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2012

 

Jim Robinson, General Manager, Marketing and Business Operations, Intel® Intelligent Systems Group, has just published a groundbreaking article in Boards & Solutions magazine on the rise of Intelligent Systems within the embedded industry. In it, he points out that the demand for embedded computing is booming and that billions of devices are being deployed to power a wide variety of applications in communications, energy, in-vehicle infotainment (IVI), and retail. Across these and other applications, a common theme is emerging: devices need to be more than isolated, fixed-function systems. They need to become Intelligent Systems with advanced connectivity and functionality. Developing and selling these Intelligent Systems is the key to being a player in the explosion in devices and data.

 

 

 

Robinson in the article looks at what it takes for a device to be an Intelligent System and how these devices deliver expanded functionality, enhanced productivity, and improved efficiency to businesses and consumers. He also gives details how Intel and the Intel® Embedded Alliance are providing the processing performance, connectivity, security and manageability necessary to bring these systems to life. The article closes with a look at some example solutions being offered by Intel and the Alliance in key industries such as communications, retail and automotive.

 

 

 

Take this opportunity to learn all about Intelligent Systems and how you can be a player in this new breed of embedded devices. Click on the pdf below to read for the full article.

 

 

 

To meet the continued pressure to reduce the size and power requirements of space-critical industrial, medical, and consumer applications designers are adopting standard Computer-on-Module (COM) platforms with extremely small form factors.  As these standards become widely available design teams are able to purchase commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) modules that package the most complex portions of new product development so they can focus on the application specific features.  With a shortened hardware design schedule and early access to a compatible software development platform, standardized COM technology has become the centerpiece of many new embedded development projects. Industry standard modules also provide developers with multiple vendors to insure uninterrupted availability.

 

One of the more recent COM standards, Qseven, provides the functional requirements for most embedded applications including graphics, sound, mass storage, network connectivity, and multiple USB ports. Packaged in a small, 70mm x 70mm (2.75” x 2.75”) form factor, Qseven modules are mounted onto an application specific carrier board through a single ruggedized MXM connector. Qseven is smaller than other COM standards such as COM Express or ETX but is limited to very low power processors such as the Intel® Atom™.  The maximum power consumption is limited to 12 watts. Qseven is legacy free and features only the newest I/O technologies including:

  • PCI Express, USB 2.0, ExpressCard, High Definition Digital Audio
  • Serial ATA, LPC interface, Secure Digital I/O interface
  • Gigabit Ethernet, Serial Digital Video Out (SDVO) Interface
  • DisplayPort, Low Voltage Differential Signal (LVDS) Display Interface
  • Controller Area Network (CAN) Bus

The Qseven specification is hosted by the independent Qseven consortium and is available without charge. The current revision 1.20 was released September 10, 2010.

 

Targeting industrial applications in rugged environments, MSC Embedded recently announced a new Qseven platform family based on the Intel® Atom™ E6xx architecture. The MSC Q7-TCTC-FD modules offer extended graphics performance along with an integrated CAN bus that operated over the extended temperature range of -40 to +85°C (See figure 1). The Qseven platform is offered in four different computing performance variations ranging from the most economical model that integrates the 600 MHz Intel® Atom™E620 CPU up to the most powerful E680 CPU at 1.6GHz.  A variety of displays can be connected via LVDS (18/24 Bit) with a maximal resolution of 1280x768 and via SVDO with 1920x1080 pixels. In the dual independent display mode two displays can be driven simultaneously. The module family offers a CAN bus, six USB 2.0 host ports and one USB 2.0 client, three PCI Express x1 lanes, LPC, high definition audio, and a Gigabit Ethernet interface. An optional 4 or 8GB flash drive connected via a SATA II interface is available as a system boot device.  Pricing for the MSC Q7-TCTC-FD modules starts at $119.00 in volume quantities.

 

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The Intel® Atom™E6xx series provides the modular framework to boost performance, lower power requirements, and enhance I/O flexibility for industrial COM applications and is the first Intel® Atom™ processor designed specifically for embedded systems including a 7-year life cycle commitment. One of the significant improvements over the previous generation is the integration of the display, audio, and memory interfaces onto the CPU resulting in higher system bandwidth while allowing designers to reduce component count and board area.  An integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 600 2D/3D graphics engine provides hardware accelerated video decoding and encoding for MPEG4 part 2 and H.264 signals. The GMA supports LVDS displays with an 80 MHz pixel clock and SDVO displays at 160 MHz.  The E6xx series also uses the open PCI Express standard for the processor-to-chipset interface allowing designers to create specialized I/O functions as needed.


Off-the-shelf standards such as Qseven modules with low power operation, built in video-processing, and scalability provide key components in the development of small or portable embedded devices. By choosing COTS technology based on advanced Intel® Atom™E6xx processor architecture, developers can bypass the most complicated portion of embedded design and shorten the time to market. If you are starting or have completed a small form factor Qseven design, please offer your suggestions and share your experience or questions via comments with fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community.  You can keep up with the latest technical articles and product announcements at the Embedded Computing Design archives on the Qseven Standard.

 

To view other community content on energy efficiency, see "Energy Efficiency - Top Picks

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Warren Webb
OpenSystems Media®, by special arrangement with Intel® Embedded Alliance

 

MSC Embedded is an Affiliate member of the by Intel® Embedded Alliance.

 

The ongoing rise in healthcare costs is leading governments and healthcare providers worldwide to seek solutions that will make medicine more efficient. One of the primary areas of focus is in health information technology (health IT), where efficient electronic systems can replace antiquated paper records. These efforts promise to not only lower costs but also enable entirely new methods of delivering medical care. The introduction of new electronics can even bring advanced medicine to groups who previously lacked adequate care.

 

To reach these lofty goals, OEMs targeting the medical space must play close attention to key technologies including:

  • Connectivity to enable information sharing and remote managemnet
  • Security to protect patient data and prevent malfunction
  • Virtualization to support cost-efficient hardware consolidation
  • Performance for analysis of medical images and other patient data
  • Power efficiency to enable fanless and portable equipment

 

These technologies involve complex design challenges – challenges that are significantly easier to manage with the help of a trusted partner. That’s why OEMs can benefit from working with the Intel® Embedded Alliance, whose 200-plus members collaborate closely with Intel to create optimized hardware, software, tools, and services that can help you speed medical designs to market.

 

Consider the need for connectivity. Networking is the backbone of health IT, enabling patient information to be shared across devices and locations. But how do you get all of these disparate devices to communicate? The place to start is with a standards-based hardware platform. For example, COM Express modules based on Intel® architecture (IA) processors offer a compelling combination of standardization and flexibility that can significantly speed the design of medical equipment. Software also plays a critical role. For example, Wind River offers a certified healthcare middleware stack that brings basic functions together in a standardized package.

 

Network connections also increase security risks and present opportunities for remote management. OEMs can address both issues with Intel® vPro™, a suite of hardware-assisted security and management technologies built into 2nd generation Intel® Core™ processors and chipsets. These technologies include:

  • Intel® Active Management Technology (Intel® AMT), which provides remote management and energy-saving capabilities
  • Intel® Trusted Execution Technology (Intel® TXT), which supplies security protection over and above ordinary software solutions
  • Intel® Virtualization Technology (Intel® VT), which improves the efficiency and security of virtualized environments

 

I recently wrote an overview of Intel vPro that explains how these technologies works. I also strongly recommend reading the Emerson article A Prescription for a Secure Hospital to see how Intel vPro can be applied to medical applications.

 

It’s also worth taking a closer look at virtualization, a technology that enables multiple operating systems to run on a single hardware platform. This capability serves two important goals in healthcare devices. First, it enables separation of safety- and security-critical software from less-critical applications. Second, it enables consolidation of previously separate hardware for smaller, most cost-effective solutions.

 

To see how you can apply these techniques, see the LynuxWorks article Open, Secure Platforms for Health Information. Figure 1 shows an example of a medical platform using virtualization from this article. You can explore the topic further in my blog Using Virtualization for Safe, Secure Hardware Consolidation.

 

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Figure 1. An example medical platform using virtualization.

 

Performance is another critical concern for medical equipment, particularly imaging equipment. The latest high-performance IA processors, such as the Intel® Xeon® Processor E3 series, offer several features that benefit these applications, including multi-core architectures and Intel® Advanced Vector Instructions (Intel® AVX). Intel AVX is particularly noteworthy, as it doubles the peak vector-processing throughput of Intel® Streaming SIMD Extensions (Intel® SSE). For more on this technology, check out the blog Vector and Matrix Processing on Intel® Architecture.

 

Finally, let’s consider power. Low power consumption has many benefits for many medical applications, such as enabling rugged, reliable fanless designs that can be disinfected with a simple wipe down. Power is obviously of particular importance for portable devices, where it impacts battery life. The new Intel® Atom™ processor N2000 and D2000 series (formerly codenamed “Cedar Trail”) is a good choice for these designs. This new family offers up to 10 hours of use and weeks-long standby, enabling medical devices that can potentially go an entire shift without recharge. You can learn more about these processors in our Cedar Trail blog. I also recommend reading my recent low-power blog for additional insights on low-power design.

 

 

The links I’ve listed here only scratch the surface of what the Alliance has to offer. To learn more, see intel.com/go/embeddedalliance

 

Emerson Network Power is a Premier member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance. Wind River is an Associte member of the Alliance. LynuxWorks is an Affiliate member of the Alliance

 

Kenton Williston

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Embedded Alliance

Editor-In-Chief, Embedded Innovator magazine

Follow me on Twitter: @kentonwilliston

Some news items from the last few days should be of interest to readers of this blog.

 

And yes, if you are a Star Trek fan then keep reading to reach your daily dose of excitement……

 

FierceWireless reported recently that Sprint has decided to discontinue the development of WiMAX-only devices, stating that “…. it is clear the carrier is moving to LTE in the long run and is ready to leave WiMAX devices in the dust”. Meanwhile, as noted by FierceBroadbandWireless, debate continues about the future of WiMAX 2.

 

FierceWireless also mentioned that Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent are outpacing their competitors in the global LTE market. According to the Dell'Oro report that is referenced, in the third quarter of 2011 Ericsson captured 44 percent of the global LTE market and Alcatel-Lucent garnered 30 percent. The report said that Huawei, the No. 2 vendor overall, saw its share shrink to 8 percent. Nokia Siemens Networks was fourth in the LTE market, but Dell'Oro did not provide its LTE market share.

 

Infonetics discussed significant growth in the virtual security appliance market, up 57% in 2011, driven by cloud and data center build-outs. “"The adoption of server virtualization within wiring closets and data centers at organizations of all sizes and the rollout of infrastructure to deliver IT services in the cloud is driving significant change in the technical requirements for security solutions, presenting unique challenges…….. These challenges represent key drivers for the virtual security appliance market and reflect why the market is growing so fast," explained Jeff Wilson, principal analyst for security at Infonetics Research.

 

According to a report from IHS iSuppli quoted in FierceBroadbandWireless, LTE is gaining traction throughout the industry, and not just among subscribers. It is also getting an increasingly larger chunk of network operator budgets. The report indicates that spending on LTE infrastructure worldwide is set to more than triple from $8.7 billion this year to $24.3 billion next year.

 

And finally, for those of you who persevered and read this far, the LTE blog mentions that Star Trek fans are apparently all excited that US Cellular’s upcoming LTE rollout will include the city of Riverside, Iowa, the “future” birth place of Captain James T. Kirk. We can expect that when he gets born in the year 2225, nothing will slow down the upload of those photos to Facebook. You heard it here first: 213 years early, to be precise…..

 

Besides that momentous piece of news, what are the trends that you’re seeing in multicore platforms? What recent interesting news have you seen in this area?

Digital Signage has been a hot topic on the Intel® Embedded Community website, and for good reason.  Dynamic high-resolution signs that include remote connectivity and offer viewers an interactive experience deliver a better return on investment (ROI) than do legacy signs. Moreover, technologies such as Intel® Architecture (IA) processors and initiatives such as Intel® Active Management Technology (AMT) enable cost-effective deployment of compelling digital signs and the ability to manage the assets remotely. Still the design challenge is considerable especially given the different technology tracks of IA processors, HD displays, interactive features, and analytic capabilities. A modular design approach to digital signage based on the Intel® Open Pluggable Specification (OPS) can enable products that support the latest technologies and Axiomtek* is among the first to deliver compatible displays and modules.

 

The allure of digital signage is quite simple. Sign owners can dynamically update the signs over wireless communication links. That capability ensures that signs carry a current and compelling message. Moreover interactive features can allow viewers to dig deeper into the advertisers' messaging via touch interfaces. The viewer gets a richer, more-personalized experience. The advertiser gets a better ROI, and advertisers pays a higher rate enabling sign owners to deploy the technology. We covered the basics of the technology stack involved and the market opportunity in a prior article.

 

Still, the value proposition of digital signage gets even more compelling. As covered in an article on Anonymous Video Analytics (AVA) in signage, smart signs can employ image processing and analytics to target a message to a viewer demographic. The idea is not to recognize a person, but rather generalized demographic information such as gender and age bracket to dynamically tune the message. Moreover, the analytic capability enables the sign to track viewing statistics that the sign owner can use to justify higher advertising rates adding to the ROI angle.

 

Chasing technology

 

The challenge for sign designers is chasing the various technologies that go into the best digital signs while delivering on time-to-market demands. The latest processors enable capabilities such as AVA and will enable even richer video experiences over time. Display technologies are advancing on a different track. The best signs will benefit from the latest in wireless networks for fast real-time message updates. How can the industry deliver best-in-class features, with fast time-to-market, and reasonable costs?

 

Sign owners and designers need a technology path that provides an incremental upgrade path that addresses all elements of a sign. On occasion that upgrade will require installation of a new display. In many cases, however, a modular approach will allow the upgrade of an existing display with the latest compute and display capabilities. Moreover, a modular approach can allow sign owners and designers to mix and match compute power to display capabilities for different applications.

 

The OPS standard was defined specifically for such modular capabilities. My colleague Warren Webb covered the basics of the OPS specification and concept shortly after formalization last year. Basically, OPS partitions the signage system into separate elements – a modular pluggable computer platform and a display. The display integrates a standardized plug-in slot that hosts the pluggable computer module.

 

The image below, courtesy of Axiomtek, illustrates the concept. In the image, the display in front has the OPS slot located along the bottom of the display. The rear view of the display, with the sign turned on its side, shows how the pluggable module is installed into the sign.

 

OPS spec_600p.jpg

 

Indeed Axiomtek is among the first companies to deliver both elements of the OPS vision announcing the OFP320 31.5-in HD sign system, and the OPS860 computer module. Robert Wang, VP of Sales & Marketing at Axiomtek, succinctly captured the value proposition saying about the computer module, "The compact box features fast time-to-market that operators can implement into the market quickly."

 

The OFP320 sign, pictured below, is based on a TFT display. The OPS specification defines support for multiple display interfaces across the standardized connector. The OFP320 is compatible with pluggable modules that use HDMI or VGA video interfaces. The sign supports 1920x1080-pixel resolution and can be installed using VESA-compliant mounting brackets.

 

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Axiomtek will offer OPS modules for use with the OFP320, and other complaint signs, starting with the OPS860 module. The OPS860 is based on 2nd-generation Intel® Core™ i7, i5, or i3 processors that formerly were codenamed Sandy Bridge. The module can accommodate as much as 4 Gbytes of DDR3 DRAM. It includes a Gigabit-capable Ethernet port, two USB ports, and audio in and out capabilities.

 

Now, in the context of the OFP320, let's examine the options to match a sign implementation to application requirements, the upgrade paths available, and software upgrade possibilities. The OPS860 itself is upgradeable and configurable in a number of ways.

 

The module includes a PCI Express Mini Card slot. That slot can accommodate a Wi-Fi card or a cellular wireless card for remote connectivity. Alternatively, Axiomtek offers a TV tuner card for the slot with video capture capabilities.

 

The Axiomtek OPS modules design also includes a modular slot for a disk drive that you can see on the right half of the face plate in the photo below. You can customize the module capability with magnetic or solid-state disk drives.

 

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As IA processor capabilities evolve, Axiomtek will offer upgrade the OPS860 with follow-on modules. For example, the company has indicated that it will support the 3rd-generation Intel® Core™ processors, codenamed Ivy Bridge, that are due on the market very soon. The next-generation processors will offer 20% greater CPU performance, and an even bigger upgrade in 3D graphics performance. Indeed an Ivy Bridge follow-on will be able to deliver a richer graphics experience to viewers.

 

Meanwhile, the IA-based platforms all include support for AMT. The OPS860 supports AMT 7.0. Next-generation modules will support AMT 8.0. AMT enables sign owners to detect and solve hardware and software failures without deploying a truck to service a sign. Moreover AMT allows a sign owner to upgrade functionality, such as improving AVA capabilities via software upgrades, again without rolling a truck.

 

The modular approach to signage is instructive in general in terms of the way design engineers can approach projects where requirements such as fast time-to-market, remote management, and upgradeability are requirements. How do you face such challenges? Fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community would appreciate your comments. Are you using AMT? DO you plan to use OPS? Please share you observations and expertise.

 

To view other community content focused on sensing and analytics, see "Sensing and Analytics – Top Picks."

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Maury Wright

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor)

Intel® Embedded Alliance

 

*Axiomtek Co. Ltd. is an Associate member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance

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