade on it’s “POSIX-conformant” underpinnings to bolt in a new, certifiable separation kernel.

At the time, the notion of running insecure guest operating systems atop an unassailable RTOS kernel had been pioneered as a COTS product by (as I recall) OnCore Software (now defunct). LynuxWorks and Green Hills Software both announced they would follow this approach; Wind River later followed.

Today, running Linux, Windows, Android and other OSes atop a hypervisor architecture is the accepted approach in mission- and safety-critical environments. The automotive industry is moving in this direction, lead by QNX, Wind River, and others.

Lynx Software Technologies is in a good market position, with defensible IP, secure (and certified) design wins, and a core strategy that plays well to their strengths in mil/aero and the emerging Wild West connected IoT market.

 

 

 

 

Google adverts on your IoT display?

How long until you get a Google advertisement on your thermostat or car IVI display?

nest_uk_heating

(Courtesy: Nest.)

The Internet of Things (IoT) is real and will for sure connect all manner of devices and silent embedded systems. Your Philips Hue light bulbs, your Samsung refrigerator, your front door lock, your baby cam, and soon your car.

A platform for future adverts?

But Google, who owns Nest–the App-controlled thermostat darling of CES 2013–might well “monetize” anything that runs Android.  Though a spokesperson tells Engadget.com that’s not in the cards now, Google has made a successful business out of mining gold from its products by using customer data to target advertising.

A recent Engadget article “Google ads could be coming to thermostats, refrigerators and car dashboards (update)” muses over this possibility.

gmail4Recall that Gmail was launched many years ago not out of Google’s altruism, but as a platform to examine your email and serve up targeted ads in a browser window. (Indeed, if you read Google in a browser, you’ll see ads on the right-hand side. Those ads are based upon the content of your email.)

In fact, one might argue that Google is the original user of “big data”: the company was founded on that principle.

So as the Internet of Things spreads to more connected devices, if they have a screen, you can be sure someone (maybe Google) is going to look to make some money on that LCD real estate.

What do you think? Drop me a line at cciufo@extensionmedia.com .

 

The Secret World of USB Charging

There’s a whole set of USB charging specs you’ve probably never heard of because big-battery smartphones, tablets and 2:1’s demand shorter charge times.

Editor’s note: this particular blog posting is sponsored by Pericom Semiconductor.  

$5 chargers useNow that you can buy $5 USB chargers everywhere (mains- and cigarette lighter-powered), it’s tempting to think of them like LED flashlights: cheap commodity throw-aways. And you would’ve been right…until now.

My recent purchase of an Asus T100 Transformer Windows 8.1/Intel Atom 2:1 tablet hybrid forced me to dig into USB charging (Figure).

My own Asus T100 Transformer Book has a “unique” USB charging profile.  (Courtesy: Asus.)

My own Asus T100 Transformer Book has a “unique” USB charging profile.
(Courtesy: Asus.)

This device is fabulous with its convenient micro USB charging port with OTG support. No bulky wall wart to lug around. But it refuses to charge normally from any charger+cable except for the (too short) one that came with it.

My plethora of USB chargers, adapters, powered hubs and more will only trickle charge the T100 and take tens of hours. And it’s not just the device’s 2.0A current requirement, either. There’s something more going on.

Just Say “Charge it!”

The USB Innovators Forum (USB-IF) has a whole power delivery strategy with goals as shown below. Simply stated, USB is now flexible enough to provide the right amount of power to either end of the USB cable.

The USB Power Delivery goals solidify USB as the charger of choice for digital devices. (Courtesy: www.usb.org )

The USB Power Delivery goals solidify USB as the charger of choice for digital devices. (Courtesy: www.usb.org )

There’s even a USB Battery Charging (UBC) compliance specification called “BC1.2” to make sure devices follow the rules. Some of the new power profiles are shown below:

Table 1: USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) Battery Charging specifications (from their 1.2 compliance plan document October 2011).

Table 1: USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) Battery Charging specifications (from their 1.2 compliance plan document October 2011).

The reason for UBC is that newer devices like Apple’s iPad, Samsung’s Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Tab devices–and quite possibly my Asus T100 2:1–consume more current and sometimes have the ability to source power to the host device. UBC flexibly delivers the right amount of power and can avoid charger waste.

Communications protocols between the battery’s MCU and the charger’s MCU know how to properly charge a 3000mAh to 10,000mAh battery. Battery chemistry matters, too. As does watching out for heat and thermal runaway; some USB charger ICs take these factors into account.

Apple, ever the trend-setter (and master of bespoke specifications) created their own proprietary fast charging profiles called Apple 1A, 2A and now 2.4A. The Chinese telecom industry has created their own called YD/T1591-2009. Other suppliers of high-volume devices have or are working on bespoke charging profiles.

Fast, proper rate charging from Apple, Samsung and others is essential as harried consumers increasingly rely on mobile devices more than laptops. Refer to my complaint above RE: my Asus T100.

Who has time to wait overnight?!

USB Devices Available

Pericom Semiconductor, who is sponsoring this particular blog posting, has been an innovator in USB charging devices since 2007. With a growing assurance list of charge-compatible consumer products, the company has a broad portfolio of USB ICs.

Take the automotive-grade PI5USB8000Q, for instance. Designed for the digital car, this fast charger supports all of the USB-IF BC modes per BC1.2, Apple 1A and 2A, and the Chinese telecom standard. The IC powers down when there’s no load to save the car’s own battery, and can automatically detect the communication language to enable the proper charging profile (Figure). Pretty cool, eh?

The USB-IF’s CDP and SDP charging profiles require communication between the USB charger and the downstream port (PD) device being charged. Refer to Table 1 for details. (Courtesy: Pericom Semiconductor.)

The USB-IF’s CDP and SDP charging profiles require communication between the USB charger and the downstream port (PD) device being charged. Refer to Table 1 for details. (Courtesy: Pericom Semiconductor.)

As For My Asus 2:1?

Sadly, I can’t figure out how the T100 “talks” with its charger, or if there’s something special about its micro USB cable. So I’m stuck.

But if you’re designing a USB charger, a USB device, or just powering one, Pericom’s got you covered. That’s a secret to get all charged up about.

Part 1: Three Embedded Companies On The Move

Here are three companies in the embedded market that are changing or enhancing their strategies. What you need to know…and why they’re doing it.

Change is never easy but in tech, it’s essential. It’s interesting that within the last week, three recognizable companies have announced significant strategy changes or enhancements.  Here’s a quickie snapshot with links to their PRs.

COMPANY 1: Curtiss Wright Defense Systems Re-Orgs

CWClogo

[Note 1: at time of post, there was no PR posted on the company's websites. We'll provide the link when available.

Note 2: the PR is here.  Note 3: Updated to read "Part 1"]

One of the “big three” rugged board and system suppliers (GE Intelligent Platforms and Mercury Computer are the others), Curtiss Wright Defense Systems has been beefing up their systems expertise and capabilities for years. Defense Systems–only recently renamed “Defense Solutions“–was created out of a score of mergers including Dy4 Systems, VISTA Controls, Lau Defense Systems, and many others. The company most recently acquired rugged systems supplier Parvus from Eurotech, solidifying CW as a growing powerhouse.

The mothership defense company Curtiss-Wright Corporation assembled Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions originally as a way to provide rugged systems into its own growing businesses, although Defense Solutions has long successfully sold VME, VPX, and CompactPCI boards and systems into the broader COTS defense market.

As of 21 May, Defense Solutions “has been expanded to include the Company’s Avionics & Electronics Group and Peerless Instrument and INDAL Technologies businesses.” According to the press release, this makes Curtiss-Wright a market-aligned organization that includes: Commercial/Industrial, Defense and Energy segments–not unlike the way that parts of General Electric (GE) is organized.

CW website re-orgs

Lynn Bamford, herself part of one of CW’s earlier acquisitions heads the new organization as Sr. VP and GM. [Update: Lynn came along with the Ixthos acquisition.] By adding three additional businesses, Defense Solutions now includes shipboard pumping systems (Peerless Instrument), airborne flight surface actuators and landing structures (INDALTechnologies), plus sensor consolidation systems (Avionics & Electronics). These are all in addition to the rugged boards, systems and software already provided to sea-, air- and land-based platforms.

My take on this remains the same as I’ve written for many years: Curtiss-Wright Corporation–already a very successful Tier 3 defense supplier–is positioning to grow into a Tier 2 supplier. There, it will find company with the likes of L3, BAE, CSC, and many others. The only questions are: 1. When; and 2. When will Curtiss-Wright’s customers become concerned that CW might become an actual competitor. In the rugged embedded industry, this “do not compete with thy customer” has been a mantra since COTS became S.O.P.

Disclosure: I previously worked at Dy4 Systems and VISTA Controls, and much later advised Curtiss-Wright on the acquisition of those companies.

 

Can You See the Future? The Embedded Vision Summit Helps Designers—and their systems—See it Clearly

The one day Embedded Vision Summit shows developers how to make their systems smarter with cameras, DSP and other sensors.

Embedded Vision Summit logo wide

Jeff Bier

Jeff Bier: head of the Embedded Vision Alliance’s Embedded Vision Summit.

Update 5/9/14: typo, caption and URL corrections.

BDTI’s Jeff Bier is known in the industry as a rock-solid guy, an expert on all things DSP, and the man behind the company that publishes processor benchmarks and analyses that are on par with IEEE peer-reviewed content. And Jeff doesn’t jump up and down with excitement much. At least, I’ve never seen it. Look at his photo and you’ll see what I mean.

But he’s virtually hopping from foot to foot with excitement about the 29 May 2014 one-day Embedded Vision Summit to be held at the Santa Clara Convention Center. This fourth annual conference is Jeff’s brainchild because he sees “embedded vision as the next most important use for DSP [devices], algorithms, and their associated sensors.”

“More significant than software defined radio?” I asked. “Yes,” he said.

“Than cellular baseband processing?” “Yep.”

“Than the image processing done on the world’s billions of smartphones?”
“That,” he said, “is a perfect example of embedded vision.”

Definition: Helping machines see

Most people yawn or politely make excuses to water the cactus at the mention of “computer vision”. To me, it’s a camera-based system doing high-speed QA on an assembly line. Snore.

But embedded vision, says Jeff, is the practical use of computer vision in applications ranging from smartphone photography, augmented reality, Microsoft Kinect-/Minority Report-like 3-space gestures, facial detection, video games, and so on.

Embedded vision is not your father’s computer vision; rather, it’s a deployable software-defined sensor system that’s:

  • inexpensive,
  • ubiquitous,
  • practical, and
  • extracts new meaning from (primarily image) sensors.

With low-cost embedded vision on board, machines become dramatically smarter about the world around them. The up-and-coming Embedded Vision Summit won’t have presentations by assembly line companies like Campbell’s Soup or Procter and Gamble.

But there might be a presentation from a factory company like Ford Motor, because automobiles are one of the “killer apps” for embedded vision. Instead of Ford, Google will be there discussing their self-driving car.

Google’s self-driving Lexus. Guess the low-end Google Prius takes the Street View images while the luxurious Lexus gets the swanky job of shuttling around wide-eyed passengers. (Courtesy: Google.)

Google’s self-driving Lexus. I guess the low-end Google Prius takes the Street View images while the luxurious Lexus gets the swanky job of shuttling around wide-eyed passengers. (Courtesy: Google.)

Interested yet in embedded vision?

Automotive embedded vision

Google’s self-driving car is a perfect example of embedded vision, combining cameras, radar and ultrasonic sensors with DSP algorithms and processors. The Embedded Vision Summit will include Google’s Nathaniel Fairfield speaking about “Self-Driving Cars”. (See full agenda snapshot down at the bottom of this post.)

Many auto manufacturers are already fusing cameras and other sensors into Advanced Driver Alert/Assistance Systems (ADAS) for lane departure warning, anti-collision emergency braking, blind spot detection, and the most basic of all: the “steerable” back-up camera with overlay.

ADAS systems surround next-gen cars. Embedded vision may use cameras along with, or in lieu of, these systems for lower cost implementations.  (Courtesy: Analog Devices. As reported in “Automotive sensors may usher in self-driving cars; EDN. )

ADAS systems surround next-gen cars. Embedded vision may use cameras along with, or in lieu of, these systems for lower cost implementations.
(Courtesy: Analog Devices. As reported in
“Automotive sensors may usher in self-driving cars; EDN. See: http://edn.com/design/automotive/4368069/Automobile-sensors-may-usher-in-self-driving-cars )

Subaru’s EyeSight system uses cameras mounted alongside the rearview mirror. While Mercedes uses a combo camera/radar in its ADAS systems, cameras are by far the cheaper alternative—embedded vision provides added capability with these low cost sensors. Analyst firm Strategy Analytics estimates “100 million cameras will be fitted to light vehicles in 2020” (Roger C. Lanctot; GTC: Merging ADAS and Infotainment for Cloud Enhanced Safety).

Subaru's EyeSight system uses twin forward-facing cameras for lane departure and other adaptive safety features. (Courtesy: Subaru of America.)

Subaru’s EyeSight system uses twin forward-facing cameras for lane departure and other adaptive safety features. (Courtesy: Subaru of America.)

Embedded vision…coming to your next design project

Merging the vision sensor (typically one or more cameras) with DSP algorithms and processors creates a software-defined sensor that makes the end system dramatically smarter. Beyond automobiles, embedded vision is already installed in smartphones.

HDR (high dynamic range), panoramic stitching, facial recognition (in photos taken or in Android to unlock your device), red eye removal, back/fore ground blurring are some of the myriad examples of in-production embedded vision. And these are right in your pocket or purse.

According to the Embedded Vision Alliance (a key sponsor of the Summit), the augmented reality market could top $1B by 2018 (according to the market research firm Markets&Markets). Augmented reality applications provide overlay information on top of a live or stored image. At the grocery store or in your kitchen pantry, Amazon’s Flow app (available in the iTunes store) lets a user aim their smartphone camera at a product and order it through Amazon.  Ikea has a related augmented reality application that relies on embedded vision to superimpose Ikea furniture and products in your home environment. Now you can decide if blonde is really your color or not.

Amazon’s Flow app lets a user aim their smart phone at a product and order directly from Amazon. (Courtesy: Amazon.com.)

Amazon’s Flow app lets a user aim their smart phone at a product and order directly from Amazon. (Courtesy: Amazon.com.)

Get healthy; live better

Point-of-sale terminals or vending machines might use facial recognition to authenticate a user or go beyond a bar or QR code when searching for information about a product held in front of a sensor.  Even better, gesture recognition might provide for a better UI input—or perhaps a more sanitary one at markets that seem so obsessed with germicide wipes for shopping carts.

In medical situations, embedded vision could be of great benefit. Most designers could envision (no pun) a doctor pulling up a patient’s “chart” in their Google Glass display (geek factor notwithstanding). Google Glass, says Embedded Vision Summit’s Jeff Bier, is merely a platform and not at-present a complete embedded vision system.

But the company OrCam is going several steps further than Google Glass by offering a device that helps vision-impaired people “read”. A tiny eyeglasses-mounted camera performs text and object recognition and provides audio information to the wearer. Product labels can be “read”, along with newspaper text, bus numbers, and the state of street crossing signals. And there’s more capability on the way as algorithms and GPGPU processing power improves from companies like Nvidia.

OrCam’s augmented reality device helps vision-impaired people to “see” and “read” with audio cues. (Courtesy: OrCam.com .)

OrCam’s augmented reality device helps vision-impaired people to “see” and “read” with audio cues. (Courtesy: OrCam.com .)

Embedded Vision Summit Agenda

The one-day Summit agenda focuses on evangelizing and educating hardware, software and system designers. At its core, the briefings are compelling and mix “how to” with “how your future system could do this!”

By the way, I neglected to mention that there’s the obligatory exhibit hall showcase experience, too. Unlike other user events, this one promises to be pretty cool since the exhibitors are the “who’s who” of signal processing, and high-performance hardware/software companies.

Attendees should leave with an understanding of embedded vision…plus ideas for mixing a sensor with many embedded designs to help their machine see the future.

The full agenda schedule grid is shown below.

2014 Embedded Vision Summit agenda, held 29 May at the Santa Clara convention center.

2014 Embedded Vision Summit agenda, held 29 May at the Santa Clara convention center.