Control Engineering's monthly newsletter for Embedded Control - November 2001

12/05/2001


In this issue:


Introducing Embedded Control

Move over 'PC-based Control,' welcome 'Embedded Control.' As the control and automation market continues to evolve, technologies developed and honed by PC-based control suppliers are finding their way into a diverse range of platforms sometimes far from the 'white box' PC envisioned by the pioneers.

PC-based control is not dead, in fact, it continues to have significant impact on the control technology options available. It has become virtually impossible for suppliers to go to market without some open technologies pioneered by the PC-based control champions. The hardware platform may be PC, but just as easily it could be Compact PCI, VME, PC/104, or custom single board computer.

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Microsoft Introduces Windows XP

One of the more publicized recent product launches was the Microsoft Windows XP launch. What does this new operating system mean for manufacturing users? Peter Wengert, Microsoft industry manager for manufacturing, told me that what the manufacturing community wanted was one code base, user friendly interface, plug and play capability, and more reliability. According to him, XP delivers this.

Pete noted that among the features are 4,000 additional drivers to make it easier to install peripherals, multi-user switching, faster boot up times plus decreasing amount of reboots you have to do, ability to host a client session, and multimedia enhancements.

National Instruments has announced support for XP in its products, so I talked to Jerry Suva, software product manager, and Don Holly, industry automation marketing manager and an officer with OPC Foundation.

Jerry noted that they haven't done benchmarks, but have noticed beta versions are more stable as they have applied their software. A big feature is "side by side DLLs" that eliminate versioning problems known as "DLL Hell." He also pointed out the built in collaboration tools.

Don pointed out that the OMAC working group and MSMUG (Microsoft manufacturers users group) looked at XP and noted stableness, versioning control, and compatibility issues will be key to users deploying this new OS. The group is also championing a labeling program, "Designed for Windows XP."

Much has been printed about the "Windows Product Activation" part of the new OS. Jerry said that this is already in Visio and Office XP. He thinks most users won't be affected. NI's peripherals won't affect status of the machine that the software checks, and if you have any volume or site license, you won't have to do this.

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Balancing Technology and Life

Tom Mahon has been involved in Silicon Valley technology for a long time. He has also thought about the effects of technology and working for technology companies on life. These remarks were delivered to a conference in Berkeley, Calif.

"Thirty years ago, technology companies stressed the human benefit of their engineering ingenuity: progress is our most important product; better things for better living. But in recent times, we've heard little about technology in the service of human ends.

"So much engineering excellence has been squandered on the trivial and the deadly, from video games to `smart weapons'. The search for a signal of meaning in our lives, the cries of the dispossessed, gets lost in so much electronic static.

"The problem is not the technology. It is we who choose to endanger ourselves or ennoble ourselves with the tools in our hands, the habits of our hearts and the patterns of our thoughts.

"We are now one planet, home to two civilizations, separate and unequal. The few of us with much, and the many with little. And the gap grows daily. The world's religious systems, and the laws of physics, agree that imbalances of this magnitude are unsustainable.

"Rediscovering two gold nuggets of ancient wisdom-the golden mean and the golden rule-might be the way that leads a silicon-based society beyond relentless information processing which often drowns our well being in a tsunami of stress-and leaves a majority of the world's folk further behind-toward humane and heartfelt knowledge processing, to perhaps, in God's good time, wisdom processing."

Email Tom at tmahon@ncal.verio.com or visit the web site at www.reconnecting.com .

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Opto 22 news

Did you know that you could download Opto 22's ioControl, flowchart programming software for use with the SNAP Ultimate I/O system? I have done that and played with the software. It's cool. Go to www.opto22.com/products/ultimateio_iocontrol_dload.asp .

Showing that embedded control market can be broadened, Opto 22 announced that it has entered into a strategic alliance with Apigent Solutions , an application service provider to the food service and convenience store industries, to provide comprehensive monitoring of multi-unit operations.

The companies' first project under the new alliance will be a pilot deployment at Burger King restaurants in the United Kingdom. Information from essential business systems (such as lighting, point of sale, refrigeration, security) and devices (electronic timeclocks; barcode readers; pressure, temperature and humidity sensors; video surveillance equipment) can be collected and viewed through a secure, Web-based portal.

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Motorola extends 32-bit processing

Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector is expanding its line of microcontrollers that are PowerPC compliant into markets like avionics, industrial control, robotics, high-end motor controllers, and analysis equipment.

Rudan Bettelheim, marketing manager for 32 bit processors, told me that one of the most significant features is a floating point unit (FPU). It is one of the few single-chip MCUs that has this. It's useful in many engineering applications. It reduces errors and is more robust because FP math is done on chip rather than going through a translation process.

Also significant for control is a fast timer, Time Processing Client. It was developed 11 or 12 years ago for 68000 chips, has proved popular because it works like a separate microcontroller engine plus memory and timer hardware. Can do complex timing without involving the main CPU. This is useful for applications like stepper control or PWM.

It has an A/D converter with control queue. You can program into the control queue which channels you want to sample with sample window and sequence, then A/D goes to work without involving the CPU.

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Transmeta announces new Crusoe chip

Transmeta Corp. , the company made famous through one of its employees-Linus Torvalds of Linux fame-announced a highly integrated system-on-a-chip, the Crusoe TM6000, designed for emerging computing platforms that place a premium on low power, space efficiency, and cost savings. The Crusoe TM6000 takes about one-third the board space and uses less power than current Crusoe microprocessor solutions, important factors with the proliferation of smaller, thinner and lighter computer products and those with requirements for high computing density and energy efficiency. The chip is expected to ship in the second half of 2002 and runs at speeds of 1GHz.

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Microchip embeds CAN

Microchip Technology Inc. has expanded into Controller Area Network (CAN) applications market with its family of Input/Output Expanders supporting the CAN protocol. Designed to enable system designers to implement simpler CAN nodes without microcontrollers, the MCP25050 and MCP25055 Mixed-Signal I/O Expanders and the MCP25020 and MCP25025 Digital CAN I/O Expanders are an alternative to microcontroller-based 'thin client' solutions that help save overall system costs and board space.

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Cool products and news

Metrowerks has announced the availability of CodeWarrior for Windows, Version 7.0, software development tools that allow developers to build applications that target Windows and Macintosh platforms using a single integrated development environment (IDE). Developers can write applications in C/C++ and Java.

The Open Modular Architecture Controls (OMAC) Packaging Workgroup has adopted its first open-architecture position statements. Introduced at the PACK EXPO Las Vegas trade show, the machinery end users' position statements define open architecture requirements for motion control programming languages, communications networks and machine states. It can be downloaded from the OMAC website.

EmWare announced the release of its DeviceGate-E embedded gateway product along with the DeviceGate-E Development Kit. emWare's DeviceGate-E embedded gateway allows users to maintain a persistent connection between potentially hundreds of devices and their client applications. This persistent connection provides the immediate, interactive communication needed for remote device monitoring, diagnostics and service management, thereby helping companies reduce service calls and deliver more responsive customer support.

EMation announced availability of eMation DRM (device relationship management) Access. This application portal provides secure, Internet-based `desktop sharing' capabilities between service and support specialists and remote computers installed at customers' sites.

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Question of the month

Much ink has been used discussing PC-based control and open systems. Are you using this new technology on your new applications? What are your successes and failures? E-mail me at gmintchell@cahners.com .

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