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Notes from the EE Live! 2014 Exhibition

In early April I managed to sneak off work for a day and wander down to the San Jose Convention Center for the EE Live! 2014 Exhibition (formerly known as the Embedded Systems Conference).  The ESC has had its ups and downs, going from the San Jose Convention Center (which I like a lot) to the Moscone in SF (bigger, but not better), back to the SJCC, and next year, down to the Santa Clara Convention Center (which is a pretty nice setup, but not the location for major shows).

I skipped ESC last year, so I was surprised how much the show has shrunk.  On the plus side, there was a lot of exhibition floor training sessions, and all the ones I saw were well attended.  In fact, NXP skipped the product booth and only did training.  Since I do enjoy harassing talking to sales dudes and want to encourage companies to come back, I spent most of my time at the vendor booths.  Here are my show notes, which reflect my interests (which tend towards industrial applications, MCUs, and DSPs):

  • I was surprised at the size of the x86/x64 contingent: Intel, AMD, and a trio of motherboard manufacturers (Asrock, Supermicro, and MSI).  There were also several flash vendors.
    • I have to put in a plug for ASRock, because my desktop PC has an ASRock motherboard, and when it had a minor problem (PS/2 ports quit working), ASRock’s service was quite good.  However, the industrial division is separate (and much smaller), selling compact industrial motherboards direct or through distributors such as Logic Supply.
  • TI had a pretty big booth, showing off their more embedded-oriented lines (no C6x DSPs or analog), including the BeagleBone and the various LaunchPads.
    • TI’s EE Live! 2014 videos are available on Youtube.
    • TI still did their tool swap, so I traded an old Philips 8051 CAN dev kit for a shiny new Tiva Connected LaunchPad, which I have since donated to an eLua volunteer.  TI said the Connected LaunchPad was very popular.
    • I had fun discussing industrial safety (standards, light curtains, safety PLCs, and such) with the Hercules guys – and verified that the RM48 Hercules MCUs do indeed support double precision floating point.
    • It’s always fun to see motors run, and TI was demonstrating their InstaSPIN techology with a conveyor.  I had fun complaining about too many serial encoder protocols (Biss, EnDAT. SSI, Panasonic, Tamagawa, etc).
  • Microchip had a pretty big booth, with a wide array of products.  The new PIC32MZs are pretty impressive, but what I wanted to see was their metal-over-cap button technology.  Microchip has been improving it; this year they showed off metal dome capacitive buttons (my favorite, since they had good tactile feedback) and backlit buttons.
    • Microchip App Note AN1626 [PDF] has lots of interesting information on how to design and backlight metal over cap buttons.
    • The backlit buttons were a demo of Demmel’s metalLight technology.
    • The tactile buttons were a demo of grafos steel’s Click-Inox technology.
      metalLight

      metalLight

      click-inox

      click-inox

  • ST ran a lot of in-booth seminars;  I listened to the mbed presentation for a while (and now want to learn more).  I didn’t spend much time looking at their products since I’m pretty familiar with them.
    • ST was giving out STM32F401 Nucleo boards if you were lucky enough to get a goody bag (I managed to snag the second-to-last bag).  This Nucleo includes the sweet STM32F401 MCU, Arduino headers, and mbed compatibility (SDK (Software Development Kit) and HDK (Hardware Development Kit)).
  • Atmel didn’t have a booth: instead they had their roadshow trailer.  The coolest demo was a 3D printer, powered by Atmel of course.
  • NI had a booth showing off LabView and their hardware, including a motion-and-vision demo featuring Kollmorgen drives and motors.  I spent most of my time there discussing industrial applications with a guy from Xilinx who is interested in industrial applications (such as real time Ethernet) for FPGAs.
  • I took a class from Rhode & Schwarz on oscilloscopes basics, and received a free Digital Stimulus Board for my time.  My big take-away from the class: short, good grounds are critical (long, looping ground wires can be great antennas).  Their oscilloscopes are impressive and fun to play with, but quite a bit more advanced than I need.
  • I stopped by Pico Technology briefly to see what was new.  Pico makes what are probably the highest end USB oscilloscopes.  Some of the newest models support USB 3.0.  Another series has variable resolution (you can trade slower speeds for increased resolution).  Most of them are fairly large.  I asked about USB latency; the salesman said they used some tricks, but noted that they perform a lot of processing in the scope using a FPGA, so the USB connection isn’t as critical.
  • Vision Components was showing off their OEM smart cameras, so I stopped by as always to see what was new.
  • I stopped by Acces I/O and chatted about industrial Ethernet protocols and data acquisition.  Their USB-DA12-8A is one of the more affordable options if you need a precisely timed DAC output.  And they might have some good stuff coming in the Ethernet DAQ arena.
  • I talked briefly with Sealevel Systems; they make a variety of industrial grade computers, serial interfaces, digital I/O, and analog I/O.
  • Trinamic was showing off their stepper and DC motor drive chips, boards, and enclosed drives.  Although they’re not the best fit for my current requirements, they’re worth checking out, and have some low cost models (especially for the chips and boards).  Some models support CANOpen or EtherCAT.
  • Silvertel was showing off a variety of PoE modules, with prototypes up to 200W.  They claim their module pricing is cost-competitive with rolling your own up to medium volumes (say 1000’s or 10,000’s per year).

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