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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Boosting 3D printing by 10x

By Nick Flaherty

Engineers at MIT have developed a new desktop 3-D printer that performs up to 10 times faster than existing commercial counterparts. While the most common printers may fabricate a few Lego-sized bricks in one hour, the new design can print similarly sized objects in just a few minutes.

The key is the printer's compact printhead, which incorporates a screw mechanism that feeds polymer material through a nozzle at high force and a laser, built into the printhead, that rapidly heats and melts the material, enabling it to flow faster through the nozzle.

The team demonstrated its new design by printing various detailed, handheld 3-D objects, including small eyeglasses frames, a bevel gear, and a miniature replica of the MIT dome -- each, from start to finish, within several minutes.

"If I can get a prototype part, maybe a bracket or a gear, in five to 10 minutes rather than an hour, or a bigger part over my lunch break rather than the next day, I can engineer, build, and test faster," says Anastasios John Hart, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and director of MIT's Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity and the Mechanosynthesis Group. "If I'm a repair technician and I could have a fast 3-D printer in my vehicle, I could 3-D-print a repair part on-demand after I figure out what's broken. I don't have to go to a warehouse and take it out of inventory."

Commercial desktop extrusion 3-D printers, on average, print at a rate of about 20 cubic cm per hour. Now the researchers can print several complex parts, each produced within five to 10 minutes, compared with an hour for conventional printers. 

"Using this screw mechanism, we have a lot more contact area with the threaded texture on the filament," said Hart. "Therefore we can get a much higher driving force, easily 10 times greater force."

The team added a laser downstream of the screw mechanism, which heats and melts the filament before it passes through the nozzle. By adjusting the laser's power and turning it quickly on and off, they could control the amount of heat delivered to the plastic. They integrated both the laser and the screw mechanism into a compact, custom-built printhead about the size of a computer mouse.

Finally, they devised a high-speed gantry mechanism -- an H-shaped frame powered by two motors, connected to a motion stage that holds the printhead. The gantry was designed and programmed to move nimbly between multiple positions and planes. In this way, the entire printhead was able to move fast enough to keep up with the extruding plastic's faster feeds.

"We designed the printhead to have high force, high heating capacity, and the ability to be moved quickly by the printer, faster than existing desktop printers are able to," Hart says. "All three factors enable the printer to be up to 10 times faster than the commercial printers that we benchmarked."

However, they ran up against a small glitch in their speedier design: The extruded plastic is fed through the nozzle at such high forces and temperatures that a printed layer can still be slightly molten by the time the printer is extruding a second layer.

"We found that when you finish one layer and go back to begin the next layer, the previous layer is still a little too hot. So we have to cool the part actively as it prints, to retain the shape of the part so it doesn't get distorted or soften," Hart says.

That's a design challenge that the researchers are currently taking on, in combination with the mathematics by which the path of the printhead can be optimized. They will also explore new materials to feed through the printer.

"We're interested in applying this technique to more advanced materials, like high strength polymers, composite materials. We are also working on larger-scale 3-D printing, not just printing desktop-scale objects but bigger structures for tooling, or even furniture," Hart says. "The capability to print fast opens the door to many exciting opportunities."

Top posts on the embedded blog in November

By Nick Flaherty

Rugged IP67 FPGA Edge Nodes target the Industrial Internet of Things

By Nick Flaherty

National Instruments has launched its first IP67-rated controller with an integrated FPGA that can act as an Industrial Internet of Things edge node in extremely harsh locations including spray down manufacturing environments, test cells and outdoor locations without the need for a protective enclosure. 

The IP67 rating helps ensure reliable operation in the presence of dust and water, in accordance with IEC 60529.

Industrial Controllers are high-performance, fanless devices that deliver high levels of processing power and connectivity for automated image processing, data acquisition and control applications in extreme environments. The IC-3173 Industrial Controller has a 2.2 GHz Intel Core i7 dual-core processor, 8 GB DDR3 RAM, 64 GB storage, four Power over Ethernet (PoE) GigE ports, two USB 3.0 ports and two DisplayPorts in a rugged design with no moving parts, and now with an IP rating up to IP67. Industrial Controllers also include a user-programmable Xilinx Kintex-7 FPGA, which improves system performance by providing custom I/O timing, synchronization, control and image coprocessing capabilities.

“NI’s Industrial Controllers have a robust set of I/O resources that allow us to use one controller for every facet of our automation needs including testing, vision, motion control and digital I/O,” said Jordan Larson, manufacturing engineer at Federal-Mogul Powertrain. “By using the built-in EtherCAT Master for motion and conditioned I/O, we have greatly reduced the wiring and debugging time of the automation machines that we build. With Industrial Controllers, we also have brought the cost per camera down tremendously compared to other cameras previously used for machine vision. Using NI’s Industrial Controllers, we have reduced the number of components inside our machines and have all our control software on one platform, which was something we were unable to do previously.”
The controllers also support Time Sensitive Networking (TSN), the next evolution of the IEEE 802.1 Ethernet standard that delivers distributed time synchronisation, low latency and convergence of time-critical and general networking traffic. In addition to using TSN for controller-to-controller communication, engineers can also integrate highly synchronised sensor measurements using the new TSN-enabled CompactDAQ Chassis released earlier this year.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Amazon and ST launch IoT Node-to-Cloud implementation for FreeRTOS

By Nick Flaherty

STMicroelectronics has developed a complete IoT node-to-cloud implementation for a new version of  FreeRTOS open source real time operating system developed by Amazon Web Services (AWS) 

This highlights the increasing connection of embedded software and cloud services, providing everything to easily and securely deploy microcontroller-based connected devices and develop an IoT application without having to worry about the complexity of scaling across millions of devices. Once connected, IoT device applications can take advantage of all of the capabilities of the cloud or continue processing data locally with AWS Greengrass.

ST’s collaboration with AWS speeds designers’ efforts to create easily connectable IoT nodes with the combination of ST’s semiconductor building blocks and Amazon FreeRTOS, which extends the leading free and open-source real-time operating-system kernel for embedded devices (FreeRTOS) with the appropriate libraries for local networking, cloud connectivity, security, and remote software updates.

FreeRTOS kernel v10 includes two major new features: stream buffers and message buffers. These are task (thread)-to-task and interrupt-to-task communication primitives, but, unlike other FreeRTOS communications primitives, they are optimized for single reader/single writer scenarios, such as passing data from an interrupt service routine to a task, or (increasingly important these days) from one microcontroller core to another. Stream buffers pass a continuous stream of bytes, whereas message buffers pass variable-sized but discrete messages. AWS added these new capabilities in direct response to requests I have received from users.

“We believe the addition of Amazon FreeRTOS to our existing suite of IoT services will accelerate the development of new IoT-enabled microcontroller-based devices and provide a straightforward path for device manufacturers to secure and maintain their products,” said Dirk Didascalou, Vice President of IoT, Amazon Web Services, Inc. “Amazon FreeRTOS, coupled with industry-leading semiconductor products and tools, like those from STMicroelectronics, further lowers the barriers for innovators eager to get their ideas and products to market.”
For the STM32, one of the industry’s most popular family of 32-bit Arm Cortex-M microcontrollers, ST’s modular and interoperable IoT development platform spans state-of-the-art semiconductor components, ready-to-use development boards, free software tools, and common application examples. 
At the official release of Amazon FreeRTOS 10 today under a new MIT license, a version of the OS and libraries are immediately available to run on the ultra-low-power STM32L4 series of microcontrollers.
The starter kit for Amazon FreeRTOS is ST’s B-L475E-IOT01A Discovery kit for IoT node, a fully integrated development board that exploits low-power communication, multiway sensing, and a raft of features provided by the STM32L4 series microcontroller to enable a wide range of IoT-capable applications. The Discovery kit’s support for Arduino Uno V3 and PMOD connectivity ensures unlimited expansion capabilities with a large choice of add-on boards.

“By collaborating with AWS, ST now provides developers with a manageable, secure, and scalable turnkey solution to build quality IoT nodes on the field-proven STM32 running Amazon FreeRTOS,” said Tony Keirouz, Vice President of IoT Strategy, Ecosystem & Partnerships, STMicroelectronics. ”Together, we’re helping jumpstart any IoT design using the combination of AWS node-to-cloud vertical solution and the broad portfolio of ST’s IoT solutions, including sensors, processing, security, connectivity, and power.”

Bluetooth low energy and energy harvesting sensor shields extend IoT development kit

By Nick Flaherty

ON Semiconductor has launched two new boards, or shields, for its Internet of Things (IoT) Development Kit (IDK). 

The new shields add Bluetooth low energy technology and Smart Passive Sensors (SPS) for  smart home/building, smart city, industrial automation and mHealth applications.

The Bluetooth low energy shield features the recently launched RSL10 multi-protocol Bluetooth 5 certified radio System-on-Chip (SoC). With the industry’s lowest deep sleep current and receive power, the RSL10 enables manufacturers to create IoT devices with extended battery life. The small form factor of the RSL10 delivers the ultra-compact, cost effective end designs demanded by low power IoT sensor networks. By integrating the Bluetooth low energy shield with the IDK, customers get a complementary choice of connectivity for extending reach, and sensing and actuator options, including lighting and motors.

The SPS shield extends the IDK to capture data from ON Semiconductor’s battery-free wireless sensors that measure temperature, moisture and pressure. The sensors are ideal for industrial and other applications with hard to access areas where zero maintenance is a necessity, and battery replacement is a challenge. Pairing the SPS shield with the IDK enables rapid prototyping of IoT applications that require battery-free sensing and wide area or local connectivity and actuation options.

Both new shields expand the configurable, modular options for sensing, actuation and wired/wireless connectivity of the IDK, thereby giving application designers complete flexibility agnostic of the communication protocol chosen. They offer rapid and easy start-up of projects right out of the box, allowing developers to deliver data directly into the cloud, thereby enabling value-added services, including analytics.

The IDK shields are supplied with full documentation including complete design schematics, PCB layouts and Gerber files to facilitate rapid transition of designs from concept, through development and into production. The industry standard interfaces ensure that current and future modules from ON Semiconductor and other vendors can be seamlessly integrated into designs while the simple ‘cut-and-paste’ approach to end product design reduces R&D time, expense and risk.

“The new shields take the IDK to a whole new tier and enable a unique class of IoT applications,” said Wiren Perera, who heads IoT at ON Semiconductor. “Energy harvesting, battery-free sensing enables a new paradigm for IoT use cases in quality control and predictive maintenance through asset health monitoring to agriculture. The ubiquity of Bluetooth technology creates a new realm of possibilities for low power connectivity. Coupling these with an already extensive portfolio of complementary, energy efficient connectivity and actuation choices and the node to cloud capabilities of the IDK creates a powerful tool for rapidly delivering IoT solutions and services to the market.”

Enabling IoT BLE Applications and Battery-Free Sensing

64bit RISC-V core targets data centre chips

By Nick Flaherty

Codasip in the Czech republic has developed its first 64bit version of the RISC-V instruction set, aiming the IP at datacentre chip designs

The Bk5-64 at the top end means Codasip now offers customers a wide range of cores down to the ultra-low-power zero-stage Bk1. All Berkelium processors are generated via the unique Codasip Studio customisation tool, allowing for fast configuration and optimisation of the cores.

“With the rapid expansion of data-intensive applications such as storage and wireless networking, the market is asking for embedded processor solutions with the right balance of performance and energy efficiency that 64-bit computing requires,” said Karel Masařík, founder and CEO of Codasip. “By introducing the Bk5-64, Codasip is addressing the need for affordable 64-bit embedded processors, complete with a state-of-the-art LLVM-based software development toolchain with advanced profiling.”

RISC-V is an open, free instruction set architecture (ISA) that a number of developers are using for embedded cores. We'll follow up on details of the BK5-64 core later in Q4 2017.

Ethernet controller connects sensors to the cloud

By Nick Flaherty

Texas Instruments (TI) has added Ethernet connectivity to its SimpleLink wired and wireless microcontrollers (MCU) to connect sensors to the cloud.

The SimpleLink MSP432 Ethernet MCUs are based on a120MHz ARM Cortex-M4F core with an integrated MAC and PHY, CAN and crrypto accelerators to help accelerate time to market for grid infrastructure and industrial automation gateway applications. 

Engineers can now combine wired communications with the SimpleLink MSP432 host MCUs through integrated serial interfaces with wireless connectivity technology such as Sub-1 GHz, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to connect end nodes to the cloud using the SimpleLink software development kit (SDK).

Developers can use the same code base when designing end nodes and intelligent gateways using the new SimpleLink Ethernet MCUs for the grid, factories and buildings. This allows them to create a wireless sensor network using SimpleLink wireless MCUs by connecting as many as 50 secure sensor nodes to a gateway. The gateway, based on the SimpleLink Ethernet MSP432E4 MCUs, acts as a centralized management console to process and aggregate data and deliver it to the cloud via Ethernet for additional data analysis, visualization and storage. Companies developing these types of gateways can interface with existing wired installations while adding the latest wireless connectivity technologies.

For example, a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system can leverage other SimpleLink MCUs such as the Sub-1 GHz CC1310 wireless MCU and MSP432P4 host MCU to form a network of air-quality sensors and wired dampers to connect to an Ethernet-enabled HVAC system controller and then to the cloud. Users can then access real-time data to monitor and manage their energy profile. Learn more about the possibilities for HVAC systems and other applications in a new white paper.

The SimpleLink Ethernet MCU-based development kits are available through the TI store for US$19.99. The MSP432E4 MCUs are available for mass production, priced at US$9.00 in 1,000-unit quantities.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

First disposable LoRa nano-tag for the Internet of Things

By Nick Flaherty

Semtech has developed a nano-tag reference design for a disposable, ultrathin and low-cost tag that can be integrated into disposable systems or attached to assets to communicate a specific trigger of an event. The LoRa-based nano-tag can be deployed across numerous Internet of Things (IoT) verticals that use event data to enable smarter decision making.
The nano-tag is equipped with an ultra-thin printed battery and is designed to be integrated into products or systems that send messages to the Cloud when a simple event is detected. The LoRa-enabled reference design will work with existing LoRaWAN networks and enable the proliferation of completely new types of IoT applications, requiring real-time, reliable feedback including logistics/shipping applications, healthcare and pharmaceutical applications, asset tracking applications, and general-purpose compliance applications.

MachineQ, a Comcast Industrial IoT service, is the first company to pilot the LoRa-enabled nano-tag with interested third parties on its IoT network in Philadelphia.

“As we continue to work with customers across a wide range of use cases, the innovative service made possible by coupling Semtech’s new nano-tag on machineQ’s dense IoT network opens a whole new set of use cases, across multiple industries, that were not commercially or technically viable using existing technologies,“ said Alex Khorram, general manager of machineQ.

“By offering lower cost, disposable LoRa-enabled tags, we can expand the current landscape of use cases for Semtech’s LoRa devices and wireless radio frequency technology and allow companies to integrate the technology to drive many more diverse IoT use cases. We believe the number of use cases should expand rapidly as our connectivity and Cloud partners start to leverage the disruptive nature of the LoRa-enabled tag,” said Marc Pegulu, Vice President and General Manager for Semtech’s Wireless and Sensing Products Group. “We continue to introduce leading edge solutions based on Semtech’s LoRa Technology to fully leverage the differentiated capabilities and advantages of the technology’s long-range, low-power and low-cost connectivity.”

The low-cost disposable LoRa-enabled tags will be commercially available in both flexible tape and paper substrates in 2018 and are currently in trials by a number of LoRa Alliance members.

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IAR supports new i.MX RT chips

By Nick Flaherty

IAR Systems has launched development tools for NXP's i.MX RT crossover processor, based on the Arm Cortex-M7 core. The support is available using the latest version of the complete C/C++ compiler and debugger toolchain IAR Embedded Workbench for Arm, providing embedded developers with everything they need in one single IDE.

NXP (which tool over Freescale Semiconductor where the i.MX families were developed) is currently being acquired by Qualcomm, although the deal is struggling to complete: Bombshell deal hits the embedded industry

The i.MX RT is aimed at smart and connected IoT products with the ease of use and real-time operation of traditional microcontrollers (MCUs). Targeted applications include audio subsystems, consumer and healthcare, home and building automation, industrial computing, motor control and power conversion. 

IAR's Embedded Workbench for Arm provides code optimizations and comprehensive debugging functions, as well as integrated code analysis tools. These enable developers to leverage the strong combined capabilities of the new chips.

"IAR Systems is the only independent tools vendor to enable development for embedded applications based on the new i.MX RT from NXP," says Anders Lundgren, Product Manager, IAR Systems. The workbench includes IAR's C/C++ Compiler as well as the C-SPY Debugger with a broad selection of smart features such as stack protection, complex code and data breakpoints, runtime stack analysis, call stack visualization, code coverage analysis and integrated power consumption monitoring. Integrated add-on tools for static analysis and runtime analysis are also available. 

IAR Systems also offers global support services and technical training in embedded programming. 

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Blockchain firm invests in IoT network startup

By Nick Flaherty

The world's largest full-service Blockchain technology company is investing $5m in Moeco, an IoT platform and hardware developer. Moeco is working to build a global network of cells that enable users to integrate existing IoT networks, or deploy new ones, becoming their own in-house service provider, and is using blockchain technology to do this.

Blockchain is the secure, distirbuted ledger technology behind digital currencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. Moeco relies on two "last mile" technologies – LoraWAN always-on dedicated gateways most suitable for businesses with range of about 15km, and Bluetooth Low Energy-enabled smartphones that act as mobile gateways. 
Moeco enables device manufacturers to become global service providers, meaning that IoT devices will work anywhere, without limitations and the need to forge a patchwork of complicated contracts with carriers. The company says anyone can become a IoT provider by installing a dedicated Access Point or a mobile application and earn revenue for each connection. This unites independent IoT gateways and existing networks to form a global scale network, providing roaming-free environment for end users, corporate customers, hardware manufacturers, and service providers.

"We are very excited to invest in Moeco, whose work and vision aligns with our own ambitious goals," said Valery Vavilov, CEO of the Bitfury Group. "Moeco is a service platform that enables customers to deploy citywide IoT networks using Blockchain technology, and the Bitfury Group provides a full range of Blockchain services and solutions that can help them do just that. Together, I believe Moeco and Bitfury will make great progress in bringing IoT devices to the Blockchain."

Moeco plans to use Bitfury's Exonum, a new protocol that helps businesses move, manage and secure data and assets.

"Moeco's goal is to 'uberize' IoT connectivity by delivering data to the right place in a secure way and making sure the gateways are compensated fairly. The p2p nature of the underlying blockchain technology will help us scale the system quickly and efficiently," said Dmitry Gorilovskiy, Moeco's founder and CEO. "This is why we are especially excited about our decision to use Bitfury's Exonum protocol. Exonum is at the core of the Moeco platform. This round of investment will help us speed up the trials with core clients in retail and smart city areas and bring in more resources for Exonum's development at the same time."

Monday, November 27, 2017

Power news this week

By Nick Flaherty

. Solliance pushes up roll-to-roll perovskite solar cell efficiency

. World's largest lithium ion battery system powers up

. Mitsubishi aims to dominate the power device business

. Swiss researchers develop 3V solid state sodium battery

. Three electrode fuel cell creates hydrogen from solar power

. Revolutionary solid state rechargeable aluminium-sulfur battery project starts

. First surface mount solid state battery

. 600V superjunction MOSFET cuts resonant losses

. Lightweight PCB-mounted heatsink targets power resistors


. Intersil: Inside a new architecture for USB Type-C applications

. TI: Using a motor driver for a low power isolated full-bridge DC-DC conversion

MediaTek targets IoT with narrowband chipset

By Nick Flaherty

Taiwanese chip developer MediaTek has launched the industry's first dual-mode chip to combine GPRS and narrow band IoT (NB-IoT) Release 14 (R14) technology.

The highly power efficient MT2621 chipset brings dual-mode cellular technologies for the INternet of Things (IoT). It supports the developments of a broad range of connected devices including fitness trackers and other wearables, IoT security sensors, smart meters and various industrial applications.

The MT2621 requires only a single SIM and antenna to cover both cellular networks, with dual standby functionality (SSDS). This allows a single UICC and mobile number for both networks, even while operating simultaneously, resulting in a cost-efficient, simplified design that enables manufacturers to bring their devices to market faster. The chipset integrates a wideband front-end module that provides support for all ultra-low, low and mid bands across the globe.

At its core, the MT2621 is powered by an efficient Armv7 processor core paired with internal Flash and PSRAM. The chipset supports sight and sound interfaces for peripherals, and comes with built-in Bluetooth 4.2 for connecting to other devices nearby.

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