Boston's contribution to the embedded showcase is bigger and hotter than last year's (Fig. 1). It's still smaller than its sibling, the Embedded Systems Conference in San Francisco, but Boston was the site of major announcements and heavy-duty technology sessions.
The show covered a range of areas starting with Dan Saks' keynote speech on offshoring jobs to a heightened interest in security and safety. There was a greater number of vendors presenting workshops on their products including Xilinx, Accelerated Technology, and Echelon, in addition to dozens of technology-oriented classes. Hot topic areas included security, networking, DSPs, UML, Linux and C++. Extreme programming techniques were covered but aspect-oriented programming does not seem to be of interest to embedded developers yet.
Dan Saks, president of Saks and Associates, gave the opening keynote speech entitled Keeping Your Job Onshore. The presentation was not always upbeat but this is a tough topic to tackle. He presented cost estimates and analysis of outsourcing both to offshore and onshore sites. More jobs are still being outsourced locally so there remain opportunities for engineers and programmers, although not necessarily at their current companies.
Saks indicated that developing indispensable skills can help to retain a position or make it easier to get work as a consultant. A diverse background is one way to do this. For example, programmers should learn less-popular languages like Ada or Eiffel to understand what's possible from a different perspective even though learning these languages may not lead to a marketable skill. Even picking up a scripting language or two can be handy. This is just one way for developers to stay "on top of their game" and maintain a high level of productivity.
Keeping Things Secure
Security was the theme at this year's show. Kevin Ashton, vice president of ThingMagic Inc. presented the keynote at the Embedded Security Seminar. He predicted that annual use of RFID tags will reach more than half a trillion by 2010. Ashton noted that authentication and privacy protection methods will have to be developed to handle the coming distributed-intelligence architecture used with mesh networking. Mesh technologies are employed by new standards such as Zigbee.
The Trusted Computing Group (TCG) was talking to the press along with a number of members including SafeNet and Atmel. The discussion addressed the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 1.2 specification that has been implemented in hardware by companies like Atmel. Hardware key storage and encryption acceleration are critical to the wide use of secure technology.
SafeNet showed off their latest security product, SafeXcel IP for Content Inspection. This product is designed to use a set of regular expressions to examine packets at line speeds for intrusive attacks. It can be incorporated into network processing units or communication processors.
Certicom was showing off their Security Builder Middleware, part of Certicom's Security Builder architecture. The middleware targets Intel's Wireless Trusted Platform and utilizes the hardware encryption support. Applications can transparently employ the hardware support using the Security Builder API (application programming interface) allowing the same application to be used on other platforms that might use Certicom's other software crypto support.
Quadros presented a Network Security Suite designed to enhance the RTXC Quadnet TCP/IP software that works with the Quadros RTOS. The software includes SSL, IPsec and Internet Key Exchange (IKE) support. SSL project licenses start at $8,000.
Interpeak unveiled their Mobile IP Suite that is compatible with the latest Mobile IPv4 (RFC3344) standard. It supports roaming between IP subnets without service disruption, and it can employ home and foreign agents.
Atmel presented its AT97SC3201S TPM single-chip security subsystem. It use an 8-bit AVR microcontroller, 2048-bit crypto accelerator and a random number generator, all key components of the TPM spec. It also has tamper-resistant EEPROM that stores up to 20 encryption and signature keys. It comes in a 6mm by 6mm MLF package and is priced at $4.50.
Atmel also showed off five additional AVR flash microcontrollers. These included the Mega 645 with 64 kbytes of flash and 4 kbytes of SRAM. The new microcontrollers draw only 100 na at 1.8 V in power-down mode. Pricing starts at $3.25, and development kits start at $99.
Low power was on Texas Instrument's mind with its latest addition to the MSP430 line of 16-bit RISC microcontrollers. The 16MIPS MSP430F2xx line also cuts costs by incorporating pull-up/pull-down resistors, a 2.5% on-chip oscillator, and a failsafe clock system. Prices start at $0.89.
It's in the boards
New micros where out in force but so were boards. In fact, Boston had proportionally more board vendors than ESC San Francisco. Board vendors were harping their wares and talking about a successful year. Seems developers are trying to limit risk by employing pre-built modules so they can concentrate on their applications. COM Express, a new computer-on-module standard that will employ high-speed serial connections like PCI Express, was discussed.
CMX had a number of microcontroller boards networked in their booth (Fig. 2). Some were showing off the latest NAT (network address translation) support for CMX-Micronet, a TCP/IP stack for 8- and 16-bit microcontrollers.
Ember was featuring its ZigBee wireless modules and kits. The 802.15.4 standard is finally seeing hardware, becoming more interesting as the mesh capabilities of ZigBee are brought into play. Modules and reference designs are the current starting point, but higher levels of integration are expected this year with products showing up from a range of vendors like Freescale and Atmel.
Bluetooth was around but not as predominant as the 802.11 products. Still, there were prominent announcements like Multitech System's SocketWireless module, along with a MultiConnect serial Bluetooth adapter. Just the things to make Bluetooth integration a snap for new and existing designs.
New processors and reference platforms were everywhere. CalAmp's reference platform for the new Intel PXA270 was being demonstrated at the show (Fig. 3). The current platform is targeted at intelligent point-of-sale (POS) terminals, kiosks, and vending machines, especially those requiring wireless support.
Wireless was not the only hot technology at the show. PCI Express was more apparent with real and preliminary products being demonstrated. Kontron is leading the charge with the forthcoming COM Express standard. There were only preliminary demos of boards as the design and connectors are not finalized.
SBS was showing off their new PCI Express-based extension rack. A PCI/PCI-X PCI Express 4x adapter links a 5U rack mount enclosure with 7 PCI-X slots to a host up to 5 meters away. SBS also had their InfiniBand PMC card on display (Fig. 4).
Adlink Technology's approach is to use a pair of adapters linked by PCI Express. The PXI-8570 targets PXI systems while the PCI-8570 targets PCI-based systems. The boards use 622-Mbit/s, low-voltage differential signaling (LVDS) on four send/receive pairs for a throughput of 2.5 Gbits/s. The boards can be up to 10 meters apart.
Packing everything into a 1U slot, ArmorLink built a system that incorporates four Serial ATA (SATA) drives. (Fig. 5). The single-board computer has a 400-MHz low-voltage Celeron, and it handles up to 512 Mbytes of memory. It includes two 10/100 or a 1-Gbit/s Ethernet interfaces, along with the usual complement of on-board peripherals and a PCI-104 socket. The latter handles the PM-1057 PC/104-Plus Serial-ATA RAID and USB Module.
PC/104 modules were all over the place (Fig. 6). EMJ Embedded Systems had more than a few. They were also showing off products like Kontron's MOPSlcd7 line that starts with a fanless, 300-MHz Celeron. They also had Amulet's Technologies 3 MK-GT380x 3.8-inch LCD Smart GUI Module that uses the serial interface-based Easy GUI controller chip. Pricing starts at $135.
EPIC boards were on display at Win Systems, Ampro, and Versalogic. Ampro was also displaying a case designed for fast EPIC prototyping (Fig. 7). Win Systems was exhibiting its EPX-C3 board with a 733-MHz VIA C3 processor and 10/100 Ethernet. And Versalogic featured its new Gecko powered by a 500-MHz AMD GX500 processor.
EPIC standard is being picked up by the PC/104 Consortium and has garnered a lot of interest. Its standard connector configuration may eventually replace the various PC motherboards as ATX motherboard goes the way of the dodo bird. New PCs are highly integrated often eliminating the need for a board-based solution. EPIC provides many of the same features in a compact form with rugged PC/104 and PCI-104 expansion.
Rugged and flexible were the name of the game for National Instruments' Compact RIO (Fig. 8). This reconfigurable I/O technology is designed to simplify interfacing the processor with control and monitoring modules. It utilizes an FPGA to handle the inteconnect. National Instruments' famous LabView is the basis for the tools that support this architecture. They were demonstrating some of the uses of Compact RIO, including an engineer that replaced the electronic ignition with a Compact RIO system-that's how rugged the system is. Yes, it's still being ridden on a regular basis.
Trimble's little GPS receiver called the Lassen iQ was on display (Fig. 9). This 12-channel, GPS receiver fits inside a small metal shield (26 mm by 26 mm by 6 mm). It requires less than 90 mW at 3.3 V during active operation and is easy to interface to a microcontroller. An external antenna allows the module to be placed almost anywhere.
Software was in the forefront with new enhancements to operating systems and tools. Linux was everywhere-to such an extent that it's barely showcased anymore; it's now just a standard feature. At this show, software tools were the highlight.
I-Logix Rhapsody for C is UML for real programmers. That is, most programmers are using C (or C++ but usually as an enhanced version of C), and I-Logix would like to get them to use UML (Universal Model Language). To that end, this new product provides a graphical interface that sports graphical objects familiar to a C programmer such as files and processes. Developers can employ as much UML support as they wish, making it an ideal transition tool. UML developers are very efficient, and the C code generated is also very efficient. Easy inclusion of legacy code is part of the package.
Eclipse is the IDE (integrated development environment) of choice for embedded developers and vendors these days. It seems that new implementations are showing up all the time. MCC Engineering's Right Tool is an all-open-source version of Eclipse. Now Eclipse is an open-source project already, but vendors have the option to keep their proprietary plug-ins closed. That's what most vendors do, although many are very generous and supportive of the Eclipse development project. Right Tool has no proprietary plug-ins even though MCC Engineering has added a lot to the basic Eclipse development framework. It's definitely worth checking out.
Even though the show wrapped up Wednesday afternoon (Fig. 10), there were a number of technical sessions and meetings on Thursday. Unquestionably, it was definitely a worthwhile show for vendors and attendees alike.
Have I left out anything? Unfortunately, Yes! There was a lot more to see at ESC Boston, and I met with many more vendors. You will just have to peruse the pages of Electronic Design magazine to find my write-ups on the rest of the noteworthy products I discovered there.
Embedded Systems Conference
EMJ Embedded Systems
MCC Systems, Inc.
Trusted Computing Group