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New Miniature Coaxial Reed Relay for High-Speed RF Systems up to 3GHz

ELE Times - Tue, 09/06/2022 - 13:00

Pickering Electronics has launched a new miniature coaxial reed relays for high-frequency RF systems up to 3GHz. Series 113RF SIL/SIP reed relays feature a 2mm spacing footprint, enabling them to be stacked at very high densities.

When asked, “When would reed relays be the best solution for RF and high speed, digital switching systems?” Kevin Mallett, Technical Specialist at Pickering Electronics answered: “These small, screened reed relays are faster and smaller than electromechanical relays (EMR), have a lower insertion loss and better DC capabilities than solid state relays (SSR), and better hot switching performance than micro-electromechanical machine (MEM) products.”

Series 113RF reed relays are suitable for switching up to 10W, 0.5A. 1 Form A configurations (SPST normally open) are available with 3V or 5V coils with coil resistances of up to 100/300 ohms respectively.

At low levels, the typical life expectancy of Series 113RF reed relays is greater than 250 million reliable operations. The relays employ the highest quality instrumentation grade reed switches with sputtered ruthenium contacts and are ideal for automatic test equipment.

All Series 113RF reed relays feature an internal mu-metal magnetic screen to enable high-density stacking of relays without the risk of adjacent devices interfering with each other resulting in faulty operation.

Pickering now offers a coaxial RF option in many of their small, instrumentation reed relay ranges, up to 5 GHz.

Pickering offer over a thousand standard catalogue reed relays, but for those that require something a little more bespoke, the company offers many standard build options, all the way to a fully customized part, depending on requirements. For example, if you are interested in the 113RF but require a different footprint, specific coil voltages or resistance figures the company would be happy to work with the designer to meet the exact specification request.

The post New Miniature Coaxial Reed Relay for High-Speed RF Systems up to 3GHz appeared first on ELE Times.

Practical Tips for Embedded System Security

ELE Times - Tue, 09/06/2022 - 12:19

While embedded systems tend to lack the processing horsepower of servers or even modern personal computers, the sheer number of devices is making them an increasingly valuable target for bad actors looking to run illegal botnets and cryptocurrency mining operations. One of the first major security-related wake-ups calls for embedded system designers was the 2016 Nest thermostat botnet attacks. Given the consumer-facing nature of the particular Internet of Things (IoT) coupled with an increased sensitivity regarding privacy and security; the Nest botnet caused a huge amount of discussion. Those discussions tended to centre on how companies should build security into their low-cost IoT products and how consumers can safely operate the devices in their homes and businesses.

With the growing threat of cyberattacks, it is essential that developers keep security considerations in mind throughout the design process. By following some practical tips and recommendations, developers can guard against a wide range of attack scenarios. Read on for an outline of security measures developers can use in their embedded designs.

Build Secure

While there are numerous chip architectures, operating systems, and communications protocols; many IoT devices tend to be built around Arm®-based architectures, and if they run an OS it tends to be a Linux distribution. This commonality is good in many ways; lower costs and faster development times; it also comes with quite a few negatives. Attack vectors tend to become “one-size-fits-all”, especially for devices running a Linux-based OS. To mitigate the threats associated with widespread devices that share a common architecture, developers should implement the following “quick win” security design principles:

  • Do NOT hardcode passwords into the firmware. Also, do not use a common default password for all devices. Require the user to create a custom username and password during device initialization.
  • Do NOT enable insecure protocols such as HTTP, FTP, or Telnet by default. Data going off the device via wired or wireless protocols must be strongly encrypted. Avoid “homebrewed” encryption solutions.
  • Ship the device with the most restrictive configuration possible and let the end-user make a proactive decision to reduce security-related settings.
  • All mechanisms used to access the devices should require authentication and authorization controls. Two-factor authentication (2FA) should be used if practical.
  • All user-facing inputs should be filtered to avoid injection-type attacks.
  • Implement a secure device management interface for the end-user that will allow them to manage their assets, update devices, monitor devices, and securely decommission the devices that have reached their end-of-life (EOL).
  • Over-The-Air (OTA) update mechanisms must be validated on-device. The update files must be sent encrypted en route to the device. Lastly, ensure there are anti-rollback features to prevent a device from being reverted to a previous, insecure firmware.
  • If third-party software libraries are used in the design of your device, they must be continually monitored to ensure that third-party updates are integrated and that they do not become deprecated. Abandoned software projects can become nasty vulnerabilities for your device. Change the third-party software default passwords before committing them to your project.
  • Limit what sensitive data should be stored on the device. Store such information in a secure enclave only.
  • Remember that with the IoT that embedded systems are only one part of a larger ecosystem. Ensure that security is built into the cloud, desktop, and mobile applications as well. Ecosystem security is only as strong as the weakest link.
  • Consider establishing a bug bounty program to encourage end-users and security researchers to submit flaws in a secure, responsible manner.

Physical access to a device tends to be the game-over situation for devices. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that can be done to make it harder physically exploit these types of devices. Entire books have been written on making circuit boards and associated enclosures tamper-resistant but for a few “quick wins” consider the following physical design rules of thumb to harden your device:

  • Pins for debugging ports such as JTAG and UARTs are very useful when developing and testing a device. They are also tempting targets for those seeking to reverse engineer a device with ill-intent. Obfuscating these pins and/or removing header pins for production units is recommended. Note that this will come at the expense of making it more difficult to troubleshoot once fielded. Designers must consider a balance between security and maintainability.
  • The use of adhesives, ultrasonic welding, and/or speciality security screws can make it more difficult to open a device.
  • Applying a non-conductive epoxy over sensitive components can obfuscate their identity and purpose.
  • You might be tempted to use older components that might have vulnerabilities. Be aware of the counterfeit components as well. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Balancing security and time-to-market considerations is not a decision to be taken lightly.
  • Multilayer boards can be used to route traces in a way that makes it harder to discern how the board functions.

Some of the following recommendations might be a bit much for consumer-grade IoT devices. However, as we will elaborate on later, industrial control systems and defense systems would likely benefit from these more robust physical security measures:

  • Build security features into the board itself, such as micro switches, mercury switches, or magnetic switches that can detect if a board is being unintentionally handled or opened. Nichrome wire or fibre optics can also be used. If the wire or fibre is negatively impacted by someone trying to tamper with a device, then there will be a detectable change in the current flow of the wire or the behaviour of photons through the fibre.
  • Side Channel or glitching attacks, while perhaps not common, provide a unique advantage to adversaries in that they use the laws of physics against a device and thus are very difficult to prevent though can be detected. By attacking the timing or restricting the flow of electrons to a CPU, it’s possible to get a device to act in unintended ways that negate security features. Voltage and current sensors can be implemented onboard circuit boards to detect if glitching may be occurring, though there is potential for false positives.
  • Significant adversaries can employ x-ray machinery to peer into microchips and discover the topography of the transistors to determine function and more. Sensors that detect x-rays can be added to detect tampering, though can do nothing to prevent an adversary from extracting useful information.

It should be noted that there is quite a dichotomy between the paradigms of security and openness. Security values obfuscation. Open hardware values understanding. Regardless, keep in mind the old adage that locks only keep honest people honest, and so too with security-at-large. For more information on how to build secure IoT devices, visit the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) IoT Project.

Operate Secure

Even if a manufacturer could implement all the best secure design principles in their product, they would be mostly for nought if the end-user does not operate their device in a secure manner.

  • Change the default router name, router password, network name (SSID), and network encryption key. Be sure to use strong password principles and do not use the same password for both networks.
  • Segment your home network into two “virtual” networks so that IoT devices cannot be “seen” by desktop computers, Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices, etc. To do this quickly and easily, use the guest network feature for your IoT network.
  • Most IoT devices rely on a smartphone app to control device. Keep the app up to date and use 2FA for login if available.
  • Disable any features of your IoT devices that you do not intend to use.
  • Update the firmware of both your router and IoT devices on a regular basis.
  • When an IoT device reaches the end of life and no longer receives updates consider replacing it with a newer model.

Industrial Strength Security

Consumer-facing IoT products may be plentiful, but their industrial counterparts, collectively referred to as Industrial Control Systems (ICS) manage numerous extremely important and potentially dangerous processes. Everything from energy production to factories uses embedded digital technology (referred to as Operational Technology or OT; in contrast to office-centric Information Technology or IT) to control the facilities and associated machinery responsible for performing the various processes. The ICS environment is sufficiently different from a strict IT environment that special considerations for hardening OT devices and ICS networks are warranted. The most fundamental principle is that ICS should not have a connection to the internet. While this seems like a no-brainer, it is surprising how often this fundamental rule is violated. For more information on how to secure ICS networks and devices, there are two security frameworks you should review: MITRE ATT&CK for ICS and MITRE ATT&CK for Enterprise.

The nature of where ICS systems are typically found (e.g., areas that are environmentally, chemically, or otherwise hazardous) means ICS has been designed to prioritize the availability of the systems over confidentiality. From a positive perspective, this typically means there are redundant systems, and those systems are designed to fail safely. However, ICS systems can be left in operation for several decades and may not always be kept up-to-date. In addition, many of the protocols are older and were built with efficiency, not security in mind. Bottom line, security in the ICS or IIoT space is uniquely challenging and best practices may be difficult to implement. However, embedded developers for such machinery should be cognizant of the need to modernize their design practices and incorporate security into future designs and not treat it as a bolt-on afterthought.

Courtesy: Mouser Electronics

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UTMEL Electronics – your reliable components distributor 

Electronic lovers - Tue, 09/06/2022 - 05:22

UTMEL electronics was established in 2019 and declared itself as a reliable electronic components distributor worldwide. The company started as a small entity but with time they have grown into a large organization that is capable of sourcing and supplying electronic products for various industries and sectors. The company has now expanded its reach to cover various countries across the globe, including India, China, Japan, Brazil, the USA, and Australia among others.

The first headquarter of Utmel were constituted in Hong Kong. Utmel electronics endeavored immense trust and value in the electronics market due to professionalism and supply of reliable best quality electronic products. 

Mission on Utmel Electronics as a leading components supplier:

Our goal is to be a one-stop shop for all your electronic component needs. Whether you are looking for resistors, capacitors, inductors, or connectors of any type. You will find many suppliers and the best manufacturers on our website. You can choose the brand of your very own entrust and need. 

Sourcing electronic components are considered difficult because reliability and standards assurance is not what every company provides. Besides every customer or engineer prefer cost friendly as well as the best product which should be free of any drawback. The company takes pride in its customer service and quality products. Utmel works with different industries to develop custom solutions that are tailored to their needs.

Utmel Electronics is one of the leading producers of electronic goods for different industries such as healthcare, education, retail, transportation, engineering sector, etc. 

Why choose UTMEL Electronics Co. Ltd. 
  • Credential Certification: 

Utmel assures its customers of the quality of electronic products and meets the standards of renowned electronics curbing authorities.

  • Association with top electronics manufacturing brands:

We supply the products of the world top rated brands of Korea, USA, Europe, and Japan like Samsung, INTEL, CH products, Foxconn, Microchip, NXP, and many more. You can choose the brand of your desire and we will supply the products as per your demand. 

  • Smart BOM tool:

By using our smart BOM tool you can optimize your product purchase scheme as well as avail a comparative inventory pricing. You can experience intelligent matching model and recommended alternative devices. 

  • Premium-quality product:

Our utmost mission is to provide high-quality, long-lasting, and suitable electronic products for your medical, household, or mechanical devices. 

  • Budget-friendly:

We can help you cut down the pricing while assuring the quality of your desired products. There are sale opportunities that come up from time to time so you can avail yourself and save your money.

  • Fast delivery and reliable packaging:

Our storage and packaging facilities are up to the mark and meet international standards. We assure to provide fast delivery service. They can safely provide your next product on time and at a competitive price.

  • Atonable after-sale customer service:

Utmel Stores cares about their customers and they have the best customer service around. They have the best prices, best quality, and best selection of products. Still, if our customers find any ambiguity about our product or service, they can freely contact our customer care service and talk to our engineers and professionals to resolve the respective issue. 

  • Wide range of products:

There is a wide range of products we supply. You can visit our catalog and search for your desired product or manufacturing brand. We provide all types of capacitors, isolators, circuit protectors, sensors, connectors, ICs, resistors, inductors, filters, electronic crystals, discrete semiconductors, PCB power supplies RFID, RF/IF, etc.

  • Wide usage range of products:

Our products are being used in medical electronic devices, household devices, office electronic devices, PCBs, PCBA, aerospace technology, communication technology, AI technology, etc. 

  • Opportunity of vocational training:

To cope up with this difficult period of Covid-19 Pandemic, UTMEL electronics is pursuing vocational training and maintains our professional standards. 

  • Careful inspection and storage of products:

Our professional staff of engineers run careful inspection of product before supply. We have advanced storage and inspection facilities to maintain product value and ensure customers’ satisfaction. 

What does UTMEL stand for?

U: Universal – we hold universal to worldwide business.

T: Technology – we provide the best quality products that adhere to brand new technological standards 

M: Merge – we merge electronic products or mechanical operations skillfully to meet customers’ demands and standards.

E: Electronic – we adhere to electronics product sourcing as a reliable E-business enterprise.

 L: Legion – our company has an organizational value and works as a legion. 

Conclusion:

Utmel Electronics Co. Ltd., proudly affirms the reliability and budget-friendly, best quality products with the assurance of quality and stellar customer service. In the electronics industry components, sourcing is a threshold step, which holds the responsibility for the success and failure of a particular electronic setup/device.

Utmel Electronics is a reliable source for electronic parts. They provide electronic components, tools, and supplies that can be used in various industries like aerospace, automotive, and more. We also offer a wide range of services such as custom design work, PCB assembly, and more. 

Thus UTMEL electronics is your ultimate and effective assistant for your electronic components sourcing.

The post UTMEL Electronics – your reliable components distributor  appeared first on Electronics Lovers ~ Technology We Love.

3 Tips to Optimize Data Reliability with Sensors in Real-time Control Systems

ELE Times - Mon, 09/05/2022 - 13:53

Real-time control is the ability of a closed-loop system to gather data, process that data, and update the system within a defined time window. As a continuation of the article, “What is ‘Real-Time Control’ and Why Do You Need It?,” I’ll take a closer look at the first functional block of real-time control systems – sensing (gathering) data – and offer three tips on how to optimize data capture for real-time control systems by paying attention to certain sensor parameters.

You may be monitoring the position and speed of a motor, regulating the output power of an electric vehicle (EV) charging station, or even measuring the closing distance between a vehicle and a car stopped ahead of it. Regardless of the application, important variables for the safety and performance of a closed-loop system include sensor speed, accuracy and reliability.

Tip No. 1: Choose a sensor that gathers and communicates data within your defined time window.

Sensor response, conversion, and communication speeds are extremely important for real-time control systems in which the environment changes rapidly. The faster a system can gather and process data, the quicker it can update its outputs to maintain stability and efficiency.

Let’s look at the example of an EV’s battery pack, where over 40 sensors measure battery cell temperatures. Data from these sensors help maintain the safe operation of these cells and optimizes charging efficiency. The challenge designers often face is that the point-to-point cables holding traditional negative temperature coefficient thermistors add weight and cost to the EV.

To solve this challenge, as shown in Figure 1, you can adopt the single-wire protocol found in TI’s TMP1826 temperature sensor to reduce the number of cables needed and thus the overall weight, improving vehicle efficiency.

Figure 1: Reducing EV battery temperature sensor cabling

When there are multiple sensors on one bus, however, it’s important to make sure that the communication speed is fast enough for the controller to query a new temperature reading from every single temperature sensor, all within a defined time window. Thankfully, devices such as the TMP1826 support both standard speeds for legacy applications and an overdrive mode with a 90-kbps data rate for low-latency communication, enabling the real-time control system to update each battery module’s cell temperatures properly.

Tip No. 2: Choose an accurate sensor and follow best practices to minimize external errors.

Real-time control systems require precise feedback, and the easiest way to achieve this is by using an accurate sensor. Consider a motor-controlled system such as six-axis robotic arms or collaborative robots, as shown in Figure 2. These robots require precise motor position sensing and control to ensure exactness in assembly processes and safety in cases where there is human interaction.

If you know the motor’s position with greater accuracy, you may be able to reduce mechanical tolerances. In other words, the more accurate your position sensor is, the more margin your design has. A precision Hall-effect position sensor such as the TMAG5170 enables you to accurately monitor a motor’s position while quickly responding to any angular changes so that the real-time control processing unit can reposition the motor accordingly.

 Figure 2: Multiaxis collaborative robots

In order to achieve accurate measurements, you must also follow best design practices and consider all possible error sources such as mechanical imperfections of the system or errors related to the signal chain. For real-time control systems requiring precise angular feedback in magnetically sensed applications, follow the guidelines found in the application note, “Achieving Highest System Angle Sensing Accuracy.”

Tip No. 3: Choose a reliable sensor based on your product’s mission profile.

A sensor’s speed and accuracy are two keys for successful real-time control, but you also have to consider the system’s life span and environmental operating conditions to ensure that your sensors operate properly over time. For example, the satellite shown in Figure 3 not only needs to withstand intense physical vibrations and large amounts of radiation in space, but also extreme temperature variations.

Figure 3: Space is a particularly harsh environment for electronic components

One example of real-time control in space is found within power generation and distribution systems on satellites, which use current-sense amplifiers (CSAs) to monitor their main power rail input current in order to detect single-event transients. Upon the detection of an overcurrent event, the processor can react in real time to shut down electronic subsystems and prevent damage.

TI leverages technology advancements such as space-enhanced plastics and radiation-hardened packaging in CSA products such as the INA901-SP and INA240-SEP to maintain highly accurate measurements and enable real-time control in space. To learn more, check out the technical article, “How Current-Sense Amplifiers Monitor Satellite Health.”

Conclusion

Sensing often refers to the measurement of external variables such as voltage, current, motor speed, position, humidity and temperature. A sensor’s response time, communication speeds, accuracy and reliability are important parameters to send data changes in real time to the control system.

Bryan Padilla, Automotive Product Marketing Engineer, Texas Instruments

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Alternative energy: What’s coming up in hydrogen?

EDN Network - Mon, 09/05/2022 - 10:44

In our highly demanding society, energy usage has always been a major concern while we have got used to oil, gas, and electricity being part of our everyday lives. ‘Unlimited’ access to energy sources has been taken for granted, and despite concerns about climate change and a willingness to reduce carbon emissions, in truth, the transition from fossil energy to renewable energy has been slow and scattered. Also, many decisions have been made locally with little or no cooperation with other parts of the region, country or unions. As a result, we are now facing a deployment of renewable sources of energies with a lack of global strategy, and perhaps even worse, without real consideration for high-scale energy storage.

In July 2020, the adoption of the EU strategies for energy system integration and hydrogen paved the way toward a fully decarbonized, more efficient and interconnected energy sector with the ambitious goal of making the EU energy-independent and climate-neutral by 2050. Since then, a lot of activity has taken place, but the political situation regarding the war in Ukraine has reshuffled the cards and we now realize how big the gap was between our long-term vision and reality.

Often discussed and seen as something of a curiosity, the interest in hydrogen, especially green hydrogen, has become a central point of interest and many dormant projects have moved toward implementation. The creation of Hydrogen Valley, hydrogen corridors and the transformation of some industries from conventional gas to hydrogen displays significant progress in this area. For sure, this is a major transformation that will require a lot of effort and investment but also, innovation. Many improvements have been made in electrolyzers and fuel cells as well as in network energy management.

There is no ‘miracle cure’ in hydrogen and it should be considered as part of an ecosystem. As previously mentioned, it’s very important to rethink not only how we produce energy but also how we transport and store it. Battery banks are good for local applications but how do you store enough energy to supply cities and industries for hours or even days? We know that converting electricity to hydrogen and then back to electricity is not very efficient; however, it could provide an alternative solution when demand exceeds production or when the network is unable to feed energy to the grid. As well, recent wind droughts have forced countries who, having shut down nuclear plants, now have to restart coil power-generators to compensate for the lack of energy.

Again, there is no magic power to solve the complex equation of reducing CO2 emissions, become energy independent, and sustain healthy society development. When considering alternative energy sources, there is no doubt that nuclear fusion is probably the future, but as we all know, despite huge progress in this area, we are still years away from connecting a fusion generator to the grid. Indeed, it’s a long-standing joke that nuclear fusion power is 30 years away and always will be. Nonetheless recent publications are telling us that we might see micro-fusion generators delivered on promises, way before the massive ITER is turned-on.

As a power electronics engineer and technology freak, I strongly believe in and appreciate the power of science and the energy challenges that we are facing. These provide us with great scope for creativity and inventiveness.

Patrick Le Fèvre is chief marketing and communications officer at Powerbox. He is delivering a keynote titled “The EU Green Deal challenges and opportunities for Hydrogen ecosystem” and is participating in a panel discussion titled “Alternative energy sources and related energy storage technologies” on the third and final day of Green Engineering Summit to be virtually held on 13-15 September 2022.

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Qorvo QPA1724 Ku/K-Band GaN Power Amp Optimized for Military and Commercial SATCOM

ELE Times - Mon, 09/05/2022 - 10:24

Mouser Electronics, Inc., is now stocking the QPA1724 Ku/K-Band gallium nitride (GaN) power amplifier (PA) from Qorvo. Delivering twice the power of similar PAs, and offering excellent wideband linear power, gain and power added efficiency, the QPA1724 is a market leader in RF performance for both commercial and defense markets.

The Qorvo QPA1724, available from Mouser Electronics, is a high-power MIMIC amplifier targeted for the 17.3 to 21.2 GHz SATCOM (Ku-K) band. The QPA1724 delivers a saturated output power of 20 W (~43 dBm) with a small signal gain of 25 dB and power-added efficiency (PAE) of 27%. Fabricated using Qorvo’s production 0.15 μm GaN-on-SiC process (QGaN15), the device includes on-chip blocking capacitors following the DC grounds on the input and output ports. The QPA1724 PA is also fully matched to 50 ohms with DC grounded I/O ports for peak ESD performance to simplify system integration.

Ideally suited for commercial and military radar and satellite communication (SATCOM) applications, including low-earth-orbit constellations and wide bandwidth, multi-carrier high-data throughput solutions, the QPA1724 is available in a 7.5 mm × 6.0 mm × 1.6 mm QFN package and 100% DC and RF tested to ensure compliance with electrical specifications. For evaluation and development, the QPA1724EVB evaluation board is available to order from Mouser.

To learn more about the QPA1724 amplifier, visit www.mouser.com/new/qorvo/qorvo-

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TouchGFX 4.20: Sharing Custom Containers Is Caring! Check the New Export Feature

ELE Times - Mon, 09/05/2022 - 10:09

TouchGFX 4.20 is now available for download. With this version, we aim to help developers share their creations with their teammates and with the world better. Indeed, we are now offering a way to export custom containers. Designers will thus have the tools to share specific design elements across projects. TouchGFX 4.20 also brings significant performance optimizations when using vector graphics. Developers will, therefore, be able to share smoother animations with their customers or provide more complex interfaces. As is often the case, this new version of the framework ensures that rich UIs can run on a wider range of MCUs and that teams reduce friction to improve their creativity.

What Is TouchGFX?

The Framework

TouchGFX is ST’s free-to-use framework that helps create graphical user interfaces on STM32 microcontrollers. Written in C++, the engine takes advantage of optimizations on ST devices. TouchGFX works under the assumption that interfaces consist of screens users navigate. Hence, the framework is intuitive and reflects one’s experiences. It is also extensive as it handles 2D and 3D objects, videos, animations, transitions, etc. Additionally, the ability to access the code generated allows expert engineers to optimize it. To help them in the process, TouchGFX Documentation provides information on the framework’s APIs or available development tools.

TouchGFX Designer

TouchGFX Designer creating a UI for a coffee machine

TouchGFX Designer is often the first tool developers use when starting their UI. It’s a utility with a WYSIWYG approach where designers create what their users will see and interact with. Developers can start with example projects, such as a clock, gauge, or animated image. There are also more full-fledged demos like dice animation, scene transitions, or a pool monitoring system. A startup screen helps choose the demo application, an ST development board, and then configures everything. Hence, running example codes and demos takes minutes, which means creating proofs-of-concept faster. UI elements in TouchGFX Designer often take the form of widgets one adds and configures through the utility’s interface.

TouchGFX Designer is an integral part of the TouchGFX ecosystem. For instance, as long as users choose a 3.0 template, it is possible to start the project in Designer, then take it to STM32CubeMX, set up the Discovery board or MCU, and let TouchGFX Generator (see below) update the .IOC file to apply the new settings immediately. Similarly, a developer can start with TouchGFX Generator, move to TouchGFX Designer, and then go back to STM32CubeMX to change the display resolution. The system will automatically update TouchGFX Designer without needing to close the application.

TouchGFX Simulator

TouchGFX Simulator helps developers preview their graphical user interface before running it onto their MCU. Part of its appeal is that it offers keyboard shortcuts to streamline workflows. For instance, it is easier to take various screenshots and study animations frame by frame. Similarly, pressing F2 highlights invalidated areas, meaning the sections of the frame that the system must update. As a result, developers can check if their animations waste MCU resources by unnecessarily invalidating assets.

TouchGFX Generator

TouchGFX Generator and Designer working together on a smartwatchTouchGFX Generator and Designer working together on a smartwatch

TouchGFX Generator works with STM32CubeMX to generate a significant portion of the TouchGFX abstraction layer. We support nearly all STM32 Discovery Kits with a display, and the new plugin works with any STM32 MCU with a Cortex-M0+, M4, or M7. Developers still have to fill some blanks with their user code and perform optimizations, but this new plugin makes starting a project a lot more straightforward. Indeed, Generator creates empty functions to guide developers and facilitate board initialization. There are also existing default setups for the ST development boards to hasten developments and serve as examples.

What’s New in TouchGFX 4.20?

Exporting Custom Containers

In its most simplistic form, TouchGFX Designer relies on widgets, a representation of a feature drawn on the screen. The software comes with many predefined widgets, such as a gauge, clock, or graph, and developers can design their custom widgets. To make widgets more straightforward, designers can group them inside a container. Containers are often the building blocks of an interface. They enable programmers to reuse a set of widgets across multiple screens without having to reconfigure them every time. Additionally, modifying container impacts every screen using it, which vastly simplifies developments. TouchGFX also comes with predefined containers to hasten the most common design operations and developers can create custom containers.

Custom containers are highly popular because they enable developers to tweak their interface and flesh out a precise vision. The inherent challenge behind any design tool, however, is that the work spent on one project can almost never be exported to another UI. Indeed, a custom container includes code, graphical assets, texts, dependencies, and more that ties it to its existing project. TouchGFX Designer 4.20 solved this issue by offering an export feature that creates a bundle (.tpkg file) that’s reusable on other projects. The utility will add all assets, including fonts, to the bundle and an XML file lists its content. Developers can therefore check that file and modify it to select what they would like to export.

Importing Custom Containers

To import a custom container, users select Edit -> Import -> Custom Container. TouchGFX 4.20 includes a new import utility that guides users through the process. For instance, the software detects the languages defined by the custom container and matches them to those available in the new project or ignores them. The system will also halt the import process if there’s a conflict between generic names or if an issue could cause problems inside the new interface. TouchGFX Designer forces users to fix issues on the original custom container, instead of creating workarounds during the import process. As the feature’s purpose is to preserve the look and feel of interfaces across products, forcing changes inside the original project ensures consistency across UIs.

Vector Optimizations

Most static interfaces on microcontrollers use bitmaps because they require so little computational throughput. Comparatively, vector images are less common because they need a lot more computing power. The challenge is that vectors are essential for animations. As a result, developers may choose to use more resources to provide a smoother animation thanks to a higher number of frames per second. Alternatively, the animation can use less power and be less fluid. TouchGFX 4.20 offers significant optimizations when processing vector graphics with an increase in efficiency of up to 70% in some cases. Developers can thus offer smoother animations on smaller MCUs or use more vector elements. However, developers will see the biggest performance gains on larger animations.

The new optimization utilizes Chrom-ART to offload the microcontroller during certain operations like color fills. ST also updated the way the framework computes the edges of a shape. Moreover, since the updates pertain to the framework’s handling of vector graphics, users automatically benefit from them. Developers will thus see performance boosts immediately and can plan accordingly. Some may choose to lower their application’s memory requirement or decide to add new animations to their interface. Teams may also have to review their UI because some elements may run at a faster rate than expected.

What Features Are Already in TouchGFX?

Support for X-NUCLEO-GFX01M2 and X-NUCLEO-GFX02Z1

The X-NUCLEO-GFX01M2The X-NUCLEO-GFX01M2

When engineers decide to have a graphical user interface, the display often becomes the single most expensive component in their bill of materials. A simple 2-inch display with no touch layer will significantly improve the user experience, but it’s still more costly than anything else. Sourcing an affordable display, when aiming for a BoM of five dollars or less, is thus problematic. As a result, ST is shipping display expansion boards to help engineers find cost-effective parts, and we are offering support for the hardware within TouchGFX Designer. Users choose the display’s configuration and can start working on an interface that matches its specifications.

The first expansion board engineers can choose is the X-NUCLEO-GFX01M2. It uses an SPI 2.2-inch QVGA (320 x 240) display that supports SPI flash, and that would fit a BOM of about five dollars for a typical embedded system with external flash and a two-layer PCB. The X-NUCLEO-GFX01M2 is compatible with a broad range of 64-pin NUCLEO boards. For instance, engineers can use it on the NUCLEO-WB55RG to help make Bluetooth applications more accessible.

The X-NUCLEO-GFX02Z1The X-NUCLEO-GFX02Z1

Similarly, the X-NUCLEO-GFX02Z1 is our first display expansion board to support a parallel interface, QSPI flash, and Nucleo boards with 144 pins. The platform targets microcontrollers with more power, which explains the compatibility with interfaces that offer higher bandwidths. Developers can use the X-NUCLEO-GFX02Z1 with the NUCLEO-U575ZI-Q that came out with the first STM32U5s. It thus enables engineers to take advantage of the better performance-per-watt ratio of the new MCU to create user interfaces that weren’t possible on previous generations of STM32s.

Embedding Videos in UIs

The desire to bring videos to more UIs is a natural consequence of the growing popularity of displays on embedded systems. Unfortunately, showing a video on an embedded system with a microcontroller is challenging. There is no operating system with a default media player and codecs. Similarly, writing a web page showing a YouTube video is impossible. Developers have to do all the heavy lifting, such as implementing a video buffer, figuring out what format would work best on their microcontroller, and determining how to take advantage of hardware acceleration if available. TouchGFX Designer offers a video widget to solve this challenge. Hence, adding a video now only requires three straightforward steps.

CacheableContainers

As the name implies, it uses a bitmap cache to accelerate graphical performance and enable a higher frame rate for smoother transitions. The demo below runs on an STM32F429I Discovery kit. Without CacheableContainers, the simple full-screen (240 × 320) slide animation runs at nine frames per second. With the TouchGFX technology, the system reaches 60 frames per second. Some smartwatches currently use this feature to ensure a seamless user experience despite the significant hardware limitations inherent to their form factor and the need for more battery life. Beyond animations, CacheableContainers can optimize complex widgets, such as texture mappers or small dynamic elements displayed in front of a static background.

Without CacheableContainers, an animation must redraw every frame, which can get computationally expensive. CacheableContainer bypasses this problem by storing the first and last frames in a separate container in the form of a bitmap that the system keeps in the RAM. Instead of rendering the animation, the system retrieves the two images from memory using DMA and shows them at different places thanks to a simple DynamicBitmap method. The MCU no longer generates every frame, thus significantly optimizing performance. Developers only need to tick the Cacheable box in TouchGFX Designer, select the location in memory of the containers they want to cache, and call them when needed. With this technique, the render time drops from 100 ms to 5 ms.

Partial Framebuffer

A frame buffer is a contiguous memory space that stores a representation of each of the pixels that will appear on display. For example, a standard 24-bit 390 x 390 image for a smartwatch display demands a frame buffer of 3,650,400 bits or 456.3 KB(390\times390\times24)\div8, which is more than 70% of the SRAM available on the STM32L4+ that excels on smartwatches and wearables. And this number can explode if an application requires more than one frame buffer. Beyond the capacity limitations, a large frame buffer takes longer to fetch as more data must travel from the memory to the display, slowing down performance.

As the name indicates, Partial Framebuffer only stores a portion of the frame buffer, thus reducing its memory footprint by 10. Developers can configure its size according to the section of the screen that will change and then store multiple partial buffers. The framework will then choose the appropriate one and send it to the display. The technology works best with short animations, like clocks, loading bars, or a graph that builds itself over time. It also demands that the screen use an embedded controller as it will directly receive the partial frame buffer from the MCU’s RAM, thus bypassing the flash for added performance. The technology works on Parallel / 8080, DSI, and SPI displays.

TouchGFX also optimizes the partial frame buffer to bring UIs to resource-constrained microcontrollers. Traditionally, a minimal graphical interface would require a frame buffer of about 200 KB. However, when a microcontroller like the STM32G071 has only 36 KB of RAM, it can be a real problem. TouchGFX solves this by optimizing the partial frame buffer to only six kilobytes. Accounting for the framework’s application data, an entry-level UI would only need 16 KB of RAM to run. TouchGFX also uses smart partial screen updates. The functionality complements partial frame buffering to optimize the order of updates on the screen. The process saves resources, thus allowing more updates during the same period.

L8 Compression Format

Graphical assets take a lot of space in memory, and reducing their quality means downgrading the user interface. L8 is thus an essential feature because it can compress an image file by up to 75% with no downgrade, thanks to the Chrom-ART accelerator present in STM32 microcontrollers. As long as an asset uses a maximum of 256 colors, which is very often the case on small embedded systems with an STM32 MCU, developers can choose to compress an asset using the L8 format by merely ticking a box in TouchGFX Designer. Decompression is also computationally efficient as it uses the Chrom-ART engine to look up colors in a table and render the asset without loss of quality.

XML File for Text

Design teams often store text in an Excel file to work with various translators worldwide. However, instead of using version control systems, such as Git, editors have to manually handle changes and make sure no one inadvertently overwrites someone else’s work, which can be cumbersome. To solve this problem, TouchGFX stores all text in an XML file. The format makes merging operations and conflict resolutions a lot simpler. TouchGFX also includes an XML to Excel converter to fit existing workflows. Developers can export to Excel and then import their Excel file back into TouchGFX and its XML format.

Optimized Project Files

TouchGFX also fosters collaboration thanks to small project files. Their size makes them easier to merge and potentially share. Previously, project files stored all parameters in a JSON format. The problem is that such a file can get quite large. ST, therefore, decided to optimize project files by only storing custom settings. Therefore, anything that isn’t in the file is treated as using a default value. Consequently, the file is much smaller, making merging operations on Git far more straightforward and faster.

Single-Use Text and Its Random ID

Developers wishing to use text must create a resource in the text panel of TouchGFX Designer and then use the text’s ID in the UI. However, TouchGFX also allows for “single-use text”, which doesn’t appear as a typical text resource. Developers use it during testing or if a text isn’t important. It prevents filling up the database with irrelevant texts and helps prototype faster. Indeed, the single-use text feature automatically generates an ID and erases the resource from the database if deleted from the UI, unlike regular text resources. TouchGFX also uses a random string generator for ID creation. As a result, it’s nearly impossible for two single-use text IDs in the same project to be identical.

Animations and Widgets

Slide-in Transitions and Dynamic Graphs

The challenge for developers is to take advantage of all the features we keep adding to TouchGFX. Hence, we offer optimized animations that already use the features above. For instance, while a traditional slide-in transition requires an entire screen refresh, TouchGFX’s wipe animation uses far fewer resources. Similarly, the dynamic graph widget shows sequential data better with less impact on the RAM and the microcontroller.

Static Graphs

As wearables track environmental or physical data, users want to see progress. Graphs can track heart rates, temperatures, steps walked, and more. TouchGFX developers first asked for dynamic graphs, as they can be challenging to implement, and the feature has been available since TouchGFX 4.15. Now, our teams are releasing static graphs to accommodate new applications. Indeed, data that doesn’t need to evolve constantly or knows only slight variation over time better suits a static representation. The new graphs work slightly differently. Developers only need to send one data point on a dynamic one since the time interval is constant. However, on static ones, programmers must enter information for the X and Y axes.

Clocks and Texture Mapper

TouchGFX also has widgets that mimic applications, such as analog and digital clocks. There’s also a texture mapper, which means that developers can start creating their mapping program with a simple drag and drop. They will still need to enter their C++ code, but it will make the whole process a lot smoother. Texture Mapper is also a great example of TouchGFX optimizations on resource-constrained MCUs. It can help animate objects and even works on an STM32G0 as long as the graphical asset is in the RAM and not the flash.

Gauge

The gauge template draws a needle and an arc to help users monitor values. Developers can also change its background, the needle’s orientation, the range of values, and more. The demo below shows how programmers can switch between their IDE and TouchGFX Designer for a more fluid workflow. Teams can check the gauge rapidly, tweak it on the fly, and test their code instantaneously. For instance, the video shows how the handleTickEvent() function controls the gauge’s behavior. With very few lines of code, developers can change the range of values and how often the indicator receives an update, among other things. Such optimizations can save a lot of resources in applications that don’t need to renew the value displayed constantly.

Advanced Text Management

Text is an essential part of most graphical user interfaces, which explains why designers work so much on it. They customize it, translate it, and shape it. Some applications created on TouchGFX Designers can have thousands of text resources, each translated into many languages. The problem is that working with text can be cumbersome. Hence, to reduce friction, TouchGFX now offers groups that developers can define according to a section or feature of their applications. The new feature makes it simpler to show translated text side-by-side in TouchGFX Designer. It also helps bundle relevant information to check for consistency and accuracy. Finally, groups make searching and finding specific resources faster.

TouchGFX Designer also includes a Typographiesoption to set defaults parameters within groups. The section allows users to choose font specifications, fallback characters, wildcards, alignment, etc. Previously, developers had to overwrite parameters for each text resource, which could be a lot of work. Thanks to groups, it’s possible to set parameters for many resources simultaneously, thus vastly optimizing developments. Existing projects with custom typographies will see their settings move to the new section. The new text interface also displays single-use texts and enables their promotion to a resource if necessary.

For more information, visit blog.st.com/touchgfx/

The post TouchGFX 4.20: Sharing Custom Containers Is Caring! Check the New Export Feature appeared first on ELE Times.

Please report off-topic submissions

Reddit:Electronics - Mon, 09/05/2022 - 03:15

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Weekly discussion, complaint, and rant thread

Reddit:Electronics - Sat, 09/03/2022 - 17:00

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Major Breakthrough Speeding Development of Semiconductors for Quantum Applications

ELE Times - Fri, 09/02/2022 - 15:08

Researchers from North Carolina State University used computational analysis to predict how optical properties of semiconductor material zinc selenide (ZnSe) change when doped with halogen elements, and found the predictions were confirmed by experimental results. Their method could speed the process of identifying and creating materials useful in quantum applications.

Creating semiconductors with desirable properties means taking advantage of point defects—sites within a material where an atom may be missing, or where there are impurities. By manipulating these sites in the material, often by adding different elements (a process referred to as “doping”), designers can elicit different properties.

“Defects are unavoidable, even in ‘pure’ materials,” says Doug Irving, University Faculty Scholar and professor of materials science and engineering at NC State. “We want to interface with those spaces via doping to change certain properties of a material. But figuring out which elements to use in doping is time and labour-intensive. If we could use a computer model to predict these outcomes it would allow material engineers to focus on elements with the best potential.”

In a proof of principle study, Irving and his team used computational analysis to predict the outcome of using halogen elements chlorine and fluorine as ZnSe dopants. They chose these elements because halogen-doped ZnSe has been extensively studied but the underlying defect chemistries are not well established.

The model analyzed all possible combinations of chlorine and fluorine at defect sites and correctly predicted outcomes such as electronic and optical properties, ionization energy and light emission from the doped ZnSe.

“By looking at the electronic and optical properties of defects in a known material, we were able to establish that this approach can be used in a predictive way,” Irving says. “So we can use it to search for defects and interactions that might be interesting.”

In the case of an optical material like ZnSe, changing the way the material absorbs or emits light could allow researchers to use it in quantum applications that could operate at higher temperatures since certain defects wouldn’t be as sensitive to elevated temperatures.

“Beyond revisiting a semiconductor like ZnSe for potential use in quantum applications, the broader implications of this work are the most exciting parts,” Irving says. “This is a foundational piece that moves us toward larger goals: using predictive technology to efficiently identify defects and the fundamental understanding of these materials that results from using this technology.”

The post Major Breakthrough Speeding Development of Semiconductors for Quantum Applications appeared first on ELE Times.

VIAVI Describes Initiatives to Operate Sustainably and Generate Long-Term Value in 2022 ESG Report

ELE Times - Fri, 09/02/2022 - 14:38

Viavi Solutions has released its 2022 Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Report, covering the company’s global operations for the fiscal year 2022. The 2022 ESG Report follows the company’s inaugural sustainability report in 2020 and the second report in 2021 and describes the ways in which VIAVI continues to work to integrate and embed sustainability into its strategy and operations. The 2022 ESG Report contains the results of the company’s inaugural ESG Priority Assessment, which guides VIAVI’s overall ESG strategy by identifying the environmental, social, and governance topics that have the greatest impact on its business strategy, success, and ability to generate long-term value. The 2022 ESG Report also includes the company’s disclosures aligned with the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and additional data regarding carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, energy consumption, human capital management, and other relevant topics.

Environment

VIAVI promotes environmentally friendly practices and strives to conduct its business in a sustainable manner.

  • VIAVI’s Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3 CO2 emissions are 42% lower than they were in 2015, and CO2 emissions intensity has decreased between 2017 and 2021 on both a headcount Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) and a revenue basis.
  • By running cloud-based test software for customers on the company’s centralized servers, VIAVI reduces the potential CO2 emissions compared to each customer hosting the software themselves. VIAVI optical filters used in smartphone facial recognition systems save over 1 million metric tons of CO2 per year. GEOoptimize allows service providers to optimize their mobile networks so they use less power.
  • VIAVI is engaged in a number of sustainability projects across its global sites, including the use of reclaimed water for an evaporative cooling system at VIAVI’s new global headquarters in Chandler, Arizona and transitioning its Suzhou, China site to 100% renewable electricity within the next two years, which VIAVI expects will result in a reduction in annual Scope 2 CO2 emissions by over 3,000 metric tons.

Social

The VIAVI culture is made up of the diverse contributions of 3,600 employees worldwide representing more than 30 self-identified nationalities working across 30 countries. VIAVI is committed to promoting and maintaining a diverse and inclusive work environment and offering equal opportunities to everyone.

  • VIAVI has created programs to attract and develop emerging talent, including our Research & Development Early-Career Program, for Network and Service Enablement, and Optical Security and Performance Products.
  • The success of VIAVI’s Safety program is demonstrated by its best-in-class Total Recordable Injury Rate (TRIR), significantly lower per 100 full-time workers per year compared to all industries and the industry category (NAICS 5179) in which VIAVI participates.
  • In FY 2022, on average, 28% of VIAVI’s U.S. suppliers were certified as diverse, verified by a third party on a quarterly basis. The company’s vision is to grow a diverse and inclusive global supply chain, which includes annual spending with diverse-owned suppliers, as well as working with others to expand and enable inclusive sourcing practices across the industry.
  • VIAVI wanted to offer support to the children and families of Ukraine through corporate donations to two nonprofit organizations providing emergency response on the ground. After carefully researching various organizations, the company identified the UNICEF Emergency Response Fund for the Children of Ukraine and the German Red Cross as the relief entities best positioned to deliver help immediately.

Governance

VIAVI furthered its commitment to the highest standards of business ethics and corporate governance through the implementation of business practices, tools, training, and communications.

  • Eight out of nine members of our Board of Directors are independent (89%), and four are women or diverse (44%).
  • Board members are elected on an annual basis, and the Board considers the length of tenure when reviewing nominees in order to maintain an overall balance of experience, continuity, and fresh perspective. Two-thirds of the Board have fewer than 10 years of tenure.
  • All VIAVI employees and the Board of Directors are expected to adhere to its comprehensive Code of Business Conduct. Employees receive training biennially and certify their commitment to the Code annually in addition to training and awareness on other important governance and compliance topics.

“Over the past few years, and through the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, VIAVI has taken steps to further strengthen our ESG initiatives, including embracing the practices and behaviours that create the right environment for people to succeed,” said Oleg Khaykin, President and CEO, VIAVI. “We will remain focused on helping our customers succeed, creating a more inclusive workforce, and making our business more sustainable in the years ahead, and believe that steadfast focus on our ESG initiatives accelerates our ability to deliver on these promises,” said Richard Belluzzo, Board Chair, VIAVI.

The post VIAVI Describes Initiatives to Operate Sustainably and Generate Long-Term Value in 2022 ESG Report appeared first on ELE Times.

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