Successful Endeavours - Electronics Designs That Work!

Software Costing

There is an old saying that goes something like this: “hardware is almost free and comes from China; but software is actually free and comes from India”. Actually not such on old saying, and certainly not true. But we do see signs of this myth being alive and well when providing project pricing and estimates for new clients. I covered some of this in Software Estimation.

Software Estimation

Software Estimation

This was about how to try and work out a Software Development Budget in advance. Including forgetting that the entire Software Development Process involves more than just typing. So is it possible to know what it really  costs from real world (non-imaginary) data?

Software Cost

The answer is that it is. My thanks got to VDC Research who recently did a survey of Embedded Developers and made the data available to subscribers of The Embedded Muse, a software development newsletter authored by Jack Ganssle. If you develop software, especially for Embedded Systems, I recommend you sign up if you aren’t already a subscriber.

Jack Ganssle

Jack Ganssle

Here is a summary of some statistics that gave me insights into real Software Development Costs.

Average Median
Project Team Members 19 7
Project Cost $27,000,000 $250,000
Lines of Code 627,000 20,000

So that is a big spread. Our projects are often below the median level shown here so I was interested to work out what these statistics translate to in cost. The $ are all USD$. And the large lines of code average probably represents larger projects using a major Operating System such as Linux as part of the project.

Cost per team member Cost per line of code
Average $1,421,052 $43.06
Median $35,714 $12.50

My first thought is that we don’t charge enough if these are industry typical figures. A bit more thinking shows the process costs of much larger systems. As far as I know there would be few software developers actually getting $1M for their part in the project. And there will be tools costs also included. The statistic missing for me was the duration the money was spent over. We typically budget $5 per line of code for larger projects (20K lines is a decent sized project for a small embedded system) and $2.50 for smaller ones (say 5K lines of code of less).

So there you have a really rough way of estimating cost based on Lines of Code and number of Software Developers involved.

The above is a very small example of the data collected by VDC Research so consider signing up if you want to see all of it.

Software Lines of Code

Software Lines of Code, or LOC, is only one measure of a project. There is much more to consider. We had a recent project where we were asked to fix 50K lines of code for a product that was proving unreliable. So I ran RSM over the top of it to get the average Cylcomatic Complexity and got 6.2! Those who know what that means probably have no idea how you could write code that hard to debug. And no, it wasn’t lots of switch statements. So is the correct answer $250K at $5 per line of code for a complete rewrite?

The answer is a resounding “NO”!

And the reason is because we redesigned the control flow and changed the UI to a table driven design and reduced a spaghetti mess of 50K lines of code down to 10K lines of cleanly designed code. Which is a budget more like $50K. In this case, it was much more cost effective to redesign from scratch than to try and rescue it. We also fixed the hardware design as that was in part responsible for the unreliability.

So the other answer is that good requirements analysis and good design will reduce Software Cost.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Power Supply Specification

The idea for this post came from a discussion in IEEE Collabratec on how to design a Power Supply. The question of how to design a Power Supply seems innocuous enough until you really start to think back on past Power Supply designs. I was originally concerned that this was a student wanting someone else to do their coursework assignment for them but the discussion progressed into something quite useful. Here is what I posted after getting the following specification:

  • Output Voltage: -300VDC
  • Output current: 0.5-20mA
  • Tolerance: 30Volts
  • Input Voltage: 220-240 AC
Power Supply

Power Supply

Analysing Requirements

Hi …

is this project part of your course work?

The reason for this question is that the intent of coursework is to help you come to grips with what you are being taught and learn it from a practical perspective as well. Among other things, this helps a lot with retention.

I run a company that designs products for other people. I only employ graduate engineers who have demonstrated the capacity (though their academic results) and inclination (through their having done their own projects and learned how to use the teaching they have received) to do engineering and to be capable of quickly learning all the things they can’t teach in a course.

So if it is coursework, what subject is it part of?

Because if they want you to design a switching mode power supply, that is very different to an AC rectified transformer design.

You also need to be careful with a design assignment like this (coursework or a product that will be manufactured) because it is capable of killing you if you don’t use good safety practices.

I’ll assume your tolerance figure is +/-30V = +/-10% of -300VDC. So the voltage at its maximum excursion from 0V could be -330. And the maximum current is 20mA. This is 6.6W of power so it will get hot. And again, there is enough voltage to kill you.

If it is for a commercial product, then there are usually other constraints. Here are some of the questions I would be asking:

  • The input voltage range is specified as 220VAC to 240VAC but it is normal to allow for short term transients. So does the output voltage have to be clamped during mains transients?
  • Is soft start required?
  • How quickly must it respond to load transients?
  • What is the load and how much does it vary?
  • Does the input stage need to be designed so that it keeps harmonics and power factor under control (this is a legal requirement for some product types)?
  • Is there a maximum size?
  • What is the design life and/or MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure)?
  • Is fan forced convection allowed, and if so, is that even a good idea because of the MTBF or because it goes inside a sealed cabinet)?
  • What is the maximum temperature rise allowed on any of the outside surfaces?
  • What type of connections for the input and output voltages?
  • What has to happen if the output goes short circuit or open circuit (you had a minimum current of 0.5mA so is there a minimum external load and what is allowed to happen if that isn’t there)?
  • What is the environmental specification (0->70C, -20->85C, -40->85C etc)?
  • Is there a manufactured cost target?
  • Do you have to simulate it only, or are you building one and proving the performance?
  • Are there any special safety or EMC compliance requirements for this application?

And there are lots of other questions like this for a real product design.

So regardless of the reason for the design, understanding the intent of the exercise is important to delivering a satisfactory outcome.
This is one of the reasons engineering is not easy. We create the future. Others say that as well. But we also create the infrastructure and products that make a more advance future possible. And there are always lots of constraints.

I hope that has maybe encouraged you to think a bit deeper about the question. It is unlikely you will solve a problem you don’t fully understand. And an answer you don’t work through for yourself will probably not expand you understanding.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Making Music is Creative

Making music is a creative process. At every level. There is not only composing and playing, but there is the instruments themselves and also how we record and play back music. Technology and creativity abound at every level.

I’m a musician. That is how I ended up in Electronics Engineering. I even wrote a blog piece about how Music Electronics was where my passion for creating new electronics devices all began.

Miller Puckette

I learned something new this week about music creation. I use Ableton Live as my sequencer and it incorporates a product from Cycling 74 called MaxMax was created by Miller Puckette quite a while ago. So I see another soul keen to push the boundaries of what is possible and was fascinated to read his history. Everything from Teaching Music at UCSD to creating music software like Max in 1988, its successor starting around 1996 which is Pure Data, or Pd as it is usually abbreviated, and which was set up to be an open source project so others could contribute and it wasn’t locked down by commercial constraints like Max is.

Miller Puckette - musician and music technology creator

Miller Puckette

I was also pleased to hear that Miller Puckette continues to perform music. This is something I also enjoy.

The only way to understand what is possible with tools like Pd is to see it in action. Enjoy.

Did you notice that the player on the left is moving his hands on a cloth covered platform. This is being tracked by a camera and the hand movements are used to trigger notes and other controllers and effects. You can reach him at Jaime E Oliver and the cellist accompanying him is Michael Nicholas.

PdCon

And if you found that interesting, then check out the concert video from PdCon16~ . That’s right, Pd has its own conference.

The first video has Miller Puckette as a contributor.

And the last one also has Miller Puckette as part of a duo. This is all very avant-garde yet the degree of expression possible is amazing.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Self Thinking Robots

Although that is what they are called, I’m not convinced it is actually thinking. It certainly wouldn’t pass the Turing Test. But I thought this showed a good comparison as to how far the state of the art has come.

Lets start off with a look at the very beginnings of software controlled autonomy.

Shakey

Above we have the first Autonomous Robot, Shakey, that could learn about its surroundings and adapt. Today any Roomba or equivalent can do better. But this is the same time period as we first went to the moon. And I believe my wrist watch currently has more computing power in it than the whole of the 1960s possessed.

Handle

And below we have an example of the latest offerings from Boston Dynamics named Handle.

Quite a bit different in capability. This might still be a 1 word robot by name, but you can see a lot of possibilities that weren’t even on the radar back in 1968.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Good Marketing Generates Growth

This is part 2 of the SEBN (South East Business Networks) business breakfast held just before Christmas 2016. Here we have John Berenyi of Bergent Research sharing with us on how big a game changer good marketing can be. John is a registered psychologist with degrees in commerce and technology. He presented a series of ideas on good marketing and the profit improvements than can be achieved by using good marketing principles. This is an excerpt.

John Berenyi

John Berenyi

A bit of research shows this is a common presentation topic for John and one that has been requested Internationally so it is worth paying attention to what he says.

Game Changing Growth

Good Marketing delivers:

  • increased profits
  • reduced sales time
  • reduced costs

And how does this happen? By giving your buyers what they really want! Seems simple yet my experience is that this is not as simple as it sounds.

Because in our highly marketing driven environment there are fewer dollars left on the table, giving customers what they really want leads to them buying. And it also leads to a Value Monopoly.

Value Monopoly

Value Monopoly

Value Monopoly

Value Monopoly comes from:

  • Tight brand – build margin because you can sell at a premium Eg. Apple, Harvey Davidson, lego
  • Right communication – if you don’t do this you are wasting money
  • Emotional brand benefit
  • Rational brand benefit
  • Price kick
  • Real value

A good example is Harley-Davidson. They sell a Motor Bike. Or do they? Here is a quote from their head of marketing: “What we sell is the ability for a 43-year-old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of him.

So the comment about selling what people really want comes in here. They don’t want just a motor bike. They want a motor bike with attitude. They want benefits beyond, speed, fuel consumption and reliability. In this case, image.

And there is a formula for this.

Value Monopoly = (pQ x Eb) / (P + rT)

Value Monopoly in Detail

Value Monopoly in Detail

Where:

  • pQ = perceived quality
  • Eb = ego boost
  • P = price
  • rT = relative time to acquire

So price is important but it is a long way from being the whole game. However if you are more expensive and can’t justify it, then you have a big issue. From the above you can see that reducing price only helps if they can get it quickly or either the perceived quality or ego boost go up. When did reducing price ever increase the ego boost or perceived quality?

So this is an interesting formula. You can increase your value monopoly mostly by increasing the perceived quality, increasing the ego boost associated with the product (for the buyer type), making it quicker to get, or making the price lower. Amazon have gone with the quick to get and lower price strategy. Most of the products aren’t theirs so they are stuck with the ego boost of the market, and the same goes for the perceived quality. So they have primarily tackled the terms on the bottom line. An exception is a product like the Kindle where they also went for perceived quality. So 3 of the 4 terms.

Back to price. On price you have these 5 buyer types:

  • Budget buyer
  • Negotiator
  • Specials junkie
  • Bang for buck with every feature
  • Dream buyer (their dream, not yours)

We are all like this but which type of buyer we are depends on the product category. Studies show that budget buyers are only 10% of the market. This also applies to your customers. So again, just selling on price is a mistake unless it is that 10% you are specifically going after.

But how do you find out what type of buyer each prospect is?

Here is where the problem comes from when you try to find out what type of buyer you are dealing with:

  • They don’t know
  • They can’t tell you because they don’t have the language / concept
  • They won’t tell you because they are either embarrassed or have some other reason

Ultimately, if you understand what your customers really want and can communicate what you offer so they get it, then you will sell a lot more of the same product. But you will also need to look at understanding what they really want, and not just what they say they want.

Here is a list of recurring reasons for buying a house:

  • Make my sister really jealous
  • Prove to mum and dad that I’m responsible
  • Prove how successful we’ve become
  • Let me be popular for once
  • Make my family love me
  • Show my life’s work is worth something
  • I want to feel in control
  • Keep my marriage together
  • Prove emigration was good idea

As a real estate agent, it would be helpful understand the current buyer so you can offer them something they want. But they are unlikely to be open about it up front. And to everyone wants to be sold to the same way. We all have a disposition in how we are sold to. Not everyone wants their agent to be their best friend. Not everyone wants efficiency. Here is an example of some ways people think about the salesperson they want to deal with.

Buying Disposition

Buying Disposition

All of the above fits my concepts of good marketing. So lots of stuff to think about there. I hope you found this helpful as you are considering how best to navigate 2017.

My thanks go to John Berenyi for making his slide deck available from the morning. Most of the graphics came from that.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Industry 4.0 and Bosch Australia

This is the first of a 2 part past covering the SEBN (South East Business Networks) business breakfast just before Christmas 2016. The first speaker was Gavin Smith of Bosch Australia. His talk was title “Life After Auto” and here is my summary.

Gavin Smith - Bosch Australia

Gavin Smith – Bosch Australia

In the 1960s you could make anything in Australia because the import tariffs were high and we were a long way away from the rest of the world. But by 2008 all that had changed. Although Robert Bosch is the largest tier 1 automotive supplier in the world, and the largest automotive company that doesn’t assemble vehicles, the original Bosch Australia factory is no longer there and a new one built and they are about to expand again.

So there is a lot of change. He also quoted Jack Welsh of GE fame: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near”!

High volume no longer has to be a lot of the same thing. They are now doing high mix electronics manufacture and are about expand that as they have run out of capacity. This follows the Industry 4.0 model rather than traditional manufacturing.  The design team is also expanding s they are now do bespoke product design with the intention of making them locally.

Bosch are also keeping track of the following Megatrends:

  • Demography
  • Urbanisation
  • Energy and climate
  • Connectivity
Bosch - Megatrends

Bosch – Megatrends

And all of this relies heavily on IoT (Internet of Things) devices and Big Data. To be a global supply chain player or to have a modern product you will have to have connectivity and visibility of every part of your process and your supply chain as well. And for Industry 4.0 you will especially need it for inside the factory. This is already happening.

Robert Bosch are also looking at incubation for new ideas internally and also externally. This is a great idea and something we are also doing with both clients and prospects.

They are also looking to attract more women into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). Something I am also keen to see happen.

Industry 4.0 example

Gavin finished with a video that showed just how streamlined the Design to Manufacture path could become. Something essential to the realisation of a true Industry 4.0 mass customisation.

While it is worth remembering that some of the above is a view of how the Industry 4.0 future could be, rather than what today looks like, Europe have been pursuing this trend for 15 years. So we have quite a bit of conceptual catching up to do as well as implementation capability. And we need to start early which is why the Casey Tech School project and Schools of the Future are so important.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

 

IoT Interoperability

There are several big issues with IoT. The primary 2 are Security and Interoperability. We have tackled IoT Security and so this post looks at how different devices and systems can work together. This is Interoperability.

The first thing to understand, is that middle ware providers like IBM do not want you to be able to exchange data independently of them. They want you captive to their ecosystem. They make money from you having to pay them for continued access to your own data. This inherently works against one aspect of interoperability.

IEEE has put together a useful introduction which you can access at Interoperability in the Internet of Things. This includes a useful audio explanation and detailed articles on each area plus sample projects.

IoT Interoperability

IoT InteroperabilityIoT

The IoT vision is for a highly connected and interoperable system but most systems do not interoperate well. And standards development is still ongoing which means there is no agreement in sight.

To explore further, there are some excellent resources at:

As usual, Europe seems to be doing more to foster unity and collaboration and has many excellent projects to help this. The Unify IoT project has published results which are freely available. They conclude that there are 300 IoT frameworks in use and 20 of them are quite popular. But no standards are expected anytime soon and the lack of standardisation is a big impediment to getting the full benefit from the technology.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Australian Manufacturing PMI

The Australian Manufacturing PMI is a measure of the manufacturing economy in Australia. A score above 50 means it is growing and a score below 50 means it is shrinking. I recently reported in the post about out new location that we had been in growth for the past 17 months but according to one data source we missed out for a couple of months during that time. For the history see:

So I thought I would double check the data. I went to the Trading Economies Australian Manufacturing PMI and looked at the trend since 2012. Here is what I saw.

Australia Manufacturing PMI 2016

Australia Manufacturing PMI 2016

So my understanding of this graph is that after the Global Financial Crisis we saw Australian Manufacturing decline but since 2012 the decline has slowed and this past year it has grown.

As a result, I continue to be encourage that Australian Manufacturing is Growing and we will continue to support that by developing modern electronics based products that are Made in Australia.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2016 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Brain Scanning

The ability to scan details of the brain is a common theme of both science fiction and also modern medicine’s wish list. So just how likely is it that we will be able to do that anytime soon?

Check out this image captured by a project focused on capturing the Wiring Diagram of the Brain.

MRI Brain Activity Scan

MRI Brain Activity Scan

Well in June 2016 researchers showed that they could uniquely identify a person with 99% confidence based purely on their brain scan. This uses newly developed magnetic resonance imaging equipment that has come out of the Human Connectome Project and can also show the following:

  • how you will perform on an IQ test
  • how you will perform on a memory task
  • how you will perform on a reading task

That seems pretty specific.

What we have learnt is that while we are all unique, there are some common elements we can use to define capabilities. We are still a long way from Gattaca and I am OK with that.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2016 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Outdoor Positioning Systems

We have all become very used to the idea that a phone or car can know where it is using GPS or one of the equivalent satellite based positioning systems. And it gets better all the time. Modern chips can get you down to centimeters under ideal conditions.

But have also all had the experience when we go indoors and the position information disappears.

So is there a solution for that?

Indoor Positioning Systems

It turns out there is. Or at least, there a quite a few. They all have their drawbacks and most require you to add technology to the indoor area to get it working. Lets do a quick survey to see what Indoor Positioning Systems are out there.

GPS Repeaters

GPS Repeater

GPS Repeater

The first one is using GPS indoors. If you have a high enough roof you can put a GPS repeater on it and project the satellite reception into the building and suddenly GPS works inside the building. We use exactly this technique when needing to test a GPS device inside our building. See GPS Repeaters for one example product.

Radio Beacons

This covers a very wide range of technologies, of which Bluetooth Beacons are the current industry trend. And they can work either way. You can wear the beacon and the receiver track you and use your RSSI to calculate your position, or you have the receiver and monitor the beacons to achieve the same result.

Bluetooth Smart Beacon

Bluetooth Beacon

Increasingly these systems are being used for applications like tracking patients in hospitals and residents in retirement villages.

WPS WiFi Positioning System

You have a WiFi network, so you can use the network as a WiFi Positioning System or WPS. This is similar to the Radio Beacon system and uses the RSSI from your device to the WiFi Access Points.

Dead Reckoning

This uses Inertial Navigation components to keep track of your distance and direction from a known point. It is usually used in conjunction with another system such as GPS outdoors and Dead Reckoning in tunnels to keep an accurate estimate of a vehicles position on a map. And low cost MEMs based devices are now available to provide Inertial Navigation readings.

MEMS Accelerometer

MEMS Accelerometer

The weakness is the double integration of the signals leads to noise accumulation and the accuracy of the position estimate decreases over time.

IR Techniques

These vary a lot. From a sea of emitters overhead to give a location grid to emitters firing down row and aisles in warehouses and even corner emitters firing angle encoded signals picked up and decoded using sine rule mathematics.

IR Angle Emitter

IR Angle Emitter

The image above is a system we design in 2006 to do angle based IR location detection in GPS blind spots for container handling equipment. This was capable of locating equipment to within 0.5m.

Time of Flight

This allows you to more accurately work out the distance from the emitter to the receiver but requires very precise timing in both.

Magnet Field Monitoring

This is an obvious one, but most modern smart phones have a compass in them. The usually aren’t a very good compassand that can make this option not viable. However if you do have a good enough compass, you can use local disortions on the magnetic field due to steel structures in a building to estimate your location.

Indoor Position Conclusion

And of course, you can use a combination of the above to meet the specific requirement you have. As usual, the classic trade offs apply. These are:

  • accuracy
  • cost
  • size
  • battery life

For some addition insights check out 10 things you need to know about Indoor Positioning.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2016 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

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