03-01-2010

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  3-1-10: Tech Focus - Building smarter mixed signal subsystems
Before the proliferation of tightly and loosely coupled multicore and multiprocessor systems, most designs were already populated with multiple processors in what I call just barely coupled configurations: a main processor to perform the main functions of the application, surrounded with intelligent microcontroller-based subsystems that off-loaded from the main CPU the chore of handling many of the real-time functions necessary for overall smooth operation.

Some of the most important of these smart MCU-based subsystems are the ones devoted to mixed signal operations. Working in tandem with a mixed of ADCs, DACs, inductors, capacitors, and linear components, MCUs aid in making decisions in real time on when, how and in what form to convert analog signals into and from digital form.

Teardown almost any consumer device, such as the gyro sensor in a mouse, video glasses for an iPod or a mobile handset with a slider, display and MP3 player, and you will find such smart mixed signal subsystems.

From a collection of general purpose MCUs, DACs and linear devices, mixed signal subsystems are now part of what TI's Jacob Borgeson calls "Hyper-Integrated MCUs." Highly optimized MCUs now incorporate all the I/O peripherals, registers, memory functions and even hardwired instructions needed for such operations.

A good example of how well mixed signal-optimized MCUs can perform in the hands of an imaginative embedded systems developer can be seen in ESD Magazine's "Oversampling with averaging to increase ADC resolution," where Maxim's Franco Contadini describes how an optimized MCU can be used to extend the resolution/accuracy of an embedded ADC by using oversampling techniques to deliver an extra bit or two.

But joining super-integrated MCUs are a variety of smart mixed signal configurations: programmable SoCs that bring a high degree of flexibility to designs. Some recent design articles on Embedded.com describe their use in a variety of applications, including creation of smart drivers to reduce energy use and PCB clutter, digitally control analog power in multiload applications, high performance auto electronics, smart meters, 4G chipsets, buck-boosting LEDs, and touch/ proximity sensing in handheld consumer devices. Good reading!!! (Embedded.com Editor Bernard Cole, bccole@acm.org)

  EDITOR'S TOP PICK by Bernard Cole, Embedded.com Editor
Embedded Processing Trends: Hyper-integrated MCUs
This series of three articles will look at three significant trends emerging in one of the most critical and competitive sockets in modern electronic systems. Part 2: hyper-integrated microcontrollers.
 
What will next generation embedded design look like?
In future years, the ever-changing embedded systems design environment will continue to evolve. How must the development environment change to accommodate it? Ata Khan of Cypress has a few ideas.
 
  UNDER THE HOOD: Teardowns
Gyro sensor liberates mouse
At the suggestion of Wireless DesignLine site editor Jack Shandle, we embark this week on a teardown of a gyro-based mouse: Gyration's $150 ProGo Gyrotransport (which includes a free-space mouse as well as 1 Gbyte of "playing around" storage within the separate USB transceiver dongle on the host PC).
 
MyVu's iPod video glasses, up close and personal
Virtual display glasses aren't new, but MyVu uses Kopin's on-glass LCD technology and advanced packaging, materials and integration to bring the cost, size, power and weight down to a usable format.
 
TI's MSP430 vs. ST Microelectronics' ARM Cortex-based processor for battery-powered apps
Is TI's MSP430 or ST Microelectronics' ARM Cortex-based processor better for handheld devices?
 
Handset's touch sensor permits more functions in less space
The popular Chocolate handset has a unique design, with its slider, MP3 capabilities, and large display.
 
  DESIGN ARTICLES
Using smart drivers to reduce energy use , PCB clutter in portable apps
Small portable electronic systems such as mobile telephones, personal media players (PMPs), digital still cameras (DSCs), digital video cameras (DVCs), portable medical equipment (PME), and global-positioning systems (GPS) continue to evolve and add features with each generation. As they do, their peripheral-circuit requirements have become more similar in part because their power sources, ports, and MMIs (man-machine interfaces) draw on similar technologies.
 
Simplify DC/DC controllers digital power control design in multi-load applications
Understand how digital control of analog power can affect multirail topology and approaches
 
Cost Reduction Through Precision Analog
How to use the Cypress PSoC3 and its on board 0.1% voltage reference to integrate highly accurate precision analog functions in your embedded design.
 
Challenges in designing high-performance automotive electronics
Engineers are pressured to shorten the overall design and qualification cycle while increasing functionality of existing auto electronics systems without compromising ever tightening quality, reliability, and cost targets.
 
Build low cost consumer appliances & smart meters with low pin count 8 bit MCUs
In this back-to-the-basics "why-to," Sandhya Mallikarjun presents the case for using low pin count 8 bit MCUs in a wide range of consumer appliances, smart meters and home entertainment systems.
 
Overcome power, size and cost when developing optimized '4G' chipsets for handhelds
Here is an overview of three dimensions that should be addressed by 4G chip developers to minimize the power consumption, size and cost of their solutions.
 
How to control analog output from a CPLD using a pulse width modulator
This article shows how a CPLD can replace a digital-to-analog converter, allowing it to drive an audio speaker or control things like LED intensity, motor speed, and servo position.
 
How to transform silicon with dynamic reconfiguration
A microcontroller capable of reconfiguring its resources needs to provide the integration of an ASIC with the configurability of a FPGA...
 
Get precision performance from a digitally controlled potentiometer (DCP)
The versatile DCP has modest accuracy, but with the right design configuration, you can achieve superior results
 
  PRODUCT HOW-TO
Using a mixed signal MCU to give LEDs a buck-boost
Here's how to use the PIC16HV785 mixed signal microcontroller to drive a high power LED, in either boost or buck-boost configuration, with peripherals to spare.
 
A code-free approach to touch and proximity sensing using PSoC Express
This "How To" tutorial shows how to incorporate capacitive sensing features into a simple embedded system without having to write a single line of code.
 
Tuning out mixed signal SoC design problems
How to use PSoC Designer's CapSense button-tuning GUI to build a specialized background debugger/tuner to optimize, test and debug your custom mixed signal System on Chip design.
 
Increase embedded processor efficiency through the use of distributed CPU blocks
How to incorporate distributed multiprocessing in an embedded design using the Cypress PSoC 3/PSoC 5, which incorporate a main 8051 or Cortex M3 core and many Universal Digital Blocks (UDBs) serving as an array of mini-processors.