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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Top stories in May

By Nick Flaherty

Engineers were finding out more about Actility as the latest player in the Internet of Things - the $75m war chest gives the French cloud and systems provider significant opportunities for growth. Machine learning continues to interest, and the move of bots into industrial applications has also caught people's interest. Power was also a significant area after the PCIM show in Nuremberg this month, and the perils of automated analytics was clearly demonstrated - while Google sees 1000 posts for the Embedded blog, the truth is closer to 1200, and we went back to look at the very first one.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Microchip strangely claims first microcontroller with 2D graphics engine and 32Mbytes of DDR2 memory

By Nick Flaherty

Microchip has launched a microcontroller (MCU) family with an integrated 2D Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) and up to 32 MB of integrated DDR2 memory, which it claims in the first in the industry.

Several other microcontrollers have integrated 2D graphics, although the large amount of integrated DDR2 memory is highly significant. 

The PIC32MZ DA's three-layer graphics controller is capable of driving 24-bit colour Super eXtended Graphics Array (SXGA) displays. It can be used with Microchip’s seamless PIC32 and MPLAB development tools with space for large graphics buffers and/or storage for communication protocol stacks. This gives designers the ability to increase their application’s colour resolution and display size, up to 12 inches, with easy-to-use microcontroller (MCU) based resources and tools.

It provides MPU-like graphics capabilities with the seamless integration and programming model of Microchip’s PIC32 and MPLAB IDE and Harmony software framework with a visual graphics design environment, custom display driver creation, graphics libraries and an asset converter that can take a custom graphic and optimise it for their chosen display size.

The PIC32MZ DA family is supported by Microchip’s MPLAB Harmony Integrated Software Framework, MPLAB X Integrated Development Environment (IDE), MPLAB XC32 Compiler for PIC32, MPLAB ICD 3 In-Circuit Debugger and MPLAB REAL ICE™ In-Circuit Emulation System.

Several additional tools are available including:
  • PIC32MZ Embedded Graphics with Stacked DRAM (DA) Starter Kit (DM320010) at $130
  • PIC32MZ Embedded Graphics with Stacked DRAM (DA) Starter Kit (Crypto) (DM320010-C) at $130
  • PIC32MZ Embedded Graphics with External DRAM (DA) Starter Kit (DM320008) at $140
  • PIC32MZ Embedded Graphics with External DRAM (DA) Starter Kit (Crypto) (DM320008-C) at $140

The devices vary from a 169-ball BGA, a 176-pin LQFP and a 288-ball BGA for external DDR2 applications up to 128MB of SDRAM. Devices in the family are available today in volume production.

Ocado releases open source smart factory software

By Nick Flaherty

The technology arm of a major online supermarket has released open source software to simplify data centre architectures for smart factories. 

The Kubermesh package uses container-based technology and the Kubernetes system to implement an on-premise private cloud architecture where desktop computers can be easily configured to become nodes that support the compute or storage functionality typically delivered by a high-performance server in a data centre.

"Kubermesh is an elegant and cost-efficient solution to running our highly-automated Customer Fulfillment Centres based on a distributed network of computing nodes spread around the warehouse rather than high-performance servers concentrated in one large data centre," said Chris Dabrowski, general manager of infrastructure, operations and site reliability engineering at Ocado Technology.

This has the potential to revolutionise the way companies approach on-site data centre architectures. Using open source software such as Kubernetes allows the automation team to quickly design a working prototype and develop it further based on advanced simulations of the future warehouse automation requirements. 

"We're very excited to continue unlocking the potential of container technology at Ocado and hope that the open source community uses Kubermesh in new and exciting ways," said Dabrowski

Kubermesh-based nodes are fault-tolerant, secure, flexible, and are designed to process the vast amounts of real-time data generated in smart factories such as automated warehouses. By distributing data center functionality in a mesh network of nodes, Kubermesh removes the need for a dedicated data centre and complex networking infrastructure, thus achieving significant energy savings and reducing the capital and operational expenditures associated with maintaining on-premise high-performance servers.

Ocado Technology is planning to use the same container technology and Kubernetes system to build an upcoming massive multiplayer online game (MMO) that teaches secondary school students the principles of artificial intelligence (AI). The open source game will be developed and promoted as part of the Code for Life initiative started by Ocado Technology volunteers to inspire the next generation of computer scientists.

There is more information about the Kubermesh project at the Ocado Technology blog and the project’s GitHub page.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Power News this week

By Nick Flaherty

. £5m IP deal boosts power management monitoring

. Intel opens up Thunderbolt 3 for USB-C
. Startup plans new lithium-ion battery gigafactory

. $5 solar lamp tackles poverty in Africa

. Flexible printed battery can power wearable sensors

. Washable electrical power connections open up wearable applications

. Nanoalloy slashes platinum use in fuel cell boost

. Gate driver design gives industry's smallest motor control system

. ATE core configuration provides power infrastructure for test systems

. Laminated magnetic shielding sheet reduced to 0.04mm thick

. Power-over-Ethernet power controller offers 99% efficiency for 71W supply

. Intersil: Battery management system tutorial

. Intersil: Putting Safety into Li-ion Battery Packs

IoT data deluge drives new hardware and software architectures

By Nick Flaherty

Tackling the huge amounts of data generated by the Internet of Things (IoT) is leading to two interesting new hardware and software architectures alongside the current focus on machine learning and artificial intelligence.

HP Enterprise has developed a new technique for handling large amounts of information in the data centre. The Memory-Driven architecture makes all the data easily available, and HPE has developed a system with 160TBytes of such storage.
A key feature of the new architecture is direct photonic interconnections between each block of memory. The direct fibre connections from every memory block to every other block means the processor can access data anywhere in memory at effectively the same speed, which allows the system to perform calculations far more rapidly. This also allows specialised processors such as AI accelerators to access the same shared pool of data, such as information from the Internet of Things.
“We’re all intrigued by the potential of data to change our lives, but just as we’re ready to take advantage of it, the technologies that got us this far are petering out,” said Sharad Singhal, director of software and applications for HPE’s Machine project.
The best way to handle such data, says Singhal, is to put the whole graph in memory at once, and make all physical blocks of memory equally quick to access. Memory-Driven Computing makes that much more feasible.
HPE has now launched a system with 160Tbytes of this shared memory, allowing much more flexible and efficient processing of large sets of data.

Open source software

Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed open source software that provides and efficient way to share server memory in order to speed up performance of existing hardware in data centres to address this same problem.
The Infiniswap software boosts Remote Direct Memory Access network performance by 47% in a cluster without having to change the hardwares.
"Infiniswap is the first system to scalably implement cluster-wide 'memory disaggregation,' whereby the memory of all the servers in a computing cluster is transparently exposed as a single memory pool to all the applications in the cluster," said Infiniswap project leader Mosharaf Chowdhury, U-M assistant professor of computer science and engineering.
"Memory disaggregation is considered a crown jewel in large scale computing because of memory scarcity in modern clusters."
The software lets servers instantly borrow memory from other servers in the cluster when they run out, instead of writing to slower storage media such as disks. To avoid the memory bottleneck, the Michigan team designed a fully decentralized structure. With no centralized entity keeping track of the memory status of all the servers, it doesn't matter how large the computer cluster is. Additionally, Infiniswap does not require designing any new hardware or making modifications to existing applications. The research team tested Infiniswap on a 32-machine RDMA cluster with workloads from data-intensive applications that ranged from in-memory databases such as VoltDB and Memcached to popular big data software Apache Spark, PowerGraph and GraphX.
They found that Infiniswap improves by an order of magnitude both "throughput"—the number of operations performed per second—and "tail latency"—the speed of the slowest operation. Throughput rates improved between 4 and 16 times with Infiniswap, and tail latency by a factor of 61.
"The idea of borrowing memory over the network if your disk is slow has been around since the 1990s, but network connections haven't been fast enough," Chowdhury said. "Now, we have reached the point where most data centres are deploying low-latency RDMA networks of the type previously only available in supercomputing environments."

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Friday, May 26, 2017

UltraSoC raises £5m for embedded analytics

By Nick Flaherty

Cambridge startup Ultrasoc has raised £5m from new and existing investors to further develop its embedded IP that helps system-on-chip designers analyse what is happening in complex chips with billions of transistors.

The money will be used for R&D and to boost the commercial team, increasing the staff from 20 to perhaps 30 says Rupert Baines, UltraSoC CEO.

The need for safety, security and performance-tuning is increasingly important and the embedded analytics allows the chip to monitor and optimise its own behaviour at a hardware level, as well as provide insights that enable engineers to make improvements and fix problems. The same technology can detect evolving real-world threats and problems – for instance those caused by malicious attacks. These features benefit any electronic system, but are particularly attractive in the automotive and high-performance computing (HPC) sectors. 

“Hard tech is back in favour with the UK and global investment community, with recent funding for Ultrahaptics, Graphcore and SiFive (a fellow RISC-V proponent), plus successful exits at Movidius and Mobileye,” said Baines, UltraSoC CEO. “Our investors are excited by the potential of UltraSoC’s technology and are committed to supporting our aim of putting intelligent analytics into every chip.”

UltraSoC’s semiconductor intellectual property (SIP) enables designers to easily and cost-effectively create complex SoCs (systems on chip) with built-in intelligence that continuously monitors and responds to real-world behaviour. This allows SoCs to optimise power consumption and performance and deal with security threats or safety breaches. 

Atlante Tech leads a strong line up of new investors including Enso VenturesOxford Capital, and successful CEO and serial entrepreneur Guillaume d'Eyssautier (former CEO of picoCHip and ganeral manager of Cadence Design Systems), who join existing investors Octopus Ventures and South East Seed Fund (FSE Group)

Successful development of the company’s debug tools and increased awareness of the technology’s potential benefits has meant a series of significant commercial engagements, with more in the pipeline. Amongst others, HiSilicon (Huawei), Imagination Technologies, Movidius (now Intel), and Microsemi all use UltraSoC technology in their designs, delivering proven hardware-embedded benefits to their customers. To ensure these benefits are accessible to customers in all sectors across the globe, UltraSoC partners with leading names in the semiconductor industry including ARM, Baysand, Cadence/Tensilica, CEVA, Codasip, Lauterbach, MIPS and Teledyne LeCroy.

UltraSoC’s flagship product line is a suite of semiconductor IP that allows chip designers to integrate an intelligent analytics infrastructure into the core hardware of their devices. By monitoring and analysing the real-world behaviour of entire systems via UltraSoC’s intelligent analytics embedded in the silicon, engineers can take action to reduce system power consumption, increase performance, protect against malicious intrusions, and ensure product safety. 

These capabilities address applications in a broad range of market sectors, from automotive and IoT products, to at-scale computing and communications infrastructure.

Related stories on the Embedded blog: 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Virtual prototyping platform boost with models for IoT and Security

By Nick Flaherty

Imperas Software in Oxford, UK, has launched new models for virtual prototyping of IoT and security systems

The new Open Virtual Platforms (OVP) models for ARM (ARMv8.1), Imagination Technologies (MIPS I6400), RISC-V (32 bit and 64 bit) and Renesas (RH850) processors provide hardware simulation that is twice as fast as previously. This allows embedded software developers run more tests in less time on the virtual models. 

"The automotive, IoT and security markets are expanding rapidly, and deserve specific solutions to address them. Focus on performance, models, and productivity are critical areas of investment for Imperas, to help developers accelerate development and test and improve quality in the embedded software world," said Simon Davidmann, president and CEO of Imperas.

Rick O’Connor, Executive Director, RISC-V Foundation commented: "Imperas virtual platforms and models for the open RISC-V architecture will enable early software development, long before hardware is available… lower software development costs, increase quality, improve time to market, and reduce software development risks."

"We are delighted to be working with Imperas to deliver the fastest Instruction Accurate (IA) simulation solution for our many MIPS partners," said Imagination Technologies. "We’ve been impressed how Imperas’ simulation technology significantly outperforms other commonly-used solutions. Faster simulation results in more tests being run, and therefore higher quality software being developed - and that’s good news for our extensive MIPS ecosystem community."

"The Imperas virtual platform environment is amazingly easy to use," said Masaki Gondo, CTO of eSOL. "Starting with the RH850F1H EPK, we were able to get eMCOS running in our custom RH850 virtual platform in only two weeks. Also, the simulation performance is even faster than real time". "Virtual platforms are moving into the mainstream of embedded software flows. Imperas tools and models lead the market (with) complete and comprehensive solutions," said Shuzo Tanaka, Vice President of eSOL TRINITY.

Imperas virtual prototyping solutions support over 170 processor models, including ARM, Altera, Synopsys (ARC), Imagination Technologies (MIPS), Renesas, RISC-V and Xilinx cores.

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Dev kits links sensors to cloud alongside industrial controllers

By Nick Flaherty

The linking of embedded systems directly to cloud services is continuing as Comtrol launches a cloud software development kit (SDK) for its IO-Link master family of industrial programmable logic controllers (PLCs).

Comtrol’s MultiLink technology allows IO-Link sensor data (status, events, and process data) to integrate directly with Microsoft's Azure IoT Hub while simultaneously communicating with the sensor data to the PLC controller. Thi sis a key integration to provide a way forward for traditional industrial automation systems. 

The IO-Link Masters - with IoT Gateway functionality - communicate with sensors and send information to the Azure IoT Hub, which in turn can make it available to Azure Stream Analytics and other cloud-based applications.

“We are excited to support customers’ need to share IO-Link sensor information with enterprise cloud systems. Comtrol created a direct link between Comtrol’s IO-Link Master and Microsoft Azure. This will support popular SCADA systems, such as Wonderware, G.E. Predix and others running on the Azure cloud platform. IO-Link and Azure complete the goals of Industry 4.0 and IIoT.” Bradford Beale, President of US-based Comtrol.

Comtrol has been making networking and industrial data communication systems for the last 35 years, specialising in industrial Ethernet and device connectivity. It sells RocketLinx industrial grade Ethernet and Power over Ethernet switches, IO-Link Master industrial gateways, DeviceMaster Ethernet device servers and gateways and RocketPort multiport serial cards. 

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