Category Archives: Newsworthy

What is an In-Memory Processor?

According to a university press release, the world’s first in-memory processor is now available. This large-scale processor will redefine the use of energy to a higher efficiency level when it is processing data. Researchers at LANES or the Laboratory at Nanoscale Electronics and Structures in Switzerland, at the EPFL or Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have developed the new processor.

The latest information technology systems produce copious amounts of heat. Engineers and scientists are looking for more efficient ways of using energy to lower the production of heat, thereby helping to reduce carbon emissions as the world aims to go greener in the future. In trying to reduce the unwanted heat, they are going to the root of the problem. They want to investigate the von Neumann architecture of a processor.

In a contemporary computing architecture, the information processing center is kept separated from the storage area. Therefore, the system spends much of its energy in shuttling information between the processor and the memory. This made sense in 1945, when John von Neumann first described the architecture. At the time, processing devices and memory storage were intentionally kept separate.

Because of the physical separation, the processor must first retrieve data from the memory before it can perform computations. The action involves movement of electric charges, repeatedly discharging and charging capacitors, including transiting currents. All these leads to energy dissipation in the form of heat.

At EPFL, researchers have developed an in-memory processor, which performs a dual role—that of processing and data storage. Rather than using silicon, the researchers have used another semiconductor—MoS2 or molybdenum disulphide.

According to the researchers, MoS2 can form a stable monolayer, which is only three atoms thick, and can interact only weakly with its surroundings. They created a monolayer consisting of a single transistor, simply by peeling it off using Scotch tape. They could design a 2D version of an extremely compact device using this thin structure.

However, a processor requires many transistors to function properly. The research team at LANE could successfully design a large-scale transistor that consists of 1024 elements. They could make this entire structure within a chip of 1×1 cm dimensions. Within the chip, each component serves as a transistor and a floating gate to store a charge. This controls the conductivity of the transistors.

The crucial achievement of the researchers was the processes the team used for creating the processor. For over a decade, the team has perfected their ability to fabricate entire wafers that had MoS2 in uniform layers. This allowed them to design integrated circuits using industry standard tools on computers. They then translated these designs into physical circuits, leading to mass production of the in-memory processor.

With electronics fabrication in Europe needing a boost for revival, the researchers want to leverage their innovative architecture as a base. Instead of competing in fabrication of silicon wafers, the researchers envisage their research as a ground-breaking effort for using non-von Neumann architecture in future applications. They look forward to using their highly efficient in-memory processor for data-intensive applications, such as those related to Artificial Intelligence.

What is Industrial Ethernet?

Earlier, we had a paradigm shift in the industry related to manufacturing. This was Industry 3.0, and, based on information technology, it boosted automation, enhanced productivity, improved precision, and allowed higher flexibility. Today, we are at the foothills of Industry 4.0, with ML or machine language, M2M or machine-to-machine communication, and smart technology like AI or artificial intelligence. There is a major difference between the two. While Industry 3.0 offered information to humans, allowing them to make better decisions, Industry 4.0 offers digital information to optimize processes, mostly without human intervention.

With Industry 4.0, it is possible to link the design office directly to the manufacturing floor. For instance, using M2M communications, CAD, or computer aided design can communicate directly to machine tools, thereby programming them to make the necessary parts. Similarly, machine tools can also provide feedback to CAD, sending information about challenges in the production process, such that CAD can modify them suitably for easier fabrication.

Manufacturers use the Industrial Internet or IIoT, the Industrial Internet of Things, to build their Industry 4.0 solutions. The network has an important role like forming feedback loops. This allows sensors to monitor processes in real-time, and the data thus collected can effectively control and enhance the operation of the machine.

However, it is not simple to implement IIoT. One of the biggest challenges is the cost of investment. But this investment can be justified through better design and manufacturing processes leading to cost savings through increased productivity and fewer product failures. In fact, reducing capital outflows is one way to accelerate adoption of Industry 4.0. Another way could be to use a relatively inexpensive but proven and accessible communication technology, like the Ethernet.

Ethernet is one of the wired networking options that is in wide use all over the world. It has good IP interoperability and huge vendor support. Moreover, POE or power over internet uses the same set of cables for carrying data as well as power to connected cameras, actuators, and sensors.

Industrial Ethernet, using rugged cables and connectors, builds on the consumer version of the Ethernet, thereby bringing a mature and proven technology to industrial automation. With the implementation of Industrial Ethernet, it is possible to not only transport vital information or data, but also remotely supervise machines, controllers, and PLCs on the shop floor.

Standard Ethernet protocol has high latency, mainly due to its tendency to lose packets. This makes it unsuitable for rapidly moving assembly lines that must run in synchronization. On the other hand, Industrial Ethernet hardware uses deterministic and low-latency industrial protocols, like PROFINET, Modbus TCP, and Ethernet/IP.

For Industrial Ethernet deployment, the industry uses hardened versions of the CAT 5e cable. For instance, the Gigabit Ethernet uses CAT 6 cable. For instance, the CAT 5e cable has eight wires formed into four twisted pairs. This twisting limits cross talk and signal interference, and each pair supports a duplex connection. Gigabit Ethernet, being a high-speed system, uses all four pairs for carrying data. For lower throughput, systems can use two twisted pairs, and the other two for carrying power or for conventional phone service.

High-Voltage TVS Diodes as IGBT Active Clamp

Most high-voltage applications like power inverters, modern electric vehicles, and industrial control systems use IGBTs or Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistors, as they offer high-efficiency switching. However, as power densities are constantly on the rise in today’s electronics, the systems are subjected to greater demands. This necessitates newer methods of control. Littelfuse has developed new TVS diodes as an excellent choice to protect circuits against overvoltages when IGBTs turn off.

Most electronic modules and converter circuits contain parasitic inductances that are practically impossible to eliminate. Moreover, it is not possible to ignore their influence on the system’s behavior. While commuting, the current changes as the IGBT turns off. This produces a high voltage overshoot at its collector terminal.

The turn-off gate resistance of the IGBT, in principle, affects the speed of commutation and the turn-off voltage. Engineers typically use this technique for lower power level handling. However, they must match the turn-off gate resistance for overload conditions, short circuits, and for a temporary increase in the link circuit voltage. In regular operation, the generation of the overshoot voltage typically increases the switching losses and turn-off delays in the IGBTs, reducing the usability and or efficiency of the module. Therefore, high-power modules cannot use this simple technique.

The above problem has led to the development of a two-stage turn-off, with slow turn-off and soft-switch-off driver circuits, which operate with a gate resistance that can be reversed. In regular operations, the IGBT is turned off with the help of a gate resistor of low ohmic value, as this minimizes the switching losses. For handing surge currents or short circuits, this is changed to a high ohmic gate resistor. However, this also means that normal and fault conditions must be detected reliably.

Traditionally, the practice is to use an active clamp diode to protect the semiconductor during the event of a transient overload. The high voltage causes a current flow through the diode until the voltage transient dissipates. This also means the clamping diode is never subjected to recurrent pulses during operation. The IGBT and its driver power limit the problem of repetitive operation, both absorbing the excess energy. The use of an active clamp means the collector potential is directly fed back to the gate of the IGBT vial an element with an avalanche characteristic.

The clamping element forms the feedback branch. Typically, this is made up of a series of TVS or Transient Voltage Suppression diodes. When the collector-emitter voltage of the IGBT exceeds the approximate breakdown voltage of the clamping diode, it causes a current flow via the feedback to the gate of the IGBT. This raises the potential of the IGBT, reducing the rate of change of current at the collector, and stabilizing the condition. The design of the clamping diode then determines the voltage across the IGBT.

As the IGBT operates in the active range of its output characteristics, the energy stored in the stray inductance of the IGBT is converted to heat. The clamping process goes on until the stray inductance is demagnetized. Therefore, several low-voltage TVS diodes in series or a single TVS diode rated for high voltage are capable of providing the active clamping solution.

Touch-sensing HMI

The key element in the consumer appeal of wearable devices lies in their touch-sensing HMI or human-machine interface—it provides an intuitive and responsive way of interacting via sliders and touch buttons in these devices. Wearable devices include earbuds, smart glasses, and smartwatches with a small touchscreen.

An unimaginable competition exists in the market for such types of wearable devices, continually driving innovation. The two major features over which manufacturers typically battle for supremacy and which matter particularly to consumers are—run time between battery charges, and the form factor. Consumers typically demand a long run-time between charges, and they want a balance between convenience, comfort, and a plethora of features, along with a sleek and attractive design. This is a considerable challenge for the designers and manufacturers.

For instance, while the user can turn off almost all functions in a wearable device like a smartwatch for long periods between user activity, the touch-sensing HMI must always remain on. This is because the touch intentions of the user are randomly timed. They can touch-activate their device any time they want to—there is no pattern that allows the device to know in advance when the user is about to touch-activate it.

Therefore, the device must continuously scan to detect a touch for the entire time it is powered up, leading to power consumption by the HMI subsystem, even during the low-power mode. The HMI subsystem is, therefore, a substantial contributor to the total power consumed by the device. Reducing the power consumption of the touch system can result in a substantial increase in the run-time between charges of the device.

Most wearable devices use the touch-sensing HMI as a typical method for waking up from a sleep state. These devices generally conserve power by entering a low-power touch detect function that operates it in a deep sleep mode. In this mode, the scanning takes place at a low refresh rate suitable for detecting any kind of touch event. In some devices, the user may be required to press and hold a button or tap the screen momentarily to wake the device.

In such cases, the power consumption optimization and the amount of power saved significantly depends on how slow it is possible to refresh the sensor. Therefore, it is always a tradeoff between a quick response to user touch and power consumption by the device. Moreover, touch HMI systems are notorious for the substantial amount of power they consume.

Commercial touch-sensing devices typically use microcontrollers. Their architecture mostly has a CPU with volatile and non-volatile memory support, an AFE or analog front-end to interface the touch-sensing element, digital logic functions, and I/Os.

The scanning operation typically involves CPU operation for initializing the touch-sensing system, configuring the sensing element, scanning the sensor, and processing the results to determine if a touch event has occurred.

In low-power mode, the device consumes less power as the refresh rate of the system reduces. This leads to fewer scans occurring each second, only just enough to detect if a touch event has occurred.

Shape-Changing Robot Travels Large Distances

The world of robotics is developing at a tremendous pace. We have biped robots that walk like humans do, fish robots that can swim underwater, and now we have a gliding robot that can travel large distances.

This unique and innovative robot that the engineers at the University of Washington have developed, is, in fact, a technical solution for collecting environmental data. Additionally, it is helpful in conducting atmospheric surveys as well. The astonishing part of this lightweight robotic device is that it is capable of gliding in midair without batteries.

The gliding robots cannot fly up by themselves. They ride on drones that carry them high up in the air. The drones then release them about 130 ft above the ground and they glide downwards. The design of these gliding robots is inspired by Origami, the Japanese art of folding paper to make various designs.

The highly efficient design of these gliding robots or micro-fliers as their designers call them can change shape when they are floating above the ground. As these robots or micro-fliers weigh only 400 milligrams, they are only about half the weight of a small nail.

According to their designers, the micro-fliers are very useful for environmental monitoring, as it is possible to deploy them in large numbers as wireless sensor networks monitoring the surrounding area.

To these micro-fliers, engineers have added an actuator that can operate without batteries and a controller that can initiate the alterations in its shape. They have also added a system for harvesting solar power.

When dropped from drones, the solar-powered micro-fliers change their shape dynamically as they glide down, spreading themselves as a leaf as they descend. The electromagnetic actuators built into these robots control their shape, changing them from a flat surface to a creased one.

According to their designers, using an origami shape allows the micro-fliers to change their shape, thereby opening up a new space for the design. Inspired by the geometric pattern in leaves, they have combined the Miura-ori fold of origami, with power-harvesting and miniature actuators. This has allowed the designers to make the micro-fliers mimic the flight of a leaf in midair.

As it starts to glide down, the micro-flier is in its unfolded flat state. It tumbles about like an elm leaf, moving chaotically in the wind. As it catches the sun’s rays, its actuators fold the robot, changing its airflow and allowing it to follow a more stable descent path, just like a maple leaf does. The design is highly energy efficient, there is no need for a battery, and the energy from the sun is enough.

Being lightweight, the micro-flier can travel large distances under light breeze conditions, covering distances about the size of a football field. The team showcased the functioning of the newly developed micro-flier prototypes by releasing them from drones at an altitude of about 40 meters above the ground.

During the testing, the released micro-fliers traveled nearly 98 meters after they changed their shapes dynamically. Moreover, they could successfully transmit data to Bluetooth devices that were about 60 meters away.

New Circuit Protection Technologies

A wide variety of vehicle models is entering the EV market these days. The demand is for decreased charging times and increased range. This is heightening not only the challenges towards electrical system performance but also towards better circuit protection.

For instance, decreasing the charging times requires systems using higher voltages and higher currents. This has necessitated the shift from the 400 V system to the 800 V, bringing with it major challenges to the design of circuit protection, especially on the battery side. That is because manufacturers must now consider increased fault currents that the protection components must handle.

With motor currents and power ramping up, circuit protection and switching devices also face higher stresses. They now need to withstand not only the higher operating currents but also the higher cycling requirements. Increased range means higher fault currents.

Therefore, circuit protection requirements are moving in several directions simultaneously. SiC MOSFET switches, acting as solid-state resettable transistor switches, address the high-voltage, low-current subsystems.

The power distribution box in the vehicle is still using the conventional system architecture of a coordinated fuse and contactor. Coordination between the two is necessary to ensure they cover the full range of possible faults from a range of underlying causes including different states of charge of the battery.

Another circuit protection technique is the pyrotechnic approach. This comes into play in events of a catastrophic nature, such as in crashes, when it is necessary to physically cut the busbar. These systems are mostly triggered by circuits that deploy the airbag and work to quickly isolate the battery from the rest of the vehicle. This helps to protect the driver, the passengers, and the first responders from fire and explosion from short circuits through the body of the vehicle.

The above are leading to the development of newer types of protection, such as with breaktors, fully coordinating circuit protection, and switching. Its design allows the breaktor to trigger passively or it can actively interrupt in case of power loss, thereby improving the functional safety of critical protection systems. Moreover, it has the ability to reset itself.

Another is an automotive precision bidirectional eFuse, which is increasingly becoming a common device in a vehicle. Traditional automotive fuses can be low in accuracy and slow to react. This can be a safety issue, as the safety of the system is indirectly proportional to the response time of a fuse. An eFuse not only has high accuracy but also a low response time, which increases the safety of the system.

However, there is a durability issue related to fuses and contactors that vehicle manufacturers use. The solution for this is the pyrotechnical switch. This is a protection device based on a trigger-able circuit similar to the functioning of an airbag. It produces a controlled explosion to sever a conducting busbar. Pyrotechnical switches, while solving the challenge of coordination, must rely on accurate triggering rather than on the passive reaction of fuses. Additional components are necessary to ensure a reliable triggering.

All the above protection systems require a trade-off between speed and durability. While a big fuse can be slow to operate, a smaller one may be faster but may suffer from a fatigue risk.

Stretch Your Battery

Although there is no existence of a stretchable phone or laptop at present, researchers have developed a prototype of a battery that is wearable and can be stretched. This stretchable Lithium-ion battery is fabric-based. With this type of battery, the team of researchers, from the University of Houston, has opened up a new direction for the future of wearable technology.

Professor Haleh Ardebili first came up with the idea for this stretchable Li-ion battery. He initially envisioned a future with smart, interactive, and powered clothes. From here, it was but a natural step to create stretchable batteries that could integrate with stretchable devices and clothes. For instance, one can use clothes with interactive sensors embedded in them to monitor their health.

Typically, batteries are in general rigid and are a major bottleneck in the wearable technology development of the future. Not only does the stiffness of a battery lead to limited functionality, but their use of liquid electrolytes raises safety concerns. Especially as the organic liquid electrolyte is flammable and prone to explosions. The researchers are using conductive fabric made of silver as the platform for the flexible battery and as the current collector.

The team prefers the woven sliver fabric for the battery, as it can easily deform mechanically by stretching, while still providing the necessary electrical conduction pathways for the electrodes of the battery to perform. The battery electrodes need to allow the movement of both ions and electrodes. With their experiments and prototypes, the researchers have entered to investigate an unexplored field in science and engineering. Going beyond the prototype, the researchers are working on optimizing the design of the battery, its fabrication, and its materials.

According to the researchers, the fabric-based stretchable battery will work wonders for various applications like smart space suits and devices for interacting with humans at a variety of levels, such as consumer electronic equipment embedded in garments for monitoring health. In fact, the applications for such a device are endless, providing a path for light, safe, flexible, and stretchable batteries. However, the team feels they have much to do before they can commercialize their idea.

While they need to work on the cost and scale for commercial viability, the team feels there is a clear need in the market for such batteries, especially in the future, for stretchable electronic devices. Once such products appear in the market, there will be a huge demand for the batteries. Right now, the team wants to make sure the batteries are as safe as possible.

The team faced many challenges in designing the stretchable battery. It took more than five years for them to reach the present state. Their main impediment was integrating the fabric with a functional battery.

As to how the battery works, the team explained that while the electro-chemically active material in the battery provides charge through bonding and debonding of lithium, it coats and deposits on the sliver stretchable fabric. While the lithium ions shuttle back and forth within the battery between the positive and negative electrodes, the battery can stretch as the polymer electrolyte and the fabric can also do so.

Matter and Simplicity Studio

So far, home automation has always meant selecting an appropriate ecosystem. Well, that is a thing of the past now, as all IoT or Internet of Things devices can intercommunicate with this new, open-source protocol. Now designers can develop small demo applications that are Matter-compatible, and they can use the new Matter Development board, the SparkFun Thing Plus, and the Simplicity Studio IDE from the Silicon Labs.

Until now, multiple communication protocols have kept IoT devices a rather scattered lot. Developers and consumers were forced to decide how to make their devices communicate and lock them into that environment. With the introduction of Matter, however, those are days of the past, as Matter is a unified, open-source application-layer connectivity standard. Apart from increasing the connectivity among connected home devices, Matter allows the building of reliable and secure ecosystems.

In 2019, major and competing players such as Zigbee Alliance, Google, Apple, Amazon, and a host of other companies such as Nordic Semiconductors got together to develop a single communication protocol. Their aim was to unify the entire world of the Internet of Things. The result was Matter, a royalty-free, open-source protocol that allows devices to communicate over Thread, Bluetooth Low Energy, and Wi-Fi networks. Therefore, Matter-certified devices can communicate with each other regardless of the wireless technology they use, and do so seamlessly.

Now, there is no need for consumers, manufacturers, and developers to have to choose between Google’s Weave, Amazon’s Alexa, or Apple’s Homekit components. While for consumers, this represents increased compatibility, for manufacturers, it means simplified development.

The major benefit of Matter is it simplifies the management and setup of smart home devices. End-users can now set up their smart home systems easily and quickly, using Matter-certified devices. They will not need any technical skills or specialized knowledge. With the protocol supporting end-to-end encryption, safety is in-built, ensuring secure data transmission between devices.

However, this does not mean designers have been relegated to the role of consumers. The Sparkfun Thing Plus Matter Development Board from Sparkfun Electronics combines Matter and the Sparkfun Qwiic ecosystem, thereby providing an agile development and prototyping arrangement for designers of Matter-based IoT devices.

Silicon Labs offers its MGM240P wireless module for a secure 802.15.4 connectivity for both Bluetooth Low Energy 5.3 and Mesh (Thread) protocols. This module is available and ready for integration into the Matter IoT protocol for home automation. Moreover, the Thing Plus development boards are compatible with Feather, and include a Qwiic connector, thereby allowing easy integration for solderless I2C circuits.

Designers can download the latest Simplicity Studio from the Silicon Labs website, for the specific operating system they are using. It may be necessary to create an account for the download. After installing and running Simplicity Studio for the first time, the Installation Manager will come up, and search for any updates available. After updating, the Simplicity Studio will operate as the latest version.

In the next step, the Installation Manager will ask to install the devices by either connecting them or by defining the technology they use. The Installation Manager may want to install additional required packages before proceeding.

Happy Thanksgiving!

To allow our hard-working office staff the ability to spend time with their families during Thanksgiving week, we are closing our office from Monday, November 20 – Friday, November 24. During this time, we will still be shipping orders but phones will not be answered and emails will not be responded to until Monday, November 27th.

We eagerly anticipate serving you again when we reopen on Monday morning, November 27, ready to assist with your electronic component needs. Wishing you a joyous and peaceful Thanksgiving!

West Florida Components Thanksgiving week office hours

Software Defined Electric Vehicles

Around the world, SDVs or software-defined vehicles are one of the two trends driving the design of new vehicles, the other being EVs or electric vehicles. As a result, vehicle design is undergoing a major transformation. From features and capabilities that were so far defined by hardware, they are now changing over to those being defined by software. This opens up newer opportunities resulting in agile developments, fast and continual improvements, and remote maintenance.

SDVs are ushering in a new approach to the development of vehicles. In turn, that is enabling improvements in the vehicle over time, based on in-depth access to the vehicular data in real time. Cloud processing and machine-learning training is leading to updates over the air for improving the software and related machine-learning models. Along with this continuous deployment and integration, engineers are able to use model-based design tools more effectively for improving and developing software algorithms that, in turn, help to run the vehicles more efficiently.

As a result, carmakers over the world are investing hugely in vehicle electrification for helping to reduce greenhouse gases. They are offering their customers vehicles with acceptable driving ranges along with easy access to charging stations. Many are committing to transitioning their fleets from ICE or internal combustion engines to EVs over the next decades. This is resulting in the swift deployment of EVs. Furthermore, the effect of this shift to a more software-centric and electric future is bringing newer challenges to the automobile industry.

The major beneficiary of this change is the EV motor. With the industry moving to the SDV approach, there is faster access to vehicular data that can monitor the aging and performance of the EV motor. Powerful automotive microcontrollers now support newer features over time, while the deployment of software upgrades is available through wireless updates. This makes the software-defined EV motor a dynamic product that keeps evolving and improving over time. It takes advantage of in-vehicle data in real-time, supporting cloud development along with enhancing features.

Changing over to a software-defined EV motor design affects all the stages of development of the control systems of the EV motor. Not only does this enable faster cycles of development, but also helps enhance the performance, while monitoring for maintenance needs, thereby extending the system’s lifetime.

High-level modeling tools are the trend in motor control design. Designers use modeling tools like Simulink and MATLAB for concentrating on using their key expertise in controlling the EV motor and systems, rather than on programming. This is because modeling tools operate at the algorithm level, where the designers can optimize them to improve vehicular performance and efficiency.

Using modeling tools results in three significant advantages—flexibility, safety, and speed. Designers use modeling tools to test algorithms and quickly analyze software, rather than depend on evaluation through hardware integration. Not only does this bring in flexibility, but also speed when designing the control module of EV motors. For designers, developing at the algorithm level is especially useful when developing strategies for the smooth control of a motor.