Successful Endeavours - Electronics Designs That Work!

Technology


Doug Engelbart

There are lot’s of people who have done enormous service to the world through their inventiveness and willingness to share with other. A good example is Dennis Richie who I gave a tribute to in 2011 and who gave us the C Programming Language, one of the most used computing languages even today.

Doug Engelbart holding an early computer mouse

Doug Engelbart holding an early computer mouse

I recently came across Doug Engelbart who passed away 4 years ago and is responsible for inventing many of the ideas behind modern computing including:

  • Father of the mouse
  • Videoconferencing
  • Hyperlinks
  • WYSIWYG word processor
  • Multi-window user interface
  • Shared documents
  • Shared database
  • Documents with images & text embedded
  • Keyword search
  • Instant Messaging
  • Synchronous Collaboration
  • Asynchronous Collaboration
  • and much more

The Mother of all Demos

The Mother of all Demos was a 90 minute presentation he put together in 1968 to demonstrate, for the first time, some of the above inventions. Below is a video with selected highlights.

This was the beginning of Interactive Computing and a critical breakthrough on the way to the Graphical User Interface and eventually the WIMP (Windows, Icons, Mouse, Pointer) Operating System concepts.

You can read more about his contributions at:

The First Mouse

And now for a look at the First Mouse. This one predated the 3 button version used in the Mother of all Demos.

Again I am very grateful for those who have gone before us and shared and collaborated so freely that we might all benefit together.

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

Voltera V-One

The Voltera V-One is a PCB Prototyping system from voltera.io. And we just got one having put in a pre-order in April 2017. So we made the default “Hello World”project to make sure it works. And it did. Now the first serious assignment is making a single sided PCB with 8 channels of 3rd order active low pass filtering on it. Although it can do double sided PCBs there are extra steps so I started with single sided and we will run a few jumper wires to stitch the GND and VCC nets together. Everything else I was able to route fully through on the top layer. You can watch it in action below.

And this is the design it is printing. Below is the schematic for 2 of the low pass active filter channels.

Active Low Pass Filter Schematic

Active Low Pass Filter Schematic

The layout that was then converted to gerber plots (only needed the GTL top layer) and printed. You can easily see where I allowed for the jumper wires. The ones on the left are GND and on the right are VCC.

Active Low Pass Filter PCB

Active Low Pass Filter PCB

This technology is the equivalent of 3D printing for circuit boards. But wait, there is more. You can use any substrate so this can print on glass or a flexible medium such as Kapton. And it is worth noting that it is a printer and so can handle more than just conductive ink. You can also use it as a general purpose printer. It will even dispense paste on standard HASL finish production PCBs so you can do stencil free reflow of standard PCBs.

They are also working on a milling attachment and we plan on getting that as soon as it is available.

Voltera V-One Review

Here is a review put together by Andrew Walla, one of the staff here at Successful Endeavours. I’ve added a few comments of my own so here it is.

Voltera V-One Pros

  • Voltera have done an exceptional job with the software user interface and look and feel of the product. In much the same way that the Arduino platform makes embedded microcontroller technology accessible to the masses, I feel the V-One does the same for PCB prototyping.
  • The printer has everything you need to get started to print your own ‘Hello World’ project. Batteries are included.
  • The printer allows you to fabricate single layer PCBs in less than a day, even on unusual substrates such as glass or flexible polymers.
  • Double sided PCBs are supported. There are extra steps such as drilling the through holes after curing the first side then aligning the second side then print and cure. A simple double sided PCB could also be done the same day. You manually fill Via holes with paste so they plate through.
  • The printer accepts standard PCB file formats (GERBER) and doesn’t appear to have any difficulty reading them correctly.
  • The printer allows for aligning different designs over pre-existing prints or for double sided PCBs.
  • It also has a paste dispenser so you can lay down paste and then hand load components.
  • The heated bed, used for curing the conductive ink, will go hot enough to reflow the paste once you have parts loaded. You can even modify the temperature profile to behave in a custom manner.
  • If you have standard PCBs with HASL finish then they have a specific paste you can use with them and it will reflow those as well. We are likely to make a lot of use of that feature. And the machine is faster at this than printing because the ink curing time is an hour but paste is ready to go the moment it is dispensed.
  • The conductive ink seems to live up to its promised conductivity.
  • And the biggest Pro of all: if you need a PCB today, then you can have your PCB today, as long as it is within the process capabilities of the Voltera V-One.

So lots of positives there.

Voltera V-One Cons

  • Don’t expect this printer to make production quality PCBs for you.
  • It doesn’t support solder masks. Plus that would take up a lot of ink. So you will want to think about whether you want to coat the PCB after assembly with a varnish.
  • And there is a lot more work to getting a double sided board together.
  • You also won’t end up with as neat a result as you can get from production PCBs hand loaded. However the paste dispenser is definitely going to get a lot of use on HASL finish PCBs so we see that as a major win.
  • Because the PCB sits on top of the rails when it is being cured, you can’t run tracks out to the edge of the PCB.
  • We made some cardboard spacers to allow us to position the blank PCB in the center of the bed. Otherwise it can be awkward to get the printing aligned with the PCB. So this is an area that needs improving.
  • And while they do intend to release a milling accessory, it isn’t ready yet. That is also on our “to get” list.

Overall, I have been quite impressed and look forward to seeing what this printer will have to offer in future.

This post was jointly produced by Ray Keefe and Andrew Walla.

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

arcHUB

Tonight I was at the CleanUp 2017 conference awards dinner. We recently learned that the the  arcHUB Smart Cities device was a finalist for the Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science. This award was presented tonight.

 Clean Up 2017

Clean Up 2017

The arcHUB Smart Cities device measures multiple data types that are useful for the management of Smart Cities including particulates, gases, micro-climate, pedestrian traffic, water level and supports a host of other sensor types.

Agilent Award 2017 Announced

Agilent Award 2017 Announced

The Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science presented during the CleanUp 2017 conference awards dinner.

arcHUB - Agilent Award Presentation

arcHUB – Agilent Award Presentation

The arcHUB Smart Cities device was runner up with the University of Newcastle winning the award.

arcHUB - Agilent Award Certificate

arcHUB – Agilent Award Certificate

Above we have Brian Oldland and Richard Dluzniak of The Active Reactor Company with Ray Keefe of Successful Endeavours at the CleanUp 2017 conference awards dinner with the award certificate as runner up for the Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science 2017.

arcHUB - Agilent Award For Innovation In Analytical Science 2017 for Australia

arcHUB – Agilent Award For Innovation In Analytical Science 2017 for Australia

The arcHUB Smart Cities sensor suite is an excellent example of a designed in Australia, Made in Australia product with massive potential for environmental and Smart Cities monitoring throughout the world.

Agilent

Agilent

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

Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science

We are pleased to announce that our client, The Active Reactor Company, are finalists in the Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science 2017 this coming Tuesday 12 September 2017.

Agilent

Agilent

This is for the arcHUB Smart Cities device that measures multiple data types that are useful for the management of Smart Cities. The initial data set is:

  • wind speed (external anemometer attached)
  • sunlight level
  • night light level (street light monitoring etc)
  • temperature
  • PM2.5 particulate levels
  • PM10 particulate levels
  • Gases – CO, H2S, SO2, NO2, H2S
  • Humidity
  • People counting (PIR based anonymous counting)
  • Soil moisture levels (external probe)

It is also the HUB and coordinator of a Sensor Area Network that can include modules that can measure any of the above as well as:

  • vibration
  • shock
  • movement
  • water level
  • GPS location
  • USB charger current (for usage analysis)
  • counting any device or system that has a pulse output
  • analog voltage measurements (AC and DC)

arcHUB trial at Fitzroy Gardens

arcHUB trial at Fitzroy Gardens

The arcHUB is solar powered and includes a cellular modem to allow reporting back to a web service. It is designed to mount to a pole using straps but can easily be mounted to a wall or any other typical structure. A typical scenario is measurements every 15 minutes (except people or pulse counting which are continuous) and uploading to the web service every hour.

With the release of CAT-M1 services across Australia by Telstra, we are expecting migrate to this communications standard because it will reduce power consumption by at least a factor of 4 which will further improve battery life.

We are looking forward to the awards outcome on Tuesday night and wish The Active Reactor Company all the best.

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

Powering Telemetry

A big issue in the world of the Internet of Things, or IoT as it is abbreviated, is how to get power to remote devices. And this splits up into 2 separate but definitely related problems:

  • the power source
  • the power consumption

Obviously, if the power consumption is high, the power source has to be capable of providing a lot more power. We looked at this in our IoT – Remote Telemetry Case Study. So let’s tackle that one first.

And the focus for this article is remote devices using Solar Charging. Before we look at that specifically, let’s understand the problem.

Power Consumption

There are multiple ways to reduce power consumption. These were covered already in Reducing Power Consumption and Reduce Power While Awake with examples given in Sleep Saves Energy.

Low Power Sleep Mode

Low Power Sleep Mode

The short version of this is that you have to do 2 things at the same time:

  • reduce the average power that is consumed all the time
  • reduce the energy required to process an event

The first of these is also known as Quiescent Power Consumption. This is the power consumed just running the system when it is doing nothing, or close to it. At a minimum, the Power Supply has to deliver this amount of power just to make sure that we could react to an event, should it occur. And I can hear you thinking that it is hard to get this low enough and still have a responsive system.

Correct! But you have to have at least this amount of power or Game Over!

Which is where the second part comes in. You also need some power to respond to events. These can be something you need to log, or reports you need to post. If you are uploading to a web service using cellular communications, the peak power consumption can be very high. So you have to minimise this time.

We would normally model both of these and work out a power budget based on the worst case scenario model. Excel is a suitable tool for doing simple modelling of this as well as scenario modelling.

But I can hear you thinking “why worst case“? Answer: “Because you want it to always work, not just work on average“!

Telemetry

Telemetry means measurement at a distance or remote measurement. So you are measuring something at location A, and want to know the value of the measurement at location B. This implies the 2 locations are not close enough together that this is a trivial problem to solve.

In our world, Telemetry can mean anywhere on earth, though our customers are usually in Australia. In NASA’s world, (maybe world is the wrong term for them) it can be anywhere in the solar system. Voyager 1 is currently more than 18 billion Kilometers away and has been active for 40 years.

Artist's concept of Voyager in flight

Artist’s concept of Voyager in flight

The challenge for low power consumption, is how to get the measurement from location A back to location B?

Solar Charging

The NASA solution is simple. Near sun facilities are Solar Powered, and the rest use some form of nuclear power. Since no-one will ever let us nuclear power any Telemetry device, and I’m Okay with that, and we are near enough to see some sun, we will follow that option instead. And besides which, we can do it in our office and not a heavily shielded facility.

So lets recap on what we know about solar charging:

  • ignoring the energy cost of making a solar panel, the energy cost is free after that
  • there is a maintenance cost which includes cleaning panels
  • provided the construction is robust, they are a long life product
  • you have to do Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) to harvest the most energy or minimise the panel size

And to get more power from a solar panel, you have to:

  • have more sun
  • have a better angle to the sun (cosine reduction)
  • have a better MPPT
  • handle lower voltages
  • use the right silicon

Not all Solar Panels are equal. If you want you panel to work in a mostly shady place then you might also want to use mono-crystalline Silicon solar cells because they are efficient and can continue to convert even low levels of light. In recent developments the efficiency of conversion had passed 25% as reported in Efficiency of Silicon Solar Cells Climbs and some of the stacked cell technologies are past 40% efficiency.

compact solar cell

compact solar cell

And then you have to harvest that energy. Which is where new devices like the SPV1050 come in. Experiments in our office showed that we can charge a Lithium Polymer battery from the internal lighting. And it is a buck boost converter meaning that it can charge the battery in full sunlight (reducing voltage) and also moonlight (increasing voltage) and the device costs less that $2 in 1K pieces.

I only have on criticism. The super low quiescent current LDOs would have been more useful if they were fully independent because this would have taken another item off the Bill of Materials.

Primary Cells

The other option for Telemetry is using Primary Cells. These are not rechargeable and so must last the life of the product. We currently deploy Cellular based Telemetry modules that can run for up to 10 years from a Lithium Primary Cell or 5 years from Alkaline Primary Cells. This is ideal for Smart City style projects where the devices might be moved as they fulfill their current purpose. A good example of this is people metering or pedestrian counting where a council may want to know how much use an area is getting. Once that is understood, the Telemetry module can be redeployed and since it isn’t connected to mains power you don’t need an electrician to do that. Or they could be used to understand the level of demand of public transport services in real time so you can adjust capacity on the fly.

So there are options and as technologies like NB-IoT and CAT-M1 come online the power budget for cellular communications continues to fall. We covered this in Cellular IoT Communications. And as of last month, Telstra turned on CAT-M1 across the 4GX network.

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

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.

Electronex

Electronex is the Australian Electronics Manufacturing industry annual expo. This year it is at the Melbourne Park Function Centre from Wednesday 6 to Thursday 7 September 2017. You can see all the details at Electronex.

Electronex 2017 animated logo

Electronex 2017

SMCBA

In parallel the SMCBA (Surface Mount & Circuit Board Association) is running their annual conference. This year the primary sessions are:

SMCBA Surface Mount & Circuit Board Association

SMCBA

The program has two internationally renowned presenters for SMT Manufacturing Vern Solberg and Phil Zarrow presenting on the topics.

Vern Solberg

Vern Solberg

Phil Zarrow

Phil Zarrow

And I’m presenting 2 of the open sessions which include a look at the role PCB Design takes in the overall Product Development and the 5 areas of cost you must manage if you want to minimise the total cost of a product.

PCB Design Tradeoffs

This topic looks at the Product Development process and how PCB design fits into that. This is to do with the trade offs between product features, what you do in HW, what you do in SW and how to select the technology you want to put on the PCB based on the combination of CEM or in house capability, component lead time, test requirements and product cost.

CEM of course means Contract Electronics Manufacturing. Also called EMS (Electronics Manufacturing Service) or ECM (Electronics Contract Manufacturing).

Total cost of product ownership

The total cost of ownership of a product is a concept that looks at all the investment required to bring a product to market and manage it throughout its life cycle. It isn’t just a case of minimising R&D spend or getting the Bill of Materials to a minimum. That will usually lead to a higher cost product.
What will be presented is a model looking at the 5 major costs areas involved in the development of a product throughout its life cycle and how taking all 5 into account can enable you to get the best return on the important investment made in bringing new products to market.
It will also examine a case study where a product development delivered a next generation product to market that allowed the manufacturer to lower their price, triple their profit margin and increase their market share, all at the same time.

Successful Endeavours Exhibiting

And we are also pleased to announce that we are exhibiting this year for the first time. So if you are coming then we are at stand C1 next to Duet Electronics.

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

Smart Cities

This follows on from our look at Smart Cities and the technology mix being considered for how you implement them. For this post we will look at the development of a Smart City Telemetry sensor suite and the ICT communications that go with it. This is also a classic IoT case study.

I also want to point out that a Smart World will only happen if we have Smart Regions, Smart Countries, Smart States or Territories, Smart Cities and Smart Neighbourhoods.

arcHUB

My thanks go to The Active Reactor Company for giving me permission to share their story about the development of the arcHUB Telemetry sensor suite which is aimed at the Smart Cities programs as well as being more widely deployable.

arcHub Telemetry Module

arcHub Telemetry Module Logo

A few days ago I had the opportunity to speak with Daniel Mulino who is the State Member for Eastern Victoria. The picture below comes from his visit to our office in Narre Warren. The original post he made along with my explanation is here. I’m giving a more detailed explanation below including some history.

Ray Keefe - arcHUB - Daniel Mulino

Ray Keefe – arcHUB – Daniel Mulino

For those wondering about the device I am holding, it is an arcHUB Smart Cities Telemetry module aimed at Smart Cities projects and environmental monitoring where you don’t have access to, or want the cost of, connecting up mains power. This is designed for The Active Reactor Company and is already involved in 1 Smart Cities deployment and multiple trials of low cost sensor modules by councils and government agencies in 3 states. I can’t yet provide specific details on those as they are covered by non-disclosure agreements.

To understand how we got here, it helps to know the history.

The Active Reactor Company make a product called The Active Reactor. It improves both the efficiency and the life of arc lamps such as low pressure sodium street lights, high pressure Sodium  and metal halide lamps.

The Active Reactor

The Active Reactor

With the advent of LED street lighting their current product is not needed for new installations and so they wanted to secure the future of the business. So a great example of addressing an issue that will arise in the future so you are ready for it rather than just reacting to it once it happens.

Initially the new product was aimed at monitoring LED street lights. One of the big issues with LED lighting is that the LEDs either fail over time or they fade and lose brightness. Or a mixture of both. The fading is a result thermal diffusion in the semiconductor substrate. When they fall by more than 30% then you have to address that as they no longer comply with legal standards for lighting levels. The other catch is that the claimed life of 10+ years isn’t yet proven and so it is expected that there will be many lights that fail early or fade early or both.

Of course, once you have a communicating device that can monitor one thing and report it, it can also monitor other things and report them as well. Plus there were issues with being allowed to monitor the light. And where would the power come? Their inquiries with authorities responsible for the poles would not give permission to tap the power in the pole or light.

So this set us the follow set of constraints to work within:

  • must be battery operated
  • easy to install
  • low cost to make and also run
  • communicate using the cheapest data transport
  • monitor the LED light at night and keep track of the brightness trend
  • send an alert when it is persistently out of specification
  • field life to match the street light (10+ years)

As The Active Reactor Company talked to target users (initially the same people who buy their current product) and got an idea of what they wanted, a very different picture emerged. The people who cared about LED street lighting, also cared about micro climates, and soil moisture levels, and air quality, and foot traffic, and …

So that lead to a change of direction and a look at what else was required. The result is a device aimed at the Smart Cities market that also suits a wide range of other end customers and has the following features you won’t find combined together in conventional devices:

  • battery operated (either solar charged or primary cells)
  • minimum 2 year battery life for standard AA cell alkaline batteries
  • 10+ day running time if solar charging is lost
  • up to 20 days on board non-volatile storage
  • compact form factor
  • multiple sensor types per node (up to 20)
  • sensor area network to minimise data costs
  • over the air firmware upgrades
  • over the air configuration updates
  • variable sample rates and upload timing
  • still has to be low cost to make and also run
  • easy to install

So here is the range of sensors already trialed:

  • wind speed (external anemometer attached)
  • sunlight level
  • night light level (street light monitoring etc)
  • temperature
  • PM2.5 particulate levels
  • PM10 particulate levels
  • Gasses – CO, H2S, SO2, NO2, H2S
  • Humidity
  • People counting (PIR based anonymous counting)
  • Soil moisture levels (external probe)

It is also the HUB and coordinator of a Sensor Area Network that can include modules that can measure any of the above as well as:

  • vibration
  • shock
  • movement
  • water level
  • GPS location
  • USB charger current (for usage analysis)
  • counting any device or system that has a pulse output
  • analog voltage measurements (AC and DC)
arcHUB trial at Fitzroy Gardens

arcHUB trial at Fitzroy Gardens

The arcHUB is solar powered and includes a cellular modem to allow reporting back to a web service. It is designed to mount to a pole using straps but can easily be mounted to a wall or any other typical structure. A typical scenario is measurements every 15 minutes (except people or pulse counting which are continuous) and uploading to the web service every hour.

With the release of CAT-M1 services across Australia by Telstra, we are expecting migrate to this communications standard because it will reduce power consumption by at least a factor of 4 which will further improve battery life.

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

The arcHUB Peripheral Modules connect via 915MHz ISM Band communications and use standard AA batteries. They can run for between 2 and 5 years depending on what sensors are attached and how often they are read and reported. If you used primary lithium cells then you can expect life beyond 10 years.

The arcHUB Peripheral Modules are also capable of stand alone operation with the addition of an internally fitted cellular modem so you can have a portable people counter module that can be easily moved to a new location and doesn’t require an electrician to install it.

And pretty exciting to also announce that this is not only a designed in Australia product range, but it is also a made in Australia product range.

Again, my thanks to The Active Reactor Company for permission to share this story and if you want to know more, leave a comment and I will put you in touch with them.

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

Smart Cities

Smart City is a blending of current and emerging technologies being employed to allow a city to better manage its assets and deliver value to its residents. It is an emerging concept and still very much in exploration. The 2 core technology areas being investigated as the primary value creators are ICT (Information and Communications Technology) and the IoT (Internet of Things).

Smart City

Smart City

What isn’t fully understood is the relationships between any or all of the list below:

  • what is worth measuring?
  • how to measure it (what sensor, what platform)?
  • how often?
  • in what detail?
  • to learn what from?
  • how quickly to transport the reading?
  • how much will it cost to transport the data?
  • via what technologies?
  • stored how?
  • accessed how?
  • analysed how?

Quite a big list.

Did you know there is a Smart Cities Plan for Australia? I only recently found out. And if you read through it there are more questions than answers. Which I think is the right balance given where we are positioned in trying to understand what is possible versus what is useful.

Smart Cities Plan

Smart Cities Plan

There are some obvious areas already being tackled by ICT systems. These include:

  • transport logistics (road, rail, freight, air, sea)
  • public transport
  • utility services (gas, water, electricity, waste)
  • weather prediction
  • environmental monitoring

And there are a range of trials underway to try and understand what using a broader sensor mix and more widely deployed sensors might do to improve amenity, even if they aren’t all very high quality sensors. Again the questions come back to:

  • what sensors?
  • how many and where?
  • how accurate?
  • how much do they and their platform cost?
  • measured how often?
  • at what latency?
  • what to do with the data?
Smart Cities Segments

Smart Cities Segments

IoT Challenges

Although the Internet of Things (IoT) has a huge promise to live up to, there is a still a lot of confusion over how to go about it. This breaks up into 3 distinct areas.

IoT Hardware

The first is the IoT Hardware device that is deployed to the field. These come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, power profiles and capabilities. So we are seeing everything from full computing platform devices (Windows, Linux, Other) deployed as well as tiny resource constrained platforms such as Sensor Node devices. Examples of the later are Wimoto Motes and our own FLEXIO Telemetry devices which are OS-less Sensor Nodes.

The trade offs are between:

  • power consumption
  • power supply
  • always online versus post on a schedule or by exception
  • cost (device, data, installation, maintenance)
  • size
  • open standard versus proprietary
  • upgrade capable (over the air OTA firmware or software capability)
  • security

As of a month ago, the KPMG IoT Innovation Network reported there are 450 different IoT platforms available. And most don’t talk to each other. Many lock you in. Many only work with their specific hardware. So picking a hardware platform is only part of the challenge. And new products appear every week.

IoT Innovation Network

IoT Innovation Network

IoT Communications

The second area of challenge is the communications. Everyone is trying to get away from Cellular IoT Communications because the Telecommunications Companies pricing model has traditionally been higher than they want to pay, and because the power required means you need a much higher power budget. So there has been a push to find other options which has opened the way for players like LoRa and sigfox.

However the CAT-M1 and NB-IoT Telecommunications Standards mean that the pendulum could easily go back the other way. CAT-M1 reduces the data rate (no streaming video needed for most IoT devices) and changes the modulation scheme so you get a better range at a much lower power consumption. And unlike sigfox, you aren’t severely constrained on how much data you can move or how often. CAT-M1 has just gone live in Australia on the Telstra network and we are about to do our first trials.

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

NB-IoT doesn’t yet have an official availability date but we aren’t too concerned about that. NB-IoT is really aimed at the smart meter market and similar devices which have low amounts of data and upload it infrequently. So a water meter running off battery for 10+ years is an example of what it is targeting. We will find CAT-M1 a lot more useful. And the modules that support CAT-M1 currently also support NB-IoT so we are designing now and can make the decision later.

IoT Back End

The third area of challenge is the back end. Pick the wrong data service and storage provider and you could find you don’t own your own data and you have to pay every time you want a report on it. And you can’t get at it to port it to another system. And if the volume of data grows the cost can grow even faster as many offer a low entry point but the pricing get expensive quickly once you exceed the first threshold.

Because of this there is an strongly emerging preference for open systems or for systems that do allow you to push and pull data as it suits you.

So our strategy to date has been to provide our own intermediate web service and then republish the data in the required format to suit the end user / client. The result is the best of both worlds. We can deploy resource constrained field devices which are low power and low cost, then communicate with high security and high cost platforms using the intermediate service to do the heavy lifting. And we don’t try and imprison the data and trap the client.

The service is called Telemetry Host and was a finalist for IT Application of the Year in Australia in 2015 at the Endeavour Awards. And again for the PACE Zenith Awards in both 2015 and 2016.

Telemetry Host

Telemetry Host

This isn’t the only approach and so we also create devices and incorporate protocols that allow them to directly connect to other systems. This includes porting our core IP to other URLs which are then owned by our clients. So far we haven’t found that one single approach suits every scenario.

Smart City

You can’t be smart if you don’t know anything. And this is certainly true for Smart Cities. To be a Smart City requires Sensors and Telemetry. But the jury is still out on how much and what kind.

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

 

Quantum Mechanics

By definition, Quantum Mechanics acts at such tiny dimensions below what we can visualise. And the Uncertainty Principle by Werner Heisenberg makes it clear that we can’t know where things are and how much energy they have at the same time. So how can we visualise any of this except as a simulation?

Check this out:

My thanks to Derek Muller of Veritasium for this video.

Derek Muller

Derek Muller

And it raises the issue of whether the Copenhagen Interpretation or the Pilot Wave theory is the best explanation for Quantum Mechanics. There is still so much about the universe we are still trying to figure out. Which means a lot of discovery and breakthroughs are still to happen. Exciting times remain ahead.

My thanks to Andrew Walla for bringing this to my attention.

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.

Top Programming Languages

Each of the past 3 years IEEE Spectrum have conducted a survey of the Top Programming Languages. This year they have done it again and the results are in. The overall winner is Python with C taking out the Embedded Software category.

Here is the overall list covering all development platforms considered.

Top Programming Languages 2017

Top Programming Languages 2017

So Python is the winner and for the first time. It’s continued rise in usage is a testimony to the usefulness of the language and the ecosystem that sits around it. But the top 4, Python, C, Java and C++ are a long way ahead of the rest overall.

Top Embedded Programming Languages

And for Embedded Software development we have.

Top Embedded Programming Languages 2017

Top Embedded Programming Languages 2017

There has been some discussion around whether Arduino is a Language since it is a platform with a development tool set built around C and some libraries. But this is a compilation of responses from software development practitioners and so they obviously think it is.

The surprise for me is Haskell. Functional Programming is still in its infancy and there is a lot we don’t fully get about it so I was surprised to see it ranking so highly. What would be really useful is to also get an understanding of what types of problems/solutions/applications the programming was being applied to rather than just the language the solution was implemented in.

Of interest is the correlation with the languages we use here at Successful Endeavours. Here is our short list:

  • C
  • C++
  • Python
  • PHP
  • Perl
  • VHDL
  • Assembly
  • HTML
  • Arduino

The previous results can be found in

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

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