Tech Fest for the Embedded Enthusiast

March 8, 2006
Paul Whytock reports from the Embedded World event in Nuremberg, Germany

Nearly 500 companies from 27 countries showed their wares at Embedded World, which has become the world’s largest embedded electronics technology event (Fig. 1). The event’s conference program wasn’t to be overshadowed, though, with 24 sessions, eight workshops, and speakers from 30 different countries.

International speakers at this year’s embedded world conference included Keynote speaker Jerry McGuire, general manager MPSG, Analog Devices; Dr. Bruce Powell Douglass, chief evangelist, I-Logix; and Dr. David Kalinsky, director of customer education, ENEA Embedded Technologies.

Three companies were presented the embedded AWARD for pioneering products and developments. Winners were named in three categories: NEC Electronics Europe (hardware), QNX Software Systems (software), and Programmier-bare Logik&Systeme (tools).

Low-power asynchronous audio codec

There was no shortage of new products at the event. STMicroelectronics chimed in with its STw5095 low-power stereo audio/voice codec, featuring integrated amplifiers for headphones and hands-free applications (Fig. 2). It’s designed as a compact and flexible solution for delivering high-quality audio in the low-voltage conditions of battery-powered multimedia products and mobile phones. The codec is costoptimised for voice and audio codec operation, and requires only a handful of external components, minimising pc-board area. The smart aspect about the STw5095 is it provides high-audioquality analog stereo mixing, recording, and playback capability with three line inputs and two direct differential microphone inputs. Audio flows are digitised with 20bit resolution at between 8 and 96kHz. The ADC supplies 93dB dynamic range and 0.001% THD, with full-scale output at 2.7V. The output stereo DAC operates independently over the same data rate, with a 95dB dynamic range and 0.02% THD.

With its extended master clock range of between 4 and 32MHz, asynchronous digital input and output data rates, and compatibility with audio data serial interfaces ranging from I2S and SPI to PCM, the codec is designed to fit easily into most low-voltage audio systems. Voice control and recording is supported by an 8/16kHz voice codec with embedded channel filters.

Redefining power consumption

On display at Atmel’s exhibition stand was the AVR32. The 32bit embedded CPU architecture with DSP extensions is expected to extend the battery life of portable, handheld multimedia products, such as portable video players, MP3 players, and mobile phones.

Early benchmarks of the AVR32, conducted by EEMBC (the Embedded Microprocessor Benchmark Consortium), gauge the core’s performance per clock cycle at three times that of other processors. The faster throughput means applications can be executed with fewer clocks, reducing power consumption and increasing the end product’s battery life. Code-size benchmarks also indicate exceptional results, with up to 50% reduction compared to other processors.

For example, running at 100MHz, the AVR32 core can do the processing required to decode quarter-VGA MPEG4 movies—the same format used with various handheld video players (including the iPod)—while other processors must operate at 266MHz. For the end-user, this means longer battery life.

Microcontrollers aim at automotive applications

Infineon Technologies showed off its new flash MCUs at the show. The 8bit, advanced 16bit, and high-end 32bit TriCore family of devices are optimised for use in industrial applications, says the company.

These highly integrated MCUs can cut system-level costs by up to 40%, claims Infineon. It’s estimated that broad use of electronically controlled drives, besides making systems more reliable, could potentially save up to 20% of today’s worldwide electricalenergy consumption.

According to the marketresearch company IMS, Infineon ranks number four in the industrial semiconductor market. IMS forecasts the market will steadily grow by an average of 7% per year from 2004 to 2005.

The new XC886 and XC888 MCUs join the XC800 family of 8bit microcontrollers and provide advanced networking capabilities, based on integration of both a full CAN controller and LIN support on one chip. The on-chip CAN module offloads the CPU that handles most of the networking functions.

Introduced in 2005, the Infineon XC800 family combines an enhanced 8051 core with embedded flash memory and powerful on-chip peripherals, such as an intelligent PWM unit or an accurate 10bit ADC. Advanced features of the XC886 and XC888 MCUs include high compute power supported by a Multiplication Division Unit (MDU) and up to 32kbyte flash memory. The new controllers can handle motor control together with networking functionality in low- to midrange industrial and consumer motor control, industrial automation, or automotive body applications.

Keeping applications secure

Embedded-operating-system and design-tool company QNX Software Systems unveiled a novel operating-system extension. It allows developers to build hardened secure compartments around their software applications, and offers the flexibility to maximise CPU resources. With the new QNX Neutrino Adaptive Partitioning technology, embedded designers can expect greater security and full CPU utilisation (Fig. 3).

One of the keys to QNX’s adaptive partitioning solution is a patent-pending scheduler that guarantees CPU time for partitioned applications for a heavily loaded system. Unlike the rigid, fixed-partitioning offerings of the past, QNX Neutrino Adaptive Partitioning can dynamically reassign resources from partitions not under full load to those needing additional processing time. This will ultimately bring a higher overall level of performance by increasing CPU utilisation.

QNX Neutrino Adaptive Partitioning technology is an extension of the QNX Neutrino real-time operating system. To maximise ease of use and application portability, adaptive partitioning employs standard POSIX APIs. In addition, embedded developers are able to employ the exact same task-prioritisation schemes they use today. Existing POSIX/QNX Neutrino applications can benefit from QNX Adaptive Partitioning without recoding or redesign.

RoHS-compliant SBCs

Kontron introduced the MOPSlcdLX as its latest RoHScompliant design for PC/104plus with ISA and PCI. The fanless single- board computer (SBC) with AMD Geode LX800 processor was designed in accordance with the PC/104 consortium’s PC104plus specification.

It gets its customised design from PC/104 ISA and PCI expansion assemblies, which are inserted as plug & work assemblies on or under the SBC in a “sandwich” layout. Many manufacturers no longer support ISA in newer designs, but Kontron still supports established ISA technology with simple I/Os in the age of RoHS. Consequently, both manufacturers and users of numerous ISA I/O assemblies can still rely on long-term availability for their system solutions.

The RoHS-compliant MOPSlcdLX replaces previous designs based on the Geode GX1 processor.

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