Monday, May 30, 2011

NutriSmart prototype embeds RFID tags directly within food, traces your lunch from start to finish (video)

RFID tags are already used to trace everything from poker chips to hotel towels, but what if these little pellets were embedded directly within your lunch, providing everything you'd ever wanna know about that ham sandwich you're about to beast? That's the idea behind NutriSmart -- a food tracking system that revolves around edible RFID tags. Developed by Hannes Harms, a design engineering student at the Royal College of Art in London, these little markers would allow consumers to trace the entire supply chain behind every item in their cupboard, while feeding valuable nutritional information to dieters or people with particularly dangerous food allergies. Kodak, as you may recall, came up with a similar idea a few years ago, though Harms' prototype extends beyond the realm of medical monitoring. Properly equipped refrigerators, for example, would be able to alert users whenever their stock's about to expire, simply by scanning the tags. The NutriSmart concept also calls for a smart plate, which Harms describes as an "invisible diet management system." Just put your meal on the plate and an embedded reader will analyze your grub, tell you how many miles it traveled before arriving at your kitchen and transmit all of its history and caloric data to your phone, via Bluetooth. No word yet on what would happen to these tags post-digestion, though our inner 13-year-olds are giggling at the possibilities. Video after the break.

NutriSmart from HannesRemote on Vimeo.

ASUS announced the Padfone

If pads and phones are the fastest growing categories in consumer tech, surely a Padfone would be the ultimate combo? That's what ASUS thinks, and it's just introduced its smartphone device that comes with a tablet it can dock into. Display switching is done dynamically, so that reading emails or browsing the web on the fone portion expands itself seamlessly once it's connected into the pad.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Marvell Announces the 88EM8801, the World’s First Dual-String Smart LED Controller Chip

Marvell is currently sampling the 88EM8801 and the evaluation boards to key OEMs.

Marvell announced the 88EM8801, the world’s first dual-string smart LED controller chip, which uses the company’s unique power technology to enable superior lighting performance. Using high-levels of integration and advanced mixed-signal technology, Marvell is able to pack high-end lighting features into a single chip that would otherwise require multiple driver chips, a micro-controller and many discrete components to implement. The on-chip intelligent digital controls and ultra-small form factor of the Marvell® new 88EM8801 chip enables customers to introduce superior lighting features and controls into mainstream professional and consumer lighting products, such as down lights, Zhaga-compliant LED modules, PAR lamps, AR lamps, A19 lamps and MR bulbs.
The 88EM8801 is the first offering in the new Marvell 8800 LED lighting controller family, which offers intelligent digital controls to drastically reduce system design complexity and the engineering effort required to implement high-end lighting features. The unique current tuning capability of the new 8800 series enables the use of loosely binned, lower-cost LEDs to deliver uniform light output and constant color temperature during the manufacturing process and throughout the long lifespan of the LED lamps themselves. Additionally, the 8800 family leverages intelligent pulse width modulation (PWM) dimming controller circuitry and other digital controls to achieve deep dimming levels up to 0.1 percent.
The intelligence of the 88EM8801 chip significantly enhances light quality while reducing LED component expenses, which accounts for up to 60 percent of the total cost of typical LED light bulbs. Leveraging Marvell’s dual-string driver technology, the 88EM8801 offers an unparalleled solution for mixing and controlling different color LED strings to achieve high color rendering index (CRI) and high lumens per watt. Lastly, the 8801 solution delivers up to 95 percent efficiency while providing an on-chip communication interface for wireless lighting controls.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Embedded Web Server Controlling Garage Door

Here's a demo of anEmbedded Ethernet Web Server
making it possible to open and close my garage garage door
using an internet connected PC, or mobile device with internet connectivity
(in this case a Sony Playstation Portable).

The PC connection lags a little, maybe because it's using Wndows 7
with a version of Internet Explorer known to have issues with the server.

The Embedded SD card web server is a project from Silicon Chip magazine
The LCD display and driver chip add-on is my own design and programming.
Some source code modification was required to have the chip provide a pulse
output rather than toggled outputs.
This was achieved by altering the server code to output a flag with the serial
data burst sent to the LCD driver chip that includes the time of day.
The LCD driver chip sees this, and then it provides the pulse output to a relay
(seen on an external prototype PCB). The relay triggers the garage door opener.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

VIA QuadCore processor combines low-cost and low-power with 'adaptive overclocking'

Computex is coming up fast and with it we're expecting a slew of new gear. The event will also mark the first public showing of VIA's new x86 quad-core processors aptly named, QuadCore (pictured above center next to a Nano X2). The new procs are manufactured using 40nm processes and combine four Isaiah cores on two dies resulting in a Thermal Design Power of 27.5 watts. That low TDP allows VIA to make the nebulous claim that its first QuadCore L4700 processor is 21 percent more energy efficient than its nearest competitor while offering "awesome" multitasking and multimedia playback performance. Initially available at 1.2+GHz, the 64-bit native processor features adaptive overclocking (think Intel Turbo Boost) for dynamic clock adjustments up to 1.46GHz, a 4MB L2 cache, and 1333MHz front-side bus. Oh, and the QuadCores will be pin-to-pin compatible with VIA Eden, C7, Nano E-Series, and Eden X2 processors when they begin shipping in bulk in Q3. We'll bring you more on these supposed low-cost procs when we see them demoed first hand in Taipei starting May 31st. Until then, click through for the full press release or hit up the more coverage links below for an in-depth preview.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

GRASP Lab quadrocopters learn to follow the leader and fly in formation

The University of Pennsylvania's GRASP Lab has already recklessly taught its autonomous quadrocopters to move in packs, fly through hoops and build things on their own, and it's now for some reason decided to teach them yet another trick they'll surely use against us one day. As you can see in the video above, the quadrocopters are now able to take cues from a leader and fly in formation. What's more, they can even continue with the formation if one loses communication and falls out of the pack, which the researchers note is key to the success of any swarm. Isn't that reassuring? 

Microsoft close to buying Skype for more than $7 billion

Following rumors of Facebook and Google eyeing a deal to acquire Skype, we now have a new contender who is none other than the beast from Redmond, Microsoft. According to the Wall Street Journal's sources, Team Ballmer and the VoIP company are finalizing a negotiation that's worth more than a whopping $7 billion, and they could be making an announcement as soon as Tuesday. Given that this figure will be a new record for Microsoft in recent years, it's clear that Ballmer's very keen on securing this popular voice calling service for his own amusement -- perhaps Windows Phone will eventually come with integrated Skype features? Or maybe he just wants to slot in some ads between our calls? Only time will tell, and for the sake of Redmond, hopefully nothing turns sour between now and tomorrow.

Update: All Things D's Kara Swisher has confirmed that the two companies will be announcing their deal early tomorrow morning. Stay tuned! 

Powercolor expected to unveil double-barreled Radeon at Computex

An unnamed, undressed dual-GPU prototype of AMD's latest in southern-island graphics cards surfaced over the weekend. Flaunting twin Bart chips with 1,120 stream processors a pop, this card totals up at 2,240, with each GPU packing its own memory for a total of 2GB of GDDR5. Although PowerColor is staying tight lipped on specs and official name until Computex in June, two DVI ports, double mini DisplayPorts, and one HDMI-out paint obvious similarities to the existing Radeon HD 6870. One last notable difference? The unknown soldier is powered by two eight-pin PCIe connectors, as opposed to the HD 6870's six-pin variant. We're probably looking at the latest in the Radeon HD 6800 series, we'll know for sure in about a month. 

HTC Sensation first video hands-on!

You saw the specs confirmed a little earlier today and you even got to glimpse HTC's new Sensation in the flesh. Now it's time to watch this 4.3-inch Android device strut its stuff on video. We've gotten our mitts on the Euro model and you can check out all the delicious visuals after the break.

As we mentioned in our preview of this handset, the new lock screen is perhaps the biggest (it's certainly the most immediately apparent) change in the Sense UI that comes with the Sensation. HTC describes now describes it as "smart," because it can both serve you with live information, like weather and those all-important stock prices, and also lets you unlock straight into an app by dragging its link into an unlocking circle. Frankly, we used the functionality so much that we almost forgot how to unlock the phone "normally." It's something the Inq Cloud Touch and other lower-end Android devices have previously exhibited, and a feature we really, truly appreciate.

Performance was, as you'd expect from a 1.2GHz dual-core machine, snappy all around, though we still caught some slight lag and insufficient frame rates when the Sensation was dealing with some of those yummy new 3D animations. The higher resolution (960 x 540) screen is a definite upgrade over the 800 x 480 standard that Android devices have been coalescing around and the 4.3-inch size seems like a perfect fit for it. Both the camera app and video playback in the HTC Watch app showed great speed and responsiveness to our input. Those are the things that will really harness the processing power of the Sensation.

Physically, the Sensation somehow manages to feel more compact than its predecessor atop the European jumbo phone throne, the Desire HD. The two phones both have 4.3-inch screens, but the 16:9 screen ratio of the Sensation makes it narrower, while HTC's ingenuity has managed to make the new device marginally thinner too. All in all, a definite upgrade in ergonomics. Aluminum construction is present here as well, however the entire aluminum chunk -- which spans the middle portion of the back, separating two plastic parts (each of which has its own color, giving you a tri-color rear) -- is in the removable cover. This is unlike most of HTC's aluminum "unibody" phones, which make the aluminum piece part of the phone's framework. Hey, at least you get much easier access to what's under the back cover. Delve into the gallery below for more!

Toshiba Satellite E305 (S1990) review

PCMarkVantage 3DMark06
Battery Life
Toshiba Satellite E305 (Core i5-2410M) 6,313 4,547 5:07
Samsung Series 9 (Core i5-2537M) 7,582 2,240 4:20
13-inch MacBook Air (Core 2 Duo, GeForce 320M) 5,170 4,643 4:45
ThinkPad X220 (Core i5-2520M) 7,635 3,517 7:19
ASUS U36Jc (Core i5 / NVIDIA GeForce 310M) 5,981 2,048 / 3,524 5:30
Lenovo IdeaPad U260 (Core i5) 3,858 1,153 2:56
Toshiba Portege R705 (Core i3-350M) 5,024 1,739 / 3,686 4:25
Notes: the higher the score the better. For 3DMark06, the first number reflects score with GPU off, the second with it on.

Now in its third year, Best Buy's Blue Label program is something of a time capsule for fickle consumer tastes. Being the behemoth that it is, the retail giant hands PC makers a wishlist of specs, design flourishes, and aggressive price points -- all with the promise of selling the finished product exclusively. The 14-inch Toshiba Satellite E305 has had more than a few facelifts since we reviewed the E205 last year, and reminds us that nowadays, shoppers prefer metal to glossy plastic, and seamless touchpads to large mouse buttons. The E305's got all that, along with a Sandy Bridge processor, USB 3.0, a Blu-ray drive, a 4G radio, and the second generation of Intel's Wireless Display technology. For $899, that all sounds dandy, but as we know, a laptop doesn't always equal the sum of its parts. Is it as much of a steal as you'd imagine it to be? Head on past the break and see for yourself.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Embedded Systems Design - May 2011

Embedded Systems Design is a monthly magazine for engineers, programmers, and project leaders who build microcontroller and embedded microprocessor-based systems. The magazine's in-depth, technical articles are written by experts in the field and focus on practical ways for engineers to improve their hardware/software integration skills, software design, and optimization.

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