The recent Embedded World Conference and Exposition in Nuremberg, Germany, was a great example of the energy in the electronic design industry. One of the positive aspects of working in a disruptive technology development environment is the raw excitement of discovery. The event brought together 1,117 exhibitors from 42 countries, exhibiting to 31,000 visitors from 84 countries. (Check out our previous coverage in “Embedded World 2019 Highlights - Part One”).
All of the big trends changing society were represented by new components, subsystems, and products at the show. Next-generation solutions using the latest advances in materials and software are giving engineers the tools and methods to address a growing number or new and legacy applications. New approaches like Industry 4.0 are themselves being transformed as they deploy with additional functionality provided by AI-based systems (we should be calling it the AI-enhanced automation Industry 4.5 or something).
Device convergence is one of the more powerful forces shaping the face of design, as more integration brings not only added functionality, but also less of a board footprint, a lower bill of materials, and reduced power consumption. One move in the space is the recent announcement by Imagination Technologies and Andes on their collaboration on ultra-low-power connected microprocessors for IoT.
Integrating the N22 RISC-V MCU IP from Andes with Ensigma low-power IP for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, IEEE 802.15.4 and GNSS, the collaboration will provide a fully integrated, off-the-shelf solution for IoT. Targeting home automation, health devices, location tracking, sensors, smart meters, security, and wearables, the solution promises low power consumption, long wireless connectivity ranges, and processing power capable of running IoT software stacks.
The growth of low-power electronics has enabled new approaches to device design, with newer systems able to operate on low levels of harvested energy. One company exploring this expanding field is e-peas, who is working to apply its Ultra-Low Power Technology to thermal energy harvesting. Their AEM20940 power management IC is capable of 100mV cold start, with an extended input voltage range specifically optimized for energy harvesting from thermal sources in wireless sensors applications.
The 28-pin QFN packaged device is capable of extracting available input current up to levels of 110mA. Taking DC power from a connected thermal electric generator (TEG), it can supervise the storing of energy in a rechargeable element and simultaneously supply energy to the system via two different regulated voltages using built-in low-noise, high-stability 1.2/1.8V and 2.5/3.3V LDO voltage regulators. Able to achieve a cold start (with no stored energy available) from just a 100mV input voltage and 80µW input power with an external module, the device enables fast supercapacitor charging and warns when stored energy reserves are running low.
We mentioned in the last article how advanced automation and artificial intelligence is empowering more than traditional industrial processes by highlighting an agricultural solution, this time we’ll look at the checkout counter. congatec, Basler and NXP Semiconductors presented a Retail Deep Learning Application at their respective booths at the show. A proof-of-concept using AI to automate the retail checkout process demonstrated the possibilities of vision for embedded applications.
In the demonstration, a trained neural network was used to detect random items in a shopping basket with a method similar to how face recognition works, using the recently-launched NXP i.MX 8 applications processors that support up to 2 MIPI cameras natively, with integrated support for neural networks and safe domain separation. Based on a Basler Embedded Vision Kit consisting of an NXP i.MX 8QuadMax SoC mounted on the conga-SMX8 SMARC 2.0 Computer-on-Module from congatec, a SMARC 2.0 carrier board and Basler’s dart BCON for MIPI 13 MP camera module, the Embedded Vision Kit will be available soon from Basler.
Onward and Upward
The amount of sheer functionality that can be deployed in a product is so massive today that designers have reached the point where they must be selective in what they decide to offer in the product itself. The negative side to the functionality coin is that excessive or non-intuitive features hurt a product, so it is critical to ensure that the system you design only contains the functionality needed to address the application. In a world of expanding choices, moderation is also a virtue in electronic design.