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More space for satellites and a roadmap for data protection

Monday, February 12th, 2018

Blog Review – Monday, February 12, 2018
This week’s selection includes 100G Ethernet for data centers; Satellites will vie for space; A roadmap for data protection, and more from the blogsphere

The rise of data centers and increase in cloud-based computing has prompted Lance Looper, Silicon Labs, to examine how wireless networks are changing to meet the demands for performance and low latency and implementing 100G Ethernet.

Marveling at how connectivity has ‘shrunk’ the world, Paolo Colombo, ANSYS, looks skywards to consider the growth of connected devices. He looks at the role of space satellites and how small satellites will have their day for critical applications and introduces ‘pseudo sats’ which are vying for space in space.

An article about medical device design and manufacturing challenges has prompted Roger Mazzella, QT, to address each and provide a response to reassure developers. Naturally, QT’s products play a role in allaying many fears, but it is an interesting insight into the medical design arena.

An interesting case study is recorded by Hellen Norman, Arm, featuring Scratchy the robot. She asks German embedded systems developer, Sebastian Förster how he used a Cortex-M4, some motors, Lego bricks and cable ties to create a four-legged robot, programmed to walk using artificial intelligence (AI).

It’s not unusual to feel bewildered at a technology conference, so we can sympathise with Thomas Hackett, Cadence, who has a twist on the usual philosophical question of “What am I here for?” A walk through DesignCon caused a lightbulb moment, illuminating the real world interplay of IP, SoC and packaging.

With the IoT there are no secrets, and Robert Vamosi, Synopsys examines how data sharing may not be as innocuous as companies would have us believe, if it is not configured flawlessly. The Strava heatmap which reveals secret military locations has thrown up some serious issues which, we are assured, are being addressed, and which Vamosi sees as a model for other IoT and wearable device manufacturers.

Tackling software-defined networking (SDN) head-on, Jean-Marie Brunet, Mentor Graphics, presents a clear and strong case for accelerating verification using virtual emulation. Of course he advocates Veloce VirtuaLAB PCIe for the task, but backs up his recommendation with some sound reasoning and guidance.

By Caroline Hayes, Senior Editor

Blog Review – Monday, March 27, 2017

Monday, March 27th, 2017

How AI can be used for medical breakthroughs; What’s wired and what’s not; A new compiler from ARM targets functional safety; Industry 4.0 update

A personal history lesson from Paul McLellan, Cadence Design Systems, as he charts the evolution from the beginning of the company, via the author’s career and various milestones with different companies and the trials of DAC over the decades.

Post Embedded World, ARM announced the ARM Compiler 6. Tony Smith, ARM, looks at its role for functional safety and autonomous vehicles.

A review of industrial IoT at Embedded World 2017 is the focus for Andrew Patterson’s blog. Mentor Graphics had several demonstrations for Industry 4.0. He explains the nature of Industry 4.0 and where it is going, the role of OPC-UA (Open Platform Communication – Unified Architecture) and support from Mentor.

What’s wired and what’s wireless, asks David Andeen, Maxim Integrated. His blog looks at vehicle sub-systems and wired communications standards, building automation and wired interface design and a link to an informative tutorial.

There are few philosophical questions posed in the blogs that I review, but this week throws up an interesting one from Philippe Laufer, Dassault Systemes. The quandary is does science drive design, or does design drive science? Topically posted ahead of the Age of Experience event in Milan next month, the answer relies on size and data storage, influenced by both design and science.

Security issues for medical devices are considered by David West, Icon Labs. He looks at the threats and security requirements that engineers must consider.

A worthy competition is announced on the Intel blog – the Artificial Intelligence Kaggle competition to combat cervical cancer. Focused on screening, the competition with MobileODT, using its optical diagnostic devices and software, challenges Kagglers to develop an algorithm that classifies a cervix type, for referrals for treatment. The first prize is $50,000 and there is a $20,000 prize for best Intel tools usage. “We aim to challenge developers, data scientists and students to develop AI algorithms to help solve real-world challenges in industries including medical and health care,” said Doug Fisher, senior vice president and general manager of the Software and Services Group at Intel.

Caroline Hayes, Senior Editor

Blog Review – Monday, August 15 2016

Monday, August 15th, 2016

In this collection, we define the IoT, investigate IP fingerprinting, and break into vehicles in the name of crypto-research. There is also prophesizing about 5G and disruption technology for technology, and relationship advice for computing and data.

Empathizing with anyone who has ever struggled with CMSIS RTOS API, Liviu Ionescu, ARM, offers a helping hand, catalogues the issues that can be encountered and reassures designers they are not alone and, more importantly, offers practical help.

Putting IP fingerprints to work may sound like the brief for an episode of CSI, but it is Warren Savage’s, (IP-extreme) recipe for successful SoC tapeout. He does do some CSI-style digging to thoroughly explain how to delve into a chip’s IP to limit the risks associated with IP reuse.

Listening intently at the Linley Mobile Conference, Paul McLellan, Cadence, sees the advent of 5G as good news for high-capacity, high-speed, low-latency wireless networks and linked with all things IoT.

Famous couplings, love and marriage, horse and carriage, could be joined by computing and data. Rob Crooke, Intel, believes that an increase in data and increased computing will transform cloud computing, but that memory storage has to keep up to realize smart cities to autonomous vehicles, industrial automation, medicine, immersive gaming to name a few. His post covers 3D XPoint and 3D NAND technology.

On security detail this week, Gabe Moretti, Chip Design magazine, finds a white paper from Intrinsic-ID that he recommends on the topic of embedded authentication which is vital to the secure operation of the IoT.

At the end of this year, the last Volkswagen Camper, (or kombi) van, will roll off the assembly line in Brazil. Robert Vamosi, Synopsys, includes the iconic vehicle in his post about a hack related in a paper authored by researchers at the University of Birmingham to clone a VW remote entry systems. The paper was presented at the Usenix cybersecurity conference in Austin, Texas, with reassurances that the group is in ‘constructive’ talks with VW.

For a vintage automobile to the latest, EV and PHEVs, Andrew Macleod, Mentor Graphics, looks at disruption they may bring to the automotive industry. Referring to account technology manager Paul Johnston’s presentation at 2016 IESF, he touches on the electrical engineering and embedded software challenges as well as the predicted scale of the EV industry.

Still looking at a market rather than the technology, Alex Voica, Imagination Technologies, looks at the IoT. He has some interesting graphs and statistics and asks some interesting questions around definitions, from what is the IoT and what defines a device.

Caroline Hayes, Senior Editor

Blog Review – Tuesday, May 31 2016

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

Security issues around IoT and maritime vessels; CCIX Consortium accelerates data centers; Cheers for metering; Noise integrity in ADAS; Virtual Reality in practice

Protecting IoT devices is clearly and elegantly outlined by Jim Wallace, ARM, he includes illustrations, a lot of information and guidelines on advice on how security can produce new business models.

Accelerating data centers always raises interest and when names like AMD, ARM, Huawei, IBM, Mellanox, Qualcomm, and Xilinx come together. Steve Liebson, Xilinx, describes how the companies, via the CCIX (Cache Coherent Interconnect for Accelerators) Consortium are developing a single interconnect technology specification whereby processors using different instruction set architectures can share data with accelerators and enable efficient heterogeneous computing to improve efficiency.

Advocating an alternative to the plan to drink beer when the fresh water runs out, David Andeen, Maxim explains the importance of an ultrasonic water meter which can accelerate design cycles and reduce the cost of meters.

All in the name of research, Alexandru Voica, Imagination, tries his hand at Daydream, the Virtual Reality (VR) platform built on Android N and outlines the rules of VR.

Another cyber threat is identified by Robert Vamosi, Synopsys. His blog looks at research from Plymouth University and how vulnerable marine vessels can be at risk.

The undeniable increase in Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) needs careful design consideration, and Ravi Ravikumar, ANSYS, discusses how the ANSYS CPS simulation helps power noise integrity to be met. His blog is informative, with some clear graphics to illustrate ADAS design.

For a quick catch-up on USB 3.1 and the Type-C connector, turn to Chris A Ciufo, eecatalog, for a quick reference guide. He includes some handy links for extra reading.

A review of the Bangalore, India, Design&Reuse event is provided by Steve Brown, Cadence Design Systems. A rundown of keynotes ends with a head-up for the next event.

IoT Cookbook: Analog and Digital Fusion Bus Recipe

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Experts from ARM, Mathworks, Cadence, Synopsys, Analog Devices, Atrenta, Hillcrest Labs and STMicroelectronics cook up ways to integrate analog with IoT buses.

By John Blyler, Editorial Director

Many embedded engineers approach the development of Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices like a cookbook. By following previous embedded recipes, they hope to create new and deliciously innovative applications. While the recipes may be similar, today’s IoT uses strong concentration of analog, sensors and wireless ingredients. How will these parts combine with the available high-end bus structures like ARM’s AMBA? To find out, “IoT Embedded Systems” talked with the head technical cooks including Paul Williamson, Senior Marketing Manager, ARM; Rob O’Reilly, Senior Member Technical Staff at Analog Devices; Mladen Nizic , Engineering Director, Mixed Signal Solution, Cadence; Ron Lowman, Strategic Marketing Manager for IoT, Synopsys; Corey Mathis, Industry Marketing Manager -  Communications, Electronics and Semiconductors, MathWorks; Daniel Chaitow, Marketing Manager, Hillcrest Labs; Bernard Murphy, CTO, Atrenta; and Sean Newton, Field Applications Engineering Manager, STMicroelectronics. What follows is a portion of their responses. — JB

Key points:

  • System-level design is needed so that the bus interface can control the analog peripheral through a variety of modes and power-efficient scenarios.
  • One industry challenge is to sort the various sensor data streams in sequence, in types, and include the ability to do sample or rate conversion.
  • To ensure the correct sampling of analog sensor signals and the proper timing of all control and data signals, cycle accurate simulations must be performed.
  • Control system and sensor subsystems are needed to help reduce digital bus cycles by tightly integrating the necessary components.
  • Hardware design and software design have inherently different workflows, and as a result, use different design tools and methodologies.
  • For low-power IoT sensors, the analog-digital converter (ADC) power supply must be designed to minimize noise. Attention must also be paid to the routing of analog signals between the sensors and the ADC.
  • Beyond basic sensor interfacing, designer should consider digitally assisted analog (DAA) – or digital logic embedded in analog circuitry that functions as a digital signal processor.

Blyler: What challenges do designers face when integrating analog sensor and wireless IP with digital buses like ARM’s AMBA and others?

Williamson (ARM): Designers need to consider system-level performance when designing the interface between the processor core and the analog peripherals. For example a sensor peripheral might be running continuously, providing data to the CPU only when event thresholds are reached. Alternatively the analog sensor may be passing bursts of sampled data to the CPU for processing.  These different scenarios may require that the designer develop a digital interface that offers simple register control, or more advanced memory access. The design of the interface needs to enable control of the peripheral through a broad range of modes and in a manner that optimizes power efficiency at a system and application level.

O’Reilly (Analog Devices): One challenge is ultra-low power designs to enable management of the overall system power consumption. In IoT systems, typically there is one main SoC connected with multiple sensors running at different Output Data Rates (ODR) using asynchronous clocking. The application processor SoC collects the data from multiple sensors and completes the processing. To keep power consumption low, the SoC generally isn’t active all of the time. The SoC will collect data at certain intervals. To support the needs of sensor fusion it’s necessary that the sensor data includes time information. This highlights the second challenge, the ability to align a variety of different data types in a time sequence required for fusion processing. This raises the question “How can an entire industry adequately sort the various sensor data streams in sequence, in types, and include the ability to do sample or rate conversion.?”

Nizic (Cadence): Typically a sensor will generate a small (low voltage/current) analog signal which needs to be properly conditioned and amplified before converting it to digital signal sent over a bus to memory register for further processing by a DSP or a controller. Sometimes, to save area, multiple sensor signals are multiplexed (sampled) to reduce the number of A2D converters.

From the design methodology aspect, the biggest design challenge is verification. To ensure analog sensor signals are sampled correctly and all control and data signals are timed properly, cycle-accurate simulations must be performed. Since these systems now contain analog, in addition to digital and bus protocol verification, a mixed-signal simulation must cover both hardware and software. To effectively apply mixed-signal simulation, designers must model and abstract behavior of sensors, analog multiplexers, A2D converters and other analog components. On the physical implementation side, busses will require increased routing resources, which in turn mean more careful floor-planning and routing of bus and analog signals to keep chip area at minimum and avoid signal interference.

Lowman (Synopsys): For an IC designer, the digital bus provides a very easy way to snap together an IC by hanging interface controllers such as I2C, SPI, and UARTs to connect to sensors and wireless controllers.  It’s also an easy method to hang USB and Ethernet, as well as analog interfaces, memories and processing engines.  However, things are a bit more complicated on the system level. For example, the sensor in a control system helps some actuator know what to do and when to do it.  The challenge is that there is a delay in bus cycles from sensing to calculating a response to actually delivering a response that ultimately optimizes the control and efficiency of the system.  Examples include motor control, vision systems and power conversion applications. Ideally, you’d want a sensor and control subsystem that has optimized 9D Sensor Fusion application. This subsystem significantly reduces cycles spent traveling over a digital bus by essentially removing the bus and tightly integrating the necessary components needed to sense and process the algorithms. This technique will be critical to reducing power and increasing performance of IoT control systems and sensor applications in a deeply embedded world.

Mathis (Mathworks): It is no surprise that mathematical and signal processing algorithms of increasing complexity are driving many of the innovations in embedded IoT. This trend is partly enabled by the increasing capability of SoC hardware being deployed for the IoT. These SoCs provide embedded engineers greater flexibility regarding where the algorithms get implemented. The greater flexibility, however, leads to new questions in early stage design exploration. Where should the (analog and mixed) signal processing of that data occur? Should it occur in a hardware implementation, which is natively faster but more costly in on-chip resources? Or in software, where inherent latency issues may exist? One key challenge we see is that hardware design and software design have inherently different workflows, and as a result, use different design tools and methodologies. This means SoC architects need to be fluent in both C and HDL, and the hardware/software co-design environments needed for both. Another key challenge is that this integration further exacerbates the functional, gate- or circuit-level, and final sign-off verification problems that have dogged designers for decades. Interestingly, designers facing either or both of these key challenges could benefit significantly from top-down design and verification methodologies. (See last month’s discussion, “Is Hardware Really That Much Different From Software?”)

Chaitow (Hillcrest Labs): In most sensor-based applications, data is ultimately processed in the digital realm so an analog to digital conversion has to occur somewhere in the system before the processing occurs. MEMS sensors measure tiny variations in capacitance, and amplification of that signal is necessary to allow sufficient swing in the signal to ensure a reasonable resolution. Typically the analog to digital conversion is performed at the sensor to allow for reduction of error in the measurement. Errors are generally present because of the presence of noise in the system, but the design of the sensing element and amplifiers have attributes that contribute to error. For a given sensing system minimizing the noise is therefore paramount. The power supply of the ADC needs to be carefully designed to minimize noise and the routing of analog signals between the sensors and the ADC requires careful layout. If the ADC is part of an MCU, then the power regulation of the ADC and the isolation of the analog front end from the digital side of the system is vital to ensure an effective sampling system.

As always with design there are many tradeoffs. A given analog MEMS supplier may be able to provide a superior measurement system to a MEMS supplier that provides a digital output. By accepting the additional complexity of the mixed-signal system and combining the analog sensor with a capable ADC, an improved measurement system can be built. In addition if the application requires multiple sensors, using a single external multiple channel ADC with analog sensors can yield a less expensive system, which will be increasingly important as the IoT revolution continues.

Murphy (Atrenta): Aside from the software needs, there are design and integration considerations. On the design side, there is nothing very odd. The sensor needs to be presented to an AMBA fabric as a slave of some variety (eg APB or AHB), which means it needs all the digital logic to act as a well-behaved slave (see Figure). It should recognize it is not guaranteed to be serviced on demand and therefore should support internal buffering (streaming buffer if an output device for audio, video or other real-time signal). Sensors can be power-hungry so they should support power down that can be signaled by the bus (as requested by software).

The implementation side is definitely more interesting. All of that logic is generally bundled with the analog circuitry into one AMS block and it is usually difficult to pin down a floor-plan outline on such a block until quite close to final layout. This makes full-chip floor planning more challenging because you are connecting to an AMBA switch fabric, which likes to connect to well-constrained interfaces because the switch matrix itself doesn’t constrain layout well on its own. This may lead to a little more iteration of the floor plan than you otherwise might expect

Beyond basic sensor interfacing, you need to consider digitally assisted analog (DAA). This is when you have digital logic embedded in analog circuitry, functioning as a digital signal processor to perform effectively an analog function but perhaps more flexibly and certainly with more programmability that analog circuitry. Typical applications are for beamforming in radio transmission and for super-accurate ADCs.

Figure: The AMBA Bus SOC Platform is a configurable with several peripherals and system functions, e.g., AHB Bus(es), APB Bus(es), arbiters, decoders. Popular peripherals include RAM controllers, Ethernet, PCI, USB, 1394a, UARTs, PWMs, PIOs. (Courtesy of ARM Community -

Newton (STMicroelectronics): Integration of devices such as analog sensors and wireless IP (radios) is widespread today via the use of standard digital bus interfaces such as I2C and SPI. Integration of analog IP with a bus – such as ARM’s AMBA – becomes a matter of connecting the relevant buses to the digital registers contained within the IP. This is exactly what happens when you use I2C or SPI to communicate to standalone sensors or wireless radio, with the low-speed bus interfaces giving external access to the internal registers of the analog IP. The challenges for integration to devices with higher-end busses isn’t so much on the bus interface, as it is in defining and qualifying the resulting SoC. In particular, packaging characteristics, the number of GPIO’s available, the size of package, the type of processing device used (MPU or MCU), internal memory capability such as flash or internal SRAM, and of course the power capabilities of the device in question: does it need very low standby power? Wake capability?  Most of these questions are driven by market requirements and capabilities and must be weighed against the cost and complexity of the integration effort.

The challenges for integration to devices with higher-end busses isn’t so much on the bus interface, as it is in defining packaging characteristics, available GPIOs, type of processing device, memory such as flash or internal SRAM, and power capabilities.

Blyler: Thank you.

This article was sponsored by ARM.

ARM and Cortex are registered trademarks of ARM Limited (or its subsidiaries) in the EU and/or elsewhere. mbed is a trademark of ARM Limited (or its subsidiaries) in the EU and/or elsewhere. All rights reserved.

Research Roundup Dec 31 2013

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

As we say goodbye to 2013, the work of research institutes and teams at universities around the world bring us an insight into what 2014 may hold. By Caroline Hayes.

Graphene research reveals magnetic field behavior
A tale with a twist emerges from MIT and is reported in Nature, reporting another property of the material graphene.

Placed under a powerful magnetic field, at low temperatures, A.F. Young, J.D. Sanchez-Yamagishi and B. Hunt and their team found that the graphene’s behavior changed as electrons moved around the conducting helical edge. Depending on whether the movement was clockwise or counter-clockwise. The researchers found that when the magnetic field was varied, edge states could be turned on or off. The properties of the helical edge states can be modulated, by balancing the applied field against an intrinsic anti-ferromagnetic instability, which spontaneously breaks the spin-rotation symmetry.

Mass production technique prepares way for semiconductor-ready graphene

image from UNIST

More graphene research, this time into an efficient method for mass production of BCN-graphene (boron/nitrogen co-doped graphene nanoplatelets). The team of UNIST (Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology) led by Professor Jong-Beom Baek, have been able to add boron into the framework to enable semiconductor applications.

The research team used nitrogen, which is smaller than carbon and boron, and paired two nitrogen atoms and two boron atoms to compensate the atomic size mismatch and allow it to be introduced into the graphitic network. The team reports that the resultant BCN-graphene generates a band-gap for FETs (field effect transistors).

First author Ph.D. candidate Sun-Min Jung believes “ this work is one of the biggest advancements in considering viability of a simple synthetic approach,” and Professor Baek explains its implications: “Now, the remaining challenge is fine-tuning the band-gap to improve the on/off current ratio for real device applications”.

Researchers are Professors Joon Hak Oh, Noejung Park, HuYoung Jeong and six graduate students.

Superconductors have to live up to their name
Two studies by international teams are challenging views of superconductivity. First, a group from Helmholtz-Zentrum, Berlin and Max Planck, based in Stuttgart, screened two materials, Bi2201 and Bi2212, which contain the characteristic components of copper oxide and bismuth. Resonant X-ray scattering using BESSY, the Helmholtz synchrotron, revealed the charge distribution on the inside of the materials.

Researchers at Princeton University scanned the samples with a raster tunnel microscope that records the charge distribution at the surface. Physicists at the University of British Columbia also examined the Bi2201 sample using angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy, revealing more details of the electronic structure of the material.

China’s telematics markets is set to change course
The shift from telematics to consumer-focused, electronics based automotive systems in the Chinese market will increase the use of wireless devices, such as smartphones, reports the Infotainment Market Overview from IHS.

Embedded telematics systems generated 1.5million units sold in 2013, rising to 4.3million by the end of 2020. However consumer electronics and hybrid alternatives are projected to surpass this with approximately 4.6million units sold during that year.

CE-device-based services are cheaper as they are able to use mobile devices to establish a two-way data connection for services. Hybrid systems feature both an embedded transmission control unit and the option to use a connected consumer electronics device to provide a data connection.

The introduction of Chevrolet’s Epica model in April 2011 started the era of CE-device telematics in China, the world’s largest car market. Since then, nine brands have adopted consumer electronics-device telematics. The profile of the customer is one that buys more high-end vehicles, and uses more wireless devices, to increase the market, and accounting for the triple digital annual expansion over the next three years in consumer electronics and hybrid telematics.

Clarifing Embedded IOT Connectivity Confusion

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016
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How Will Analog and Sensors Impact the IoT?

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

By John Blyler, JB Systems Media

What challenges await designers and implementers on the monolithic mixed signal sensor side of the IoT equation? Several experts from the IoT ecosystem have differing viewpoints on these questions including Patrick Gill, Principal Research Scientist at Rambus; Ian Chen, Marketing, Systems, Applications, Software & Algorithms manager at Freescale; Pratul Sharma, Technical Marketing Manager for the IoT at ARM; and Diya Soubra, CPU Product Manager at ARM. What follows is a portion of the responses. — JB

Blyler: Many of the end nodes of the IoT will be previously unconnected objects, e.g., sensor systems. What analog IP is needed to enable these kinds of sensors?

Gill: The big three are power regulator ICs, wireless communications, and gating sensor events. Good switching regulators are important for devices where power is at a premium, for instance where power is scavenged from the environment or the battery won’t be recharged often (or ever). Power-efficient wireless communication, especially at low bit rates, is going to be very important too. There’s some interesting work in academia on radios with a very low duty cycle (see, “Ultra Low Power Impulse Radio Based Transceiver for Sensor Networks”). The trick to having power scale down with data rate is to have the sender and receiver wake up at precisely the same time.

Chen: Whereas networking thinks of sensor systems as end nodes from a topology perspective, sensor systems could be seen as source nodes from a data collection perspective. In short, they are responsible for converting the physical world into data people can use. As such, we will need precision analog to digital converters with offsets stable over temperature ranges, wireless and wired connectivity, and intelligent power management for optimal system power consumption. Many of these IPs are integrated into advanced sensor products but continuous improvements are always necessary.

Soubra: In addition to all existing types of analog IP, many new types will be needed to satisfy specific endpoint requirements for every vertical market. After successful field trials with a few thousand nodes – before the millions of nodes are installed – cost will be the next big factor. There will be a cost reduction exercise where the [sensor] module and the SoC are stripped of all items that are not required for that specific vertical market. Mass deployment dictates cost reduction which dictates specialization. That’s why a general purpose block to catch multiple markets will burden each with the added cost.

Blyler: What is your favorite or most challenging example of an IoT end-node application?

Chen: One of my favorites are tire pressure monitoring sensors. Fleet managers are requiring data about the conditions of their trucks to be uploaded to the cloud to help improve business efficiency. A tire pressure monitor includes pressure sensors, up to two accelerometers, a short range RF transmitter and an MCU for signal processing all in a 7 x 7 x 2.2 mm package operating on a coin cell battery for a 10 year life.

Soubra: My favorite is the WiFi-connected sprinkler system (see Figure and link). It checks the current weather conditions before turning on the water. This is a lower cost approach and easier to do than putting a moisture sensor in every corner of the garden with a mesh network. I am sure newer models will also measure the amount of water used so we can track consumption.

Figure: Here’s an example of a favorite IoT end-node application – the Wi-Fi/BlueTooth-based wireless water sprinkler. This one is controlled with an ARM®-based GainSpan chipset.

Gill: I like the idea of smart windows, ventilation, heating and air conditioning. An automated home that knows the weather report (and air quality forecast) as well as when its occupants will be home will be able to maintain a suitable environment for its occupants using less energy. Nest is a good first start, but there’s more to comfortable air than controlling the HVAC. Solar power is sexy, but solar hot water generation can give an even better ROI.

Blyler: What analog-to-digital interfaces issues will be faced by designers? Will additional features be needed on the microcontroller (ARM Cortex®-M) side to enable this analog end-node sensor data?

Chen: With MEMS sensors A-to-D converters must discern sub-picoFarad capacitive changes. Because of the small signal and low power requirements, these converters are normally integrated with the sensor and not on the Cortex-M processor.

Sharma: Low power will be a critical issue. Analog circuits typically have DC currents. The designer will need to cut the DC currents from the μA range to the nA range by making the analog circuits more energy efficient and design mostly to operate in sub-threshold. But decreasing the power supply will affect the voltage headroom and increase the design difficulty of the analog circuits. An additional challenge will be that threshold voltages increase at cold temperature which degrades analog circuits, thus making the voltage head-room even tighter. One solution is power gating of the analog circuit but that will increase the complexity of the validation process.

Soubra: Analog designers will be faced with having to become digital design experts. There are no (new) technological challenges; we just need to get that analog block on the Advanced Microcontroller Bus Architecture (AMBA). [Editors Note: AMBA is an ARM supported, open-standard, on-chip interconnect specification for connecting functional blocks in system-on-a-chip (SoC) designs.] This approach may seem easy to do once we understand the sequence. In reality it is a bit harder on analog designers since they need to step out of the analog design context and into a mixed digital analog setting.

This means the use of new tools, new design flow, and more validation. (see, “Best Practices for Mixed Signal, RF and Microcontroller IoT” ) Luckily, the tools are 10X better than a few years ago. The Cortex-M processor already has what is required to connect to any analog core.

Gill: Picking up the earlier thread of a low-power sentinel, it could be useful for some chips to have configurable analog functions that detect changes in the input without needing to wake up an ADC. These would make sense from a commercial perspective if they allowed the microcontroller to be able to monitor sensor data using only a few microWatts of power. Also, if security is an issue (and it will be for all sorts of things), low-power crypto cores could be useful to help relay data to a cloud base station.

Blyler: Thank you.

Read the complete story at: IoT Embedded Systems

Predictions About Technology and Future Engineers

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

By John Blyler, Content Officier

What follows is a portion of my interview with Dassault Systemes’s “Compass” magazine about the most critical technologies and issues faced by the technical community to manage increasing complexity within shrinking design cycles. My list includes hardware-software co-design; cyber-physical systems; wireless chips; low power; and motivating students to high-tech. - JB

COMPASS: The past decade has seen many milestones in hardware/software co-design. What do you think will stand out in the next decade?

JB: Thanks to Moore’s Law and the efficiencies of engineering chips and boards, these things have become commodities. Companies have been forced to differentiate themselves with the software. Also, when you design a chip, you have to think about designing the board at the same time, so you get into the co-hardware/hardware design with software tying everything together.

That trend toward tighter integration is only going to accelerate. The time to get your product to market is shrinking, so you need to have software designed while the hardware is being designed. In many instances, the software demands at the user level are dictating what the chip design will be. Before, it was the other way around.

Compass: What are today’s biggest challenges in systems modeling, integration, and designing for the user?

JB: When I tell my engineering friends the movement is toward designing for the end user’s experience, they scratch their heads. It’s easy to see how that applies to software, because with software it’s easy to change on the fly. But for hardware, that’s trickier. How is that going to be implemented? That’s something the engineering community and manufacturing community are still wrestling with.

You see it in cell phones. The end-user input must come early in the design cycle as it will affect both the software and electrical-mechanical subsystems. Further, everything has to be low-power and green. You have a mountain of considerations, aside from just getting the product to work.

Read the full interview at Compass magazine.

Security Is What You Make of It

Monday, August 26th, 2013

By Cheryl Coupé

People who are under medical care are often at their most vulnerable. The equipment used to monitor, medicate, diagnose, and treat them can’t be.

In the past, medical device security focused on the endpoint—the device itself. But Tony Magallanez, senior systems engineer for McAfee’s embedded sales group, explains that the days of focusing solely on device-level security is over; today’s medical devices need to be at the center of a web of security with multiple layers. “We advocate that concept because it lets you understand what’s happening on the device, and also what’s going on around the device,” Magallanez says. “It’s important because as threats proliferate through the network that surrounds these systems, they become more vulnerable.”

These connected devices may include monitoring equipment within hospitals or in patients’ homes; bedside (wired) or implanted (wireless) infusion pumps that deliver medication; networked radiology and surgical equipment; nurses’ stations, charting devices, and administrative systems; and telemedicine equipment that brings medical care to remote areas of the world. Entire networks that manage vital data and instructions are associated with these devices.

McAfee looks at the vulnerability aspects of everything the network implies, including the device’s physical security, data protection, and encryption as well as the behavior of the people using it, to make sure that the device and the network that surrounds it are secure. This level of security requires a layered approach that blankets the entire network.


Security in layers

While personal health information can be accessed through sophisticated malware, low-tech risks, such as employees who accidentally or deliberately provide access, are just as dangerous. Securing personal health information to meet HIPAA and other requirements demands access control in situations where the device can be vulnerable. That’s especially important with the proliferation of easily accessed (and misplaced) mobile devices, including laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Security also relates to monitoring network traffic, including the sites that employees access on the Internet. Even legitimate sites can be compromised, which can then compromise sensitive data within the healthcare network.

Both the network and individual devices need to be monitored, maintained, and controlled; ideally using automated, 24/7 processes that don’t require the cost and inefficiency of onsite human intervention. McAfee’s Magallanez says, “We’re finding in the hospital space that margins are thinner and thinner, and administrators are trying to be as efficient as possible. Operating costs can be overwhelming.” Even “green” initiatives that are designed to reduce carbon footprint and make operations more energy-efficient can have security implications. For instance, if a threat is identified on a number of devices on the network, but other devices are powered off, historically there wasn’t a way to identify whether the threat had spread without sending technicians to power up, analyze, and patch those devices onsite.

Now administrators can use McAfee’s ePolicy Orchestrator (ePO) Deep Command. The ePO centralized console shows the network administrator where a security threat manifested and the scope of the problem, and defines resources to mitigate the threat. Deep Command uses the Intel® vPro™ Active Management Technology (AMT) to allow secure remote access, even if the device isn’t powered on, which allows the administrator to remotely patch and reboot even large numbers of infected devices.  Deep Command can remotely power systems on, apply security and other maintenance protocols, and power the system back down to ensure safe operation when workers return. This eliminates the need to police employee compliance to security patch instructions, and can work around the 24/7 schedule of healthcare environments.

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Balance security and performance in medical devices

The ongoing compromise for device developers is how to balance security and performance requirements. McAfee has successfully deployed new technologies to help developers mitigate risk while optimizing performance. McAfee Embedded Control provides application whitelisting that blocks unauthorized applications and changes on fixed-function devices with very little performance overhead. If the application is attacked or changed, the software locks down the system so the virus is intercepted and terminated before it can run. This provides a high level of security and peace of mind for both the hospital administrator and the device manufacturer. Because of stringent safety certifications (such as the FDA) that restrict changes to certified systems, a change can require the equipment to be sent back to the manufacturer to be reimaged, resulting in service costs as well as loss of revenue while the system is out of use.

Device developers can also take advantage of the Intel® AES New Instructions (Intel® AES-NI) encryption instruction set that accelerates the encryption of data in the Intel® Xeon® processor family and the 3rd-generation Intel® Core™ processor family. Encryption technology historically required the operating system to handle encryption algorithms, which can slow performance. McAfee integrates with the Intel AES-NI to offload the encryption engine to the CPU, with no reduction in performance and with full FIPS 140-2 certification.

Medical Device Innovation, Safety and Security (MDISS) Consortium

Looking ahead, Intel and McAfee, along with leading service care providers, device manufacturers, IT providers, research organizations, and others, are active in working groups of the Medical Device Innovation, Safety and Security (MDISS) Consortium. MDISS is focused on optimizing the relationship between the quality of healthcare and the process of assessing and ensuring that devices and systems are secure and functioning safely and appropriately. While MDISS is not a standards organization, its goals include the development of security best practices for safe, secure medical devices and associated networks.

This article first appeared in the Intel® Embedded Community, published by the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance.

coupe_cherylCheryl Berglund Coupé is editor of Her articles have appeared in EE Times, Electronic Business, Microsoft Embedded Review and Windows Developer’s Journal and she has developed presentations for the Embedded Systems Conference and ICSPAT. She has held a variety of production, technical marketing and writing positions within technology companies and agencies in the Northwest.

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