Top 5 interesting things I saw at Embedded World

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Here’s a quick roundup of five of the most interesting things I saw or heard about at Embedded World last week in Nuremberg, Germany.

#5 – ADI’s isolated linear error amplifiers
ADI launched two integrated, isolated linear error amplifiers at the show. These are aimed at linear feedback power supplies that have primary side controllers. This new part replaces shunt regulators and optocouplers, which have limitations in performance and operating temperature range.
The company’s Michael Müller-Aulmann explained that the new parts, which are based on ADI’s iCoupler isolation technology, extend the operating temperature range up to 125 degC with no ageing. Accuracy is 0.5% initial (typ) at 25 degC with 1% total accuracy over the extended temperature range.  They’re a smaller (single chip) and more reliable (standard CMOS) way of transmitting linear signals in an isolated way, with 400-kHz bandwith – 10x wider than an optocoupler. They also use less power, improving overall efficiency.

#4 – Kozio’s verification and test operating system
Completely unfamiliar with the concept of a verification and test operating system (VTOS), I enjoyed my discussion with Kozio’s VP Marketing Bob Potock. He explained that engineers often spend 3 months to a year writing test software and then only end up testing 50-75% of their board. The idea of a VTOS is to have a very small and light operating system that can be up and running on your prototype board in less than 30 minutes, with no porting, in order to test the board in an efficient, complete and repeatable way.
The VTOS has more than 300 functional tests built in which can easily be added to or modified. Built especially for the purpose, it has direct hardware access and can boot in less than 10 seconds (compared to 40-60 seconds for Linux). You also have command line access so you can ‘peek and poke’. The VTOS can be used for production readiness testing, one area that’s often neglected.  
The company has transitioned from a service based model to offering the VTOS out of the box.  It’s available now.

#3 – Communicating using the human body as a medium at Microchip
Actually, this was a really fun demo. Microchip has commercialised its system for sending signals through the human body as an alternative to wireless communication for applications such as access control. In fact, the company’s Lucio di Jasio told me that Microchip already uses this technology for the access control for employees in its Italian office.
Called BodyCom, the technology uses the smallest and cheapest MCUs in Microchip’s range. It capacitively couples with the skin, creating a small electric field to enable bi-directional communications between, say, a door handle that you are trying to open and an electronic key, which is in your pocket. The capacitive coupling is via the copper tracks on the PCB in the electronic key, which also has a coin cell battery. Range is 1-2cm.
It’s not wireless so there’s no antenna, and there’s no need for any certification. Di Jasio says it’s also cheap, low power, safe and secure.

#2 – FTDI enters graphic controller space with EVE
FTDI surprised attendees at Embedded World by entering a new market – display controllers. While the company is well known for making USB connectivity easy, the new offering should bring the same ease of use to displays. Global Product Director Dave Sroka pointed out that from the company’s customer base for their USB products, 90% also needed a display controller, so perhaps the new line shouldn’t have come as that much of a surprise.
The FT800, AKA Embedded Video Engine or EVE ,is an integrated display, audio and touch controller that works alongside a low-cost (8-bit) host MCU. Aimed at QVGA and WQVGA panels, the FT800’s object oriented approach renders images in a line by line fashion with 1/16th of a pixel resolution, eliminating the expense of traditional frame buffer memory. The object orientated approach means objects such as images, fonts and audio elements can be easily implemented and manipulated via a low pin count SPI or I2C interface. In order for the desired GUI to be realised, the engineer initialises the object memory (up to 256 kBytes) and then controls the specified objects and their attributes through construction and interaction of a small display list buffer.
It also supports 4-wire resistive touch and its embedded audio processor allows midi-like sounds combined with pulse code modulation (PCM) for audio playback.

#1 – Enpirion’s wafer level magnetics
I called by the Enpirion booth at the show to chat with the company’s Director of Applications and Systems Engineering, Ahmed Abou-Alfotouh. Enpirion makes integrated power magnetics, something that’s been on the industry’s wish list for quite some time. Enpirion calls its technology ‘wafer level magnetics’ because it has found a way to put power magnetics onto a chip through development of a new magnetic alloy.
Abou-Alfotouh showed me samples of the EL711, a single chip DC-DC converter that operates at a record-breaking 18 MHz switching frequency. It monolithically integrates MOSFET switches, controller circuits, compensation, and a tiny silicon inductor. With an ultra-fast transient response, the EL711 meets the demand of high performance digital ASICs, DSPs, and FPGA cores found in a broad range of applications. Compared to an LDO, it improves power conversion efficiency up to 40 points, with efficiency of up to 90%.

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Sally Ward-Foxton

Sally Ward-Foxton is Associate Editor of Electronic Design Europe. Her beat covers all areas of the European electronics industry, but she has a particular interest in wireless communications and...
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