Small Becomes a Bigger Deal
A processor designed from the ground up for tough places makes a difference for industrial and mil-aero.
Putting small form factors where they can be most effective has become easier, opening up a bigger role for the kinds of successful solutions that ADL Embedded Solutions has been bringing its industrial and mil-aero customers. The company’s director of engineering, JC Ramirez, spoke with EECatalog recently about what’s causing “small” to be an even bigger deal.
EECatalog: What innovations are you keeping an eye on?
JC Ramirez, ADL: The Intel Atom E3800 Series processors. For the first time Intel created a processor from scratch that is meant for military and industrial applications—meaning that the operating temperature for that processor is really and truly minus 40 ºC all the way to plus 110 degrees ºC junction.
EECatalog: What are some ways the introduction of the Intel E3800 series changes what ADL does?
Ramirez, ADL: It makes our task a lot easier. Without the advantage of an extended type processor like the E3800 we would have had to do additional testing or screening at temperature to assure that we can reliably provide an extended temperature CPU board.
EECatalog: What other benefits accompany the introduction of the E3800 series?
Ramirez, ADL: With respect to the E3800 series processors Intel put a lot of thought, energy and resources into making sure that it supports that processor for IoT applications from the ground up. So designing around that E3800 series processor makes it easy for companies like ADL to develop Industrial IoT embedded systems. All the connectivity is there. All the resources are there, including software. There is even a specific Windows version of Windows 10 IoT that is targeted at the E3800 processor and ARM processors, for example, to enable mobile low-power devices for the IoT.
And the fact that Intel made it rugged from the get go for a company such as ADL means that we can develop embedded solutions that go out to the edge of the fabric, where the environment is not always benign. These are extreme areas of the factory floor where it’s really hot or we are directly mounted to a piece of machinery where we have shock and vibration concerns.
EECatalog: And that makes a difference?
Ramirez, ADL: Yes, traditionally you don’t have a computer directly attached to that drilling machine. Instead you might have remote control from some central control room using programmable logic controllers, for example. But they don’t give you the intelligence directly on the equipment. What you want in today’s industrial IoT environment is a more intelligent controller that is capable of making direct real-time decisions for that equipment. Or maybe it is connected to a sensor package that is giving you feedback on runtimes, on bearing temperatures—on any number of things.
Now you can design controllers for machinery that are directly attached to equipment on an oil and gas platform, for example. It makes it possible to grow the connectivity of that IoT fabric into areas that traditionally haven’t been connected—attaching control and mission computers to bridges, tollbooths, intelligent cameras, and the like.
EECatalog: How is ADL leveraging the features the Intel Atom E3800 brings to the market?
Ramirez, ADL: We are developing many board variants, and system platforms to allow our customers to fully capitalize on the advantages of these new processors. We have CPUs that are based on the E3800 series processor at all form factors for all kinds of markets. We have PC/104 form factor solutions based on the E3800 series, or Bay Trail. We also have Bay Trail solutions in the 3.5-inch single board computer form factor.
And on the horizon, we will be going outside of the standard form factors and adopting even smaller variants—on the order of 55mm x about 75mm. From talking to our customers we understand that there is a need for embedded solutions that are wearable out on the battlefield. And as well there is a need for mobile devices, such as robotics, drones, or unmanned ground penetrating radar for mine detection. All these types of things require even smaller form factors and even lower power consumption. Yet they are being used in rugged environments characterized by shock and vibration or extended temperature. We are bringing to these markets not only boards, but systems based on those boards. One example is our palm-sized E3800-based embedded PC (Figure 1). The key is to give the customer, whether military or industrial, as many options as possible around that Bay Trail processor.
EECatalog: How is ADL addressing the need customers have to protect investments yet move forward to capitalize on the newer technologies and approaches?
Ramirez, ADL: It can be an expensive proposition for a customer because if they are heavily invested in legacy hardware and legacy operating systems it can be very costly for that company to now upgrade its system to the latest and greatest Intel architectures to take full advantage of things like Industrial IoT types of applications and hardware. There are no easy answers. On a case-by-case basis we walk the customer through with an understanding of what they have today. And work to minimize the pain of getting them from that legacy system to something that is more current and with a refresh on lifetime as well.