Friday, March 18, 2011

2011 OpenWorld Design Contest

OpenWorld is an interesting design contest launched this week by STMicroelectronics and a bunch of industrial and research partners. The OpenWorld application design contest is a “technology promotion engaged by the Autonomie project” with as goal the development of “advanced navigation and augmented reality applications to assist the handicapped”.

The contest is based on the EvoPrimer tools that target especially portable applications. On the Embedded World show I saw a nifty extension card for the EvoPrimer that should allow for some pretty impressive personal in-house dead reckoning. The board was not only capable of tracking horizontal movements, but it also measures vertical displacements so it can help track a person going up and down the stairs. With such hardware some cool augmented reality (I should say this more often: augmented reality, augmented reality) applications should be possible.

To enter the contest and win some of the $ 20.000 cash awards you have to submit a proposition on the theme of Technology for Human Assistance. The best application concepts win EvoPrimer tools and enter the second phase to actually transform the concept into a working prototype.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Meet the people behind LPCXpresso

OK, I admit it, I have been talking quite a lot about LPCXpresso lately. Why? Because I like NXP's concept of handing out free tools (did you know that they did it again? Get a board for free just by answering some questions on their website), but I also have become a fan of the little LPC Cortex-M0 and M3 devices. At the Embedded World 2011 show I visited of course the NXP booth and there I was introduced to the brains behind the LPCXpresson concept. My boss, who came with me, always carries a photo camera and immediately took some pictures, so now you too can meet the LPCXpresso team.

On the left we have Jan Jaap Bezemer who tries to sell (or should I say "give away") the NXP microcontrollers. Second from the left, Rob Cosaro, and the man on the right, Joe Yu, are the people that came up with LPCXpresso. A chuckling Rob told me that he was very much amused by the fact that people are indeed cutting of the LPC-Link part of the board, something that was never really intended. Apparently some people cloning the board add a V-groove to make separating the parts easier.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Embedded World 2011 - Cortex-M3 everywhere

This year I renewed my visit to the Embedded World show in Nuremburg, Germany. Walking around the four halls that make up this big show it was simply impossible not to notice the ARM Cortex-M3 based controllers all around. Most chip manufacturers showed off boards with Cortex M3 devices, including ARM itself with their mbed board and other dev boards. There were also some Cortex-M4 demo's around from f.i. NXP (LPC4300) and Freescale (Kinetis).

This show was also rich in free kits; especially ST was very generously handing out STM32 and STM8 kits. I did not accept all of them, because I have no idea what to do with ‘em. Yet I did leave with (amongst others) a BeagleBoard-xM (thank you TI!), an FTDI Vinculo that I will review later on this blog and a ZigBee kit from ST. Fujitsu promised me to send me a Cortex-M3 kit by mail, I wonder if it will ever arrive.

Update 18/3: I received today a Fujitsu SK-FM3-100PMC kit, nicely boxed. More about it, hopefully soon, on this blog.

Due to a rather large amount of business meetings I did not see a whole lot of new or exciting things this year. However, I did get a demo of the very impressive new PIC32 compiler from MikroElektronika. These guys are definitely setting the new comfort standards for embedded software development. Wow! I always liked Microsoft’s Visual Studio, but this is way, way better. And the good news is that they are planning an ARM compiler too! At just under $300 (or $200 if you buy a board too) this is a bargain.

While I’m on compilers, Atmel too presented a new one: AVR Studio 5. This is a great tool too, and toujours completely free. V5 brings together AVR Studio 4 and AVR32 Studio into one IDE. It also integrates the AVR Software Framework (ASF) and over 400 example projects that used to be all over their website. Now you just pick your board and then the example that comes closest to what you want to do and off you go.

From the chip front I would like to mention the new ultra low-power 32-bit micro-controller family from Renesas, the RL78. Besides being low-power, this family is also ultra low-dollar. With an operating current of only 70 µA/MHz this is a direct competitor for the MSP430 from TI. But TI told me that they will announce an ultra-ultra-low-power MSP family later this year that will blow away the competition.
Microchip proudly announced their new PIC18F K80 micro. This is an 8-bit device that costs over one dollar, even at high quantities. This nicely illustrates the 8/32 bit paradox, but both Atmel and Microchip expect that the 8-bit market will continue to grow.

That is was not only Cortex-M3 all around proved Digi who had on display their pretty impressive ConnectCore Wi-i.MX51. As Digi's website says: "This module is a highly integrated and future-proof System-on-Module (SoM) solution based on the Freescale i.MX51 application processor with a high performance 600/800 MHz ARM Cortex-A8 core, powerful multimedia capabilities and a complete set of peripherals.".

The kit on the left is running Android, the kit at the right runs Ubuntu.
Digi's latest board, the ConnectCore Wi-i.MX53, was on display at the Freescale stand.
Rabbit 6000 modules are now available too.

Analog Devices showed me their new MEMS gyroscopes that have extremely low drift. So, I guess this is good news for the dead reckoning people.

FTDI presented a rather mysterious device, the FT1248. Although they did make it clear that this device communicates over a 1, 2, 4 or 8 bit wide bus of which the width can be adjusted on the fly, I did not grasp the reason of being of this chip. It is probably very useful or they wouldn’t have spent any time on it, but useful for what exactly? I guess that it is a bus extender of some sort, but I can’t find the data-sheet. Oh well, I am sure someone will figure this out for me.

I really like this show; I can hardly wait for next year.