Embedded Engineering During a Pandemic

August 31, 2020 GEORGE HILLIARD, WINSYSTEMS

As I wrote in my last blog (AI at the Edge: From Demo to Reality), we’re more than six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and the way out could still be months or longer away, depending on which “experts” you believe. Here in Texas, where WINSYSTEMS is located, some districts are getting ready to send their children and teachers back to class, while others are holding off, attempting to educate through virtual means.

It should come as no surprise that embedded engineers are dealing with a similar degree of variation. For example, some companies have their engineers working on a rotating schedule, meaning that they work from home some of the time and work in the office some of the time, especially when there is a need for product testing and/or engineering lab equipment. By alternating time in the office, the number of people present at any one time is minimized and social distancing can be maintained.

The situation here at WINSYSTEMS is nearly business as usual. The key difference is that we are strictly adhering to all the recommended health precautions, which are implemented throughout the building. A fortunate coincidence was that we moved into a much larger facility about a year ago, allowing the engineering team to maintain access to their labs and equipment while maintaining appropriate distances.

While the engineers involved in product testing obviously need access to the equipment, those on the software side attempted to work remotely. However, when working on some embedded systems, it’s difficult to program and debug without having the proper equipment that generally can’t leave the engineering lab.

Here are some general guidelines to consider when engineers are working from home:

  • Electrostatic discharge (ESD) is a real but invisible threat. And it can be tricky in that ESD doesn’t necessarily cause an immediate failure, but can drastically reduce the life of a component. It can cause erratic behavior in embedded systems or sudden failure during later testing. Engineers working from home must take the necessary precautions to protect the equipment and embedded products. This is far less of an issue in the lab where we have ESD coated floors and work surfaces, and ESD testing is performed routinely.
  • IP security is a concern. Engineers are often working with IP that could be used by nefarious entities to damage the company through competitive information, compromised systems, or posing risks to clients. When working remotely, the appropriate levels of security must be applied. In some cases, engineers may not have access to certain files when remote.
  • Project team members must maintain a cadence of regular communication when working remotely. Bouncing ideas off of colleagues is a tremendous (and often undervalued) resource. It can help solve problems, create more informed solutions and better overall products, a provide a more relaxed work environment.

At WINSYSTEMS, we’ve been fortunate to keep the engineering team focused on designing the next-generation of embedded products. For example, we’re seeing aggressive design activity in medical diagnostics and treatment, AI at the Edge, and next generation industrial IoT devices. To that end, the “427” family of devices fits the bill for these applications.

 

(The WINSYSTEMS’ SBC35-427 industrial SBC boasts a combination of off-the-shelf functionality and multiple expansion and configuration options to handle most next-generation industrial IoT applications.)

The SBC35-427 is an industrial single board computer (SBC) that serves as the brain of the SYS-427 rugged, embedded computer and the PPC12-427 fanless, 12.1-in. panel PC, thanks to its vast expansion capabilities and wide operating temperature range (-40°C to +85°C). The SBC35-427 takes advantage of Intel’s Apollo Lake-I E3900 series processor and features three simultaneous display outputs, two Gbit Ethernet ports, and a combination of six USB 3.0/2.0 ports.

The WINSYSTEMS’ SYS-427 offers a small form factor (6.5 by 4.5 by 1.4 in.) and can handle rugged conditions. Appropriate applications include industrial control, transportation, energy, and industrial IoT. And the WINSYSTEMS’ PPC12-427 offers an IP65 rating that makes it a great fit for harsh environments.

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