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EETE FEB 2015

Sponsored Contributed Artic le Development Tools Map the Connected Future Without them, the roadmap for every embedded system design would be a rocky one indeed. By Barry Manz for Mouser Electronics As if the design of embedded systems isn’t difficult enough, several trends are making it even more challenging. In the high-performance sector, designers must work with complex devices such as FPGAs and quad-core CPUs, and the “small form factor” segment now encompasses subsystems whose end products must fit into an end product the size of a watch. And virtually all must have on-board communications capability from Bluetooth, Zigbee, and Wi-Fi, to Ethernet. It’s safe to say that without comprehensive evaluation boards and software development kits few embedded systems today could be designed at all. Fortunately, device manufacturers understand this, as well the fact that the quality of their support tools can make or break a product. It’s hard not to marvel at what today’s high-performance embedded systems can achieve on a single 3U or 6U card. A typical single-board computer or DSP board for example can have one or more FPGAs, a quad-core CPU, high-speed, high-resolution, broadband ADCs and DACs, perhaps a discrete graphics engine, and truly enormous amounts of I/O. At the other end of the spectrum are comprehensive devices like Broadcom’s WICED Sense Bluetooth Smart Sensor development kit based on the company’s BCM20737S SoC for creating secure embedded wireless networking applications. It has six MEMS Sensors for gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, pressure sensor, humidity, and temperature, a WICED sense tag, USB to MicroUSB cable, links to download sample applications, and development software. The tag’s firmware can be updated from a smartphone, tablet or PC. The company says it can “reduce” the design time for Bluetooth app development from months to minutes. The RF Enigma The embedded community has also just been tasked with connecting every possible person, place, or thing and has, begrudgingly, faced the fact that RF and microwave (i.e., wireless) technology can no longer be considered an outlier. Rather, it’s become a standard requirement, requiring attention to a domain that this community has long considered anathema. That’s not surprising, as the world of “fields and waves” shares little or nothing with its digital counterpart and thus requires different areas of expertise, and can significantly increase the complexity of any device in which it must be incorporated. That said, without it many embedded systems would be islands with no connection to the outside world, so RF and microwave technology is begrudgingly accepted as an annoying but necessary evil. Fortunately for the consumer embedded community, wireless-enabled embedded products are small-signal devices. That is, their receive and transmit electronics are small and don’t need to deliver high levels of RF output power that would increase size, burden the batteries of portable host devices, and drive up cost. Entire radios on a chip simplifies matters, but nevertheless require attention to the vagaries of RF design. The need to embrace not just MIMO but MU-MIMO, frequencies up to 60 GHz, and higher-order modulation schemes like OFDM haven’t helped. Nor has the device-and manufacturer-specific nature of hardware development platforms and the enormous programming time (often using multiple tools) required to make the system “work”. Microchip Technology’s PIC32 for Bluetooth Starter Kit (Figure 2) is a well-thought-out development platform that uses the PIC32MX270F256D MCU. Among other things, you get a Bluetooth radio, pushbuttons, Cree multi-color and single-color LEDs, an accelerometer, temperature sensor, onboard debugging, along with Android app, demo code and a serial port profile stack. Figure 1 – This smartphone app comes with Broadcom’s WICED Sense Bluetooth Smart Sensor development kit. Figure 2 – Microchip’s Bluetooth development platform has the essential tools – including software. 8 Electronic Engineering Times Europe February 2015 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE FEB 2015
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