An accumulation of stuff

November 01, 2010

Jack Ganssle-November 01, 2010

Catching up with the incoming product announcements, Jack Ganssle finds a few gems (and some horror stories) to share.

I have a very strange job, if one were to even try and glorify my efforts with that three letter word. My commute is 10 feet across the hallway, or 30 miles to Baltimore Washington International. I work with people I never see. Susan Rambo, for instance, has edited this column for years yet we've only been in each other's presence four or five times. I have never been given a charter or objective for these articles so have no idea if the powers that be—whoever they are—are infuriated or pleased with them. But frequent readers realize that the subject matter is all over the map, from opinions to book reviews to educational pieces about embedded systems engineering.

It's rather unusual for me to write about products. Who wants to be a corporate shill parroting some press release? But the PR people don't seem to understand this, and they send a daily barrage of exciting news about new version 4.1.2.c of the latest widget (even fewer bugs than in 4.1.2.b!!!) or breathless releases covering Joe Crony's promotion to Executive Assistant Sub-Vice President. Most of it gets eTrashed, but occasionally something grabs my attention and gets set aside. Sometimes for years.

So here's a potpourri of product announcements, ideas, and thoughts that have been piling up. I hope you find some of these as interesting as I do.

First there's news in the bearing industry. Yep, bearings, those metallic items that reduce rotational friction. A company called Synchrony ( has introduced bearings that hold the rotating shaft in position with a magnetic field, essentially eliminating friction and wear. That's not new; what struck me is that their Fusion line incorporates the required controller inside the bearing! Sensors digitize the shaft's position 15,000 times per second and feed that data into an on-board DSP. The processor drives a pulse-width modulator whose output goes to two high-power amplifiers that control the magnetic field.

These are not your typical McMaster-Carr bearings; they're bulky, with the smallest being seven inches in diameter and 3.8 inches thick. (See Figure 1.) Besides, one needs a bit of heft so there's room for the RJ-45 Ethernet connection, which lets engineers monitor the health of the bearing and understand loads imposed on it. Who would have dreamed of an Internet-enabled bearing?

Click on image to enlarge.

The devices need only a 48-volt DC supply of power. They're promoted as being green due to the frictional power savings, but one wonders how much that is offset by the 48-volt supply.

The thought of putting embedded smarts into something as boring as a bearing is truly mind-bending.

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