Optimism Reigns At Embedded World 2017
Embedded World, industry's largest embedded systems and products conference, took place 14-16 March in Nuremburg, Germany, with new system-level and component solutions focused on burgeoning IoT prospects, developer kits and product releases from leading designers and manufacturers across the embedded supply chain.
In pre-event news, NXP answered questions about its commitment to FD-SOI (fully depleted silicon on insulator,) by strongly supporting the technology over CMOS, centering present and next-generation designs on FD-SOI and NXP's long-standing foundry partnership with Samsung.
Utilizing FD-SOI, NXP announced that its i.MX 7ULP design would deliver "˜deep-sleep' suspended power consumption of 15 uW or less"”which is about 17 times better than its previous low-power i.MX 7 devices. Dynamic power efficiency for the new device family is 50 percent better in real-time domains, said the company. A release date has not yet been announced.
Although the new device family offers superior performance over earlier generations, the most significant news was the company's commitment to a long-range plan that will broadly migrate design of general purpose processors as well as microcontrollers from CMOS nodes over to the FD-SOI process. What proved to be a deciding factor for the company are the capabilities they find in FD-SOI to deliver designs that can deliver low power consumption, high efficiency and scalability. NXP indicated that it sees prospects for developing a variety of processor families"”all from one FS-SOI process node.
NXP's growing commitment to FD-SOI began two years ago after Samsung announced "˜dramatic improvements' in power, performance and efficiency in their FD-SOI process. Earnest development began shortly thereafter, with qualification coming in early 2016 and the first devices arriving at NXP offices late in 2016.
For NXP, FD-SOI technology was an easy transition from SOI"”technology with which their design engineers were already were well experienced. Key advantages include the flexibility brought by its back-biasing and forward-biasing techniques. In a nutshell, "˜forward back-bias' is an ideal way to increase performance, says NXP, while "˜reverse back-bias' is an excellent way to reduce leakage.
The company explained that its wide range of customers will include, "˜"¦many that are developing IoT applications.' Yet even within the IoT camp, this customer block is hardly homogenous; some approach the IoT wanting low power operation all of the time, while others want to build systems that can dynamically switch operating ranges.
While NXP wants the world to appreciate its faith in FD-SOI, dozens of companies exhibiting at Embedded World sought to convince software engineers that they really no longer have to "˜start from zero' on the first day of work on a new system, which has been a typical tactic and strategy for creating embedded systems across decades. Contemporary design cycles and the necessities of rolling out new products simultaneously across geographies and end-user product lines is making the old approach almost impossible within a globally competitive market. Budget constraints and time-to-market are today's biggest drivers. For most developers, the key is abstracting the hardware and low-level drivers, offering companies high-level APIs and configuration blocks to decrease cost and development time.
There were many examples of companies offering a block approach to development across the trade fair floor. A notable example was Renesas' release of its Software Synergy Platform (SSP) version 1.2.0, which includes qualified and warranted MCU drivers, RTOS, middleware and a Wi-Fi framework. The platform emphasizes high-level APIs and configuration blocks for developers, with cost efficiencies and shorter design cycles as the big pay-off. Renesas' Synergy platform is also now compatible with Amazon Web Service (AWS.) Renesas also offers an IoT device SDK for its Synergy platform that includes a binary executable to demonstrate functionality, full AWS IoT device and project source code, plus detailed tutorials for creating and configuring the device, building messages and requests, as well as tools to create an IoT Device Shadow. The kit was developed for Renesas by RELOC. The IoT Device SDK is designed to run on the Synergy Starter Kit SK-S7G2.
Cypress Semiconductor demonstrated its program's ability to place module blocks onto the PSoC (Programmable System-on-Chip) IDE and then configure behavior by connecting modules. Microchip's Atmel Studio gave a look into its latest and greatest code generation system, which created software that was human-readable.
Developers interested in using the Thread wireless interface for an IoT node can look to Nordic Semiconductor's software design kit for its nRF52840 IEEE 802.15.4 PHY chip that is designed to speed work by virtue of its pre-built OpenThread stack for the chip. Also provided are examples of different Thread roles, support for an OpenThread network co-processor; a CoAP application layer example; a border router and a cloud connectivity example along with a range of PC tools including a Thread topology monitor.
Security and the IoT were continuing themes at the conference, even when not visiting exhibitors with "˜internet' in their names. ARM announced its new Cortex-M 23/33, their newest processor running TrustZone. This product solution promises developers will have the ability to write software that will dramatically improve embedded system security, especially for IoT devices. Over at Rambus the company showcased its IoT security service and technology in Qualcomm's booth, demonstrating capabilities using their chipsets to facilitate secure IoT communication and lifecycle management. Their approach is designed to give IoT devices increased protection to reduce service vulnerabilities in case of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.
Rambus spotlighted a smart city application using the QualcommÂ® SnapdragonTM 820 processor and QCA4010 Wi-Fi chip, which connects to an IoT cloud service using a protected link. The Rambus technology enables seamless security-focused features that include mutual authentication and encrypted communication to protect IoT devices from being exploited by hackers using malicious botnets. Rambus technology is also designed to help prevent IoT cloud service from being attacked by cloned devices.
An entire area in the exhibitor hall was dedicated to mobile-to-mobile solutions. There were also sensor networks designed to work in smart cities, smart cameras, and security bridges. Vendors demonstrated new Wi-Fi and connectivity modules including Redpine Signals, one of the longest-tenured companies specializing in the IoT and wide area network markets, offering components and higher-level devices since 2001. The IoT theme played out not just in product offerings, but also in the session tracks and the mini-sessions that took place at exhibitor booths.
Embedded World has become more about demonstrations"”opportunities to prove that technology can not only look great on a website, but also function as intended in real world applications. Digi International was one of the companies showing new devices not only in its own stand, but also in booths of partner organizations. Digi has been around since 1985, supplying RF solutions including intelligent multiport serial boards for PCs, plus an expanded product line with RF modules, gateways, and cellular routers that support key communications infrastructures as well as embedded wireless system on module (SoM) and single-board computer (SBC) offerings for designers and manufacturers of next-generation connected products. Digi exhibited its new XBee module for the Thread emerging protocol. In one of the more memorable demonstrations they also supported a Parallax ELEV-8 Quadcopter, while back at their stand they featured an IoT demo that included XBee, a Nimbelink cellular module, and a BeagleBone board working through the Exosite cloud platform. This was truly an end-to-end IoT solution from sensor to cloud. Developers may enjoy a new kit from Ubiik that includes the hardware required to develop, deploy, demonstrate and evaluate Weightless-P IoT networks.
Organizers of Embedded World also honored top exhibit products with their 13th annual Embedded Awards, recognizing key accomplishments of hardware, software and tool manufacturers with products designed especially for embedded system applications.
2017 winners include:
Hardware "“ HapticTouch™ won in the hardware category for, as their name implies, a haptic touch display screen that delivers tactile feedback on display surfaces and screens that instill the type of reactive sensations common to desktop computer keyboards and other "˜analog' button and control features. As the company says, their technology allows a user interface with touch activated feedback prior to the function being actually activated. HapticTouch also enables scalable tactile configurations and touch force measurement. The HapticTouch applications are especially remarkable because they make it easier or possible in the first place for visually impaired persons to access touch screen devices that previously provided no feedback or little guidance to their operation without reliance on human sight.
Software "“ PROVE&RUN's product (ProvenCare-M) is an evolution of its previous ProvenCare operating system. The latest iteration is designed to support ARM Cortex-M V8 processors with a higher level of security for trusted execution environments (TEE). Secure operating systems as well as hardware and software-based "˜hypervisors' must be formally proven to withstand sophisticated remote attacks. ProvenCore-M's primary goal is to offer proven critical security services (booting, authentication and updates) at the TrustZone side. The developers have formally proven the security features of ProvenCore-M, going as far as the generated code, making ProvenCore-M highly resistant to attacks.
Tools "“ Mathworks won for its new HDL Coder, a tool for use in applications with a large dynamic range, such as signal processing and motion control. Native Floating Point allows synthesisable VHDL and Verilog code to be generated directly from single-precision Simulink models. Using HDL Coder eliminates the need for traditional fixed-point conversion, making work easier for developers and saving time. HDL Coder Native Floating Point generates target-independent, readable, understandable and synthesisable register-transfer level (RTL) models, which is also useful for many mathematical and trigonometric operations. This innovative technology does not require conversation or hard floating-point DSP blocks on the target ASIC or FPGA; it can be extended to embedded processors and programmable logic controllers without built-in floating-point units.
With more than 1,000 exhibitors and over 30,000 attendees, Embedded World remains the industry's premiere embedded systems conferences. As Internet of Things (IoT) products continue to increase in both number and sophistication, it is clear that the important role which systems and subsystems play within our electronic devices will only grow in the years to come.