Open Source Meets Standards: A Platform for Fast Implementation



Mini Linux platform utilizes COM Express modules.

Like it or not, embedded development is getting more demanding. Devices like the iPad and Surface have raised the bar for the quality of the hardware, software, and user experience. Accelerating investment in hardware start-ups means there are a larger number of talented and well-funded competitors fighting over the same markets. With heightened expectations and competition, developing better embedded devices on shorter timelines is essential, highlighting the importance of hardware standards and a comprehensive ecosystem!

 

Figure 1: An example of a low-power consumption (5-7W) embedded computing platform applicable to wired and mobile use. Depending upon the processor choice (1 and 8GB RAM), it equates to consumer laptop or small server. (Source: Embedded Now)

Figure 1: An example of a low-power consumption (5-7W) embedded computing platform applicable to wired and mobile use. Depending upon the processor choice (1 and 8GB RAM), it equates to consumer laptop or small server. (Source: Embedded Now)

Today, most software engineers live in a world of open source, cloud computing, and rapid agile development. They can prototype applications in days by creating novel combinations of powerful open source software, or launch a few thousand servers in a matter of minutes. So far, these efficiencies have been confined to the world of software development. They haven’t translated over to professional embedded development. Hobbyists benefit today from platforms like Raspberry Pi and Arduino, which have broad ecosystems providing real productivity gains, but these platforms aren’t appropriate for embedding in finished devices. Professional embedded system engineers lag behind, lacking comparable ecosystems.

One response to the gap between embedded engineers’ needs and ecosystem readiness could be to leverage a standards-based Linux platform. Such a solution capitalizes on the vast ecosystem of open source software available to embedded devices One aspect that an environment like this excels at is in bringing together the best parts of WebKit for HTML rendering and the V8 JavaScript engine. Out-of-the-box they support audio, video, and 3D rendering with WebGL as well as raster and vector artwork and UIs that reflow to different screen sizes. Beautiful applications with rich user interactions can be created with these technologies. Moreover, these web technologies benefit from broad support and a large development community. They surpass other environments in the number of developers, support resources, best practices and community activity. As it is rare to find a task that hasn’t been solved before, software engineers can make efficient re-use of existing knowledge and concentrate on innovating their products rather than redeveloping code that others have already written.

Shrinking the Workload
It makes no sense for OEMs to use such environments if they are not supported by embedded hardware platforms. It can take hours, days, or even months to debug insufficient driver implementations or incompatible code. One company which is helping application engineers avoid this potential workload is Embedded Now. Its single board computer and ecosystem of peripherals target HTML 5, CSS, and JavaScript applications in Linux-based embedded systems. Embedded Now’s systems come preloaded with either Lubuntu, Ubuntu® 14.04 LTS Desktop, or Ubuntu Server. Support for developers building applications with Electron, Chromium, or the Chromium Embedded Framework is also available. Features make the company’s Linux platforms suitable for embedded applications include, for example, those, preventing corruption of storage volumes, and solutions for rendering wireless networking more robust in commercial and industrial settings.

With regard to peripherals, Embedded Now advises on Wi-Fi or Bluetooth implementations and helps customers develop specialized peripherals for tasks like analog to digital conversion and motion control. As the company’s platforms are all standards-based, application engineers on the customer side typically find that needed specific peripherals work immediately out-of-the-box. That’s given that the platforms use only standard interfaces (like USB ports) and widely supported Linux distributions with extremely comprehensive driver support.

Figure 2: The Embedded Now Piconium embedded computing platform, shown here with a different cooling solution than that pictured in Figure 1, provides multiple interfaces including 6x USB 2.0 and 1x USB 3.0 for application specific extensions including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi as well as 1 HDMI port. (Source: Embedded Now)

Figure 2: The Embedded Now Piconium embedded computing platform, shown here with a different cooling solution than that pictured in Figure 1, provides multiple interfaces including 6x USB 2.0 and 1x USB 3.0 for application specific extensions including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi as well as 1 HDMI port. (Source: Embedded Now)

Describing the speed with which a standards-based Linux platform can get an embedded product to market, Eric Marthinsen, Chief Software Architect and Founder of Embedded Now, notes, “Our customers usually go from having nothing to shipping production-ready devices in between three and twelve months. Anecdotally, we are hearing that people are shaving around twelve to eighteen months off of their engineering schedule.”

Modular with Linux Support from the Get Go
To expertly serve customers with application ready Linux platforms requires concentrating on core competencies and finding the right ecosystem partners. For its commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) single-board computer, called the Piconium, Embedded Now has chosen a modular approach on the basis of the COM Express Computer-on-Module standard. This ensures the reliability customers demand. The FCC and CE compliant platform, which can be utilized from mobile client devices up to micro server applications for edge computing, is based on a COM Express Type 10 module and measures only 130 x 55 mm. Its small size means it can fit into whatever nook or cranny applications call for. Despite its small footprint it offers a comprehensive set of interfaces, including 2x USB 3.0, 5x USB 2.0, Ethernet, and HDMI as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth via USB extensions, and LVDS displays and cables with touch panel support as accessories.

The Piconium can be used in nearly all applications as it can operate even in the extended temperature range from -40 °C to +100 °C. All components and engineering are certified for industrial use. The components, like the wide range locking power connector, have all been chosen to withstand the most demanding environments.

Figure 3: A tailored OS with all components provided by the platform provider is one of the essential connections that conducts the communication between the applications and the hardware as the major abstraction layer. It relies on comprehensive driver support from the embedded board vendor.

Figure 3: A tailored OS with all components provided by the platform provider is one of the essential connections that conducts the communication between the applications and the hardware as the major abstraction layer. It relies on comprehensive driver support from the embedded board vendor.

Customers can pick the appropriate Computer-on-Module with COM Express Type 10 pinout for scaling the performance from 3rd Generation single-core and multicore Intel Atom or Celeron processors up to modules featuring the latest 5th Generation of Intel® Atom™, Celeron® and Pentium® processors (codenamed Apollo Lake). Both processor technologies support the extended temperature range and offer a long-time availability of at least seven years, to match embedded application needs. With a low-power envelope of less than 12W, fanless designs can easily be achieved without sophisticated cooling solutions, reducing design-in efforts. The broad prevalence of the Intel Atom technology makes strong Linux support out-of-the-box possible. The memory is configurable for all versions from 1GB to 8GB.

congatec module solutions
Embedded Now chose the COM Express standard because it offers the broadest scalability for future developments up to server grade platforms, and picked congatec as its module vendor. “We are very happy to have chosen congatec,” says Marthinsen. “Prior to founding Embedded Now, my business partner and I were customers of congatec. We selected them due to the quality of engineering that goes into their modules and the high level of support they provide. We consider them to be an important strategic partner and a key component of our success.”


dan-2Dan Demers is the Director, Sales & Marketing congatec America. He holds a B.B.S degree in International Business from Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, Michigan and an M.B.A. from Ashford University, Clinton, Iowa. Mr. Demers has over 19 years of experience in embedded computing having worked with Fortune 500 companies in the Industrial, Medical, and Communications markets.

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