Nov 18, 2014

Wireless Power: Making Actual Product

posted by Bryon Moyer

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Things have been a bit quiet on the wireless power front, but occasionally I’ll become aware of a new player and will dig in to find out how they work. In particular, given that there are now two main competing resonant (e-field) charging standards, it’s interesting to learn where the various players stand.

As a quick review, the two standards are Qi, at a lower frequency (200 kHz) building off of its existing inductive charging market, and Rezence, at a higher frequency (6.78 MHz), which is a newcomer.

The latest company I ran across was PowerSquare, who announced their technology this past summer. These guys help illustrate how this market is playing out. Some companies, like WiTricity, are firmly allied with a standard (in their case,

Rezence). They develop the basic technology and then license it to companies building actual charging stations. Most of the companies and standards groups I’ve talked with in the past were of this variety.

PowerSquare is not: they’re in the next tier of companies trying to establish a retail brand. As such, their focus isn’t on evangelizing one or another technology; their focus is on selling chargers. So PowerSquare isn’t allied with one or the other approach; they’re going to use what’s available and what works and what’s cost effective.

In this case, their current products leverage the Qi standard. Why? Because that’s what’s there now. In fact, they’re not even doing the newer e-field resonant thing – that’s not ready yet (or wasn’t when they assembled their product). So they use the old inductive (m-field-oriented) approach.

They have, however, adopted some of the techniques we’ve discussed before, creating a pad with an array of coils so that you can put a phone anywhere on it or charge multiple phones at once. So, while they get “x” and “y” positioning flexibility, what they don’t get with that approach is increased “z” spacing: the phone still has to be on the pad, close to the coils. You can’t mount the pad under a table or counter – the resonant approach would be needed for that.

Looking forward, PowerSquare CEO Pavan Pudipeddi sees plusses and minuses for both evolving standards. The biggest thing Qi has going for it is momentum: its legacy helps propel it forward. They already have working technology, albeit inductive, so, even though they’re getting their resonant approach squared away, there’s less pressure because they’ve already got something to sell.

That legacy is also a challenge for Qi, because they’re all about backward-compatibility. So decisions from the past affect the future; that could feel like baggage at some point.

Rezence, on the other hand, has in its favor support from some heavy-hitting companies: Intel, Samsung, and Qualcomm among them. Their challenge is that this technology is new, and there’s intense pressure to get product out the door to establish some traction. In particular, Mr. Pudipeddi wasn’t aware of any uptake of the Rezence technology in phone designs as of when we spoke. (That could have changed by now.)

The first Rezence-based product is expected by the end of the year, however, so the battle will be fully joined at that point. And PowerSquare will continue to use whichever versions of whichever technology hold the most promise for selling units at the retail level.

You can read PowerSquare’s technology announcement here.

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Nov 13, 2014

A Dev Board with Both Touch and Gestures

posted by Bryon Moyer

How do people want to interact with their machines? Some of us are most productive with mouse and keyboard (although I keep seeing presentations complaining that we’ve had them for too long – as if we need to get rid of them even if they’re the best tool for some jobs).

Touch has obviously taken over a large number of systems, and for many things, it’s simpler and more obvious (never mind that trying to make it be everything for everyone doesn’t work…). Most importantly, it’s the latest rage, so… well, if it’s cool and popular, then it must be good, right?

Well, look out, touch: the next thing for our ADD world is gesture technology. It’s like touch without the touch. In fact, you can have a “gesture” that’s your pointing finger doing spooky-touch-and-click-at-a-distance, but there’s also the whole gesture vocabulary thing, where different gestures mean different specific things (we’ll dig more into that in the future). And, to hear many folks say it, this is the NEXT next big thing.

Given this history of one mode replacing another mode and then being replaced itself, it’s easy to think of these things as competing. Why would you actually touch a system if you could gesture? Why would you waste money and space on a keyboard if you could touch a virtual keyboard? Well, because different jobs work best with different modalities. They don’t necessarily have to compete.

So it was interesting to see Microchip release a new dev board featuring a touchpad. It’s not a touch dev board; it’s not a gesture dev board: it has both touch and gesture recognition technology built into the touchpad. So you can develop systems that use both approaches – giving developers the opportunity to provide their customers with the best tool for the job.

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They call the input device a “3D Touchpad.” In most cases, adding a third dimension to a touchpad means tracking how hard a finger presses. But that’s not what it means here: in this context, it’s the air gestures above the touchpad that account for the third dimension.

The gesture element leverages Microchip’s GestIC technology, which measures the e-field anomalies that your hand creates to decode gestures. Wires embedded in the touchpad, along with their GestIC controller chip, add this capability to the otherwise 2D touchpad. Note that they also support “surface gestures” – gestures swiped on the touchpad.

This isn’t a system per se; it appears to be targeted at developing human-machine interface (HMI) approaches and drivers that would then be integrated into different systems that use the 3D touchpad. The dev kit comes with a free downloadable GUI and an SDK/API package.

You can find more detail in their announcement.

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Nov 11, 2014

Express Logic’s X-Ware Platform

posted by Bryon Moyer

The Internet of Things (IoT) is all about platforms. Exactly what constitutes a “platform” is unobvious and left to the reader, however. In some cases, they’re so obscure that you have to pull teeth to find out what the platform actually contains.

Many of the platforms are about the connection between Things and the Cloud (and the Phone). But Express Logic recently introduced their X-Ware Platform, targeted at IoT applications, and its focus is on basic Thing OS and middleware: all of the pieces that allow a Thing to communicate, take on peripherals, store files, and so forth. (To be clear, this platform requried no teeth-pulling to suss out.)

This follows what seems to be a trend: while embedded engineers used to piece together the elements that make up a system, now much of that work is being pre-done or pre-bundled. It would appear to serve two purposes: development goes faster for the engineer and the seller gets all the pieces rather than having their technology intermixed with someone else’s. That would seem to be a win-win (assuming that all pieces of the bundle work well).

In Express Logic’s case, they’ve bundled their ThreadX RTOS with NetX, USBX, FileX, GUIX, and TraceX offerings together to provide basic OS, connectivity (TCP/IP), USB host functionality, file management, GUI design, and “event analysis” (for debugging and profiling) capabilities.

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In addition to bundling the middleware, they’ve “pre-ported” it – not just for ARM, but for specific development boards using ARM. This means that all of the board-support stuff has already been done for the specific peripherals and configurations of those boards, further saving time. Their ARM focus is described as “initial,” but ARM is everywhere, with a bazillion lines of code already out there. I’m sure other processors can get supported, but I’ll wager they have a hard row to hoe.

X-Ware also ties in with IAR’s development environment, enabling what they call “RTOS-aware debugging” – making it easier to track threads and tasks when sorting out issues.

And they’ve included 15 different demos – most of them for each of the components in the bundle, with one that’s a medical demo combining the whole lot.

You can get more detail in their announcement.

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