Contests, Warp Drives, and Self Destructing Electronics
Fish Fry. The Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Fish Fry. Boldly going where no electrical engineering podcast has gone before. This week we’re voyaging to the land of vanishing electronics and design challenges at warp speed. My guest is Adrian Fernandez (Texas Instruments) and we’re chatting about the MCU BoosterPack Design Challenge, how you can enter, what you need to do to win, and what groovy prizes they are giving away. Also this week, I check out DARPA’s Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) Program, how this agency plans to make disappearing electronics, and how Hollywood’s version of warp speed is all wrong.
It is now nine years since Opportunity bounced onto the surface of Mars, with a projected mission life of 90 Mars days. (A Mars day, or Sol in NASA jargon, is about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day.) Already on Mars was Spirit, Opportunity’s twin sister. (The Mars Exploration Rovers - MER - team seems to refer to their Rovers as “she” rather as sailors do their ships.)
It may be incorrect to call January 24th “Opportunity’s Birthday.” I regard it as such, as this was the day that its computer switched from controlling the descent and landing activities to controlling the exploration activities, but the story really started a lot earlier.
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.
CRI Behind the Scenes
When we are worried about our security at home, we usually call a locksmith - a security expert that can analyze our defenses, weigh them against threats (both known and imagined), and help us implement security measures that will meet our goals. This is a difficult job for people to do on their own. Paranoia creeps in, as does complacency. We have a difficult time doing a realistic assessment of our own vulnerabilities and of the capabilities and determination of our adversaries. It helps to bring in a professional.
For example, we may want to wear a foil hat to protect us against prying brain scans deployed from silent black helicopters. This cranial faraday cage is our security blanket. A professional, however, may have additional insight. He may understand that “they” aren’t willing to pay thousands of dollars per hour in helicopter deployment - just to snatch the secret recipe for blueberry crumbcake out of our heads as we’re preparing our morning breakfast. He may also understand the limitations and practical considerations of current mind-reading rays. He might advise us that our security anxiety would be better focused by not having the password for all of our online accounts set as “password.”
From Space Travel to RTL Analysis and Back Again
In this week’s Fish Fry we look into Excalibur Almaz’s plans to launch people into space. We investigate how they plan to get their space tourism business off the ground, what kind of space technology they are going to employ, and what their motivations may be for launching this high-flying company. In the second half of the broadcast, I ask Shakeel Jeeawoody (Blue Pearl Software) what Blue Pearl is all about, how they are working with Synopsys within the Symplify Pro platform, and what was happening at their recent Design Automation Conference panel.
In this week's Fish Fry, I check out some recent rumblings in the world of EE venture capital and investigate why both Applied Materials and the CIA are interested in Infinite Power Solutions. Also this week, I look into the newest developments in compilers from Microchip Technology and examine a recent report by the US Senate Armed Services Committee about counterfeit parts used in military applications.
Aldec Harnesses Massive Server Capacity
Warning! We are going to say the “C” word in this article. If you can’t take it, just stop reading now and save yourself a lot of heartache and grief. We know a lot of you are sensitive on this topic and have deep-rooted emotional issues about it. Our advice is to seek professional counseling.
For those of you who are less delicate (we assume you’re still reading), we proudly present a system that has the potential to accelerate your design verification efforts beyond anything you could currently achieve. You know how it goes. You do your initial debugging just fine with your local copy of your favorite HDL simulator, but then you reach a point in your project where you need to crank some serious vectors through that bad boy. That’s when it gets tricky.
Synopsys Attacks SEUs in FPGAs
A few years ago, one FPGA vendor, Actel, was quietly shouting in the corner. “Hey! Single event upsets (SEUs) are a big problem for FPGAs!”
The other FPGA companies replied with a thoughtful technical analysis of the situation: “Hey, Actel - SHUT UP!”
OK, maybe that’s not exactly the way it went down, but the idea is basically right. You see, Actel’s history is in super-high-reliability FPGAs for use in space. Up in space, there are lots of tiny particles flying around with a lot of energy. When one of those particles hits a vulnerable part of an IC (like a storage element of some kind), it can flip the bit from one to zero or zero to one. As your razor-sharp digital design mind might be telling you right now, this is really bad.
In this week’s Fish Fry, I investigate the battle brewing (in press releases at least) between Green Hills and QNX and why this may not be the first time this sort of thing has happened. I interview Jeff Jussel (element14) about their "knode" and how exactly element14 fits into the grand scheme of electronic design. As a precursor to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week, I also check out one of the strangest pieces of embedded design for consumers that I have ever seen.