Automotive tech, cooling tech, JTAG, Arduino improvements, and looking toward the future at National Electronics Week

April 28, 2015

Hosted at the same time and venue as the international traffic management exhibition (Traffex) the crossover with National Electronics Week 2015 in Bi...

Hosted at the same time and venue as the international traffic management exhibition (Traffex) the crossover with National Electronics Week 2015 in Birmingham, UK was evident, and my passing curiosity demanded I take a look. Historically, Traffex, for obvious reasons, had little commonality with any embedded exhibition, though times have moved on and smart embedded technology is now ubiquitous in this rapidly expanding market sector.

Smart parking, smart lighting, assisted driving, and self-driving technology is gaining huge traction (if you pardon the pun) with the latest low-power embedded cores heavily influencing and enabling remote solar powered connected devices, where historically the lack of available power held back innovation.

congatec, increasingly prominent embedded single board computer (SBC) manufacturer, elected to house their exhibition stand within Traffex, evidently targeting the vertical market attendees in an industry they are keen to crack, within a country they are equally keen to. Exhibiting an exciting expansion of their product range to include a tiny PICO-ITX (formally known as) Bay Trail SBC and an array of COM Express modules utilising the latest 5th generation Intel Core processors, all inherently industrial specification.

Back at the National Electronics Week, due to its relatively small size compared to Embedded World, it’s naturally difficult to establish real key themes amongst exhibitors. I instead focussed on how exhibitor’s focus differed from Embedded World.

Mouser, unveiling a number of exciting new manufacturers at Embedded World for today’s engineers, focussed on building the critical relationship with tomorrow’s engineers – the students. Historically those suffering from short-termism are now suffering from alienating those engineering students who are now today’s decision makers. Mouser intends to create positive brand awareness and experience at the earliest possible stage of the fledgling Design Engineer’s career.

Wurth Elektronik were promoting an exciting new passive cooling technology, one integrated within the PCB itself in the form of an aluminium back plate. Prior similar technology restricted such PCBs to single layer, whilst their technology essentially mounts a standard multi-layer PCB onto an aluminium sheet, using micro-vias to direct heat conduction to the aluminium base layer – dissipating heat from (if required) literally every component on the board. Standard passively cooling a single component (often the processor) generally requires a relatively large and complex mechanical heat sink, attempting to cover multiple components increases the complexity of that task exponentially.

At JTAG, whilst the core boundary scan facility is now classified as a mature technology, today it is being used in increasingly innovative ways. What started as an embedded methodology of ensuring components are present, placed correctly, and basically function has expanded. More recently the ability to program flash devices became a standard feature of JTAG, however today the technology can truly emulate circuit functionality by exercising individual or a collection of devices and truly test functionality by imitating inputs and verifying output.

A historical weakness of JTAG technology was its need for individual programming and testing, generally utilising flying probes or cable harnesses. Whilst this is manageable in a prototyping environment, perhaps even for small quantity production – when quantities ramp up and production efficiency must improve, it was found wanting.

Goepel Electronic have addressed this need with the RAPIDO range of automated JTAG test and programming assembly tools, slotting into your existing PCB assembly line with a built in conveyor for automatic pass through of target devices, offering a high-quantity production alternative to traditional single device apparatus. The RAPIDO supports flash, MCU, PLD, JTAG, and in-system programming, alongside Boundary Scan, Functional, and Mixed Signal test. Bringing the power of JTAG to major manufacturers has seen Goepel’s business rapidly expand.

I spent time with Hitex hearing the intriguing story of an exciting project incepted by work experience student unhappy with the performance of the standard 8-bit Arduino. Hitex responded by dropping an AURIX TC275 onto the Arduino form factor, upgrading its performance to a triple core 32-bit 200 MHz beast. This naturally involved porting the Arduino processing language and IDE to the Aurix – in fact the first Aurix multicore compiler from HighTec EDV-Systeme enabled Tier 1 Automotive suppliers to develop their first virtual models for safety critical applications. Tying in perfectly with the ever growing requirement to design product in accordance with the ISO26262 standard.

As I looked harder for commonality, the heavy marketing of support in ISO 26262 compliance from code testing and analysis providers was observed. Linx Software Technologies approaches an automotive market that is more important than ever for them with their support for both operating system and firmware integration, recognising the varying needs of devices within a car (how “real-time” do differing car functions really need to, when cost is considered?) – Mark Pritchard, their Technical Director presented a seminar on the challenges and solutions in today’s increasingly autonomous (functions today, driving tomorrow) vehicles – further information can be found here.

To conclude, I was disappointed not to see the expansion in the show that I’d hoped, though I’m rarely disappointed with the possibilities of the new embedded and electronic technologies on show – and hope I never will be.

Rory Dear, European Editor/Technical Contributor