Monday, October 4, 2010

Microsemi On Embedded Buying Spree, Aquires Actel

Microsemi announced its acquisition of Actel today, the latest in a series of embedded buys.  Microsemi's growth is creating a new leader in high-end embedded markets including military, wireless, and mobile phones. See the press release for the Actel acquisition for more details.

Other recent acquisitions include mobile wireless and security chip companies.  Last month it was VT Silicon and Arxan Defense Systems, earlier in the year it was White Electronic Designs.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

STMicroelectronics Offers Low Cost ARM Cortex M3 Kit

The price war continues among microcontroller development kits with the STMicroelectronics STM32 Discovery Kit available worldwide from these major electronics distributors for about $10 US.  It features an ARM Cortex-M3 that is the basis of the STM32 Value line of processors.  It is programmable via USB and you can download development tools and example firmware projects.

See the STM32 Discovery Kit Press Release for more details.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Actel Giving Away Evaluation Kits For Best SmartFusion Designs

The Actel SmartFusion design contest offers winners a free SmartFusion Evaluation Kit.  To enter you will need to answer questions about how you would utilize all of the features of SmartFusion.  These devices combine an FPGA, programmable analog, and an ARM Cortex-M3.   Your answers must describe  your use of the FPGA, choice of algorithms, OS,  network stack, external signals, and external transducers.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Add USB Host Support To Your MCU Design

The Maxim MAX3421E allows you to add a USB Host port to any microprocessor with an SPI interface.  This IC has recently returned to active production after being listed as not recommended for new designs.  It is offered as an Arduino shield (daughter board) from Circuits@Home and the code library for the USB Host Shield is on github.  You can find many articles on the design and use of the USB shield on the Circuits@Home blog.  The design is open hardware and you can order it from Batch-PCB as well.

For commercial projects, the MAX3421E is supported by USB Stacks from HCC-Embedded and Micro Digital.  HCC-Embedded also has an SD card module to add a USB Host to any board with an SPI capable SD card socket.  The schematics and layout are a free download from the website.

The MAX3421EVKIT-1 from Maxim can also be used for developing a USB stack for individual devices.  It can be ordered directly from Maxim ($57) or from Digikey ($62).  You can start with the MAX3421E EVKIT-1 Software and User Guide to develop your own driver for targeted devices.  I have been working with the MAX3421E with an ARM processor board and have added support for a mouse, keyboard, and hub to the design.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My New DSP Blog

See a short review of the new features on the Beagleboard-xM on my new blog, Discourse on Embedded Signal Processing.

From the About page:
Discourse on Embedded Signal Processing is a blog about applying signal processing algorithms in embedded systems. The focus will be on implementing signal processing on general purpose DSPs, FPGAs, and microcontrollers. Topics include new processors and architectures, development tools, design flows, design techniques, and new applications.

I don't plan on any changes to, I will still cover some DSP topics here as well.  I will post less frequently to Discourse on Embedded Signal Processing, but I plan on having more in-depth articles.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

NXP Microcontroller Design Challenge Winners

The NXP Cortex-M0 LPC1100 Design Challenge results are in.  The grand-prize winner is a flight logger that used text to speech to communicate commands over a walkie talkie.

See for details on the winning designs.  Over 10,000 LPCXpresso boards were shipped, and the contest encouraged NXP to port Linux to the platform.  Linux support will be available in time for a launch at ESC Boston 2010 in September.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Consumer Devices Use Adobe Flash With Open Screen Project Technology

The Open Screen Project was created by Adobe to increase design-in of the Adobe Flash Player on consumer devices like cell phones.  Many companies are partners in the project including ARM, Cisco, Intel, Google, and Texas Instruments.  Microsoft and Apple are not on the list probably because they have competing technologies. Intel subsidiary Wind River recently joined the initiative.  Benefits to membership include a royalty-free license to use flash device run-times, and permission to use the Open Screen Project and Flash logo.

This video shows a Flash player running on an Android phone.

There is an Open Screen Project Fund sponsored by Adobe and Nokia.  It awards grants to develop Flash  applications that run on Nokia devices.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Renesas Offers Free Evaluation Kit For High-Performance MCU

For a limited time you can get the Renesas RX610 Stick Renesas Demo Kit (RDK) for free. Register to become eligible for the RX-Stick and you will also be registered for the RX62N RDK to be released later this year.
The RX610 Stick includes some unique features like a 14x10 LED array, a slide volume potentiometer, and a 4-direction joystick.  It has an on-board debugger and you can download demo projects for audio, DSP, FPU, and benchmarking. Renesas has also created the online community with a developer's forum and more information about  the RX610 Stick.  You can see the kit in action in the RX-Stick Demo Youtube Video below.

The RX600 series is at the high-end of the RX family which is the successor to the H8SX, R32C and 32-bit Renesas MCUs.

Friday, July 30, 2010

BatchPCB offers low cost for prototypes

BatchPCB is a service of SparkFun Electronics that provides low cost PCBs in small quantities for electronics enthusiasts.  There are some limitations and a slow turn-around with this service, but the idea is to make it cheap by batching your design with other orders. Here is a blog post about alternatives to BatchPCB if you find it too slow or need more than a few prototypes.  Here is a comparison of BatchPCB and a few other PCB Pooling services including MakePCB, and Eurocircuits. If you are new to PCB design, this article from IEEE Spectrum covers an engineer's first PCB design using BatchPCB.

You can sell your design at BatchPCB as well.  For example, you can buy a Breakout Board for the Maxim MAX3421E USB host controller designed by Oleg Mazurov of Circuits@Home.  You can find some open-hardware for sale as well, which seems like it could cause problems. One open-hardware company, AdaFruit Industries, requested one of its designs removed from the BatchPCB marketplace.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

New Sample Projects for Microsoft Sensors and Location Platform

Microsoft released sample code for three new projects using the Sensors and Location Platform included in Windows 7.  The projects are Graphing Accelerometer Data in Windows 7, Sensor Video-Capture Solution, and Build Your Own Game Controller.   Each project contains a white paper, and sample firmware, driver and application source.  The game controller project uses the XNA Racing Game Starter Kit and a Parallex BASIC Stamp 2-axis accelerometer board.  The Sensor & Location Platform Team Blog also has a post about the game controller project.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

TI Releases Free DSP Software Development Tool

TI is providing DSP developers C6EZFlo, a free graphical tool for use with C6000 DSPs.  You can find more information at the TI C6Flo Wiki, including and introduction, DSP block descriptions, and instructions to extend C6Flo by creating  your own blocks using C (and a little bit of Javascript).

TI $4.30 Microcontroller Development Kit Sold Out Fast

The Texas Instruments wiki for the MSP430 LaunchPad (MSP-EXP430G2) reports unprecedented demand for the LaunchPad development tool.  TI's servers were extra busy and stock was sold out within the first few days of availability.  For $4.30 plus shipping you get a development board with debug capability, a few MSP-430 devices to program and a mini-USB cable.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

Open Circuits Wiki for Electronics Design

At you can find PCB footprints, electronic circuit building blocks, tutorials and general electronics design links.  This is an evolving resource and the members are looking for help from the community to improve the site.  The information on the site is not all related to open source.  For example, you can find PCB footprints for commercial EDA packages and a list of low-cost oscilloscopes.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pocket Size Digital Storage Oscilloscope

DSO nano - Pocket size digital storage oscilloscope sold for only $89 at the Seeed Depot.  It uses an ARM Cortex-M3 processor, has a 2.8" color TFT LCD with data acquisition of 1Msps,  12bits, and 4096 point storage.
The brief manual includes a schematic and you can download the firmware from  the open source dsnano project hosted at google code

Optional stand available for only $50!

Open Source Hardware Gets Formal Definition

Open Source Hardware Draft Definition version 0.3 is up for review. You never know how these things can be used in the future so it might be good to review if you have an open hardware project in the works.

I would prefer there wasn't such strict requirements for documentation, technology neutrality, or source code. Generic hardware that could be used for many purposes don't seem to fit the definition for open hardware.  For example, processor modules have a specific interface and are pretty self-explanatory from the schematic and data-sheets.  Also, an open source hardware developer may not have the engineering staff to develop the formal documentation and source code required by the current definition. I think the software development and documentation could be left to separate open-source groups. Open-source projects like have reverse engineered commercial products to run useful software without access to any documentation or even schematics.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Evaluation Board Useful for Developing and Testing USB Products

The Analog Devices iCoupler ADuM4160 USB Isolator Evaluation Board can be used as a breakout cable to test USB signals as well as its intended use to evaluate the ADUM4160 Full/Low Speed USB Digital Isolator. The board is available from Digi-Key, and other ADI distributors.

I have created my own cable for connecting a logic analyzer to USB signals in the past, but an isolation board like this would have been much easier to use and provided some protection to your prototype and development PC.  For example, I could have damaged my sole development prototype when I tested it with a cheap keyboard I purchased at Best Buy.  When things were not working, I assumed it was my hardware, but it turned out the keyboard's USB cable was not wired correctly.

I have a Zeroplus logic analyzer with USB decode that I would like to use with this type of adaptor board.  Zeroplus sells a USB bridge without isolation, but I haven't found a distributor yet.

UPDATE: FriedCircuits has a few USB tester boards that are low cost like the $12 USB Tester 2.0 shown below.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Microsoft Revises USB Developer Documentation

The Microsoft Windows USB Core Team has finished a major review and update of the USB documentation on MSDN. As they explain in their latest bog post, USB Driver Documentation Updates in the MSDN Library, they have added more header file macro definitions, removed the unsupported USB Port Driver Interface, and added a lot of WinUSB information. There is also a new list of USB Device classes with Microsoft drivers.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Want to experiment with Linux? Get a Didj!

Now that the Didj has been discontinued by Leapfrog, it is sure to be on sale for much less than the cost of a similarly featured development board for Linux.  You can find all of the datasheets, reference material, and source to do your Linux experimenting at the Didj wiki page.  Below is a teardown of the toy and some processor specs, you can download the full datasheet from the site.

  • 32bit CPU Embedded Architecture : 533MHz ARM926EJ with 16KByte I-Cache and 16KByte D-Cache.
  • High performance 3D Graphics Accelerator
  • USB 1.1 Host Controller, USB 2.0 Device, 4Ch UART
  • LCD Controller, 8Ch DMA, Timer, Interrupt Controller, RTC
  • SD/MMC, I2S, I2C, SSP, ADC, GPIOs, PWM, Power Manager

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Leapster's Latest Handheld ARM-Linux Gaming Platform

Leapfrog is promoting the Leapster Explorer as an all in one platform for gaming, e-books, videos and educational content.  It can also function as a camera and video recorder if you purchase a camera accessory.  It has an ARM processor, 512MB of flash storage, a 420x420 pixel 3.2 inch touch screen, 3D graphic processing, and a flash engine for applications and video.  The image below is from an explorer review by Nicole Tanner at

The release of this new product seems related to the news that Leapster is discontinuing the Didj, another ARM processor based Linux gaming system that has been on the market only 2 years.  The Didj announcement isn't going over well with parents on the Leapfrog community forum.  Leapster2 owners are also upset that the cartridges will not be compatible with earlier products.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

PIC18F Starter kit design competition

The PIC18F Starter kit design competition deadline is June 30th, 2010.  The winners do not receive cash or other prizes, but have the opportunity to showcase their coding skill and advertise their company.  The next version of the starter kit will include the winning designs as demos.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

New Lattice XP2 FPGA kit available for $29

Press Release: New Low Cost Brevia Development Kit Accelerates Application Development for Popular LatticeXP2 FPGA Family

The LatticeXP2 Brevia Development Kit comes with all you need to start developing including a board, parallel JTAG cable, serial RS-232 cable, and AC adapter.

Update: This kit has been replaced by the $49 LatticeXP2 Brevia2 Board WITH LatticeXP2 FPGA: LFXP2-5E-6TN144C and on-board FTDI-based USB JTAG programmer.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

3D Printers for the Masses

Fab@Home aims to change the way we live by allowing anyone to produce custom 3D objects with a 3D printer developed at Cornell University.  Shown below is Model 2 being developed in the Cornell Computational Synthesis Lab.

You can build your own personal fabricator by following the instructions on the Fab@Home wiki or buy one at the NextFab Store.  The video below shows one in action creating a gear.
Here's another video showing how it can mill foam and wood.

Update: MakerBot is another 3D printer that you can make yourself for less than $1000 (Update: latest model fully assembled is almost $2000).  It creates ABS plastic models using a heated extrusion process.  You can buy a kit and spools of various colors of plastic material to create with at the MakerBot Store.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

USB Implementers Forum Closes Public Forum

I have been working on a lot of USB firmware lately and found the best forum for this was at the USB Implementers Forum website. I found a lot of useful information and some great help from the community. Up to now, the USB-IF forum message board was accessible with a free registration. Unexpectedly, the forum is now closed to the public, my recent registration denied by the site. Yesterday, I noticed all links to the forum removed from the main site and all posts older than a few weeks deleted. I posted a message asking about the forum status but now, unless there is some mistake, I won't be able to see the response and assume it's members only.

I am seeing a lot more interest in USB for embedded systems designs, including USB devices, embedded hosts, and USB 3.0.  Most developer don't need their own vendor ID, many semiconductor vendors will let you use one for free if you use their chips.  For small companies or individual developers, the $4000 cost to become a member is very prohibitive.

UPDATE: A few links to public USB forums:
Jan Axelson's USB Forum
Microchip USB Forum
SparkFun PIC USB Development Forum

Friday, April 30, 2010

Microsoft embeddedSpark Summer Challenge Opens

The Microsoft embeddedSPARK 2010 Challenge is now open with designs due June 8. The winner will receive a cash prize of $15000, $5000 for second and $1000 for third. The top three will present at the Embedded Systems Conference in Boston this Fall.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

New Cypress Microcontroller Features Onboard PLD

The Cypress PSoC 3: CY832 Family features 24 Universal Digital Blocks that can be configured from a library of functions or customized with Verilog code. The system includes an 8051 processor and also features an analog ADC with configurable input from every GPIO pin, an 8-bit DAC, and 2 comparators. Some devices will include USB and other interfaces.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Musical Instrument Amplifier Embeds a PC Inside

Orange Amps' new PC+Amplifier is designed for Guitar, Keyboard, microphones and more. It includes WIFI and Guitar Effects software and will be available in June 2010. This could have a lot of uses for musicians, you could pair this with a USB MIDI controller for drums, keyboard, or wind instruments. It will be a nice compliment to USB programmable guitar effects. If successful, it will create more demand for PC connectivity in audio electronics.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Camera 2.0 Open-Source Digital Camera Project

As part of the Camera 2.0 project, researchers at Stanford have developed the Frankencamera shown here, "an open-source camera platform that runs Linux, is fully programmable (including its digital signal processor) and connected to the Internet, and accommodates SLR lenses and SLR-quality sensors. Our current constructed from off-the-shelf parts, in some cases borrowed from dead cameras. It's also ugly - hence the name."

This open-source project is being developed to help researcher gain more control of camera processing. Another open-source camera project, the Canon Hack Development Kit, allows some control through a series of enhancements, but according to the Frankencamera FAQ: "you can't use them to reprogram the camera's pre-capture sequence (metering and focusing) or to replace its post-processing algorithms (demosaicing, denoising, sharpening, white balancing, tone mapping, etc). The Frankencamera fills this gap"

The brains of the Frankencamera include a TI OMAP3 processor, an Aptina MT9P031 image sensor and an Elphel 10338 sensor board.

If the popularity of the CHDK is any indication, the Frankencamera is sure to have a cult following.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Low Cost CPLD Development Kit

The Lattice ispMACH 4000ZE Pico Dev Kit is on sale today for $36 at the Lattice store. Some example applications for the CPLD include adding GPIO and 5V input capability to your microcontroller. See this video for more info on consumer applications.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Altera Starter Kit Available For New Low Cost FPGA Family

Altera Cyclone IV FPGAs are now shipping in volume and are claimed to be lowest in cost and power. The Cyclone IV starter kit can be purchased at the Altera online store for $395. It includes a Gigabit Ethernet and SMA connectors. You can find more specifications and ordering information here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Virtual USB Analyzer

The Virtual USB Analyzer is a useful tool created by Micah Dowty and Scott Perry hosted on It's free to use and listed as a fling in vmware LABS, a diverse collection of free tools created by VMware engineers.

You have to run the analyzer in Linux but you can take the traces with any guest OS running on recent versions of VMware products. At the moment the Windows version of VMware Player is not supported, but you can use VMware Workstation, Fusion or the Player that runs on Linux. You can also load captures taken from the Linux usbmon utility and the Ellisys USB Explorer 200 hardware analyzer.

I'm using this to see how Linux configures a keyboard to diagnose a problem with an embedded USB host. I think it will also be very useful when working on a new USB device that you need to test with multiple operating systems.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Fritzing is an unique project that allows hobbyists to design and produce electronic prototypes. Started as a University research project, it continues with the support of users with the purchase of the Fritzing starter kit. Included in the kit is an Arduino Deumilonove 328 microcontroller board. You can also download the design application without purchasing a kit.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Embedded Linux Conference 2010

The CELF Embedded Linux Conference is coming up on April 12th-14th, 2010 in San Francisco. Topics include Android, security, debug and real-time development. Here are a few titles:

Android: A Case Study of an Embedded Linux Project

Using a JTAG to Debug Linux Device Drivers

Creating a Secure Router Using SELinux

Effective Use of Scripting in Embedded Devices

FSCE: Reducing Context Switching Time on ARM

Understanding Threat Models for Embedded Devices

Experiences in Android Porting, Lessons Learned, Tips and Tricks

Case Study - Embedded linux in a Digital Television STB

Understanding and Developing Applications for Maemo Platform

PIO: Talking to the Outside World

Linux Without a Boot Loader?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lantronix Embedd Linux Networking Contest

To promote the XPort Pro, a tiny self contained network server, Lantronix will give up to $6000US for the winning design. You will need to purchase an evaluation kit for $99 to enter.

Friday, February 12, 2010

NXP Microcontroller Design Challenge

The NPX LPC1100 Design Challenge just started and offers contestents a free NXP LPCXpresso development platform ($29 value), if your design is approved by the judges. If your design is not approved, you can still participate and win prizes by rating design entries and giving feedback. The LPCXpresso is unique in that it can be used as a stand alone JTAG debugger by cutting the traces between the LPC-Link and the Target portions of the board. The target section for the contest includes an LPC1114 (LPC1343 shown in the picture). The processor architecture is the new ARM Cortex-M0, designed to be small and energy efficient for battery-powered devices. The development environment is an Eclipse-based LPC IDE from Code Red Technologies, its free but limited to 128KB downloads. The prizes for the contest are given as Apple Gift Cards of up to $3000.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Analog Devices New BF50x DSP

The new 50x series Blackfin Processors offer 400MHz at $4.50, and come with a new analog-to-digital (ADC) control module (ACM), PWM units, optional on-chip flash and ADCs. This family is targeted mainly to industrial applications such as motor control, power inverters, uninterruptible power supplies, smart metering, and advanced sensing. They also are recommended for portable medical devices—with the lower cost and high performance, they may be attractive for consumer electronic devices as well. The BF506F EZ-KIT LITE development board is less expensive than other Blackfin EZ-Kits at $199, and includes a USB debug interface so you don't need to purchase a JTAG device. Embedded Linux is actively developed for the blackfin at with toolchain development and a uCLinux port.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

National Instruments/Tektronix Embedded Seminars

Measurement and Analysis Techniques for Embedded System Designers will be presented by National Instruments and Tektronix in 10 U.S. cities and Toronto starting March 2010. The half day session will include talks on automated control of measurements, advanced analysis tools, and examples of enhancing embedded system testing. They will showcase Tektronix test equiptment and National Instruments LabVIEW and LabVIEW SignalExpress software. Both analog and digital techniques will be presented.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Low Cost TI DSP Development USB Stick

The TMDX5505eZDSP USB Powered DSP development tool includes everything you need for fixed-point DSP development for $49. Texas Instruments recommends this processor family for low-power consumer applications such as voice recording, musical instruments, and portable medical devices. You can start developing without purchasing any other tools according to this introductory video. The eZdsp features an integrated codec with line-in and headphone jacks, as well as an expansion connector for custom projects. You can also download a DSP library and image processing library at TI's website. They include optimized assembly routines for the 55x that you can call from C code.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Windows 7 Sensor API Targets Embedded Hardware

Microsoft has released the new Sensor API in Windows 7 to access data from external devices. The new API will still require development of a custom device driver for your hardware, but aims to reduce the complexity of applications that need to access the data. There are a number of examples applications available . Some are in the Windows 7 WDK, others are online like this one on MSDN for a motion sensor. It includes source and even firmware for a BASIC stamp microcontroller. You can build the project yourself with a Parallax passive-infrared sensor and HomeWork Board. One nice feature of the API is that it allows for virtual sensors. These can be used to develop and test apps without connecting the sensor to the PC. This can be very useful when you have seperate teams developing the Windows applications and the embedded hardware. If you have a well defined interface you should be able to switch from the virtual sensor to the final hardware without rewriting a lot of code.