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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Transmitter boost for terahertz sensing

By Nick Flaherty

Researchers at EPFL in Zurich have developed a low cost transmitter for terahertz signals used for sensing. 

The team at the Power and Wide-band-gap Electronics Research Laboratory (POWERlab), led by Prof. Elison Matioli, built a nanoscale device that can generate extremely high-power signals in just a few picoseconds to produces high-power THz waves.

The technology, which can be mounted on a chip or a flexible medium, could one day be installed in smartphones and other hand-held devices. THz waves are largely used for object detection through other materials. 

The device generates high-intensity waves from a spark, with the voltage spiking from 10 V (or lower) to 100 V in the range of a picosecond. The device is capable of generating this spark almost continuously, meaning it can emit up to 50 million signals every second. When hooked up to antennas, the system can produce and radiate high-power THz waves.

The device consists of two metal plates situated very close together, down to 20nm apart. When a voltage is applied, electrons surge towards one of the plates, where they form a nanoplasma. Once the voltage reaches a certain threshold, the electrons are emitted almost instantly to the second plate. This rapid movement enabled by such fast switches creates a high-intensity pulse that produces high-frequency waves.

Conventional electronic devices are only capable of switching at speeds of up to one volt per picosecond. The extremely short rise times down to five picoseconds were only limited by the measurement set-up. By integrating these devices with dipole antennas, high-power terahertz signals with a power–frequency trade-off of 600 milliwatts terahertz squared were emitted, much greater than that achieved by the state of the art in compact solid-state electronics. 

The new device can be more than ten times faster, can generate both high-energy and high-frequency pulses. "Normally, it's impossible to achieve high values for both variables," said Matioli. "High-frequency semiconductor devices are nanoscale in size. They can only cope with a few volts before breaking out. High-power devices, meanwhile, are too big and slow to generate terahertz waves. Our solution was to revisit the old field of plasma with state-of-the-art nanoscale fabrication techniques to propose a new device to get around those constraints."

"These nanodevices, on one side, bring an extremely high level of simplicity and low-cost, and on the other side, show an excellent performance. In addition, they can be integrated with other electronic devices such as transistor. Considering these unique properties, nanoplasma can shape a different future for the area of ultra-fast electronics", said Mohammad Samizadeh Nikoo, a PhD student at the POWERlab.

The technology could have wide-ranging applications beyond generating THz waves. The ease of integration and the compactness of the nanoplasma switches could enable their implementation in several fields, such as imaging, sensing, communications and biomedical applications.
 "We're pretty sure there'll be more innovative applications to come," adds Matioli.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Industrial Temperature 2TB NVMe and SATA M.2 solid state drives

By Nick Flaherty

Greenliant has started volume production of its industrial temperature (-40°C to +85°C) 2 Tbyte NVMe and SATA M.2 solid state drive (SSD) modules. 

Built in the 2280 form factor, and offered with hardware encryption and on-board DRAM, the ArmourDrive SSDs save space, improve security and increase capacity for a wide variety of applications.

The 87 PX Series SATA and 88 PX Series NVMe M.2 drives have 240 GB, 480 GB, 960 GB and 1.92 TB with the industrial temperature range. The built-in ECC bit error detection and correction is optimised for 3D three-bit-per-cell NAND devices and advanced flash management extends drive life through dynamic and static wear leveling so the cells are used equally. It also supports AES-256 / TCG OPAL encryption and Secure Erase.

“Customers rely on our wide and deep selection of quality solid state storage products, and Greenliant is pleased to be one of the first companies to offer I-temp 2 Terabyte M.2 SSDs for industrial applications that require higher capacities,” said Arthur Kroyan, vice president of business development and marketing, Greenliant. “With on-board DRAM and advanced security features, these products deliver consistent sustained performance and strong user data protection, which can be important advantages for certain embedded systems.”

Greenliant is shipping the full line at

SMARC2.1 revision drives MIPI into embedded vision

By Nick Flaherty

SGET has approved the new SMARC 2.1 specification, aiming to drive the adoption of the MIPI standard into the embedded vision market.

The latest version adds additional features such as SerDes support for extended edge connectivity and up to four MIPI-CSI camera interfaces to meet the increasing demand for a fusion of embedded computing and embedded vision. The new features are backward compatible with Rev. 2.0, which means that 2.1 modules can be integrated on 2.0 carriers. All extensions to Rev.2.0 are also optional, so SMARC 2.0 modules are automatically compatible with SMARC 2.1.

"The new SMARC 2.1 specification is an important step towards embedding MIPI-CSI camera technology, which is widely used in smartphones, firmly and for the first time within the standard of an embedded computing specification," said Christian Eder, Director Marketing at congatec and SGET editor of the SMARC 2.1 specification. "We need this extremely cost-effective technology in order to be able to integrate it into any embedded application. For this purpose, SMARC 2.1 provides not only one or two, but up to four interfaces for comprehensive situational awareness and highest device efficiency."

Demand for machine vision cameras is growing at double-digit rates, particularly for applications such as surveillance, forensics, robotic surgery, intelligent traffic systems, border control and health monitoring. In addition, camera technology continues to be used for process inspections to reduce errors such as incorrect fill levels, faulty products in the production line and packaging defects. Autonomous logistics vehicles also take up a large market share in the industrial sector.

With comprehensive Ethernet support for more connectivity at the edge gaining increasing significance, two of the four supported PCIe lanes now offer two additional Ethernet ports via SerDes signals. These can also be used for vision through the connection of GigE vision cameras.

Other new features include PCIe clock request signals, which can be used to switch off unused PCIe lanes to save power, and 14 instead of 12 GPIOs (General Purpose Input/Output). In response to many requests, the specification document was also completely restructured to optimize readability.

Further information on the new SMARC 2.1 specification can be found at SGET

Additionally, congatec prepared an updated white paper on the advantages of the SMARC specification which is available for download at:

Further information on the SMARC 2.1 compatible conga-SMX8 with Arm based NXP i.MX 8 processors can be found at:

Further information on the SMARC 2.1 compatible conga-SA5 with Intel Atom processors (code name Apollo Lake) can be found at:

Monday, March 16, 2020

Boosting the UK's ventilator production for Covid-19

By Nick Flaherty on eeNews Europe

The UK’s only ventilator manufacturer is ramping up production to meet demand to tackle the Covid-19 Coronavirus crisis as the UK government calls for assistance from the industry.

“We have increased our capacity, and moved to 7 days working across our global manufacturing sites where required to meet demands from our customers,” said Sally Cozens, managing director at Breas UK. She declined to say that that capacity is, other than “we are increasing to meet demands globally”.

Breas UK claims to be the only UK ventilator manufacturer, making a range called Nippy, while its parent company Breas also makes other medical equipment. Breas is headquartered in Sweden and owned by the Chinese Fosun conglomerate, and has 150 staff worldwide.

The German government has reportedly ordered 10,000 ventilators from Draegerwerk in Luebeck, while Hamilton Medical in Switzerland has ramped up production by 30% to a run rate of 20,000 a year.

Medical 3D printing firm Open Bionics has also offered its help. “We build medical devices, have technicians, engineers, processes and assembly lines in place and ready to go. We need parts and build instructions,” said Sam Payne, chief operating officer and co-founder of Open Bionics in Bristol, UK.

Other suggestions of companies with medical equipment skills have included Meditec England, Smiths Medical, SLE, Diamedica, OES Medical and Penlon.

Friday, March 06, 2020

Silicon Labs launches security tech for system-on-chip designers

By Nick Flaherty

Silicon Labs has developed physically unclonable function (PUF) hardware to reduce the risk of IoT security breaches and compromised intellectual property in system-on-chip designs. The first SoC devices will be launched later this month.

The Secure Vault technology is a suite of security features designed to help connected device manufacturers address Internet of Things (IoT) security and data threats. It includes a dedicated core, bus and memory, is separate from the host processor. This hardware separation isolates critical features, such as secure key store management and cryptography, into their own functional areas, making the overall device more secure. 

This will be used in the Wireless Gecko Series 2 platform that will be launched by the end of Q2 2020.

"The security landscape is changing rapidly, and IoT developers face increasing pressure to step up device security and meet evolving regulatory requirements," said Matt Johnson, senior vice president and general manager of IoT product at Silicon Labs. "Secure Vault simplifies development, accelerates time-to-market and helps device makers future-proof products by taking advantage of the most advanced integrated hardware and software security protection available today for IoT wireless SoCs."

"Embedded security is a key requirement for IoT products, and software updates alone cannot address all vulnerabilities present in insecure hardware," said Tanner Johnson, senior cybersecurity analyst at Omdia. "As a result, hardware components can comprise the front line of defense for device security, especially with new legislation targeting IoT product security."

Secure Vault is also aimed at devices addressing emerging regulatory measures, such as GDPR in Europe and SB-327 in California, making it secure updates to connected devices possible over-the-air (OTA) throughout the product lifecycle.
One of the biggest challenges for connected devices is post-deployment authentication. The trust provisioning service with optional secure programming provides a secure device identity certificate during chip manufacture for each individual silicon die.

Keys are encrypted and isolated from the application code, and virtually unlimited secure key storage is offered as all keys are encrypted using a master encryption key generated using a PUF. The power-up signatures are unique to a single device, and master keys are created during the power-up phase to eliminate master key storage, further reducing attack vectors.

Advanced Tamper Detection includes easy-to-implement product enclosure tamper resistance to sophisticated tamper detection of silicon through voltage, frequency and temperature manipulations. Hackers use these changes to force hardware or software to behave unexpectedly, creating vulnerabilities for glitch attacks. Configurable tamper-response features enable developers to set up appropriate response actions with interrupts, resets, or in extreme cases, secret key deletion.

Silicon Labs is currently sampling new Secure Vault-enabled wireless SoCs, which are planned to be released in late Q2 2020.

Silicon Labs
Silicon Labs (NASDAQ: SLAB) is a leading provider of silicon, software and solutions for a smarter, more connected world. Our award-winning technologies are shaping the future of the Internet of Things, Internet infrastructure, industrial automation, consumer and automotive markets. Our world-class engineering team creates products focused on performance, energy savings, connectivity and simplicity.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2020

CEVA lays claim to world's most powerful DSP

By Nick Flaherty

CEVA has launched its fourth generation digital signal processor architecture that it says is the world's most powerful.

The scalar and vector processing in the XC architecture supports double 8-way VLIW and up to 14,000 bits of data level parallelism. All this supports performance of up to 1,600 GOPS, dynamic multithreading and advanced pipeline to reach operating speeds of 1.8GHz at 7nm.

The architecture, available as IP for a system-on-chip (SoC), is aimed at complex parallel processing workloads required for 5G endpoints and Radio Access Networks (RAN), enterprise access points and other multigigabit low latency applications.
The design is fully synthesizable, and the multithreading design allows the processors to be dynamically reconfigured as either a wide SIMD machine or divided into smaller simultaneous SIMD threads. 

CEVA has also developed a new memory subsystem with a wide 2048-bit memory bandwidth, with coherent, tightly-coupled memory to support efficient simultaneous multithreading and memory access.

"The dynamically reconfigurable multithreading and high speed design, along with comprehensive capabilities for both control and arithmetic processing, sets the foundation for the proliferation of ASICs and ASSPs for 5G infrastructure and endpoints," said Mike Demler, Senior Analyst at The Linley Group.

The first processor based on the Gen4 CEVA-XC architecture is the multicore CEVA-XC16 for 5G RAN architectures including Open RAN (O-RAN), Baseband Unit (BBU) aggregation as well as Wi-Fi and 5G enterprise access points. The CEVA-XC16 is also applicable to massive signal processing and AI workloads associated with base station operation.

The XC16 has been specifically designed for the 3GPP release specifications in mind, building on CEVA's experience with leading wireless infrastructure vendors for their cellular infrastructure ASICs. The previous generation CEVA-XC4500 and CEVA-XC12 DSPs are used in chips in 4G and 5G cellular networks today, and the CEVA-XC16 is already in design with a leading wireless vendor for their next-generation 5G ASIC.

The XC16 can be reconfigured as two separate parallel threads running simultaneously, sharing their L1 Data memory with cache coherency, which directly improves latency and performance efficiency for PHY control processing, without the need for an additional CPU. This boosts the performance per square millimeter by 50% compared to a single-core/single-thread architecture when massive numbers of users are connected in a crowded area. This amounts to 35% die area savings for a large cluster of cores, as is typical for custom 5G base station silicon.

Other key features in the CEVA-XC16 include the latest dual CEVA-BX scalar processor units, dynamic allocation of vector units resources to processing threads and scalar control architecture and tools that reduce code size by a third through dynamic branch prediction and loop optimizations alongside an LLVM based compiler.

The XC16 introduces a new instruction set architectures for FFT and FIR operations common in wireless systems that doubles performance, with a simple software migration path from previous generations CEVA-XC4500 and CEVA-XC12 DSPs.

"5G is a technology with multiple growth vectors spanning consumer, industrial, telecom and AI. Addressing these fragmented and complex use cases requires new thinking and practices for processors," said Aviv Malinovitch, Vice President and General Manager of the Mobile Broadband Business Unit at CEVA. "Our Gen 4 CEVA-XC architecture encapsulates this new approach, enabling never-before-seen DSP core performance through groundbreaking innovations and design. The CEVA-XC16 DSP is evidence of this and serves to substantially reduce the entry barriers for OEMs and semiconductor vendors looking to benefit from the growing 5G Capex and Open RAN network architectures."

The CEVA-XC16 is available for general licensing starting in Q2 2020. 

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

All-band IoT antenna is nearly the size of a grain of rice

By Nick Flaherty

Fractus Antenna in Barcelona have developed an antenna for designs in the Internet of Things (IoT) with a volume of just 21 mm³, not much more than a grain of rice (see picture)

The ONE mXTEND is designed to provide worldwide 5G and cellular IoT connectivity in a miniature and ultra-slim antenna component avoiding the usual problem with size restrictions. The same antenna can be used to cover selected frequency bands within the standards 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G all in one antenna package.

This multiband miniature antenna measures 7.0 x 3.0 x 1.0 mm enables coverage at multiple cellular bands within 824 to 5000 MHz and gives a wireless designer the smallest volume antenna for cellular IoT and 5G. It is an off the shelf component ready to be assembled into any wireless device as any other chip is mounted.

Any engineer in the middle of a wireless design can also test the new ONE mXTEND by using NN’s Wireless Fast Track Service and get a ready to test antenna design, free of charge in 24h.