July 05, 2016 Volume 12 Issue 25

Electrical/Electronic News & Products

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Raspberry Pi launches $70 AI Kit

Artificial intelligence (AI) is all the rage, and the makers of Raspberry Pi have created a way for enthusiasts of the single-board computer systems to take part and do a lot of experimenting along the way.
Read the full article.

3D model sharing at Brother Industries cuts rework

When Brother Industries, maker of printers, computers, and computer-related electronics, deployed Lattice Technology's XVL Player as a viewer for sharing 3D models throughout the processes of product design, parts design, mold design, mold production, and QA of molded parts, they reduced rework significantly -- especially from downstream departments. XVL Studio with its Difference Check Option helped address the rework in mold design, for example, by always keeping everyone informed of design changes.
Read this real-world case study.

What is 3D-MID? Molded parts with integrated electronics from HARTING

3D-MID (three-dimensional mechatronic integrated devices) technology combines electronic and mechanical functionalities into a single, 3D component. It replaces the traditional printed circuit board and opens up many new opportunities. It takes injection-molded parts and uses laser-direct structuring to etch areas of conductor structures, which are filled with a copper plating process to create very precise electronic circuits. HARTING, the technology's developer, says it's "Like a PCB, but 3D." Tons of possibilities.
Learn more (video included on page).

New! Thermoelectric dehumidifiers for enclosures

Seifert Systems has just introduced its line of compact Soliflex® Series thermoelectric dehumidifiers, with or without condensate pump. These IP 56-rated units are designed to dehumidify enclosures and small control panels, can be used indoors or outdoors, and are maintenance free. When used with a hygrostat, Soliflex dehumidifiers will keep enclosure humidity below a defined level and only operate when needed.
Learn more.

More Stego enclosure heater options from AutomationDirect

Automation-Direct has added more Stego enclosure heaters to their Enclosure Thermal Management lineup. These new 120 to 240 VAC/VDC units include small, flat versions that distribute heat evenly within compact enclosures and are available with 8- or 10-W heating capacities. Also added are compact loop heaters that feature a patented loop body design for increased natural convection airflow, reduced thermal stress on the heater, and better heat transfer. Loop heaters are available in 10- to 150-W heating capacities.
Learn more.

Great design: Handle with integrated lighting/signaling

Signaling and indicator lights, switches, and buttons -- elements that hardly any machine can do without. The new JW Winco cabinet U-handle EN 6284 integrates all these functions into a single, compact element. The new U-handle is designed to enhance the operation of systems and machines. It features an integrated button and a large, colored, backlit area on the back of the handle. These elements can be used individually or in combination, providing a versatile tool for system control and process monitoring that can be seen from across the room.
Learn more.

Engineer's Toolbox: What is ground loop feedback?

Improper grounding can create problems in data logging, data acquisition, and measurement and control systems. One of the most common problems is known as ground loop feedback. Experts at CAS DataLoggers run through five ways to eliminate this problem.
Read the full article.

AI development kit for multi-camera products

The QCS6490 Vision-AI Development Kit from Avnet enables engineering teams to rapidly prototype hardware, application software, and AI enablement for multi-camera, high-performance, Edge AI-enabled custom embedded products. The kit facilitates design with the new, energy-efficient MSC SM2S-QCS6490 SMARC compute module based on the Qualcomm QCS6490 processor. Provides support for up to four MIPI CSI cameras and concurrent Mini DisplayPort and MIPI DSI displays.
Learn more.

High-temp cabinet cooler keeps incineration process in business

An EXAIR client company handles waste treatment on a large ship by operating an incinerator. The area where the incinerator is located gets very hot (over 120° F). This causes failures in the electronics package used to control the incineration process. Since compressed air is readily available, EXAIR's Model HT4225 Cabinet Cooler System is being used to keep the panel cool. It saved the customer from having to replace their control units due to the hot conditions in the incinerator room. Thermostat control is also available, conserving air and operating only when needed to minimize air consumption.
Learn about EXAIR's huge selection of Cabinet Coolers.

Compact snap-in capacitors for general-purpose applications

TDK's new EPCOS B43659 series of snap-in aluminum electrolytic capacitors is the next generation of ultra-compact, general-purpose components for voltages of 450 V (DC) featuring an extremely high CV product. It provides the same features and serves the same applications as the previous series but is much more compact. These RoHS-compliant capacitors can be used in a wide range of applications, such as switched-mode power supplies, frequency converters, UPS, medical equipment, and solar inverters.
Get all the specs.

Conductive Brush Ring overcomes current leakage in EV powertrains

SKF's new Conductive Brush Ring paves the way to greater reliability and longer life in high-performance electric vehicle powertrain systems. Using pure carbon fiber bristles, it provides a reliable electrical connection between an EV eAxle rotor shaft and its housing. When used in combination with SKF Hybrid ceramic ball bearings, it helps to alleviate parasitic current effects that can lead to premature failure in bearings and other components. Available in different configurations for wet (oil-lubricated) motor designs -- and soon for dry (sealed) applications.
Learn more.

Intro to reed switches, magnets, magnetic fields

This brief introductory video on the DigiKey site offers tips for engineers designing with reed switches. Dr. Stephen Day, Ph.D. from Coto Technology gives a solid overview on reed switches -- complete with real-world application examples -- and a detailed explanation of how they react to magnetic fields.
View the video.

Bi-color LEDs to light up your designs

Created with engineers and OEMs in mind, SpectraBright Series SMD RGB and Bi-Color LEDs from Visual Communi-cations Company (VCC) deliver efficiency, design flexibility, and control for devices in a range of industries, including mil-aero, automated guided vehicles, EV charging stations, industrial, telecom, IoT/smart home, and medical. These 50,000-hr bi-color and RGB options save money and space on the HMI, communicating two or three operating modes in a single component.
Learn more.

All about slip rings: How they work and their uses

Rotary Systems has put together a really nice basic primer on slip rings -- electrical collectors that carry a current from a stationary wire into a rotating device. Common uses are for power, proximity switches, strain gauges, video, and Ethernet signal transmission. This introduction also covers how to specify, assembly types, and interface requirements. Rotary Systems also manufactures rotary unions for fluid applications.
Read the overview.

Seifert thermoelectric coolers from AutomationDirect

Automation-Direct has added new high-quality and efficient stainless steel Seifert 340 BTU/H thermoelectric coolers with 120-V and 230-V power options. Thermoelectric coolers from Seifert use the Peltier Effect to create a temperature difference between the internal and ambient heat sinks, making internal air cooler while dissipating heat into the external environment. Fans assist the convective heat transfer from the heat sinks, which are optimized for maximum flow.
Learn more.

Configurable analog chip computes with 1,000 times less power than digital

By Rick Robinson, Georgia Tech

Researchers at Georgia Tech have built and demonstrated a novel configurable computing device that uses a thousand times less electrical power -- and can be built up to a hundred times smaller -- than comparable digital floating-gate configurable devices currently in use.

Examples of FPAA chips and printed circuit boards. [Credit: Fitrah Hamid, Georgia Tech]



The new device, called the Field-Programmable Analog Array (FPAA) System-On-Chip (SoC), uses analog technology supported by digital components to achieve unprecedented power and size reductions. The researchers said that for many applications these low-power analog-based chips are likely to work as well as or better than configurable digital arrays.

Currently, field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) -- digital devices widely used in consumer devices, defense systems, and more -- dominate the configurable chip market. These floating-gate integrated circuits can be altered internally at any time, and techniques to reconfigure them for many different forms and functions are well established.

Professionals familiar with FPGAs will find the programming interface of the new analog chip surprisingly like the digital circuits in many ways, said Jennifer Hasler, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and leader of the research team that produced the new analog architecture.

"But in other ways, the FPAA is going to seem quite different," she said. "In terms of the power needed, it's extremely different because you need only milliwatts to run the analog device, while it's hard to get an FPGA to work on less than a watt."

A paper on the new FPAA system-on-chip device has been published on the IEEE Xplore website. Another paper focusing on the details of programming FPAA devices was also published on the Xplore site. In addition, a third paper, detailing a high-level open-source programming toolset developed by Hasler and her team for programming analog arrays, has also been published online in the Journal of Low Power Electronics and Applications.

Novel techniques
Traditionally, analog technology has been used primarily for hard-wired circuits such as sensors that interface between digital devices and the real world; examples include the circuits that detect and reproduce sound in cell phones and other devices. Analog circuits are also used extensively in electronics to regulate and optimize power use. These single-function circuits cannot perform software-based computation, using hardware gates and switches, in the manner of digital integrated circuits.

Hasler's team, however, has developed techniques that perform computation using an analog-style physical architecture by reliably positioning electrons in an FPAA's connective structure. This approach stands in contrast to FPGAs, which process electrons through floating gates in ways similar to conventional digital semiconductors such as memory chips or central processing units.

One advantage of FPAAs is that they're non-volatile, Hasler explained, meaning they retain data even when power is turned off. This is similar to flash memory technology, such as the solid-state drives and storage cards commonplace today. The use of non-volatile memory reduces power consumption, in contrast to the higher power needs of the volatile SRAM configurations typically used in FPGAs.

"In addition to being non-volatile, our analog architecture lets us do something fairly radical -- we can compute using the routing fabric of the chip, exploiting areas that are usually considered just dead weight," Hasler said. "To help do this, we've developed highly efficient switches that can be programmed on, off, or in-between -- partially on and partially off. This flexibility provides both increased computation capabilities and reduced power consumption."

Milliwatts or microwatts
The present FPAA device can operate on less than 30 mW -- thousandths of a watt, Hasler explained. That level approaches three orders of magnitude less than a conventional digital configurable chip. Further design advances in analog arrays could bring their power needs down into the microwatt range -- millionths of a watt.

To program the analog environment of the new device, researchers manipulate electrons in precise ways. Using electron-injection and electron-tunneling techniques, they erase data by lowering the number of electrons at specific locations in the device structure to the lowest possible value. Then they encode new data by increasing the number of electrons located at a given location up to an exact value.

This complex approach makes possible a highly dense chip structure that offers many parameters -- meaning programmable variables that can exist in a large number of different states and offer many shadings of behavior. It is this structural density that allows greater computing capability for a given degree of physical size and power input.

"Our FPAA chip has roughly half a million of these programmable parameters," Hasler said. "They can be used as a switch in a digital manner -- using the lowest possible value for 'off' or the highest possible value for 'on' -- or we can achieve even more rich behavior using intermediate values."

A new toolset
The FPAA device includes a small amount of built-in digital circuitry that supports communication within the chip and also helps run the programming infrastructure. Utilizing these support features, the team has developed an extensive set of high-level programming tools to take advantage of the new chip.

Among other things, the new toolset is designed to make working with analog arrays accessible to those familiar with digital designs like FPGAs, which are programmed using comparable high-level tools. The new toolset can both simulate and program the FPAA reconfigurable device. A paper detailing these high-level tools has been published online.

"Our toolset uses high-level software developed in the Scilab/Xcos open-source programs, with an analog and mixed-signal library of components," Hasler said. "Georgia Tech undergraduates are already using these tools in classes in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering that cover mixed-signal and analog devices and tools."

One area in which the analog approach is notably powerful involves command words -- voice recognition technology used in devices like smartphones to do such things as wake up circuits from an off state, Hasler said. Like traditional analog sensing circuits, an FPAA offers excellent context-aware capability at extremely low power states.

Hasler said that she has talked with several companies about potential applications of the FPAA in commercial devices. A significant number of FPAA chips has already been produced, but plans for potential large-scale manufacture of the chips have not been finalized. The key technologies in the FPAA system-on-chip are patent pending.

"We believe that analog technology offers very powerful ways to look at physical computing, with considerable potential for commercial, neuromorphic, military, and other applications," Hasler said.

Sihwan Kim, et al., "Integrated Floating-Gate Programming Environment for System-Level ICs," (IEEE Transactions on Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) Systems, 2015). http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/TVLSI.2015.2504118

Suma George, et at., "A Programmable and Configurable Mixed-Mode FPAA SoC," (IEEE Transactions on Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) Systems, 2016). http://www.dx.doi.org/10.1109/TVLSI.2015.2504119

Michelle Collins, et al., "An Open-Source Tool Set Enabling Analog-Digital-Software Co-Design," (Journal of Low-Power Electronics and Applications, 2016). http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/jlpea6010003

Published April 2016

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