This week's Fish Fry takes on Black Friday* -- no coupons needed, and no standing in line necessary! In honor of today's annual celebration of America's shopping obsession, we go behind-the-scenes to check out the engineering ideas (big and small) that drive this gift-giving season. Dianne Kibbey (element14) rolls in with a shopping cart chock-full of innovation from element14’s Smarter Life Challenge, and Rich Hoefle (Microchip Technology) delivers the goods on the world’s fastest single-core 32-bit MCUs. (Can you imagine our holiday gift-giving season without MCUs? Neither can I.)
In the Short and Long Term
It’s time to take another look at the grid, yet another part of our world that is supposed to be getting smarter. And, for this update, there are two decidedly distinct aspects to address: the here-and-now – bits that can be used today, in particular for smart meters; and the yet-to-come – a look at some insights provided by Imec last month into their view of where things are going.
SoC me ASAP
The obvious main theme for what’s become available in the last few months has everything to do with SoCs and platforms for smart meters. Now, smart meters are, for some of us, old news. I’ve seen the battles, I’ve seen the chained-and-padlocked analog meters, and, well, all of that has disappeared from the headlines. Every house I’ve been in for the last several years has had a smart meter. So… we’re done with smart meters. Right?
Thing Power and LaunchPad Motor Control
Late fall doldrums got you down? Looking for a new project to break up the longer, darker nights? Dreaming of a motor control design for the holidays? Never fear! Fish Fry is here to help!
First up, we spin our motors on over to LaunchPad land with Chris Clearman from Texas Instruments, to check out a brand new motor control evaluation kit. And, what if your new motor control design didn't just consume energy (yawn - how old school), but it also produced it? Well, it could if MicroGEN Systems has anything to say about it. Straight off a win at this year's MEMS Executive Congress Technology Showcase, Robert Andosca (President/CEO - MicroGEN Systems) is here to talk to us about Thing Power - a whole new way to harvest energy.
Ayla Networks Launches Kit
A few years ago I was meeting with a small wireless interconnect company called ZeroG Wireless, and the discussion included a vision of machines and devices and appliances and people interacting via this huge, messy, chaotic structure we refer to as the internet. And all of the vagaries and un-thought-through possibilities and the promise of things as-yet unimagined were neatly wrapped up in a succinct little phrase: the Internet of Things.
I loved how descriptive the term was; I hadn’t heard it before then, and it was a long time before I really heard it again, so I frankly thought they had come up with it. Well, I no longer think that, and, having just returned from the Sensors Expo, I can safely say that the Internet of Things was at the top of the agenda (above sensor fusion). It’s frickin’ everywhere.
Memory Company Expands to Processors and Analog
What two components does every embedded system need? Processors and memory, I reckon. And now Spansion has both.
Most of us know Spansion – if we know the company at all – as a maker of flash memory. Old-timers will remember Spansion as the spinoff of AMD’s flash memory business, but that was a long time ago. Since then, Spansion has become one of the larger flash memory companies, focusing mainly on NOR flash (as opposed to NAND flash).
That’s all fine and dandy, but, as we know, memory is a commodity business. You compete on price and little else. Sure, there are other technical criteria such as write time, retention period, interface peculiarities, and whatnot. But for the most part, you’re in a life-or-death struggle to eke out a penny’s worth of difference from your competitors.
Show me an engineer that isn't worried about power consumption and I'll show you a bridge I'd love to sell you. Getting the power consumption down in your designs can be a tricky dance. From the semiconductor process, to the components you choose, to the embedded software you use, just about every decision you make affects your system power. In this episode of Fish Fry, we're talking to Gordon Hands (Director of Marketing - Lattice Semiconductor). Gordon and I chat about the world's smallest FPGAs and what ultra-low power devices can do. Also this week, I'm talking with Alf Bogen (CMO - Energy Micro) about how Energy Micro is making a name for themselves in the low power business.
Prototyping, Functional Verification, and Body Heat Power
Headlamp? Check. Spelunking gear? Check. Map of your next design from prototype to production? Well, hmmmm. We’ve all been there at one time or another: "Nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there." This week we’re getting into the nitty gritty details of the prototyping phase of our designs. My guest is Bob Potock (Kozio) and we’re gonna chat about why you really should consider functional verification for your next embedded design project.
Alta Devices Changes the Rules
Batteries are the bane of portable device design.
Just about every portable or mobile device or system that does anything interesting - that is, anything that would require a “real” chip like a processor or FPGA, or anything that does meaningful real-world interaction like drive a display or spin a motor - needs a significant amount of power. When you can’t plug into the wall or the grid, your options are pretty narrow. The essence of your design becomes a tradeoff between the capability and longevity of your device and battery size, weight, and cost.
We’ve all briefly considered solar, of course. The romantic idea of a perpetually powered system gleaning what it needs from nothing more than the ambient light is a powerful aphrodisiac. We want to go on a date with solar. We buy flowers. We show up at solar’s door in our spiffiest engineering outfit.
The Lighter Side of EE in 2012
Here at EE Journal, we have always believed that engineering is fun. As engineers ourselves, we know that there is a special kind of reward in solving problems and creating new and interesting things with technology. We have always believed that one of the things that really differentiate EE Journal from other trade publications is our sense of humor and fun. We don’t think engineering has to be a humdrum drone of microwatts and gigabits, and we know you don’t either.
There’s a building out back behind where I live that has an electric meter on it. While that’s not unusual, what is different about it is that it’s an old-school version. One with a spinning wheel. It has survived the local conversion to smart meters not because of any protest (common around here), but because it’s actually a sub-meter; the main property meter is now digital. This one hasn’t been read by a meter reader in many years. (Which is good for the utility, because, as far as I can tell, it runs backwards.)
Before writing this, I went out to have a look at this historical relic. There’s just not much to it: most of it is structural metal bulk that covers whatever mechanism gets the wheel to run. The rest is the linkage to move the needles on the actual meter part. That’s pretty much it. It stands in stark contrast to the onslaught of technology being offered up for the latest generation of meters.