Electronic Design

ESC Gives Life To Smart Fabric, Smart Dashboard

There was so much to see at the Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose earlier this month. But a couple of applications really jumped out at me in terms of their potential impact.

There has been a lot of talk about smart fabrics—clothing materials that can monitor the health of the soldiers, athletes, or medical patients who wear them. Echelon took this idea a step further and demonstrated a smart carpet at its booth at ESC (see the figure). The carpet's embedded sensors communicated via the company's new Pyxos chips, which extend the LONworks communications protocol to sensors and actuators to create integrated self-organizing networks.

Echelon integrated the smart carpet with touchscreen panels for display and control. People who walked or stood on the carpet triggered alarms and lighting. Also, icons on the monitors showed where the people were on the carpet.

"If someone were to fall onto the carpet, the system can determine by the prone position that someone might be in distress and can trigger an alarm," explained Mike Tenefoss, marketing director.

I gave Mike my cell-phone number to program into the system. When I stepped onto the carpet, I received a text message alerting me to the possible intruder. Ultimately, Pyxos promises embedded sensors in materials that haven't been networked before, enabling self-organizing networks of bio-and nano-sensors.

Video processors were one of the hot buttons at the show. But in terms of innovative applications, I was particularly impressed by what I saw coming into the automotive infotainment arena.

During a press conference announcing its MB86276 twodimensional graphics display controller (GDC), Fujitsu noted the fast-revving growth in the U.S. navigation system market: 47% of the car models sold here offer navigation systems, which is up from 20% two years ago. Yet nav systems are still in only about 7% of vehicles sold. While the most popular in-car video applications are rear-seat entertainment, Fujitsu said falling price points will drive nav system and in-dash growth, hence the company's introduction of the lower-cost 2D version of its video processor.

Toshiba demonstrated its TX4961 real-time display controller system-on-a-chip, which combines a 64-bit RISC CPU with a 2D hardware graphics accelerator and video frame grabber. The company showed the chip in action via a "virtual dashboard," where a single display handled all the driver instrumentation (see the figure). The display replicates an analog speedometer, tachometer, and other instruments. But then the panel can change according to the task at hand.

For example, the entire driver display in a car equipped with rear-view image sensors can show the view behind the car, rather than compressing the rearview image into an auxiliary screen. If the driver is using the navigation system, relevant maps and information can be right on the dashboard, with speed or fuel-level information minimized according to the driver's preference.

And, Sharp revealed its line of BlueStreak ARM7/ARM 9 microcontrollers.-These devices include an on-chip LCD controller, an enabling imager interface, media acceleration, and enhanced graphics. Since drivers can be distracted by their passengers' video screens, Sharp also has developed parallax barriers on LCD displays that limit the screens' viewing angle. The company even has parallax LCD displays that permit the simultaneous display of different information as seen by the right and left viewing angles.

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