The Other Kind of Bypass Capacitor

Jason Sachs January 4, 20173 comments

There’s a type of bypass capacitor I’d like to talk about today.

It’s not the usual power supply bypass capacitor, aka decoupling capacitor, which is used to provide local charge storage to an integrated circuit, so that the high-frequency supply currents to the IC can bypass (hence the name) all the series resistance and inductance from the power supply. This reduces the noise on a DC voltage supply. I’ve...


It ain't heavy, it's my robot...

Ed Nutter January 3, 2017

Unmanned Ground Vehicles - Design considerations for man-portable/packable vehicles

A UGV is “a ground based mechanical device that can sense and interact with its environment.” (Carlson, How)

A Field Robot is expected to work outdoors, though generally not in rain or snow, including rough terrain, dirt and dust. (Carlson, Reliability)

A Man-portable robot weighs less than 40 pounds, or is capable of being broken down into subassemblies for two soldiers weighing less than 40...


Unmanned Ground Vehicles - Design Considerations for Snow and Cold Environments

Ed Nutter December 27, 2016

It's that time of year when the white stuff falls from the sky across the US, and with it comes lower temperatures. These conditions must be taken into consideration when designing a vehicle for outdoor use.

A few definitions from wikipedia:

Flurry: light, brief snowfall

Snow shower: intermittent snowfall

Light snow: over 1km visibility

Moderate snow: 0.5 to 1km visibility

Heavy snow: less than 0.5km visibility

Blizzard: lasts 3 hours or longer, sustained wind to 35mph, visibility...


Vala applications on Embedded Linux: maybe a clever choice [part 1]

Felipe Lavratti December 19, 2016

Vala is a sexy, open source, high level programming language that appeared in 2006, it counts with a modern typing system, is object oriented, compiled and statically typed, it has a almost identical syntax to C# and is maintained by GNOME. The language was created as a power abstraction of the GLib and GTK libraries, two considerably lightweight and powerful libraries written in C, and it is used in projects such as GNOME Clocks, Shotwell, GXml and Elementary OS.

namespace...

How to Succeed in Motor Control: Olaus Magnus, Donald Rumsfeld, and YouTube

Jason Sachs December 12, 2016

Almost four years ago, I had this insight — we were doing it wrong! Most of the application notes on motor control were about the core algorithms: various six-step or field-oriented control methods, with Park and Clarke transforms, sensorless estimators, and whatnot. It was kind of like a driving school would be, if they taught you how the accelerator and brake pedal worked, and how the four-stroke Otto cycle works in internal combustion engines, and handed you a written...


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, 20162 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: 

Introduction to Microcontrollers - Interrupts

Mike Silva September 18, 20135 comments

It's Too Soon To Talk About Interrupts!

That, at least, could be one reaction to this chapter.  But over the years I've become convinced that new microcontroller programmers should understand interrupts before being introduced to any complex peripherals such as timers, UARTs, ADCs, and all the other powerful function blocks found on a modern microcontroller.  Since these peripherals are commonly used with interrupts, any introduction to them that does not...


Introduction to Microcontrollers - More On GPIO

Mike Silva September 13, 20134 comments

Now that we have our LED Blinky program nailed down, it's time to look more closely at outputs, add button/switch inputs, and work with reading inputs and driving outputs based on those inputs.

It's ON - No, It's OFF - No, It's ON...

I have to confess, I cheated.  Well, let's say I glossed over something very important.  In our LED Blinky program, we never cared about whether an output '1' or an output '0' turned on the LED.  Since we were just...


How to Read a Power MOSFET Datasheet

Jason Sachs September 15, 20158 comments

One of my pet peeves is when my fellow engineers misinterpret component datasheets. This happened a few times recently in separate instances, all involving power MOSFETs. So it’s time for me to get on my soapbox. Listen up!

I was going to post an article on how to read component datasheets in general. But MOSFETs are a good place to start, and are a little more specific. I’m not the first person to write something about how to read datasheets; here are some other good...


Help, My Serial Data Has Been Framed: How To Handle Packets When All You Have Are Streams

Jason Sachs December 11, 201110 comments

Today we're going to talk about data framing and something called COBS, which will make your life easier the next time you use serial communications on an embedded system -- but first, here's a quiz:

Quick Diversion, Part I: Which of the following is the toughest area of electrical engineering? analog circuit design digital circuit design power electronics communications radiofrequency (RF) circuit design electromagnetic...

BGA and QFP at Home 1 - A Practical Guide.

Victor Yurkovsky October 13, 20132 comments

It is almost universally accepted by the hobbyists that you can't work with high-density packages at home.  That is entirely incorrect.  I've been assembling and reflowing BGA circuit boards at home for a few years now.  BGAs and 0.5mm-pitch QFPs are well within the realm of a determined amateur. 

This series of articles presents practical information on designing and assembling boards with high-density packages at home.  While the focus is on FPGA packages, most of...


Arduino robotics #4 - HC-SR04 ultrasonic sensor

Lonnie Honeycutt October 20, 20131 comment
Arduino Robotics

Arduino robotics is a series of article chronicling my first autonomous robot build, Clusterbot.  This build is meant to be affordable, relatively easy and instructive.  The total cost of the build is around $50.  

1. Arduino robotics - motor control2. Arduino robotics - chassis, locomotion and power3. Arduino robotics - wiring, coding and a test run4.

PID Without a PhD

Tim Wescott April 26, 201611 comments

I both consult and teach in the area of digital control. Through both of these efforts, I have found that while there certainly are control problems that require all the expertise I can bring to bear, there are a great number of control problems that can be solved with the most basic knowledge of simple controllers, without resort to any formal control theory at all.

This article will tell you how to implement a simple controller in software and how to tune it without getting into heavy...


How to Build a Fixed-Point PI Controller That Just Works: Part I

Jason Sachs February 26, 20127 comments

This two-part article explains five tips to make a fixed-point PI controller work well. I am not going to talk about loop tuning -- there are hundreds of articles and books about that; any control-systems course will go over loop tuning enough to help you understand the fundamentals. There will always be some differences for each system you have to control, but the goals are the same: drive the average error to zero, keep the system stable, and maximize performance (keep overshoot and delay...


Endianness and Serial Communication

Stephen Friederichs May 21, 2013

Endianness is a consideration that is easily overlooked in the design of embedded systems. I myself am amply guilty of this oversight. It’s something you don’t ever have to worry about if you’re only working with a single processor or two processors that have the same endianness.  You can even avoid it if you have two processors that have different endianness but never transmit data between themselves that consists of more than one byte.  It’s easy to lull...


The habitat of hardware bugs

Yossi Kreinin July 13, 20162 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...