ESC Boston addresses makers, rocket scientists

May 19, 2016

The Embedded Systems Conference Boston took place April 13-14, focusing on such topics as power management, IoT device design, embedded software optimization, and programmable logic simulation. Also of interest were topics related to safety, security, and cryptography as well as legal and patent issues.

The embedded design space is one in which engineers can meet makers, and it might be hard to tell the two apart. Kipp Bradford, a research scientist at the MIT Media Lab, delivered a keynote address in which he focused on the role of each. Bradford got his start in embedded-systems design when he took a break from studying biomechanical engineering to work as a toymaker.

In the traditional design cycle, he said, the path from opportunity to product passes through engineering, marketing, finance, manufacturing, quality control, and so on. The magic can get lost along the way. In contrast, the maker movement strips away layers—only the maker stands between opportunity and product, and the result can be funky, creative, absurd, ridiculous, or even profoundly beneficial—such as Jerry the Bear, an educational companion for children with type 1 diabetes.

Servicing satellites

Bradford did emphasize that you may not want maker-developed code in a pacemaker or satellite. The latter was the topic of keynoter Benjamin Reed, deputy program manager, Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He described the Restore-L technology demonstration mission for Landsat. Landsat 7 and 8 now are in operation, and Landsat 9 is being built to replace Landsat 7. Unfortunately, Landsat 7’s fuel may not last until 9 is launched, but even if it does, it’s worth keeping 7 operating to complement Landsat 9 by collecting even more data.

Landsat and almost all of the 1,000 operational satellites in orbit today were not designed to be serviced, he said. Service involves several difficult operations: rendezvous, grasp, refuel, and relocate. In an effort to accomplish these tasks, NASA is performing simulation on the ground with industrial robots. Next up is Raven, which will perch on an outside platform of the International Space Station to demonstrate elements of the real-time, relative navigation technology that would be needed for a refueling system. NASA plans to launch Restore-L in late 2019.

ESC exhibits

On the ESC exhibit floor, companies presented hardware and software products. Ironwood Electronics, for example, highlighted its line of sockets. MathWorks featured the latest releases of its Matlab and Simulink tools. And XJTAG focused on its boundary-scan development tools.

Several companies were on hand to showcase benchtop instruments. Rigol and Siglent, for example, presented their lines of oscilloscopes and signal generators and analyzers, such as the Siglent SDS2000X Series oscilloscopes with bandwidths from 70 MHz to 300 MHz and Rigol’s new DS1000Z Plus Series, which allows customers to purchase a traditional four-channel analog scope and then upgrade with 16-channel logic analysis capability at a later time.

Rohde & Schwarz featured its R&S RTO oscilloscope, which offers up to 16-bit resolution with bandwidths from 600 MHz to 4 GHz. The company recently added the R&S RTO-K92 eMMC compliance test software option, which supports automated embedded multimedia card (eMMC) interface compliance tests in line with the current JEDEC standard version 5.1. It covers the HS200 speed class as well as HS400. With its new debugging and compliance test solution, Rohde & Schwarz addresses manufacturers of eMMC chips as well as developers and manufacturers of circuits and products that use these chips.

And Teledyne LeCroy highlighted its recently introduced WaveRunner 8000 oscilloscopes with bandwidths from 500 MHz to 4 GHz. WaveRunner 8000 marks the debut of the next-generation MAUI, the company’s “most advanced user interface.” The addition of OneTouch to MAUI makes measurement setup easy, providing users faster time to insight into complex signal abnormalities.The scopes include the standard collection of math, measurement, debug, and documentation tools. Application-specific packages enable streamlined debugging for common design/validation scenarios.

BIOMEDevice keynoter

At the co-located BIOMEDevice event, keynoter Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the MIT Media Lab and a member of the MIT faculty since 1966, said, “Biotech is the new digital.” Recent hires at the Media Lab have been from the biotech and medical worlds, he said, with topics of interest including extreme bionics and optogenetics—dealing with the brain from the inside rather than the outside. Such topics may be antidisciplinary initially, but over the years they become mainstream, allowing their practitioners to earn tenure, and the Media Lab can start over in new antidisciplinary areas.

Speaking the week before this year’s Boston Marathon, Negroponte cited the work of Hugh Herr, who developed a prosthetic leg for dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis, injured during the Boston Marathon bombing three years ago.

Negroponte said that when he was a student, brain scientists were divided into the “wets” and “drys”—the latter including psychologists and computational brain scientists. He emphasized the “drys,” including Seymour Papert, who observed that children who could learn to write computer programs got as close as possible to the “meta” process of thinking about thinking. Children who learn to code turn out to be better at spelling—suggesting that learning to spell may be related to learning to debug code.

He then commented on the One Laptop per Child program, which worked with governments in developing countries to get millions of rugged laptops in the hands of children. In the Q&A session following the keynote, a BIOMEDevice attendee from India asked, if we can get laptops into poor rural areas, why can’t we get medical instruments into the hands of doctors in such areas? Medical care, Negroponte said, should be the obligation of a civil society, diverting funds from the military if necessary.

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