Electronic Design

Developers Refine Their Embedded Wares For ESC

This spring's edition of the Embedded Systems Conference will serve up an array of announcements that build on existing platforms and standards.

Keep two watchwords in mind when you head to next month’s Embedded Systems Conference—more and better. Scheduled for April 14-18 at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, Calif., this year’s show will reveal a number of incremental improvements as companies deliver systems based on established standards and product lines. For example, Intel will offer its latest Xeon processor chip sets with an eye on power management.

The tech sessions will remain a big part of the conference, which are a major draw for most engineers. Mainstays like “DSP Demystified” and “C (and C++) Gotchas” will return. You’ll also find a larger concentration in areas such as power management with “Let Sleeping Chips Lie: Programming for Low Power” and security in “Seven Steps for Developing Secure Mobile Devices.”

The “Build Linux Applications with the MicroBlaze Soft Processor” session will highlight the uptick in general FPGA usage. Likewise, strong interest continues in areas such as operating systems and development frameworks. For instance, there’s a session on “Eclipse—Up Close and Personal.”

A few of you may sit in on these sessions simply to polish your resume. On that note, you can expect a good bit of traffic at the ESC Career Fair, given the current economic forecast. Of course, the fair is a panoply of the latest technology, and that includes plenty of new software packages.

SAN JOSE SOFTWARE
LynuxWorks will showcase its LynxSecure separation kernel. Separation kernels provides a robust environment where mixing secure and non-secure operating systems (OSs) is common. It allows legacy systems to run side by side with new application platforms. Hypervisor technology offers isolation while taking advantage of the virtualization and multicore capabilities of the latest processor chips.

LynxSecure supplies a base for LynuxWorks’ LynxOS real-time operating system (RTOS), which now can provide time-space partitioning and OS virtualization. These features resemble those of other RTOSs that will be on display, such as Green Hills Software’s Integrity and its Padded Cell Secure technology—same idea, different name.

Security will take up a larger chunk of the announcements at ESC, partly due to customer demand and partly due to the need to build up the infrastructure to support networked devices. Also, developers are starting to understand and demand this type of support.

At the lower end of the spectrum, attendees can take a gander at Microsoft’s .NET Micro Framework 2.5. This platform targets midrange 32-bit platforms with a new low footprint of 128 kbytes of RAM and 256 kbytes of flash. This includes a new, native TCP/IP and room for at least one application. Plenty of single-chip solutions now can address this platform. The number goes even higher for those that utilize external memory.

This latest incarnation of the .NET Micro Framework adds support for the Devices Profile for Web Services (DPWS), which is found on .NET’s larger siblings, including Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded. DPWS allows network devices to locate each other and collaborate, as well as subscribe to events. Of course, an even broader range of processors supports the . NET Micro Framework, including chips from Atmel and NXP. These ARM-based solutions are an ideal fit. Also in

the ARM space, Hitex Development Tools offers its support for STMicroelectronics’ Cortex-M3-based STM32 microcontroller (Fig. 1). The development kit includes the HiTOP development environment. Integration with the Tasking VX-compiler is available as well.

The development environment features the DashBoard graphical user interface, which lets users configure the device and view the effects of an application while it’s running. The evaluation board has interfaces for USB, CAN, USART, and IrDA, plus an optional extension I/O board.

You may also do well to stop by the Eclipse PluginFest 2008 and see the latest Eclipse-based development tools. This event, which overlaps ESC, will be held at Wind River’s offices in nearby Sunnyvale, Calif., April 16-17.

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BOARDS AND SYSTEMS
Quite a few boards and systems will debut at ESC, including a new platform from Diamond Systems. The Neptune and Chameleon combine to form a modular system with PC/104 expansion capabilities (Fig. 2).

The Chameleon-based board has an EPIC form factor. Its connector interface plugs into the Chameleon, allowing for easy customization without modifying the main board or module. The Neptune ETX single-board computer attaches to the bottom of the Chameleon.

The approach builds on standard interfaces while providing access to a 250-kHz, 16-bit, autocalibrated analog-to-digital converter (ADC) with 32 single-ended or 16 differential analog inputs, as well as a 2048-entry FIFO, a four-channel 12-bit digital-to-analog converter (DAC), the 8-bit I/O ports, and a pair of timers. The Chameleon also provides access to the Neptune’s gigabit Ethernet, IDE, floppy, parallel, LCD, and TV-out ports. It offers VGA, audio, and 10/100 Ethernet, plus six serial, four USB, and two PS/2 ports off the connector adapter as well.

Keep an ear out for announcements from the Small Form Factor SIG (SFF-SIG). The group is addressing the small modular and stackable board arena, where standards have been slow to emerge lately. VIA Technologies will show off a form factor based on its Pico-ITX line, which uses a new expansion system.

Known as Stackable Unified Module Interconnect Technology (SUMIT), the system is based on a high-density, bladed Samtec connector. The connection supports PCI Express and USB ports, which allow support for ExpressCard, as well as SPI, I2C, and the LPC bus.

For a more systems-oriented approach, check out Applied Data’s fanless netCast Player HD. It brings IP set-top-box capabilities to automotive entertainment systems and digital signage applications. Moreover, it can handle video resolutions up to HD 1080p. The Linux-based system supports wired or wireless networks in addition to features like touchscreens and password protection.

Planar Systems’ 12-in. LX1201PTI Mariner Touch Monitor presents a more basic system (Fig. 3). This monitor/touchscreen targets marine environments. Planar also will present its 24-in. LB2411W Widescreen Open-Frame Kiosk LCD system.

FPGAS AND MICROS
Expect to see a whole new crop of FPGAs and chips at ESC. Altium will display its FPGA-based Innovation Station, a reconfigurable NanoBoard hardware platform (Fig. 4). The development platform is great for prototyping and clean enough to be deliverable. The boards include a number of case options. In this setup, developers start with Altium Designer and the Desktop Nano-Board. The design then can move to a deployment NanoBoard platform like the Innovation Station. This looks to be a hot item.

In addition to FPGAs, the show will host an array of new microcontrollers. Silicon Labs will reveal a 25-MHz, mixed-signal, 8051 powerhouse that runs on as little as 0.9 V, enabling it to run off a single AAA cell. The C8051F9xx line is designed for batteryoperated applications.

Its low power requirements, on-chip dc-dc converter, and analog peripheral set suit it for sensor applications, low-power portable multimedia devices, and general control applications. Peripherals include a 32-channel, 10-bit ADC; two comparators; a UART; a pair of SPI ports; SMBus support; and 24 I/O ports.

Microchip will unveil its 40 MIPS dsPIC33F, which fits in a 6- by 6-mm package (Fig. 5). It packs up to 128 kbytes of flash and 16 kbytes of RAM into a chip that starts at $3.67. The device also includes a dual-channel, 16-bit DAC plus a 12- or 10-bit ADC. On top of that, there’s eight-channel direct memory access (DMA), a pair of UART/LIN/IrDA ports, two SPI ports, an I2C port, and a controller area network (CAN) port. The motor control support includes pulse-width modulators (PWMs) and power-factor-correction (PFC) PWMs, plus a pair of quadrature encoder interfaces.

"MODULES, WIRELESS, ETC.
DLP Design will showcase a few new modules, including a UHF RFID reader and a 900-MHz transceiver module that’s designed to compete with 802.15.4 and ZigBee (Fig. 6). The module incorporates its own protocol and targets low-power applications. The company will also have a temperature/humidity acquisition system on hand that logs data to a server and can send e-mail notifications.

Also in the wireless space, Digi International’s Drop-in Networking line will be on display, including some new products. For example, the ConnectPort X2 gateway supports ZigBee and Wi- Fi. The company’s XBee adapters and Watchport wireless sensors will be on display, too. For wider ZigBee network coverage, check out Digi International’s XBee Wall Router unit.

As usual, ESC will have hordes of attendees and new products for them to peruse. The announcements covered here represent just the tip of the iceberg.

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