Machine building: Embedded industrial computer makes fee-collecting flexible

Miti Manufacturing sought a solution that could ease client interfacing and remote terminal monitoring. The answer included an Advantech UNO embedded automation computer. See photo.

02/12/2009


Advantech
Advantech's new UNO-1170 embedded automation computer with Intel Celeron M or Pentium M CPU provides higher computing power than other device-level controllers.

Bob Fulcher, owner of Miti Manufacturing, had experience with the sale of stand alone, micro-controlled revenue collection systems designed to collect a variety of fees in places like parking lots or national parks. Miti Manufacturing also produces portable decontamination equipment, and the Rino Boot (vehicle immobilizers).

Fulcher says the inflexibility of the microprocessor design was always the primary limiting factor with fee-collection systems; the system, once designed and implemented, was difficult to change, update, interface, maintain, and monitor.

So Fulcher wanted a solution that was much more flexible over the lifespan of the machine. The idea was to use a PC-based platform with a complete operating system, rather than the old micro-controlled system. He believed such a platform would increase not only long-term design flexibility, but also ease client interfacing, remote terminal monitoring, maintenance, and support.

Micro-controlled systems are effective, but difficult to interface to, impractical to update, and require a high level of expertise to maintain and monitor, says Fulcher. So, his next-generation machines utilized a DOS-based operating system, ISA slot cards, and other custom-designed hardware. While this was an improvement over the microprocessor, it soon became evident that the ISA slot card system did not represent a long-term solution in the ever-changing and improving PC market. The Miti software package was continually being developed and updated to become ever more flexible and user-friendly, but the hardware was not keeping up.

Long-term, other changes needed to be made, such as sourcing industrial grade equipment suitable for use in environmentally difficult conditions. Fee-collection machines are often installed long distances from the nearest human resource, making the need for reliable hardware a critical component of a successful product.

Essential components

The two primary components needed were an industrial PC and touch screen user interface. Both must be highly durable, and the touch screen must be viewable outdoors in direct sunlight. The ideal PC component also required sufficient resources for interfacing all other system components, such as bill and coin acceptors, vending devices, card dispensers, credit card readers, touch screen, shock and motion sensors, video camera, alarms, etc.

The solution Fulcher found was an UNO-2171 Embedded Fanless Computer from Advantech. It features an Intel Pentium M/Celeron M processors with 2 LAN and 4 COM ports, PC/104+, and the Windows Embedded XP operating system on Compact Flash (no hard drive). The interface was Advantech’s transflective (low power consumption and heat dissipation sunlight readable) LCD with touchscreen custom integration kit.

Fulcher says, “The biggest obstacle was sourcing hardware reliable enough for outdoor environments, and with high enough temperature ratings. We overcame these obstacles by working with Advantech and their DTOS department.”

The entire system is contained within a tamper-resistant metal case, and all access for customers and staff is via an 8.4-in. LCD touch screen. A motion sensor is used to detect the presence of a customer, at which time a voice prompt instructs the person on how to begin a transaction. A series of screens is navigated by the customer, and at the end the fee total is displayed and payment instructions are given.

The machine records all events as they occur; all data storage is via hard-disk or other long-term storage media. Information is made available to staff in various reports and database formats, and may be accessed via remote dial-up service or locally with a USB storage device.

Miti has more than 50 units in the field which contain the UNO-2171 along with a VGA display. Other machines are being built and readied for shipment. “While the program is currently still in its early stages, all indications are that the hardware is doing well and customers have been pleased with the new system,” says Fulcher.

Separately, Advantech recently introduced the UNO-1170, an embedded automation computer with an Intel Celeron M or Pentium M CPU and 512MB/1GB DDR SDRAM. It provides higher computing power than other device-level controllers and features a compact aluminum chassis, also in a fanless, diskless design. The UNO-1170 can operate in temperatures up to 60 °C and has a 512 KB SRAM battery back-up system in the event of sudden shutdown. It is available with a pre-configured Microsoft Windows CE and XP Embedded image with optimized onboard device drivers.

– Edited by Renee Robbins , senior editor
Control Engineering News Desk
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