unemployment-rate-hits-historic-low,-but-manufacturing-has-sluggish-year

The latest reports on the economy show mixed results. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 266,000 non-farm payrolls were created in November, pushing the unemployment rate to a historically low 3.5%. Government data released today showed the United States added far more jobs than expected in November, “relieving concerns that one of the brightest spots in the economy may have started to run out of steam,” said Business Insider in its Markets report.

Profit and loss graphic

Manufacturing employment also increased in November, noted the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM). The sector gained 54,000 jobs, according to the BLS, with the bulk of growth coming from automotive jobs. AAM’s President Scott Paul commented: “With only one month left in 2019, Trump’s promise that manufacturing jobs will boom has sputtered. November’s jobs number was aided by UAW workers securing a new contract and returning to the factory floor.

“Overall, 2019 factory job growth has been incredibly weak, lagging well behind 2018 and underperforming [compared with] the rest of the economy. While there has been periodic bluster about policies to boost infrastructure and stop China’s cheating, no real progress has been made to date. American workers deserve better from the administration and Congress,” said Paul.

Nick Bunker, Research Director at Indeed Hiring Lab, commented to Business Insider, that the high number of jobs added in November doesn’t tell the whole story. “You might forget that the story for most of this year was that the economy was slowing down,” he said. “The slowdown did happen, but we can move into 2020 with a bit more optimism.”

Business Insider reported that while wage growth continued to outpace inflation last month, it “remained stubbornly below what would be expected with an unemployment rate at its lowest level in half a century. Average hourly earnings rose 3.1% year-over-year in November, a slight uptick from a month earlier but short of the peak growth levels seen in early 2019.”

November’s Purchasing Managers Index from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), released on Dec. 2, showed yet another contraction to 48.1 from October’s 48.3. In fact, most of the index measurements were in the “contracting” mode even though the index showed the overall economy “growing.”

New orders for November fell to 47.2 from October’s 49.1. New export orders also fell from 50.4 (growing) in October to 47.9 (contraction) in November. Production’s contraction slowed from October’s 46.2 to 49.1 in November. Inventories contracted faster, from 48.9 in October to 45.5 in November, and customer inventories fell to levels considered “too low,” from 47.8 in October to 45.0 in November. Order backlogs also dropped 1.1% in November to 43.0.

Comments from respondents to ISM’s November survey included this one from a machinery supplier: “Demand has stabilized for the last half of [the fourth quarter], and production will be stable for the rest of this year.”

A respondent from the plastics and rubber products sector commented, “Heading into the holiday season, we are seeing the backlog decrease, as new orders for 2020 seem lighter than in past years.”

A new report from ResearchAndMarkets (Global Plastic Processing Machinery Markets Report 2019: 2017-2018 Data & CAGR Projections 2019-2023), noted that “increasing demand for processed food and beverages, followed by increasing requirements for packaging, is fueling the overall growth in the plastics processing machinery market. The increasing demand for plastics in a variety of applications is expected to fuel growth of the plastics processing machinery global market. Accuracy, reliability, and energy efficiency play an important role in the growth of plastic processing machinery global market.”

Image: Hywards/Adobe Stock

the-2021-jaguar-f-type-is-a-fresh-faced-cat

When Jaguar introduced the F-Type sports car in 2013, it was intended as a modern design, but it was also still referencing the classic E-Type of the 1960s, so some of the old car’s flavor carried over. 2013 was a long time ago now, so Jaguar has decided the time is right to leave the past in the rear view mirror and reorient the F-Type to a fully contemporary design.

LED headlight technology has significantly influenced the design of cars since the F-Type was styled. So the most obvious change in the new F-Type’s “face” is the old, almost traditional “eyes” above the front cutline are gone, replaced by narrow slits beneath a line that becomes a furrowed brow. 

Click through the slide show to see all of the other changes to the car and watch the videos below to see the new styling in motion.

3-painless-tips-for-writing-documentation

Writing documentation is not the most exciting endeavor an engineer can embark on. It’s often boring, time consuming, and there are so many more interesting things that could be done. It sometimes amaze me that development projects are documented so poorly – if they are even documented at all. Documentation is meant to help preserve important concepts and information about the development cycle. This information could be used to get up to speed on the product, make decisions about updates and changes, or even to prove that proper procedures were followed to create the product. Here are a set of tips for developing documentation that decreases the pain factor for developers and improves documentation quality.

Tip #1 – Write the documentation as you develop

The problem with a lot of documentation (which includes code comments), is that the documentation is done after the development is completed. Engineers are often in a hurry due to delivery constraints, so they focus on getting things working first and then document second. The problem with this is that there is a good chance that the documentation is never written and if it is, the developer may be writing it weeks or months later which means they have forgotten the design decisions that were made. The resultant documentation is often better than nothing, but lacking in critical steps or thought processes that make it easy to pick-up right where the developer left off.

developer documentation, 3 tips, document as you go

Following through on these tips can speed up the time it takes to develop documentation. (Image source: Samsung Know)

I’ve found that the best documentation, and the quickest way to develop it, is to document as you go. For example, when I am writing documentation that describes how to setup and run a test, I don’t set it up and then go back and try to remember all the steps I took. I literally create the document and with each step write down what I did and more importantly, why I did what I did. Now when I make a misstep and have to go back and adjust, it’s the perfect opportunity to include a few comments of how to recover the system or what mistakes to avoid.

I’ve also found that by creating the documentation as I go, I can use the documentation to outline what I’m about to do which can help guide my efforts. I’ve always found that taking the time to think through what I’m going to do gathers my thoughts and seems to make me more productive. This works far better than trying to do something “on-the-fly”.

Tip #2 – Pictures are worth 1,000 words

It’s quite amazing to me how in a world that is driven by video, rich images and photographs that the documentation engineers create is almost entirely text driven. I can’t tell you how often I’ll come across documentation that includes almost no pictures whatsoever. I was recently working on a project where an engineer sent me a procedure for setting up a toolchain and deploying production code. The entire document was two pages that was not only difficult to follow but had missing steps and no pictures or diagrams! The engineer even assumed that the reader would know how to wire the development board up to a sensor without a wiring diagram!

While the text-based version could be used to repeat the original procedure, anyone following it would have to find several external, review schematics and make several leaps of faiths in order to successfully complete it. What should have been a one-hour process ended up requiring about four hours. If you are following the first tip which is to write your documentation as you go, taking screen shots of important steps in a procedure or taking a picture with a smart phone only takes about 30 seconds. The result can be documentation that is much clearer and saves the user (which could be the future you) a lot of grief.

Tip #3 – Have a colleague review the documentation

The last tip for us to discuss today, and one that should not be overlooked, is to have a colleague go through your documentation when you are done with it. As engineers, we often make assumptions that someone who comes after us will be thinking the same way that we are or that some information tidbit is obvious. Giving your documentation to a colleague to review will help to ensure that all the required information is included in the document so that if someone comes along later, they will be able to understand the process and reproduce or maintain the system.

A colleague can act as a great sounding board to ensure that everything is required. For example, I mentioned that I had a procedure that was provided to me that didn’t have any images. As I reviewed that procedure, I was able to point out screen shots, diagrams and images that should be added to the documentation that would make it easier for someone to understand what the procedure was and how to replicate it. Having no prior knowledge about the procedure and being forced to repeat it helped to provide critical feedback that resulted in a well-established procedure that is not easy to replicate.

Conclusions

These simple documentation steps might seem obvious, but I know for a fact there are lots of engineers that do not follow these simple tips. I come across lots of projects that are sparsely or not documented at all. It may seem obvious to the developer what needs to be done to use a code base, setup an experiment or whatever. The fact though is that it’s often not obvious and the same developer coming back a year later will often find it takes them time to figure out what they were thinking a year ago.

Following through on these tips can speed up the time it takes to develop documentation. That documentation will also be at a higher quality level. Take the time this month to start putting these into practice and you’ll find that overtime, developing documentation will become painless (or at least a little less painful).

Jacob Beningo is an embedded software consultant who currently works with clients in more than a dozen countries to dramatically transform their businesses by improving product quality, cost and time to market. He has published more than 200 articles on embedded software development techniques, is a sought-after speaker and technical trainer, and holds three degrees which include a Masters of Engineering from the University of Michigan. Feel free to contact him at [email protected], at his website, and sign-up for his monthly Embedded Bytes Newsletter.

DesignCon 2020 25th anniversary Logo

January 28-30: North America’s largest chip, board, and systems event, DesignCon, returns to Silicon Valley for its 25th year! The premier educational conference and technology exhibition, this three-day event brings together the brightest minds across the high-speed communications and semiconductor industries, who are looking to engineer the technology of tomorrow. DesignCon is your rocket to the future. Ready to come aboard? 

Register to attend!

doe-achieves-breakthrough-in-artificial-photosynthesis

Researchers at the Department of Energy (DoE) have achieved a chemical reaction that drastically improves upon current methods for artificial photosynthesis, providing a new process for the development of cleaner, hydrogen-based fuels.

Department of Energy, DoE, chemical reaction, artificial photosynthesis, Brookhaven National Laboratory

Brookhaven Lab chemist Javier Concepcion and Lei Wang, a graduate student at Stony Brook University, devised a scheme for assembling light-absorbing molecules and water-splitting catalysts on a nanoparticle-coated electrode. The result: production of hydrogen gas fuel via artificial photosynthesis and a platform for testing different combos to further improve efficiency. (Image source: Brookhaven National Laboratory, Department of Energy)

Specifically, scientists at the DoE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have doubled the efficiency of a chemical combo that captures light and splits water molecules so the building blocks can be used to produce hydrogen fuel. “Artificial photosynthesis will enable the production of sustainable and renewable fuels from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide,” Javier Concepcion, a Brookhaven chemist who worked on the project, told Design News

In natural photosynthesis, plants use sunlight to transform water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates such as sugar and starches. The energy from the sunlight is stored in the chemical bonds holding those molecules together.

Researchers have been seeking ways to develop artificial ways to mimic this natural process by using light to split water into its constituents–hydrogen and oxygen. The idea is that the hydrogen can later be combined with other elements such as carbon dioxide to make fuels.

New platform for cleaner fuel

The Brookhaven team has now developed a platform that integrates two types of materials–chromophores for light absorption, and water-oxidation catalysts to split water into oxygen, electrons, and protons–on the surface of photoanodes. These anodes are electrodes that carry out an oxidation driven by photons.  “The electrons and protons are transported to another electrode (the cathode) where they are combined to produce hydrogen gas, a fuel,” said Concepcion.

The approach uses molecular “tethers”—or simple carbon chains that have a high affinity for one another—to attach the chromophore to the catalyst, researchers said. The tethers hold the particles together so electrons can transfer from the catalyst to the chromophore.

This is an essential step for activating the catalyst—but it also keeps the two elements far enough apart that the electrons don’t jump back to the catalyst, Concepcion said. “This new platform allow us to combine these chromophores and catalysts without the need of complicated synthetic procedures and with precise control of the distance between them,” said Concepcion. “By controlling the distance we can control the rate of electron transfer steps between catalysts and chromophores required for the system to work.”

Researchers published a paper on their work in the Journal of Physical Chemistry C.

Necessity fosters invention

The entire process works like this: Light strikes the chromophore and gives an electron enough of a jolt to send it to the surface of the nanoparticle. From there the electron moves to the nanoparticle core, and then out of the electrode through a wire. Meanwhile, the chromophore, now missing an electron, pulls an electron from the catalyst. As long as there’s light, this process repeats itself, sending electrons flowing from catalyst to chromophore to nanoparticle to wire.

Each time the catalyst loses four electrons, it becomes activated with a positive charge capable of stealing four electrons from two water molecules, which breaks the hydrogen and oxygen apart. The oxygen bubbles out as a gas, while the hydrogen atoms diffuse through a membrane to another electrode. There they recombine with the electrons carried by the wire to produce hydrogen gas, which can be used as fuel.

“This research is fundamental in nature and focused on developing the underlying science that will allow actual real-life applications of artificial photosynthesis,” said Concepcion.

This is key to the future design of cleaner energy, which is “something that mankind has to achieve to ensure the survival of our species,” said Concepcion. “The timeline for this achievement can be argued, but its need is without question.”

Researchers plan to continue their work by studying in detail each of the many processes required for the new system to perform well. “This will include a combination of experimental and computational studies, including machine learning and artificial intelligence to help us to understand the current system and to design better ones,” said Concepcion.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

DesignCon 2020 25th anniversary Logo

January 28-30: North America’s largest chip, board, and systems event, DesignCon, returns to Silicon Valley for its 25th year! The premier educational conference and technology exhibition, this three-day event brings together the brightest minds across the high-speed communications and semiconductor industries, who are looking to engineer the technology of tomorrow. DesignCon is your rocket to the future. Ready to come aboard? Register to attend!

no-quartz-needed:-the-world’s-first-crystal-less,-wireless-mcu-improves-iot-designs
Texas Instruments, bulk acoustic wave, BAW, crystal devices, IoT
BAW can enable the next generation of industrial and telecommunication applications by changing how we approach system designs today. (Image source: Texas Instruments)

From blood glucose, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation monitors in the medical sector, to temperature and smoke detectors used in building automation, to e-locks used in building security, wireless microcontrollers (MCU) play a vital role in monitoring and connecting the world around us.

With this in mind, one of the most important innovations in business and commerce remains the ability to move and analyze massive amounts of data. Wireless MCUs and wireless networking are essential to data migration. And the ability to bridge the last mile of data through connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices is a vital part of that journey.

IoT building blocks include sensors that use quartz crystals. Discrete clocking and quartz crystal devices used to achieve wireless connections can be costly, time-consuming, and complicated to develop, however, and are often susceptible to environmental stress in factory automation or automotive applications.

A new technology called bulk acoustic wave (BAW) makes it possible to create simpler, smaller MCU designs while increasing overall performance and lowering costs. BAW can enable the next generation of industrial and telecommunication applications by changing how we approach system designs today.

As shown in Figure 1 (below) BAW consists of a piezoelectric material sandwiched between two electrodes that converts electrical energy to mechanical-acoustical energy, and vice versa. The mechanical resonance of the piezoelectric material generates the clock for the system.

Texas Instruments, bulk acoustic wave, BAW, crystal devices, IoT

Figure 1: ABAW piezoelectric material. (Image source: Texas Instruments)

The SimpleLink CC2652RB MCU from Texas Instruments integrates BAW technology within a wireless MCU package, eliminating the need for an external quartz crystal, which can be costly, bulky, and time-consuming to design. The space savings enabled by crystal-less solutions is crucial in many emerging applications, such as medical IoT devices.

Compared to external crystal MCU solutions, the SimpleLink C2652RB also shows significant resistance to a variety of acceleration forces and mechanical shock. 

How BAW technology resists mechanical shock and vibration

Two important parameters for measuring vibration and shock are the acceleration force and vibration frequency applied to IoT-connected devices. You’ll find sources of vibration anywhere: inside a moving vehicle; a cooling fan in equipment; or even a handheld wireless device. It is important that clock solutions provide a stable clock with strong resistance against acceleration forces, vibration, and shock, as this assures stability throughout product life cycles under process and temperature variations.

Vibrations and mechanical shock affect resonators by inducing noise and frequency drift, degrading system performance over time. In reference oscillators, vibration and shock are common causes of elevated phase noise and jitter, frequency shifts and spikes, or even physical damage to the resonator and its package. Generally, external disturbances can couple into the microresonator through the package and degrade overall clocking performance.

One of the most critical performance metrics for any wireless device is to maintain a link between the transmitter and receiver and prevent data loss. Without the need for a crystal, BAW technology provides significant performance benefits for IoT products operating in harsh environments. Because BAW technology ensures stable data transmission, data syncing over wired and wireless signals is more precise and makes continuous transmission possible, which means that data can be processed quickly and seamlessly to maximize efficiency.

Evaluating BAW technology with high industry standards

TI has tested the CC2652RB thoroughly against relevant military standards because many MCUs operate in environments susceptible to shock and vibration, such as factories and automotive vehicles. Military standard (MIL)-STD-883H, Method 2002 is designed to test the survivability of quartz crystal oscillators. This standard subjects semiconductor devices to moderate or severe mechanical shock (with an acceleration peak of 1500 g) caused by sudden forces or abrupt changes in motion from rough handling, transportation, or field operation. Shocks of this type could disturb operating characteristics or cause damage similar to what could result from excessive vibration, particularly if the shock pulses are repetitive.

Figure 2 shows a mechanical shock test setup for MIL-STD-883H, while Figure 3 shows the frequency variation of the CC2652RB compared to an external crystal solution. You can see that the maximum frequency deviation is about 2 ppm, while the external crystal solution is about 7 ppm at 2.44 GHz.

Texas Instruments

Figure 2: Mechanical shock test setup and test setup block diagram. (Image source: Texas Instruments)

Texas Instruments, bulk acoustic wave, BAW, crystal devices, IoT
Figuure3 : Comparing the maximum radio (2.44 GHz) frequency deviation (parts per million) induced by mechanical shock on both BAW and crystal devices. (Image source: Texas Intruments)

Conclusion

BAW technology represents real progress within the evolution of IoT by reducing the amount of space required in some critical devices, like those in the medical field, and enabling the use of IoT in places characterized by frequent shocks or vibrations. BAW technology will be one of the catalysts in the connected world of the future across a vast array of sectors.

Habeeb Ur Rahman Mohammed is a validation manager at Texas Instruments within the connected microcontrollers business unit. He has held many different roles at TI, including design, application and validation engineer and graduated with a Master of Science and Ph.D. in electrical engineering from New Mexico State University.

Bill Xiobing Wu is a validation engineer at Texas Instruments. Bill graduated with a Ph.D. from University of Houston. He previously worked as a system application and characterization engineer for TI devices with Bluetooth Low Energy, Wi-Fi, GPS and FM technology.

DesignCon 2020 25th anniversary Logo

January 28-30: North America’s largest chip, board, and systems event, DesignCon, returns to Silicon Valley for its 25th year! The premier educational conference and technology exhibition, this three-day event brings together the brightest minds across the high-speed communications and semiconductor industries, who are looking to engineer the technology of tomorrow. DesignCon is your rocket to the future. Ready to come aboard?

 Register to attend!

kraiburg-kicks-off-program-to-develop-renewables-based-tpes

Kraiburg TPE is embarking on what it describes as an ambitious campaign to develop custom-engineered thermoplastic elastomers containing variable proportions of renewable raw materials. By developing customer-specific and application-specific compounds using renewable raw materials, Kraiburg TPE is aiming to meet the growing demand for environmentally-friendly and sustainable thermoplastic elastomers.

Kraiburg TPE sees tremendous potential for custom-engineered thermoplastic elastomers with adjustable proportions of renewable raw materials of up to 90%, both in the consumer market and also in the industrial and automotive markets.

Kraiburg points out that “bio” is a broad term that is by no means synonymous with “sustainable” in the sense of a strategy for saving resources and protecting the environment. Because even renewable raw materials also have carbon footprints, as well as water footprints, that can have an impact on the environmental balance, depending on their provenance and the way they are grown. Factors that play a decisive role here include irrigation, fertilizers, transport energy and energy consumed for reprocessing.

“Part of the challenge involves taking into account the environmental balance of the materials’ whole life cycles, including their impact on ecosystems and people’s health,” emphasizes CEO Franz Hinterecker from Kraiburg TPE. “It has also become apparent that what our customers expect from the properties of ‘biomaterials’ varies widely depending on the application – while at the same time we have to meet strict criteria regarding the materials’ conformity and performance.”

Kraiburg TPE’s modular system makes it possible to develop customer-specific materials with different proportions of renewable raw materials. Typical performance characteristics that are also relevant here include mechanical properties such as tensile strength and elongation, as well as processability, heat resistance and adhesion to ABS/PC or PP and PE, for example. The requirements are determined in close collaboration with each customer and translated into a sustainable and cost-effective solution by our developers.

In classical approaches, it is technically possible to produce bio-based materials with very high proportions of renewable raw materials. However, materials of this kind usually suffer from very high raw materials costs, while providing only very limited mechanical properties. However, the modular system has now enabled Kraiburg TPE to resolve this contradiction almost completely by following a new, innovative approach beside the classical one.

The initial pilot projects based on the classical approach are showing a trend towards bio-based, certifiable proportions of 20% and more. Their potential use extends to all TPE applications in the consumer, industry and automotive markets. Examples range from toothbrushes and hypoallergenic elastic watch straps to fender gaskets.

Kraiburg TPE sees tremendous potential for custom-engineered thermoplastic elastomers with adjustable proportions of renewable raw materials of up to 90%, both in the consumer market and also in the industrial and automotive segments.

qualcomm-has-big-plans-for-5g-in-2020
The Snapdragon 865 (shown) can handle 5G and boasts an AI engine twice as powerful as the previous Snapdragon model and the ability to support 8K video and up to a 200-megapixel camera. (Image source: Qualcomm) 

Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon platforms are aimed squarely at bringing 5G devices to consumers next year.

This week, at its annual Snapdragon Tech Summit, the chipmaker unveiled two new mobile computing platforms – the Snapdragon 765 and 865 – both targeted at 5G speeds and artificial intelligence processing for Android-based devices.

 “We need systems that put 5G and AI together,” Alex Katouzian, senior vice president and general manager, mobile at Qualcomm, told the Tech Summit audience. He outlined Qualcomm’s roadmap for 2020, where the company plans to be a part of 5G devices released at all tiers, with AI also ubiquitously integrated into them.

The Snapdragon 765 looks to be the more consumer-focused platform. With Qualcomm’s X52 5G modem integrated, the 765 supports both millimeter wave (mmWave) and sub-6 frequencies for 5G and is capable of download speeds of up to 3.7 gigabits per second (Gbit/s), according to Qualcomm. It also supports 5G SA and NSA modes, TDD and FDD with dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS), global 5G roaming, and support for multi-SIM.

Katouzian said the 765 is targeted at serving three major pillars – photo and video, AI, and multiplayer gaming. The platform is equipped with the fifth generation of Qualcomm’s proprietary AI Engine for handling various tasks such as creating better photos. The engine itself is capable of speeds of up to 5 tera (trillion) operations per second (TOPS). The ISP can capture 4K video and can support up to a 192-megapixel camera. Another version of the 765 – the 765G – will be specially optimized for online gaming experiences (the “g” stands for “gaming”). Snapdragon 765G offers a bit more performance. It’s capable of up to 5.5 TOPS and has a boosted GPU for faster graphics rendering.

On the higher end, the Snapdragon 865, which will be packaged with Qualcomm’s X55 modem-RFs (the X55 modem is not integrated in the 865 as the X52 is with the 765), kicks things up in terms of horsepower. Aimed at more premium applications, the 865 is targeting download speeds exceeding 5 Gbit/s, again using mmWave and sub-6. The 865’s AI Engine’s processing speed reaches up to 15 TOPs – double the performance of the previous Snapdragon, the 855.

Qualcomm is touting the 865 as the “worlds first 2-gigabit-per-second camera capable ISP.” The platform can capture 8K video at 30 frames per second. And when filming 4K video each frame can be captured at 64 megapixels. It also supports up to a 200-megapixel camera.

Overall, Katouzian said the 865 offers a 25% increase in graphics performance over the 855 –meaning desktop features, like high-quality gaming, can be brought into the mobile space.

The 865 and 765/G will also be available as modular platforms.

5G hardware is coming

Qualcomm has already actively secured partnerships around the 765 and 865 and has been very active in pushing for 5G-enabled hardware for both mobile and desktop applications. Earlier this year Qualcomm and long-time collaborator Lenovo unveiled Project Limitless – a concept for a 5G-enabled PC. Based on Qualcomm’s 7-nanometer 8cx 5G compute platform, Project Limitless demonstrated the idea of an “always on, always connected” PC that draws on 5G connectivity for cloud-based applications and storage as well as distributed computing.

According to Sergio Buniac, president of Lenovo subsidiary Motorola, the next generation of the newly released Razr will be based on Qualcomm’s latest platforms. Motorola turned heads (and sparked some heavy early 2000’s nostalgia) earlier this year when it announced the 2020 re-release of its once popular flagship phone, the Razr.

The new Razr is a foldable, clamshell phone based on the Snapdragon 710 platform. It’ll be the latest device in a new wave of foldable screen devices coming to market such as Samsung’s new Galaxy Fold, and Microsoft’s Surface Neo foldable, dual-screen laptop.

Chinese electronics company Xiaomi has also made a big commitment to 5G.Speaking at the Snapdragon Tech Summit, Xiaomi’s president, Bin Lin, said the company is committed to launching more than 10 5G smartphones in 2020. Among these will be the Mi 10, a Snapdragon 865-based phone that will feature a 108-megapixel camera.

Lin said Xiaomi also believes 5G will usher in new form factors for phones as well – enabling concept phones like the Xiaomi’s Mi Mix Alpha – a snartphone with a 180-degree wraparound, touchscreen display – to come to reality.

Qualcomm expects the first 765- and 865-based devices to hit markets as soon as the first quarter of 2020.

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at  Design News covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.

DesignCon 2020 25th anniversary Logo

January 28-30: North America’s largest chip, board, and systems event, DesignCon, returns to Silicon Valley for its 25th year! The premier educational conference and technology exhibition, this three-day event brings together the brightest minds across the high-speed communications and semiconductor industries, who are looking to engineer the technology of tomorrow. DesignCon is your rocket to the future. Ready to come aboard? Register to attend!

the-2020-ford-mustang-shelby-gt500-is-a-towering-achievement-for-ford's-engineers
The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 poses with its 1968 Shelby GT500 forebear. (Image source: Ford Motor Co.)

“It was a lot of blood, sweat and tears from the team,” for the new 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 to achieve its astonishing levels of power, performance and capability, stated chief program engineer Ed Krenz.

The 760-horsepower, 625-lb.-ft. supercharged 5.2-liter double overhead cam V8 engine transfers power seamlessly through a 7-speed Tremec TR-9070 dual-clutch transmission to accelerate the car to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds and through the quarter mile in 10.7 seconds. Our own test runs at the LVMS drag strip testing the Shelby’s impressive launch control system produced a pair of 11.4-second runs, so we didn’t spend any more time in pursuit of a few more tenths of a second.

The car boasts an incredible list of top-drawer components, because nothing less would have a chance to produce these results. Those impeccable parts contribute to the car’s astonishing performance numbers. But more important is the integration of those parts into a functional whole that is easy to drive fast thanks to the aforementioned engineers’ blood, sweat and tears.

This is in contrast to similarly powerful ground pounders, most especially the previous-generation 667-hp GT500 and the famously powerful 707-hp Dodge Challenger Hellcat and its 797-horsepower Redeye and 808-hp Demon iterations.

Those are cars that boasted impressive power, but struggled to make use of their muscle. Ford cast the 2014 GT500 as a drag racer, taking journalists to a drag strip to test its mettle but avoiding road racing courses.

Dodge might have followed the example, because while the different versions of the Challenger are all amazingly fast at the strip – the Demon famously finished the quarter mile in less than 10 seconds, earning it a letter banning it from NHRA-sanctioned races for being too fast for a car without a protective roll cage – none of them stop or turn in a way that inspires any kind of confidence. 

developing-an-embedded-software-build-pipeline

One interesting fact that I’ve noticed about embedded software development is that development processes and techniques tend to lag the general software industry. When I first started to write embedded software back in the late 1990’s, the focus seemed to be on moving away from writing assembly language and adopting C along with the best practices that went with it.

Applications were monolithic beasts will little to no organization. If you look at the goals for the software industry at that time, there was a big push into object-oriented design, reuse and scalability for applications. Even today, the general software industry has adopted build pipelines, continuous integration and test harnesses while the general embedded industry seems to barely realize that these processes exist (at least among companies with market caps well below a billion dollars). Let’s examine how embedded developers can create their own build pipelines.

A build pipeline overview

Developing a more sophisticated build pipeline can have dramatic effects on the embedded software development life cycle. For example, over the lifetime for a software product, a well thought out build pipeline can:

  • Improve software quality
  • Decrease the time spent debugging
  • Decrease project costs
  • Enhance the ability to meet deadlines
  • Simplify the software deployment process

A software build pipeline is nothing more than the process and tools that are used to manage, test and deploy an application. For example, embedded software developers will typically commit their software to a revision control system, manually test their code and then issue an application image that can be manually deployed to their system. This build pipeline is very traditional, but it lacks the sophistication and automation that a modern build pipeline can offer.

A more modern build pipeline that embedded developers can leverage consists of four stages that can be completely automated and manually kicked off. These stages include:

  • Committing software (The manual trigger)
  • Build and Analysis (Automated)
  • Test and Reporting (Automated)
  • Deployment (Automated or manual)

Each stage has its own process and tools that are associated with it, but the last three stages can all be done as part of a continuous integration / continuous deployment process (CI/CD). The idea behind CI/CD is that a developer can commit their code to the repository at the end of the day which then kicks off a series of automated build, metric and tests that can provide a developer feedback the next day or if everything goes well automatically deploy the firmware to devices in the field. An overview for this process and the general tools involved can be seen in the figure below:

embedded software build pipeline, the embedded software development life cycle

This diagram consists of two halves, an upper half that describes the process that is being followed and bottom half that describes the tools that are involved. (Image source: notafactoryanymore.com)

Notice that this diagram consists of two halves, an upper half that describes the process that is being followed and bottom half that describes the tools that are involved. There is also a barrier between the test and report stage and the deployment phase. Software should only be deployed if it has passed all the build and analysis criteria in addition to all the test cases. If any of the build or tests cases create warnings or errors, this feedback can be reported to the developer which triggers updates to the software and then a new commit which then kick-off the automated stages again.

Enhancing the embedded software build pipeline

Creating an automated build pipeline is not going to happen overnight. It takes time to research the right tools, implement them, test the process and then train the engineers on how to use it properly. As I mentioned before, the benefits can easily outweigh those costs. So how does one go about enhancing their software build pipeline?

First, it’s important to make sure that you have a robust revision control process in place. Most teams that I talk with now-a-days use version control. This is a great improvement from just a few years ago, but many teams I talk to will mention that they only commit code once a week or even less than that. I believe that software should be developed in small enough chunks that code is committed at least once a day if not several times a day. Doing so will then allow the pipeline to provide feedback much more frequently.

Second, you need to implement a continuous integration server. One of the most popular ones out there that can also be used by embedded software developers is Jenkins (although there are others out there). A continuous integration server is designed to automate building and deploying software and you’ll find that there are often many integrations that can be used to automate nearly anything you might want.

Third, you’ll want to make sure that your compiler and static code analysis tools can be executed through command line interface or that they include plug-ins for your continuous integration server. What if you don’t have a static code analysis tool? Static code analysis is an important step in the software development process and now is a great time to find one.

Fourth, and perhaps the most difficult is to select a test harness and integrate it into the development process. Automated tests are great for regression testing and verifying software, but they do require that the tests be designed and implemented as part of the development process. Automating tests that don’t test the software fully can leave holes in the software and result in a deployment that is lower quality than one would expect. For this reason, test harnesses should be developed from the beginning if possible and integrated in a process like test driven development (TDD).

Finally, you don’t have to do all of this at once. Enhancing the build pipeline can be done in steps. Start with each of the above steps one at a time and build out your toolchains and processes so that they are rock solid. Once each phase is rock solid, add to it until you eventually have a modern build pipeline that fully automates your build, testing and deployment.

Conclusions

Modernizing the embedded software build pipeline can generate a lot of benefits to the development team and the business in general. Just like with any process though, properly building up a modern build pipeline for embedded systems development requires a time and budget investment in order to architect and implement the pipeline. Given the volatile environment that I see so many development teams in, a modern build pipeline can help to illuminate the path forward, monitor software quality and even simplify software updates.

Jacob Beningo is an embedded software consultant who currently works with clients in more than a dozen countries to dramatically transform their businesses by improving product quality, cost and time to market. He has published more than 200 articles on embedded software development techniques, is a sought-after speaker and technical trainer, and holds three degrees which include a Masters of Engineering from the University of Michigan. Feel free to contact him at [email protected], at his website, and sign-up for his monthly Embedded Bytes Newsletter.

DesignCon 2020 25th anniversary Logo

January 28-30: North America’s largest chip, board, and systems event, DesignCon, returns to Silicon Valley for its 25th year! The premier educational conference and technology exhibition, this three-day event brings together the brightest minds across the high-speed communications and semiconductor industries, who are looking to engineer the technology of tomorrow. DesignCon is your rocket to the future. Ready to come aboard? Register to attend!

insects-inspire-design-of-metal-that’s-impossible-to-sink

Insects that can survive in water are the inspiration behind a new type of metal developed by researchers at the University of Rochester that is so water-resistant it doesn’t sink.

A team in the lab of Chunlei Guo, a university professor of optics and physics, developed the metal, which in tests showed such a high water-repellent aspect that it would not go under the surface even after being punctured and damaged.

unsinkable metal, insects, University of Rochester, water resistant metal
The superhydrophobic metallic structure developed by researchers at the University of Rochester remains afloat even after significant structural damage—punctured with six 3-millimeter diameter holes and one 6-millimeter hole. (Image source: University of Rochester)

Diving bell spiders and rafts of fire ants inspired the design of the structure—in particular, the way these creatures can survive long periods under water or on its surface. These creatures manage by trapping air in enclosed areas in their bodies.

For example, the diving bell spider creates a dome-shaped web that is filled with air. The spider carries the air between its hydrophobic legs and abdomen, Guo said. In a similar way, fire ants can form a raft in the water by trapping air in their bodies.

Guo and his team developed a way to use femtosecond bursts of lasers to “etch” the surfaces of metals with intricate micro- and nanoscale patterns. Like the insect behavior, these trap air to make the surfaces superhydrophobic, or water repellent. “The key insight is that multifaceted superhydrophobic (SH) surfaces can trap a large air volume, which points towards the possibility of using SH surfaces to create buoyant devices,” researchers wrote in a paper in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

Creating the ‘unsinkable’ factor

However, the etching alone wasn’t enough to cause a more permanent unsinkable factor; researchers found that after being immersed in water for long periods of time, the surfaces of the etched metal showed a loss of hydrophobic properties.  So the team went one step further and created a structure in which they etched two parallel aluminum plates and faced them inward, not outward, so they are enclosed and free from external wear and abrasion.

Researchers also separated the surfaces of the metallic structure by just the right distance to trap and hold enough air to keep it floating, which acts to create a waterproof compartment. The superhydrophobic surfaces manage to keep the water from entering the compartment even when the structure is submerged in water.

Though the team used aluminum here, the etching process “could be used for literally any metals, or other materials,” Guo said. They tested the metallic structures by forcing them to submerge for two months. Even after this time they immediately bounced back to the surface.

The team even found the structure didn’t sink even after puncturing it multiple times. This is because air remains trapped in the other parts of the compartment or adjoining structures.

The team expects its work can be used to inform the design of metals for ships that will be nearly impossible to sink. It can also be used for wearable floatation devices that remain afloat even after being punctured.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

DesignCon 2020 25th anniversary Logo

January 28-30: North America’s largest chip, board, and systems event, DesignCon, returns to Silicon Valley for its 25th year! The premier educational conference and technology exhibition, this three-day event brings together the brightest minds across the high-speed communications and semiconductor industries, who are looking to engineer the technology of tomorrow. DesignCon is your rocket to the future. Ready to come aboard? Register to attend!