Round Round Get Around: Why Fixed-Point Right-Shifts Are Just Fine

Jason Sachs November 22, 20163 comments

Today’s topic is rounding in embedded systems, or more specifically, why you don’t need to worry about it in many cases.

One of the issues faced in computer arithmetic is that exact arithmetic requires an ever-increasing bit length to avoid overflow. Adding or subtracting two 16-bit integers produces a 17-bit result; multiplying two 16-bit integers produces a 32-bit result. In fixed-point arithmetic we typically multiply and shift right; for example, if we wanted to multiply some...

Favorite Tools: C++11 User-defined literals

Matthew Eshleman November 14, 20161 comment

In many software domains units of measurement are frequently critical to the software's data processing requirements. Those same units, or rather the use of the wrong units, are often the source of bugs and disastrous mistakes. Although useful for other purposes, user-defined literals are an excellent addition to the C++11 standard and handy when working with units of measurement.

Suppose a device measures velocity. To help prevent errors, the software specification requires...

Surprising Linux Real Time Scheduler Behavior

Matthew Eshleman November 5, 2016

I have recently been helping with embedded software design and development for a data acquisition and visualization device. The software executes within an embedded Linux context and consists of various animated user interfaces rendering the acquired data.

The data is received via a UART and a SPI connection. During project development we noticed poor UART data latency issues during heavy user interface animations. For this product to properly meet its acquisition requirements, the UART...

Favorite Tools - Look Up Tables

Matthew Eshleman October 22, 20163 comments

As we grow in our engineering careers, we must continually add new tools to our collective tool kits. One favorite tool in my toolkit will be obvious to many experienced embedded software engineers. I still remember learning this approach early in my career via code written by colleague David Starling. The tool in question: 

Look up tables 

Look up tables simplify code and improve firmware maintenance. What is a look up table? A look up table is often nothing more complex than a...

From bare-metal to RTOS: 5 Reasons to use an RTOS

Jacob Beningo October 18, 20167 comments

Developers can come up with amazing and convoluted reasons to not use an RTOS. I have heard excuses ranging from they are too expensive (despite open source solutions) all the way to they aren’t efficient and use too much memory. In some circumstances some excuses are justified but there are many reasons why a developer should look to an RTOS to help with their real-time scheduling needs.

From bare-metal to RTOS Quick Links
  • Part 1: 

New Comments System (please help me test it)

Stephane Boucher October 4, 201618 comments

I thought it would take me a day or two to implement, it took almost two weeks...

But here it is, the new comments systems for blogs, heavily inspired by the forum system I developed earlier this year.  

Which means that:

  • You can easily add images, either by drag and drop or through the 'Insert Image' button
  • You can add MathML, TeX and ASCIImath equations and they will be rendered with Mathjax
  • You can add code snippets and they will be highlighted with highlights.js
  • You can edit...

NXP LPC17xx/40xx: Decoding the Part ID

Ricky Bennett August 25, 20164 comments

This is the first blog of a number dealing with the NXP LPC17xx/40xx processor families and how to program them despite the lack of documentation.  The next blog will deal with implementing the LPC17xx/40xx UART with interrupts properly, and a subsequent blog will show how to use the UART in RS485 Normal Multidrop Mode (NMM) with Auto Address Detection (AAD).

My company has decided on using the NXP LPC17xx/40xx processor line for all our embedded projects.  Since...

Use DPLL to Lock Digital Oscillator to 1PPS Signal

Michael Morris July 24, 20164 comments

There are occasions where it is desirable to lock a digital oscillator to an external time reference such as the 1PPS (One Pulse Per Second) signal output from a GPS receiver. One approach would be to synchronize a fixed frequency oscillator on the leading edge of the 1PPS signal. In many cases, this will result in adequate performance. However, in situations where simple synchronization does not provide adequate performance, digital phase-lock techniques can be applied to a...

The habitat of hardware bugs

Yossi Kreinin July 13, 20163 comments

The Moscow apartment which little me called home was also home to many other creatures, from smallish cockroaches to biggish rats. But of course we rarely met them face to face. Evolution has weeded out those animals imprudent enough to crash your dinner. However, when we moved a cupboard one time, we had the pleasure to meet a few hundreds of fabulously evolved cockroaches.

In this sense, logical bugs aren't different from actual insects. You won't find...

Digital PLL's -- Part 2

Neil Robertson June 15, 20162 comments

In Part 1, we found the time response of a 2nd order PLL with a proportional + integral (lead-lag) loop filter.  Now let’s look at this PLL in the Z-domain [1, 2].  We will find that the response is characterized by a loop natural frequency ωn and damping coefficient ζ. 

Having a Z-domain model of the DPLL will allow us to do three things:

Compute the values of loop filter proportional gain KL and integrator gain KI that give the desired loop natural...

Real-time clocks: Does anybody really know what time it is?

Jason Sachs May 29, 20118 comments

We recently started writing software to make use of a real-time clock IC, and found to our chagrin that the chip was missing a rather useful function, namely elapsed time in seconds since the standard epoch (January 1, 1970, midnight UTC).Let me back up a second.A real-time clock/calendar (RTC) is a micropower chip that has an oscillator on it that keeps counting time, independent of main system power. Usually this is done with a lithium battery that can power the RTC for years, so that even...

Cortex-M Exception Handling (Part 2)

Ivan Cibrario Bertolotti February 1, 20169 comments

The first part of this article described the conditions for an exception request to be accepted by a Cortex-M processor, mainly concerning the relationship of its priority with respect to the current execution priority. This part will describe instead what happens after an exception request is accepted and becomes active.


Before discussing in detail the sequence of actions that occurs within the processor after an exception request...

Important Programming Concepts (Even on Embedded Systems) Part III: Volatility

Jason Sachs October 10, 2014

1vol·a·tile adjective \ˈvä-lə-təl, especially British -ˌtī(-ə)l\ : likely to change in a very sudden or extreme way : having or showing extreme or sudden changes of emotion : likely to become dangerous or out of control

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

Other articles in this series:

Ten Little Algorithms, Part 5: Quadratic Extremum Interpolation and Chandrupatla's Method

Jason Sachs November 11, 20159 comments

Other articles in this series:

Today we will be drifting back into the topic of numerical methods, and look at an algorithm that takes in a series of discretely-sampled data points, and estimates the maximum value of...

Bad Hash Functions and Other Stories: Trapped in a Cage of Irresponsibility and Garden Rakes

Jason Sachs January 28, 20141 comment

I was recently using the publish() function in MATLAB to develop some documentation, and I ran into a problem caused by a bad hash function.

In a resource-limited embedded system, you aren't likely to run into hash functions. They have three major applications: cryptography, data integrity, and data structures. In all these cases, hash functions are used to take some type of data, and deterministically boil it down to a fixed-size "fingerprint" or "hash" of the original data, such that...

Best Firmware Architecture Attributes

Dr. Tayyar GUZEL June 4, 20166 comments

Architecture of a firmware (FW) in a way defines the life-cycle of your product. Often companies start with a simple-version of a product as a response to the time-to-market caveat of the business, make some cash out of the product with a simple feature set. It takes only less than 2-3 years to reach a point where the company needs to develop multiple products derived from the same code base and multiple teams need to develop...

Introduction to Microcontrollers - More Timers and Displays

Mike Silva October 15, 20133 comments

Building Your World Around Timers

By now you have seen four different ways to use timers in your programs.  Next we will look at some ways to produce the effect of multiple parallel streams of work in your program with the help of timers.  This effect is only an appearance, not a reality, since a single microcontroller (one core) can only run a single thread of code.  However, since microcontrollers are so fast in relation to a great many of the tasks to...

10 Items of Test Equipment You Should Know

Jason Sachs June 22, 20143 comments

When life gets rough and a circuit board is letting you down, it’s time to turn to test equipment. The obvious ones are multimeters and oscilloscopes and power supplies. But you know about those already, right?

Here are some you may not have heard of:

Non-contact current sensors. Oscilloscope probes measure voltage. When you need to measure current, you need a different approach. Especially at high voltages, where maintaining galvanic isolation is important for safety. The usual...

Donald Knuth Is the Root of All Premature Optimization

Jason Sachs April 17, 20172 comments

This article is about something profound that a brilliant young professor at Stanford wrote nearly 45 years ago, and now we’re all stuck with it.


The idea, basically, is that even though optimization of computer software to execute faster is a noble goal, with tangible benefits, this costs time and effort up front, and therefore the decision to do so should not be made on whims and intuition, but instead should be made after some kind of analysis to show that it has net...

A wireless door monitor based on the BANO framework

Fabien Le Mentec June 10, 20145 comments

I have been thinking for a while about a system to monitor the states of my flat and my garage doors from a remote place. Functionnaly, I wanted to monitor the state of my doors from a remote place. A typical situation is when I leave for holidays, but it can also be useful from the work office. To do so, I would centralize the information on a server connected on the Internet that I could query using a web browser. The server itself would be located in the appartement, where...