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2012

Very interesting article on the status of robotics and how they will evolve

 

http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/robotics-hardware/robotics-trends-for-2012

 

I look at this more than just robotics, remember that robotics is just the ultimate technological integration job

 

A  lot of this technologies will either enhance robotics, or will enable other fields that we cannot even fathom now

The future is already here, it is just not widely available ; )

 

These are my (hopefully) educated personal opinions, but I am looking from the perspective of what is doable in the short term.

In the long term we all are dead ;  )

 

#1 CO-ROBOTS: ROBOTS AS CO-WORKERS AND CO-INHABITANTS –TOO early now. Need other pieces of the puzzle, such as batteries, mechanical actuators, servors, etc. Good start, and tests and trials must continue. Very likely we will see this more by the end of the decade when technologies evolve to the right point. On the other hand, we are already seeing professional grade robots working and enhancing humans (underwater oil spill, space, drones), so that is here to stay and just get bigger and better.

 

#2 3D SENSING: THE KINECT REVOLUTION CONTINUES. - YES. BUT. I sense (pun intended) that there needs to be a good software solution that takes the 3D data and converts it into useful information. Maybe I do not play much with this ; ) Good direction and maybe the new generation kinect will solve many of these problems. Also, I would like to see smaller 3D sensor systems. Right now it is quite cumbersome to install a kinect to a robot. I remember a Nao (from Aldebaran) wearing one on his head, he looked like an Aztec priest ;  ) I also expect this to consume tons of CPU cycles in order to make sense of the data, this can be applicable for anything where you want 3D perspective (robotics is just one area).

 

#3 CLOUD ROBOTICS: THE FORECAST CALLS FOR CLOUDS – I see this as a natural evolution. Just like humans consult the web (and in the past other people or books) I do not see why a robot cannot consult the internet when he needs to find something. Robots (like humans) have limited computing and storage capabilities, so using the cloud makes perfect sense. THE BIG question will be if the cloud is ready for the onslaught of queries and if it can respond real time. REMEMBER many of these robots will be in the middle of potentially life or else decisions (such as driving down a road, walking down the street, flying). This can definitely be an opportunity for service providers (most likely wireless companies) and infrastructure manufacturers.

 

#4 COMPLIANT ACTUATION: ROBOTS WITH A SOFT TOUCH – Don’t know. I think that a lot of the basic elements are still far into the future. Plus you need to ask you how much you really need this. This is probably too much of making robots look and act like us, which is not necessarily a must. Very nice to have, yes.

 

#5 SMARTPHONE-BASED ROBOTS: THE NEW ROBOT BRAINS – I saw a few of these at CES 2012. Good start. The advantage is that you can upgrade the robot easily. Just remove your tablet or smartphone. On the other hand, most of the smarphones do not have any high sophisticated capabilities needed for completely autonomous robots. A smart phone CPU cannot keep up with vision recognition algorithms for example. We need smart phones CPUs with the equivalent performance of a quad core laptop CPU. We will get there, in 2-3 Moore cycles (~ 4 - 6 years). Great starting point.

 

#6 LOW-COST MANIPULATION: A ROBOT ARM YOU CAN AFFORD – Yes. There is a good number of  more affordable arms you can buy off the shelf. Either industrial grade or hobby quality. Many are coming with standard interfaces (USBs) so it becomes almost a plug and play. Good for small volume, dedicated robots. Still more work (price, performance, reliability) before it can make it into everyday products. MAYBE the initial use will be for people with physical disabilities (this seems to be a common thread), or small prototype shops (see 3D and manufacturing robots below)

 

#7 SELF-DRIVING VEHICLES: COMING TO A STREET NEAR YOU – They are actually here, you may just not notice. Nevada just approved the use of driverless vehicles. And experts agree that most of the technical elements are already in place. The big hurdle is legal. Experts believe it will take insurance companies to put pressure to make this happen. Once the data shows that a robotic car is safer than a regular human, we will see a push for wider adoption. Like anything in cars, it takes years, if not decades to implement. Many times it takes government action. We have the safest cars in history right now in our roads, this will just make them safer. Expect to see more (you already have a lot) of these features in high end cars. Also as elder people try to maintain their independence, we may see them being the early adopters (after all, seniors in the US tend to have some of the highest net worth of all age groups). You shall not forget that a lot of the big investors in robotics R&D have a lot to do with vehicle navigation (cars – Honda, Toyota; aircraft – Military) so the transfer of technology should happen as a matter of fact

 

#8 FACTORY ROBOT HELPERS: THE FUTURE OF MANUFACTURING – why are we even talking about this? This should be almost a no brainer. Ok, maybe just kidding. What we see is a lot more of what was developed for mobile and humanoid robots trickling into industrial robots. Fingers, visual recognition, etc. To me that was bound to happen, and we may see a bit more of the companies making and using industrial robots dabbling into mobile, service and personal robots.

 

#9 RAPID PROTOTYPING: A 3D PRINTER IN EVERY HOME – it is the app! Not sure if every home. Probably in every geek home ; ). I saw at least 3 companies offering printers or services at CES 2012. Some were professional look and started at $1.2K usd not the DIY we had seen before. The issue would be, who has the time to print stuff in 3D, and what do we do with it? I can think of kitchen utensils, devices. Definitely universities and small prototype shops should have several of this. A question I have is, how much computing performance do they consume? So far I have not see much. My son keeps asking me for one. I tell him I need to see a plan for using it smartly, not just to print toys.

 

#10 UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLES: CROWDED SKIES – Almost here. FAA is looking into regulations for civil unmanned aircraft to be ready in 3 years. For security, law enforcement, fire fighters, first responders – YES. For almost all others, it will probably be in a as needed basis. Real estate professionals – YES. Most of us may pass, or just have it as another toy collecting dust in the garage if the price is right. I am open for other suggestions. In general size, computing performance, weight and battery duration are not where they need to be for widely adoption. BUT they will get there over time. AGAIN, whatever technological advances benefits this segment, will spill over in other areas, even traditional ones.

 

#11 TELEPRESENCE ROBOTS: YOUR AVATAR IN THE REAL WORLD – Not sure. Maybe. Depends. Ok they are here, but short from taking over the world. The theme across many of these technological forecasts is allowing people to do things, physically, that could not do otherwise. Like cars that will allow elder people to stay mobile, companion robots, etc. Here the avatars are taking hold where a person is incapable of being in another place (as in physical disability). I see this turning more into a security, surveillance device, rather than replacing a person’s presence somewhere. Interestingly enough all the technological ingredients to make this happen are already in place. Costs are reasonable. Wait and see? Mainstream or niche?

 

#12 BIONICS: THE LINE BETWEEN HUMANS AND MACHINES GETS BLURIER – Brain implants? Cyborgs? Too farfetched. I think we already have a lot of the elements to help us enhance and fix the human body, and that is where the opportunity lies. Hand, leg, foot prosthesis, exoskeletons. Not even mentioning pacemakers, artificial hips. Exoskeletons is a very interesting and promising area. In general the world population is becoming older and less agile and flexible. So if we can get people to wear a low cost, exoskeleton instead of driving a wheelchair, we would have done a tremendous jump in quality of life. Expect to see this first in severely disable people then migrate to others. They may combine with prosthesis as well as some level of mid reading. Yes, mind reading and muscle reading. There are already standard off the shelf headsets that can tell some basic functions (concentrate, relaxation, open hand, close, etc). Many prosthesis are coming with sensors that can read basic neural nodes so that you can open and close your hand by just thinking about it (and actuating on the appropriate muscle). Implantable eyes, terminator style? Maybe 2025 ; )

 

What is behind all these possibilities and needs?

We all know about Moore’s law, and how it also applies to almost any other technology in the world.

We also have the mega demographic trends that will make this a necessity: aging of the world population.

A few nuggets:

  • Korea, Japan, Germany, Italy and Russia have had negative population growth for at least the last 3 years (even after accounting for immigration)
  • According to the United Nations the World Population will stabilize in 2040, and may start decreasing (there are several scenarios, another is that it will just stay flat)
  • Experts expect the Chinese labor force will peak around 2015, after that either will stay flat or decrease

In our everyday world, failing batteries represent little more than a nuisance, something that may require us to actually get up off the couch and change the channel. But in the medical field, a weak or dead battery can cause more than a minor inconvenience; it can cost a human life.

 

Medical systems, and particularly those that are portable such as a nursing cart, require long battery life to sustain device operation throughout the period of care delivery – say, a nurse’s entire shift. As more patients are tapping into their smartphones for remote monitoring capabilities and doctors are starting to stock up on tablets, these types of applications are demanding low power consumption as a key requirement for extending battery life.

 

“When a tablet is being used to support clinical care procedures, it is often unacceptable to have to charge the device at a fixed location or to use cables because of the disruption that having this extra equipment would cause,” says Qi Chen, VP of engineering and general manager at Arbor Technology. “Tablets are used during field visits to patients, and often there is no charging station available at the point of use.”

 

In addition to low power, mobile health (mHealth) devices call for a high level of processor and graphics performance, as most of the information is presented to the user in graphical form. But there’s the rub – increasing graphics performance often comes at the expense of increased power consumption, thus creating conflicting design requirements for critical systems that cannot compromise on either factor.

 

The next-generation Intel® Atom™ processor, code-named Cedar Trail, can address these competing needs by offering dual-core performance and enhanced graphics features, as well as significant power efficiency, so much so that 10 pairs of a processor/chipset combo consume less power than a single Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) bulb.

 

Based on 32 nm process technology, the new architecture family includes the 1.66 GHz N2600 with 3.5 W Thermal Design Power (TDP), the 1.85 GHz N2800 with 6.5 W TDP, and the 2.13 GHz D2700 with 10 W TDP. The processors feature an integrated Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator 3600/3650 graphics engine, enabling 1080p video playback and streaming at a fraction of the power consumption of previous generations. The Cedar Trail platform incorporates Intel Smart Connect Technology, allowing data to be updated while in sleep mode, and the N2600 and N2800 processors also support Intel® Deep Power Down Technology, reducing power usage during idle time to minimize transistor power leakage.

 

With its combination of high-performance graphics capabilities and energy-saving features, Cedar Trail targets next-generation embedded designs such as always-on, always-connected medical devices.

 

“The Cedar Trail platform balances well between power consumption and available processing power,” Chen says. “The enhancements made in power consumption and TDP for Cedar Trail enable fanless designs with longer battery life.”

 

Arbor’s M1042 Mobile Clinical Assistant is powered by the Intel® Atom™ N2600 processor, delivering the performance-per-watt needed to provide long battery life for up to 6.5 hours. The ultra-lightweight (1.3 kg) 10.4" tablet incorporates an electromagnetic digitizer with projected capacitive touch and multiconnectivity to Bluetooth and WLAN for transmitting patient data from a remote location to a hospital server. Expansion options include RS-232, USB, LAN, VGA, and SmartCard, enabling multiple portable devices to be easily integrated into large hospital databases.

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The M1042 is EN60601-1, EN60601-1-2, and UL60601-1 certified and provides antibacterial protection through its fanless design. Portable medical devices such as tablets typically must be fanless to avoid cooling vents and external airflow that can potentially lead to contaminant exposure, Chen says.

 

Another fanless medical system, the MTP-1207 all-in-one workstation from Avalue Technology, is equipped with the Intel® Atom™ D2700 processor. The 12.1" XGA TFT multifunctional touch panel PC offers a variety of I/O including COM, RS-232/422/485, USB, Mini PCI Express, and Gigabit Ethernet, helping connect the unit to other medical systems and enabling nurses to access the Hospital Information System (HIS).

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The MTP-1207’s HD graphics and multimedia functionality enabled by the D2700 processor allow physicians to review X-ray film and other diagnostic images, as well as make a video call with a nurse or patient, thus improving communication at the point of care.

 

Heavy visualization is a key design requirement for boards used in medical applications, which often involve capturing and displaying 2D or 3D high-resolution files. The Catalyst CV module from Eurotech incorporates the Intel® Atom™ N2x00 processor with the Intel NM10 Express chipset, providing full HD up to 1080p, Blu-Ray, HDMI, and DisplayPort features. Available in Q2 this year, the 67 mm x 100 mm module supports inline video decompression and dual-independent displays, allowing health care practitioners to plug a mobile medical device such as a portable ultrasound machine into another piece of medical equipment and view them both independently.

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The Catalyst CV can run dual-core processes at 1.6 GHz while maintaining less than 3 W of power consumption. High-speed I/O such as 10/100BASE-T Ethernet, USB, and PCI Express ensures medical devices can be interfaced with each other, often a critical need in medical applications where several instruments are being used at once. Furthermore, by offering support for Eurotech’s Everyware Software Framework and Everyware Device Cloud services, the module can be integrated as part of an end-to-end system that captures data and makes it accessible to health care providers and patients via a secure portal.

 

The SEAVO SV6-A804 series motherboard from Shenzhen Seavo Technology also leverages the new Intel® Atom™ architecture, drawing on the 640 MHz graphic core and Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology to provide real-time data processing and rendering for clear visualization of dynamic images that can aid physicians’ diagnoses. With a 3.5 fanless design and overall minimum TDP of 15 W, the motherboard provides a variety of I/O, including VGA, LVDS, HDMI, USB, dual Gigabit LAN, and dual Mini PCI Express. The motherboard is equipped with anti-acid, anti-corrosion, anti-oxidation, and high/low temperature resistance capabilities to handle any special physical or chemical environments in which a medical device may be deployed.

 

The next-generation Intel Atom architecture is providing low power and high-end graphics performance in many board- and system-level products destined for mHealth applications. Embedded designers who have used or plan to integrate the Cedar Trail platform in their designs can suggest/find tips and pose questions in the Intel® Embedded Community. And for more in-depth technical analysis of medical device design issues, check out the articles and multimedia resources at Embedded Computing Design and the Telehealth TechChannel microsite.

 

Jennifer Hesse

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

 

Avalue Technology and Eurotech are Associate members of the Intel® Embedded Alliance. Arbor Technology and Shenzhen Seavo (China) Technology Co., Ltd. are Affiliate members.

Napoleon Bonaparte famously said, “An army marches on its stomach.” Today that truism could be updated to end “…and fights with its circuit boards.” Indeed, electronics have become essential to every aspect of military operations, whether they involve distributing humanitarian aid, gathering intelligence, or coordinating multi-service and multi-national operations. As the role of electronics has grown, so too have the requirements for these systems. Armed forces around the globe are looking for systems with:

 

  • High performance
  • Low size, weight, and power (SWaP)
  • Excellent interoperabilty and cost containment
  • Strong reliability and security

 

Let’s briefly review these challenges and look at ways you can address them, starting with performance. Performance requirements have risen dramatically in recent years as processing-intensive applications like image and video analysis and software defined radio (SDR) have become commonplace. Many of these applications involve digital signal processing, a task traditionally relegated to specialize DSPs or FPGAs. Today, multi-core Intel® architecture (IA) processors with Intel® Advanced Vector Extensions (Intel® AVX) offer a more flexible alternative. These extensions, first introduced in the 2nd generation Intel® Core processors, double the peak floating-point performance of Intel® Streaming SIMD Extensions (Intel® SSE) by widening the data path from 128 bits to 256 bits.

 

Intel’s Ramu Ramakesavan has a great in-depth article on Intel AVX that details the new capabilities in the instructions set. The article also provides extensive listings of products that support Intel AVX from the Intel® Embedded Alliance, whose 200-plus members collaborate closely with Intel to create optimized hardware, software, tools, and services to help you speed designs to market. For more details on the instruction set, I recommend the presentation How to Optimize Your Software for Intel AVX. To learn more about solutions from the Alliance, check out my recent overview of Intel AVX as well as the blogs on sensing and analytics from my colleague Maury Wright

 

Intel AVX also plays an important role in meeting SWaP requirements by enabling more efficient processing. I recently wrote an article on SWaP that looks at the power-saving features of the 2nd generation Intel Core processor family. Along with Intel AVX, these features include a low-power 32-nm fabrication process, an integrated graphics engine, and numerous architecture upgrades. This article also touches on the important topics of interoperabilty and cost containment—two subjects that deserve close attention.

 

With government debt become a major issue in countries around the globe, military budgets are facing inevitable cutbacks in the coming years. These cutbacks will make it more important than ever to contain the costs of developing and maintaining military equipment. One key to achieving these goals is to move away from custom designs towards a greater reliance on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions.

 

A good place to start on this topic is the Radisys white paper Is COTS On-Track to Meet Mil/Aero Needs? Radisys also has two free books on the subject, ATCA in Defense Applications for Dummies & COM Express* 2.0 for Dummies. One of the key questions to answer when considering a COTS solution is which standard to use—a question I looked at some time ago in my blog VPX vs. ATCA for Mil/Aero. That blog is a bit dated, but you can bring yourself up to date on VPX with Kontron’s whitepaper on its

VXFabric* PCI Express* fabric for VPX. And for an example of some of the latest COM Express solutions, check out Portwell’s latest paper.

 

Next let’s turn our attention to reliability and security. From the hardware perspective, one of the key enablers of reliability is thermal management. ADLINK addresses this topic its white paper on Conduction Cooled CompactPC. I also recommend the Kontron whitepaper on Advanced Thermal Management Solution. On the software side, reliability can be significantly enhanced with the Intel® vPro™ technologies available in Intel Core processors. For an overview, see my recent Intel vPro blog; for details on how to apply this technology to military applications, see the article Minimizing Downtime in High-Reliability Systems as well as my colleague Maury Wright’s recent blog.

 

Intel vPro also makes important contributions to security. For example, the Intel® Virtualization (Intel® VT) component of Intel VT makes it possible to securely partition a system into multiple virtual machines. Among other benefits, this allows applications with different security levels to run on the same platform. For more details, check out Radisys’ whitepaper on Virtualization in Aerospace & Defense as well as my recent overview of Intel VT. Kontron also has a whitepaper on Building Trusted Embedded Systems that covers the full suite of Intel vPro technologies as well as the related blog from Maury Wright—they are both well worth a read.

 

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

 

Radisys and Kontron are Premier members of the Intel® Embedded Alliance. ADLINK is an Associte member of the Alliance.

 

Kenton Williston

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Embedded Alliance

Editor-In-Chief, Embedded Innovator magazine

Follow me on Twitter: @kentonwilliston

Performance and power-efficiency are more important than ever for network infrastructure. Traffic is exploding and becoming more complex as video and web traffic increasingly dominate the network. Meanwhile, the increasing cloud connectivity of everything from enterprises source to consumer devices is creating a tempting target for hackers. At the same time, cost pressures are causing customers to make ever-greater demands on energy efficiency.

 

The Intel® Xeon® processors provide a number of features that can help you address these challenges, including:

 

  • Powerful multi-core architectures for intensive packet-processing and security
  • Intel® Virtualization Technology (Intel® VT) for flexible, efficient hardware utilization
  • Advanced power management technologies for efficient processing
  • Application-specific hardware extensions for signal processing and encryption

 

Multi-core performance is particularly important for today’s complex networking applications. The latest processors like the Intel® Xeon® processor 5500/5600 series provide up to 12 cores in a dual-socket configuration (Figure 1), provide impressive performance on communications tasks.

 

xeon.png

Figure 1. The Intel® Xeon® processor 5500/5600 series.

 

Intel® VT can play a critical role in unlocking this performance by enabling multiple OSs to run on the same platform. Among other uses, Intel VT makes it possible to consolidate functions that previously required separate hardware onto a single platform—a technique that has been shown to reduce energy use by as much as 80%. To learn more about Intel VT and its applications, check out my recent intro to virtualization blog.

 

You can access this power-efficient performance with a wide range of products from Intel® Embedded Alliance , whose 200-plus members collaborate closely with Intel to create optimized hardware, software, tools, and services to help you speed designs to market. Many of these offerings are focused on maximizing packet processing performance. For example, the Wind River Network Acceleration Platform is designed to provide scalable, optimized multi-core packet processing. 6WIND offers a similar packet processing solution that (among other benefits) integrates with Qosmos Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) and Network Intelligence technology.

 

On the hardware front, solutions are available from a wide range of Alliance members, such as Emerson Network Power, Advantech, Kontron and RadiSys—all of whom recently participated in the webinar 40G webinar and Beyond: Next-Gen Network Design with AdvancedTCA. You can also find solutions from these companies in the article Deep Packet Inspection in LTE Networks.

 

DPI is just one example of the many ways you can apply the performance of Intel Xeon processors. I recently posted an overview of communications applications with Intel Xeon processors, but it’s worth revisiting some of those applications here and highlighting a few additional use cases. Let’s start by filling out a few more details on DPI. The key to enabling DPI on Intel Xeon processors is moving the packet processing into the fast path so more processor cycles are available for DPI. The article Fast Path Packet Processing explains how you can accomplish this first step, while the white paper High-performance, integrated packet processing and DPI solutions for LTE lays out the details of DPI and several common use cases.

 

Network security is another area where power-efficient, cost-effective performance is a key requirement. The article Scalable Performance for Unified Threat Management lays out one excellent example of how Intel Xeon processors can meet this need by offering flexible software support. For further reading on this topic, I recommend the article Versatile Network Security Devices,which highlights the role virtualization plays in enhancing flexibility. Finally, the white paper

Packet Processing Software for Network Security provides a good general review of techniques for achieving high throughput and flexibility at low cost.

 

Of course, all that network traffic has to come from somewhere, so let’s take a moment to consider servers. One of the key benefits of Intel Xeon processors is their ability to consolidate multiple workloads onto a single platform. This capability is a big plus for applications like media servers that require a combination of application, control plane, packet, and signal processing. In fact, it is now possible to provide all of these services on commercial servers—see the article

Enterprise Media Server Gets Carrier-Class Performance for details. Servers also have many roles to play in “the cloud”, and Intel Xeon processor-based ATCA hardware can fill many of these roles. To learn more, see the white paper ATCA in the Cloud and the webinar Cloud Computing for Network Equipment.

 

workload_consolidation.pngThe links I’ve listed here only scratch the surface of what the Alliance has to offer. For more on building flexible networking solutions, see intel.com/go/embedded-consolidation.

 

Emerson Network Power, Advantech, Kontron and RadiSys are Premier members of the Intel® Embedded Alliance. Wind River is an Associate member of the Alliance. 6WIND is an Affiliate member of the Alliance and Qosmos is a General member.

 

 

 

Kenton Williston

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Embedded Alliance

Editor-In-Chief, Embedded Innovator magazine

Follow me on Twitter: @kentonwilliston

 

The retail industry knows that technology can increase sales and operational efficiency, but many retailers have limited budgets to invest in intelligent retail systems. The challenge for OEMS is finding ways to deliver point-of-sale (POS) systems, kiosks, and digital signage that deliver advanced features while keeping costs down. The new Intel® Atom™ processor N2000 and D2000 series can be a big help in meeting this goal. This new processor family offers significantly improved graphics, energy efficiency, and connectivity, all at an entry-level price point that enables cost-effective solutions.

The upgraded graphics are particularly important for retail applications. The new processors offer up to 4x better 3D graphics performance than its predecessors, along with the 1080p hardware video decode—including dual-decode on the Intel® Atom™ processor D2700 (see Figure 1). These features enable dynamic displays with minimal processor load.

 

 

Core Frequency

Graphics Speed

Video decode

TDP

Intel® Atom™ processor N2600

1.60 GHz

400 MHz

Single 1080p

3.5 W

Intel® Atom™ processor N2800

1.86 GHz

640 MHz

Single 1080p

6.5 W

Intel® Atom™ processor D2700

2.1 GHz

640 MHz

Dual 1080p

10 W

Figure 1. Key specifications.

 

The new processors also add support for two independent displays, meaning an entry-level POS system could add a display for customer-facing video ads. Similarly, a single digital signage system could control two displays. In addition to supporting two displays, the new platform supports a variety of new display standards as well as a rich set of I/O (see Figure 2). All these features comes with thermal design power (TDP) ratings as low as 3.5 W, enabling fanless designs that eliminate moving parts to maximize reliability and longevity—and thus lower the costs of ownership.

 

atom.png

Figure 2. The new Intel® Atom™ processor.

 

You can get a head start on your retail system with hardware from the Intel® Embedded Alliance , whose 200-plus members collaborate closely with Intel to create optimized hardware, software, tools, and services to help you speed designs to market. These solutions include computer-on-module (COM), single-board computer (SBC), and motherboard offerings, as well as ready-to-use embedded PCs. Figure 3 lists a selection of hardware available from the Alliance.

 

 

Product
Form Factor

Features

Applications

Portwell

PCOM-B218VG
COM Express Type 6

LVDS/VGA,8 USB, 4 PCIe

POS, Signage

Avalue

ECM-CDV
3.5” SBC

HDMI/VGA/2 LVDS, 2 GbE, 2 COM, 7 USB, GPIO, Touch Controller   (optional), CF, SATA, mPCIe w/mSATA,

POS, Kiosk, Signage


EBM-CDV
5.25” SBC

2 LVDS/HDMI, 2 GbE, Touch Controller, 6 COM, 8 USB, GPIO,   SATA, mPCIe w/mSATA


DFI

CD905-B
COM Express Compact Type 2

VGA/LVDS, GbE, 8 USB, GPIO, 2 SATA, 4 PCIe, 4 PCI

POS


CD951-C
3.5” SBC

VGA/LVDS, 2 SATA, 6 COM, 6 USB, 2 GbE, GPIO, mPCIe, CF

Kiosk, POS


DS910-CD
Digital Signage System

HDMI/ DVI, SATA, SD/MMC, COM, 4 USB, GbE, GPIO, 2 mPCIe   (w/mSATA), VESA mount

Signage


DS912-CD
Digital Signage System

HDMI/ DVI, SATA, SD/MMC, 2 COM, 4 USB, GbE, GPIO, PCIe,   2 mPCIe (w/mSATA), VESA mount


Norco

MITX-6930
Mini-ITX Motherboard

VGA/LVDS/DVI-I, 2 GbE, 6 COM, 6 USB, 2 SATA, PCI, 2 mPCIe,   SIM slot

POS, Kiosk, Signage


BIS-6630
Embedded PC

DVI/VGA , 6 USB, 2 GbE, 6 COM, SIM slot, 2 mPCIe, PCI, VESA   mount, removable HDD


Seavo

SV-Atom216H

Mini-ITX Motherboard

VGA/HDMI/LVDS, GbE, 8 USB, 6 COM, LPT, PCI, mPCIe (w/mSATA),   GPIO, PS/2, daughter card interface, 2 SATA

POS, Kiosk


SV1-D2701

Mini-ITX Motherboard

VGA/HDMI/LVDS, GbE, 8 USB, 6 COM, LPT, PCI, mPCIe (w/mSATA),   2 SATA

Kiosk, Signage


SV6-A804

3.5” SBC

VGA/HDMI/LVDS, GbE ,8 USB, 6 COM, LPT, GPIO, 2 mPCIe   (w/mSATA), 2 SATA

POS, Kiosk, Signage

Figure 3. Select Alliance products for retail.

 

One interesting example of the SBCs available from the Alliance is the Norco MITX-6930 mini-ITX motherboard. Among its many features, this board includes a SIM card socket for 3G cellular modems—a useful feature for retail settings that lack LAN connections. Figure 4 shows how a digital sign could put this cellular capability to use. For OEMs who prefer an off-the-shelf solution, Norco also offers the BIS-6630 fanless embedded PC, which wraps the mini-ITX motherboard in a VESA-mountable case.

 

norco.png

Figure 4. The Norco BIS-6630 includes a 3G SIM card slot for LAN-free deployment.

 

A good example of a ready-to-use signage system is the DFI DS912-CD shown in Figure 5. This VESA-mountable system includes a long list of I/O (see Figure 3 for details) and comes with a hard drive kit, power adapter, quick install guide, a DVD with drivers and a manual, and optional VESA- and wall-mounting kits.

 

dfi.png

Figure 5. The DFI DS912-CD.

 

These and other Alliance offerings give OEMs a great way to take advantage of the new features in the Intel Atom processor N2000 and D2000 series. By doing so, OEMs can deliver systems that combine advanced features and entry-level pricing to address the need of today’s retailers.

 

efficiency.pngTo learn more about power-efficient performance, see intel.com/go/embedded-energyefficiency


Portwell is a Premier member of the Intel Embedded Alliance. Avalue, DFI, and Norco are Associate members of the Alliance. Seavo is an Affiliate members of the Alliance.

 

Kenton Williston

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Embedded Alliance

Editor-In-Chief, Embedded Innovator magazine

Follow me on Twitter: @kentonwilliston

The days of going to a special medical facility for an ultrasound exam are numbered. A recent Global Industry Analysts report predicts the global market for medical ultrasound equipment will reach US $6.9 billion by 2017. Embedded developers should note that a lot of this growth will occur in new segments such as portable and handheld ultrasonic devices for emergency medicine, teleconsultation, and clinics. The race is on to develop ultra-small ultrasound devices providing high quality imagery, back-end connectivity, and long battery life—all in a rugged design.

 

A major category for this boom will be portable B-mode ultrasonic devices (see Figure 1). B-mode ultrasonic devices direct discrete pulses of high-intensity ultrasound at body tissues and then listen for discrete echoes back to create two-dimensional (2D) images displayed on a screen. While imaging quality is lower quality than high-end 3D ultrasound devices, portable B-mode ultrasound devices are very effective in the hands of experienced examiners. Portable ultrasound devices can be used to visualize organs for abdominal, urinary bladder, cardiac, obstetric and pediatric exams. By helping to speed diagnoses, portable ultrasound devices can reduce patient wait times and help healthcare providers deliver faster, more efficient patient care with fewer referrals.

 

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Figure 1. Example of an ultra-small B-mode ultrasound device design.

 

A B-mode ultrasound device uses a transducer that emits sounds waves to image body tissues. As each sound wave is reflected back to the transducer, the ultrasound machine needs to calculate the distance that the sound wave traveled between the transducer and tissue using a mathematical equation based on the average speed of sound in tissue and the time it actually took for the relection to return to the transducer. At the core of an ultrasound system is an analog-to-digital converter which converts the filtered input signals from the analog front end into a digital representation which can then be passed to a digital beam former for further processing. Within the beam former the digitized signal is scaled and time delayed to create the focusing effect in the receive chain. The properly adjusted signals are then summed together across all receive channels and passed to the imaging system for rendering and display.

 

Let’s look at what you need to compete in this new category. Compared with previous generations, today’s medical ultrasound systems are smaller and lighter with higher levels of processing capability. For developers, the mobile B-mode ultrasonic space presents a number of challenges:

 

  • Small form factor
  • Ability to offload FPGA functions to CPU to save power
  • High resolution graphics and video
  • 24 hours of standby time with 4 hours of working time between charges
  • Ability to wake from sleep quickly so as not to keep staff or patients waiting
  • Shock/impact resistance
  • 24-bit LVDS, VGA, TV-Out display output
  • Competitive pricing environment because of pressures in the healthcare industry to reduce costs

 

To meet these requirements, developers need to source embedded boards, interface components, amplifiers, and analog-to-digital converter (ADC) and digital-to-analog converter (DAC) components that deliver high speeds, improved electrical performance, and lower power consumption, all at reasonable cost. A good place for design teams to start is selecting the processor architecture that enables low-cost, a small form factor configuration with minimum number of extra components.

 

Shenzhen Industrial Computer System Company Ltd., a general member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance, is targeting this market by providing designers with a rugged, flexible COM board (see Figure 2) that uses an Intel® Atom™ processor N2000 series to meet all the necessary criteria.

 

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Figure 2. The 146mm x 80mm Shenzhen CMS-4551 COM board is expressly designed for the portable B-mode ultrasound device market.

 

The 146mm x 80mm Shenzhen CMS-4551 COM board aptly meets small form factor requirements and is engineered with a multi-function interface. This enables designers to design their own interface card for the board and use it to differentiate their scanner with their own combination of external I/O (LAN, LDVS, VGA, TV-Out, USB*2, COM1) and positioning of I/O on the product shell.

 

The key to low power is the Intel® Atom™ processor N2000 series (see Figure 3). It takes care of a lot of the computation and graphics processing. Its leading-edge 32nm technology adds new features to a dual-core Intel Atom processor, making it well suited to the needs of battery-operated portable medical devices. Its architectural enhancements enable it to share part of the traditional work performed by the FPGA, including floating-point arithmetic and image processing capability. In fact, its new graphics core delivers up to 2x the performance of previous generation Intel Atom processors, as well as the ability to decode 1080p HD video. The new Intel® Integrated Graphics Media Accelerator 3600/3650 even opens the door to providing the color imagery of high-end ultrasound devices. Plus, dual-display support enables simultaneous viewing on two displays, making it easier for ultrasound technicians to share high-resolution scans with patients on large displays in clinic settings.

 

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Figure 3. The Intel® Atom™ processor N2000 series features high performance integrated graphics, dual HD display support, and power-saving 32nm technology.

 

All this performance comes without a power penalty. The Intel Atom processor N2000 series is specified for thermal design power (TDP) as low as 3.5 W, when operating with a 1.6 GHz core clock speed and 400 MHz graphics speed. What’s more, a new S6 deep-sleep mode consumes just one tenth of the power needed in S5 mode, enabling weeks-long standby time – a key requirement for ultra-small ultrasound.

 

A new feature, Intel® Rapid Start Technology, helps preserve battery like while enabling devices to quickly resume operation from a deep  sleep state when it comes time to do a scan. This technology can move DRAM data to a Flash solid-state drive (SSD) after a user-defined period of time in Standby (S3) mode, putting the system into the Hibernate (S4) state while the OS remains on Standby. When a user turns the device back on, data is quickly transferred back to DRAM and regular operation restored. You get the best of both worlds—longer battery life, plus fast resume.

 

The CMS-4551 can include up to 2GB DDR3 667MHz memory. All internal interfaces use shock-resistant wafer connectors with latches that are designed to withstand the normal vibration and bumps of a portable ultrasound device. While the low power dissipation of the Intel Atom processors enable fanless designs, for designs requiring fans for other components, the CMS-4551 includes smart-fan technology. This technology detects enivronment temperature and runs the fan only when needed and at the lowest possible speeds to save energy and reduce noise.

 

Already, three Chinese ultrasound manufacturers are designing systems with the CMS 4551 board—Wuxi Xoamgsjeng Medical Imaging Ltd., Shenzhen Ruike Cable Technology Ltd., and Sichuan Kang Medical Equipment Ltd.

 

What are your thoughts on the sonic boom in ultra-small ultrasound? Is this yet another promising sign on the way to trimming healthcare costs while improving diagnosis and patient care through portable, connected devices?

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