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2011

It wasn’t long ago when system designers needed a dedicated processor to handle robust HMIs (Human Machine Interfaces) with features such as touch control, but escalating processor power and integration has changed that. Today in fact, even low-power Intel® Atom™ processors can simultaneously host  very-complex HMIs along with application software for segments such as medical, industrial control, and military & aerospace. For example, Atom-based touch-panel systems consolidate the HMI and application workload while supporting high-resolution graphics and interfacing with the real-world environment through sensors and actuators.

 

The key to workload consolidation and robust HMIs on Intel® Architecture processors (IA) is both ramping performance and more-highly-integrated feature sets on the processor and in some cases the core logic. Today you will find processors and chip sets that integrate graphics accelerators, and video encoding and decoding while also supporting technologies such as Intel® Virtualization (VT) that even support multiple operating systems on one processor. Intel-VT-based systems can run, simultaneously on one processor, an operating system just for the HMI and a second operating system for real-time control.

 

Atom processors are especially viable in graphical HMI systems where size and low-power are also important. The processors offer an optimal balance of performance and low-power attributes and feature a growing list of peripheral functions integrated on the processor – minimizing the need for support ICs.

 

Widely-deployed Atom processors such as the Intel® Atom™ Processor Z5xx series operate at clock speeds as fast as 1.6 GHz. The companion Intel® System Controller HUB US15W integrates a graphics accelerator and high-definition audio. The cumulative power consumption is in the 4 to 4.5W range depending on the specific processor. Newer Atom offerings such as the E6xx and Z6xx series integrate graphics on the processor IC.

 

Module and system vendors are developing IA-based products that allow embedded-design teams to quickly bring products to market with complex and robust HMIs, the performance needed for a broad array of applications, and support for real-world interfaces.

 

Consider National Instruments*. Earlier this year the company introduced the TPC-2206 and TPC-2212 touch-panel computers based on the 1.33-Ghz Atom Z520PT. The design integrates a 6-in graphics display with full 640x480-pixel VGA resolution. The Atom processor and system controller IC drive the graphics output.  Moreover the systems include a resistive touch screen with 1024x1024 resolution.

 

The National panels also leverage the fact that the Atom processor supports extended-temperature operations. Indeed you can deploy the rugged touch system in temperatures that range from -20 to 60° C.

 

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National Instruments specifically targets its panel systems to applications centered on monitoring and control. And the company offers design teams a way to implement such applications using modular products that are linked via standard interfaces such as Ethernet and USB.

 

The range of applications in which the TPC-2206/2212 can serve is broad. At the high end, the panel system could use Ethernet to connect to an enterprise IT system and to link to programmable automation controller (PAC) systems as show in the nearby figure. Most IT managers don’t want PACs and the associated control data on the enterprise network. But the panel computers integrate dual Ethernet ports that allow isolated connections for IT information flow such as system status and real-time PAC control.

 

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In a simpler configuration, a design team could link the panel system directly to sensing hardware via USB in an application without an Ethernet network. For example, National Instruments offers the CompactDAQ family that can connect via Ethernet or USB.  Design teams can combine modules with the capability of monitoring temperature, resistance, voltage, strain, and other characteristics. The simplest USB-based CompactDAQ chassis accepts four sensing-and-control modules and measures 6.28x3.5x2.3 in.

 

National Instruments also offers a number of resources to help teams that are working on complex HMIs. For example, the company offers a webcast on developing an HMI for the TPC-2212 in conjunction with a CompactRIO-based sensing-and-control system. The company also has a webcast on using its Touch Panel Module software to create intuitive HMIs in its LabVIEW graphical environment.

 

A number of other modular product vendors support similar application scenarios. For example, AAEON Technology** offers multiple families of touch-based panels with sizes ranging to 21.5 in. Indeed the ACP-5212 panel is based on a dual-core Atom D510 processor and supports the multi-touch capability that’s been made popular in smartphones and tablets.

 

AAEON also offers ruggedized panels, and 7- to 15-in designs meant specifically for industrial applications. The 8.4-in AHP-1081, for instance, is based on a 1.6-GHz Atom N270 processor.

 

Increasingly the user interface has become a differentiator in systems – even special-purpose embedded systems. Fortunately faster processors with more features can consolidate both the HMI and application at hand. How do you implement HMIs to add value to your designs? Have you used panel computers and hosted the application on the same system to minimize costs? Please share you experiences with fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community via comments.

 

Maury Wright

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor)

Intel® Embedded Alliance

 

*National Instruments is an Associate member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance

**AAEON Technology is an Associate member of the Alliance

Digital video and high-resolution image analysis now occupies a large and growing portion of the embedded landscape and with each new application the CPU intensive signal processing burden escalates. Static and full motion electronic images of objects, people, vehicles, scenery, and documents are the raw materials for a wide range of digital image analysis applications such as machine vision, medical imaging, facial recognition, intelligent surveillance, robotics, and military radar analysis. In its most basic form, an imaging sensor captures snippets of spectral data and converts them into a digital representation useful to analysis software. However, the range of data is incredible: a linear bar code image only translates into a few bytes of information while a live, high-definition video image requires a continuous stream of data representing billions of pixels.

 

These image analysis applications bring a new level of complexity to embedded systems. High-performance, multicore processors along with real time, on-the-fly compression techniques are necessary to efficiently capture the high resolution images needed for analysis. To tackle these challenges, several board and systems manufacturers have recently announced new embedded video signal processing platforms based on the improved performance of 2nd-Generation Intel® Core™ processors. This new, long-life embedded architecture includes numerous graphics enhancements including an integral graphics processor for high definition hardware image decoding. The graphics section includes an array of parallel hardware execution units to accelerate encoding and decoding of high definition video.  The Intel® 2nd Generation Core™ processors also include a new 256-bit instruction set called Intel® Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX), which is optimized for vector and scalar data sets such as those found in image and video signal processing applications. The graphics processor and CPU cores also feature Intel® Turbo Boost Technology, where clock frequencies can be increased for short periods to handle heavy workloads.

 

Mercury Computer Systems was an early adopter of this high performance architecture with their announcement of the Ensemble 6000 Series OpenVPX Intel® Core™ i7 Quad-Core Next Generation LDS6521 module (See figure 1). With high-end radar, electronic warfare, and image processing applications in mind, the LDS6521 combines the quadcore Intel® 2nd Generation Core™ i7 processor, an external FPGA for user-application functions, and high-bandwidth communication fabrics in a single 6U OpenVPX slot. The module is available in an air-cooled version or a conduction-cooled module that  complies with the Ruggedized Enhanced Design Implementation standard or VPX-REDI for harsh environment embedded applications.  Supporting multiple Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) applications, the LDS6521features Mercury’s POET (Protocol Offload Engine Technology) fabric interconnects for both Serial RapidIO and 10 Gigabit Ethernet. In addition to a wide range of built-in I/O ports, the module also provides two PMC/XMC mezzanine sites for additional I/O or control functions. Mercury’s MultiCore Plus (MCP) open software environment and MultiCore Scientific Algorithm Library (MCSAL) provides the LDS6521 with access to a variety of stacks, middleware, libraries, and software tools optimized for multicore processors.

 

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Curtiss Wright Controls Embedded Computing has also developed an OpenVPX digital signal processing board based on the enhanced performance of the 2nd generation Intel® Core™ i7 processors. The CHAMP-AV8 6U delivers peak signal processing performance up to 269 GFLOPS by incorporating two of the quad-core Intel® Core™ i7-2715QE processors and the 256-bit AVX floating point instruction set (See figure 2).  The module also offers expanded performance and bandwidth advantages with the new PCI Express to Serial RapidIO protocol conversion technology from Integrated Device Technology. With an on-board XMC site, 8 GB of flash, and up to 16 GB of SDRAM, the CHAMP-AV8 fits applications with demanding storage, data logging, and sensor processing requirements. The module is also supported with a suite of software including Wind River’s VxWorks and the Linux operating systems. Additional software support includes Inter-Processor Communications (IPC) and Curtiss Wright Controls Continuum Vector AVX-optimized signal processing library.

 

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Along with reduced power, integrated graphics, and faster floating point performance, Intel® 2nd Generation Core™ processors deliver programmable media architecture plus hardware-based signal processing. These powerful graphics features provide the embedded platform designer new tools to match the requirements of next-generation image analysis applications.  If you think that Intel® 2nd Generation Core™ architecture fits your next image analysis project please feel free to exchange information and questions with fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community. Also, there is more to come as I cover the features and benefits of using the Intel® Atom™ E6xx processor architecture in digital signage applications.

 

To view other community content on sensing and analytics, see “Sensing & Analytics - Top Picks

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Warren Webb

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

 

Curtiss Wright Controls Embedded Computing is an Affiliate member of the by Intel® Embedded Alliance. Mercury Computer Systems is a General member of the Alliance. 

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