Electronic Design

Wireless, Security Hot Topics At Boston ESC

Though a show time change didn’t have engineers packing the floor until well after noon, the Boston Embedded Systems Conference was packed yet again especially with the combination of RFID World and SD Best Practices. I walked away with scores of new products to review from all the different fields represented in Boston. You can read those reviews via the links at the upper righthand corner of this article. Tech Trends RFID World’s presence made it clear that wireless would be a hot topic at Boston ESC. Companies like Meshnetics and WinSystems were touting ZigBee, while Lantronix had 802.11 and Ethernet solutions on hand. ZigBee and 802.15.4 are taking off as developers find the sweet spot for the low-cost (though not necessarily cheap) wireless solutions and figure out battery life limitations. Designers are also finding what low speed communication can really do – not too long ago, RS-232 speeds where fast. Ok, maybe it was long ago, but this industry ran on 2400 baud modems for years. RFID security was hot with companies like Atmel pushing secure chips with flexible support for multiple keys. Don’t jump the gun on RFID without looking into the security issues. They can come back to haunt you if you ignore them. Security in general was also a highlight, with microcontrollers equipped with encryption engines. Zilog even got back into the 32-bit game with a secure microcontroller. There were few murmurs about the EPIC Express board standard that’s languishing in committee even though other PCI Express-based standards abound in the market – especially COM Express solutions like one from Itox. PC/104 was still out in force but add-ons like VersaLogic’s SPI-based expansion modules are chipping away at one end and COM Express at the other. There was an overabundance of Mini-ITX boards, including more from VIA. While AMC (advanced mezzanine card) modules were floating around, the big “wait and see” issue is Micro TCA (MTCA). Everyone is waiting for this standard to play out so they can chuck the telecom overhead and get down to a cheap embedded solution using this form factor and the fabric backplane. Give this space two more years and it could change the way many designs are put together. Then again, I thought EPIC Express would have been up and running by now. Committees can be so bad for business. Software was not to be outdone, springing a range of new surprises. Express Logic had a new trace package that saves debugging from going completely to the dogs. On the visual programming front, Quadros adds its VisualRTXC Design Tool to the likes of Cypress Semiconductor’s PSoC Express and the more formidable LabView from National Instruments. Another boost arrived with The MathWorks and Embedded MatLab. The new support allows easy creation of C/C++ code from MatLab scripts for use in applications or importation into The MathWork’s Simulink. The process was manageable before, but now all it requires is the click of a button. Eclipse, Linux and open source software was everywhere but the emphasis is now on integration and middleware, not adoption. GPL (general public license) is still an issue but is being helped by products like one from Black Duck Software that scans your libraries and reports on the kinds of licensing in use. This is critical to compliance for both open and closed software. There also seemed to be a better understanding among engineers, programmers, and vendors about the implications of open source licensing –though the majority are still clueless about them. Other development tools, platforms and operating systems were well-represented. Microsoft’s embedded .Net Micro Framework got a good bit of play due to the plethora of 32-bit platforms that were adding support for this fledgling environment. Development kits, which were even being given away by some vendors, are showing up with two or three demo or open source platforms or operating systems instead of one or none. Teardowns, Again Teardowns have been a growing trend at ESC because engineers seem to love when someone else’s iPhone gets ripped apart. There was also a Toyota Prius Conversion that turned the hybrid into a fully electric plug-in car. It’s really a plug-in hybrid because the gas engine is retained, but more batteries and a recharging system allow it to run electric-only for an extended period of time. Use it locally and you can skip the gas station completely. Other major teardowns included the Vectrix MAXI-Scooter, an all-electric cycle that holds a host of chips from Microchip Technology. By the way, there is a CAN network inside this mobile platform. If you enjoy that, check out our Engineering TV (www.engineeringtv.com) episodes. I stopped at iRobot just before ESC to film some military robots. Unless the economy falters between now and the spring ESC, the next show promises to be even more interesting. See you there. Related Links Boston ESC

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