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.


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: 

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, 20161 comment

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...

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...

Unit Tests for Embedded Code

Stephen Friederichs March 6, 201411 comments

I originate from an electrical engineering background and my first industry experience was in a large, staid defense contractor. Both of these experiences contributed to a significant lack of knowledge with regards to software development best practices. Electrical engineers often have a backwards view of software in general; large defense contractors have similar views of software and couple it with a general disdain for any sort of automation or ‘immature’ practices.  While there...

Which MOSFET topology?

Jason Sachs September 2, 20119 comments

A recent electronics.StackExchange question brings up a good topic for discussion. Let's say you have a power supply and a 2-wire load you want to be able to switch on and off from the power supply using a MOSFET. How do you choose which circuit topology to choose? You basically have four options, shown below:

From left to right, these are:

High-side switch, N-channel MOSFET High-side switch, P-channel MOSFET Low-side switch, N-channel...

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...

Two Capacitors Are Better Than One

Jason Sachs February 15, 20155 comments

I was looking for a good reference for some ADC-driving circuits, and ran across this diagram in Walt Jung’s Op-Amp Applications Handbook:

And I smiled to myself, because I immediately remembered a circuit I hadn’t used for years. Years! But it’s something you should file away in your bag of tricks.

Take a look at the RC-RC circuit formed by R1, R2, C1, and C2. It’s basically a stacked RC low-pass filter. The question is, why are there two capacitors?


Implementing State Machines

Stephen Friederichs January 18, 20145 comments

State machines are a great way to design software but they can be difficult to implement well.To illustrate this I’ll develop a simple state machine then increase the complexity to demonstrate some of the difficulties

We’ve all washed dishes before - it’s easy isn’t it? Scrub, rinse, dry, scrub, rinse dry. Scrub the dish until all of the gunk is off of it, rinse until the soap is off, put it in the drying rack. If you want to design software to implement this you have options. You...

Delayed printf for real-time logging

Yossi Kreinin October 25, 20133 comments

You often debug by adding a few printfs and looking at the logs. In some real-time/low-level contexts though, you don't have time for text formatting.

You don't want prints to affect timing too much, because then timing-related bugs you're chasing might disappear. And you certainly don't want the system to stop functioning altogether because prints cause it to miss real-time deadlines.

A common alternative to prints is more "raw" logging - an event buffer, where event is a union keeping...

Introduction to Microcontrollers - Buttons and Bouncing

Mike Silva October 26, 20133 comments

What Is A Button?

To your hardware, that is.  As discussed in Introduction to Microcontrollers - More On GPIO, a button (or key, or switch, or any form of mechanical contact) is generally hooked up to a microcontroller so as to generate a certain logic level when pushed or closed or "active," and the opposite logic level when unpushed or open or "inactive."  The active logic level can be either '0' or '1', but for reasons both historical and electrical, an...

How to Estimate Encoder Velocity Without Making Stupid Mistakes: Part II (Tracking Loops and PLLs)

Jason Sachs November 18, 201310 comments

Yeeehah! Finally we're ready to tackle some more clever ways to figure out the velocity of a position encoder. In part I, we looked at the basics of velocity estimation. Then in my last article, I talked a little about what's necessary to evaluate different kinds of algorithms. Now it's time to start describing them. We'll cover tracking loops and phase-locked loops in this article, and Luenberger observers in part III.

But first we need a moderately simple, but interesting, example...