Posted: 30 June 2014
We recently announced a new family of Motor & Motion control development kits in partnership with Synapticon, and I thought that it would be a good opportunity to consider how these kits will help customers across all segments of the market.
First let’s take a brief tour of the wider Motion Control market and applications.
Motion Control is a broad term which encompasses any machine or system in which movement must be controlled and by implication monitored. This ‘control of movement’ could be as simple as controlling the speed or velocity of a single component (for example the spin speed of a motor or the rate of travel of a conveyer belt), or as complex as controlling and synchronizing all the electrical and mechanical sub-systems and components used in advanced robotics applications (such as Human Assist Robots or autonomous vehicles). With such a broad definition it is no surprise that motion control systems are used in all areas of life, from the factory to the office and the home, and encompass applications as diverse as:
· Autonomous systems – unmanned aerial vehicles, driverless transport, remote operated vehicles
· Factory automation – assembly, handling, manufacturing, inspection equipment
· Robotics – industrial, , service, domestic, toys
· Smart logistics – warehouse automation, unmanned delivery systems
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this broad range of products and applications means that there’s an equally diverse range of companies and individuals active in the field. As we talked to potential customers and worked to define our new motion control offerings, we identified at least four distinct categories, each with its own characteristics and requirements.
Leaders of the pack
First come an elite group of industry-recognized domain experts; global players with a long history in motion control, a significant market presence and a rich fund of intellectual property in the field. At XMOS, we coined the phrase ‘Leaders of the pack’ to describe these global players.
Working in an organization like this, you need to offer a comprehensive product portfolio and world-class customer support. Your customers look to you as a reliable and trustworthy brand in the market, providing high quality, robust solutions.
Our new Motor & Motion Control kit provides an application specific platform that allows domain experts to evaluate the xCORE architecture and the advantages it can bring in motion control applications.
The second group we identified are the ‘Product innovators’. If you’re an SME delivering differentiated products to a sub-segment of the market, you are likely to fall into this category. With a strong position in your focus sector, you probably have expertise in one or more core areas: but when necessary you augment that with acquired technology to meet the demands of the marketplace. Innovation is key to success and product differentiation is at the heart of your business planning.
For this sector we’ve focused on delivering an easy-to-use hardware and software platform that allows the creation of new classes of unique products in the areas of control and automation. We offer complete kits supported by open source software for creating powerful motion control systems; however, unlike other motion controllers our platform is freely programmable and has significant processing power available to allow developers to add custom functions and applications. Where necessary, our partner Synapticon can help solve the challenges of realizing your vision.
The third category of customer who we think can benefit from xCORE and SOMANET technology is the ‘System integrator’. The goal here is to deliver standards-compliant products quickly and effectively, across a broad range of applications and sectors. If this is your focus, you need access to proven, robust technologies and platforms which can be leveraged across a number of end products and enable accelerated development cycles.
Our new motion control solutions are based on Synapticon’s market proven SOMANET technology and provide access to a flexible motion controller for efficient, standards-compliant and safe motion control applications. Our compact, modular kits and supporting software enable any mechatronic application – from simple sensor data acquisition, through single axis motor control, all the way up to sophisticated multi-axis motion control. Supported by industry standard development tools and programmable in C/C++, the supplied application software can be easily modified and extended if required.
Perhaps the most demanding type of customer is our fourth category. An increasing number of agile companies are providing entry-level application-specific systems that require some element of motion control, at competitive cost points. To succeed in this market, you need to focus on operational excellence and deliver system solutions quickly and efficiently. What you require from a motion control technology supplier is a turnkey solution that works “out of the box”. Hence our name for this type of customer: ‘Black boxers’.
Black boxers can use the XMOS Motor & Motion Control Kit to gain access to advanced motion control technology without the burden of a lengthy and expensive development cycle. With ready-to-go software for standards-compliant motion control, there is no need to design and implement the low level control systems; we’ve done it for you! Just plug the modules together, select the software from the pre-configured options and you’re ready to go.
The aim of our partnership with Synapticon has been to create a motion control solution that serves the needs of all of these diverse companies and markets. There has never been a more exciting time to be involved in motion control. To find out why, head over to our new motion control news hub, where you’ll find news about developments such as smart manufacturing and embedded intelligence, links to some of the best information sources on the web, as well as XMOS/Synapticon product news. Or check out our product pages for more details on the new range of motion control kits.
Posted: 25 June 2014
XMOS has, since its inception, enjoyed engaging with its following of engineers and developers on a one-to-one level via the XCore Exchange Community.
This website, separate from xmos.com, exists for the sole purpose of fostering a community of xCORE developers who can not only share and solve each others problems, but can also post details of projects they are working on, discuss industry trends and future XMOS products, and chat directly to those people at XMOS who are responsible for designing, developing and supporting the XMOS portfolio of products.
Posted: 04 June 2014
XMOS and Synapticon have been working together now for almost three years. During that time, I’ve been impressed with the level of innovation that Synapticon have brought to the field of cyber-physical systems – advanced motion control combined with a revolutionary way of composing designs virtually using the OBLAC system. At the same time, they’ve used the capabilities of the xCORE architecture to deliver class-leading performance and reduce both the cost and time-to-market for these systems. So naturally, when we began to discuss deepening our collaboration, I was very excited at the prospect of helping to bring these two innovative companies together.
In the future imagined by initiatives such as Industry 4.0, production systems will be much “smarter” – distributed, flexible, intelligent nodes, configured by software tools designed to optimize and control the manufacturing process autonomously. Such a bold view requires a seismic shift in the underlying compute and communications architectures coupled with a new programming or training paradigm for these production cells. This view of the future is one of the reasons that the synergies between the two organizations resonate so strongly.
The xCORE architecture combines flexible I/O with true multicore compute capability that can be readily accessed without the need to resort to complex hardware description languages. The SOMANET hardware and software modules exploit both the underlying performance of the xCORE architecture and the I/O capability accessed through simple software calls to create powerful, flexible control and communications nodes, which themselves can be composed using the web-based OBLAC environment enabling the virtual prototyping of cyber-physical systems. This unique combination of technologies offers the intriguing possibility of flexible, low-cost motor and motion control capability packaged to enable rapid time-to-market.
In the same way that XMOS is committed to provide open, programmable multicore hardware platforms, Synapticon is on a mission to revolutionize the delivery of cyber-physical systems. SOMANET provides the infrastructure upon which Synapticon engineers can implement the intelligent nodes mandated by the Industry 4.0 vision, in the same way that xCORE provides the infrastructure underlying SOMANET. One of the most attractive features of our partnership is the passion that Synapticon brings to implementing that vision – and they can bring this passion to your products through their consulting services too!
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the partnership is that we are already working together on next-generation technologies to further accelerate the adoption of the Industry 4.0 vision. We’re just rolling out the first fruits of our collaboration, but already both companies are working on products which we are sure will be at the heart of smart manufacturing. Together we’re looking forward to revolutionizing this space – exciting times indeed!
Posted: 29 May 2014
Last month I attended the Future World Symposium. This event is a two-day foray into the near future, looking at products and projects that we may soon be interacting with on a daily basis, and covering such topics as the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine intelligence.
Here in the UK there has been a great deal of interest in the IoT, but my main takeaway from the FWS event was not the expected proliferation of connected devices throughout the world, which although impressive (50bn expected by the year 2020), will be largely just a data and efficiency boon for various industries and yield little to the consumer.
What seems far more interesting, for me, is how these devices will work intelligently.
Many of us have used a voice recognition system like Apple’s Siri, and while this does indeed exhibit a reasonable amount of ‘intelligence’, I was surprised to learn that it takes 300 server class CPUs to do its job (with each request you make). Block Siri from the cloud, and it exhibits just how little it can do.
For IoT to succeed and show real value to a consumer, it cannot just be a data gathering tool or rely on always-on Internet connections in order to function. Instead, the intelligence needs to be embedded into each IoT device. This will be a range of levels of sophistication; the intelligence required in a toaster will obviously be very different to that of an unmanned car (Talky Toaster aside).
With this capability, a product can start to regulate itself, make itself more efficient, learn your habits and work with/around them (depending on application), clarify requests made of it or make alternative suggestions.
From what I learned at FWS, this sort of interaction with machines is not that far off. Siri shows that speech recognition is well advanced already. The main barrier appears to be making the intelligent technology small enough to be embedded in devices rather than relying on the cloud.
So it looks like we wont be getting Hover Boards any time soon, but perhaps we will all be driving intelligent cars like K.I.T.T sooner rather than later.
If you would like to learn more about the topics covered at the Future World Symposium, the event presentations can be viewed here.
Posted: 20 May 2014
In April we ran a competition for members of our XCore Community – with the prize being a full xCORE Analog sliceKIT. We asked entrants to share a 10-word project idea, for which xCORE technology may be of value.
Having announced the competition winner, Thanos Kontogiannis, we caught up with him to talk about his 6DOF motion platform and find out how he plans to use xCORE technology to add another dimension.
Q: What is the 6DOF motion platform and how long have you been working on it?
The 6DOF motion platform is basically a parallel manipulation robot actuator, which is used to manipulate the position of its top plate to various angles, distances or rotations – this is how you achieve the six degrees of freedom effect. I’ve been working on my 6DOF controller since 2008 and completed the project in early 2013. You can see a video of the platform in action here.
Q: How will xCORE technology allow you to further develop the platform?
To position the six actuators correctly, complex mathematics is required to calculate the inverse kinematics required for correct motion cues. The math model runs in real time on a computer and sends the calculated positions to the motion controller, which process the Proportional Integral Derivative (PID) math required for the motor positioning.
Using xCORE technology, I can embed the complicated math calculations inside the motion controllers to make the 6DoF platform respond in real time and perform tasks more autonomously. By dedicating two cores to each motor, the heavy calculations required for more seamless synchronisation and high position feedback accuracy can be done without the computer.
Currently, due to the involvement of the computer, the transmission delays are around 1ms. Furthermore, using the LAN interface, I can transmit the raw six degrees of freedom to the platform in data packets. Removing the computer dependency for the calculation process broadens the variety of applications that the platform can be used for.
Q: What other applications could an xCORE-powered platform be used for?
Traditionally, 6DOF platforms have been used for flight simulation and more recently driving simulation technology. However, breaking away from the need to use a computer to conduct the necessary calculations opens the door for other applications such as the real time first-person view flying of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with motion feedback telemetry. Or alternatively, watching a live car race with a cockpit view that uses a live video feed and real time telemetry to reproduce the conditions in the car for a viewer on a 6DOF platform.This combined with a virtual reality headset such as the Oculus Rift could be the ultimate ‘as close to reality’ experience.
Moving away from motion simulators, xCORE technology can be used in many time-critical robotics applications. For example, handling sensors that could enable an autonomous vehicle to drive around using GPS, a real time camera and object processing. The multicore system allows for fail safety, using other cores as backup of triage, minimising the possibility of errors. Perhaps that could be my next project…
You can follow Thanos’ progress on his personal blog.
Posted: 14 May 2014
Towards the end of last year we gave away several thousand of our startKIT development kits to designers who had expressed interest in exploring the potential of XMOS technology.
We’ve seen a wealth of interesting write-ups and projects from the community. Here are a couple that stood out for us: Mark Graybill posted one of the first ‘how to’ guides following the giveaway, (‘Parallel Processes on the XMOS startKIT’), on his ‘infinite improbability’ blog. Mark grapples enthusiastically with the possibilities of startKIT, including posting code for his ‘LED blinker’ for others to use. As an early adopter Mark was also really helpful in spotting some inconsistencies in the startKIT documentation: all useful stuff!
Another fantastic contributor who helped us with suggestions on the documentation and support was 'iraqigeek', who not only blogged about his early experiences, but also contributed massively via the XCore Exhange Community.
At about the same time, following the Christmas ‘lull’, Andrew Back published his own guide on Designspark; ‘Getting started with startKIT’. Andrew referred to xCORE as ‘an incredibly flexible microcontroller’. He describes the key features of the various components and development tools, as well as providing example code and video. This blog is well worth a look for anyone getting started with startKIT.
In amongst a number of practical applications posted on the forums, Jason Lopez (@atomsoft), released a couple of very interesting projects on his own blog across January and February. These related to Jason’s attempts to build a cost-effective home automation system, and to run a TFT (thin film transistor) screen on his startKIT. See his Home Automation Test 1 and 2.8inch TFT blog posts).
More recently (May 2014) forum-user shabaz posted a very comprehensive guide to the XMOS startKIT in element14’s ‘Internet of Things’ community group. This guide not only covered the terminology and architecture behind xCORE technology, but also gave a quick yet detailed guide to getting started, and a few example programs. Shabaz found XMOS technology to be 'fantastic at handling timed events and multitasking’, that ‘the development environment is fairly straightforward to use’, and that 'if you want to handle input/output at a relatively high speed with very high accuracy and ease-of-use, XMOS devices are very high up on the list of suitable devices’.
You can see more interesting startKIT projects by visiting the XCore Exchange Community – and there are quite a few more in the works right now, which we’ll mention in due time on our Facebook and Twitter feeds as they occur. If you’re doing something interesting with your free startKIT, or have a proposal for an interesting project you’d like to produce using XMOS technology, why not get in touch with us via the same channels? Let’s see what’s possible...
Posted: 06 May 2014
XMOS at Future World Symposium – 29-30th April 2014, Twickenham Stadium
XMOS recently attended the Future World Symposium (FWS) held at Twickenham Stadium in the UK. This two-day event, hosted by the UK’s National Microelectronics Institute (NMI) and held every two years, was attended by some 190+ delegates and brought together some of the leading names and voices in the world of electronic embedded systems and software.
This year’s theme was about discussing and trying to understand what the Internet of Things (IoT) really means for our future world in terms of connectivity, content, capability and security. Imagine today’s 7Bn connected devices growing to over 50Bn by 2020 and what this could mean for our future. As a result the event attracted some excellent speakers from, amongst others, ARM, Cisco, Spotify, Intel, Freescale, NEC and of course XMOS. In addition to the talks and panel discussion, companies were able to display products and services on small stands in Twickenham’s Rose Room.
Simon Knowles, XMOS’ recently appointed CTO, gave a characteristically upbeat and entertaining talk on his favorite topic, ‘Machine Learning’. Simon certainly got the audience excited about the prospect of tomorrow’s machines not just being programmed to perform tasks but also being trained to learn and adapt to their experiences and environment. Products that may benefit from machine learning include visualization systems, advanced toys and of course, all kinds of robotics systems…… It was very much a ‘that film about robots ruling the earth’ kind of experience……
Simon summed up his talk by contending that machine learning will require two fundamental advances. The first will be much higher levels of compute that will only be delivered by future generations of parallel processors. The second will be software capability that will almost certainly spell the end of C or C++ as the embedded systems programming language of choice. His closing statement that ‘machine learning will be the biggest business opportunity since the invention of the digital computer' was an eyebrow-raising and fitting end to a well delivered speech.
Posted: 29 April 2014
The recent AVnu Alliance face-to-face meeting in Minneapolis was revealing in more ways than one. For a start, the organization, which is the certification and standards definition body for Ethernet AVB, is about to get some major new member companies, including some household names. All will be revealed soon!
Meanwhile, conformance and Interoperability (C&I) testing itself is now in full swing at the Alliance’s appointed testing house, the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory (UNH-IOL). The first series of switches is already certified, and a number of endpoints are going through the rigorous C&I process.
Work is also progressing on vertical market requirements, including automotive.
All of this illustrates the growing traction AVB has in the market. Just as importantly, it is becoming clear that the AVB suite of standards can have an impact that reaches far beyond the audio-visual applications for which it was originally envisioned.
Ethernet is the world’s favourite networking technology, but its traditional implementation is a poor fit for time-sensitive applications. In fields from AV to industrial measurement and control, factory automation and robotics, the practical result has been a diversity of proprietary networking technologies that don’t interoperate and don’t achieve economies of scale.
Standardization and certification can fix those problems: the current AVB standards have the capabilities to form a big part of the foundational solution for time-sensitive networking (TSN) using Ethernet. Any application that requires synchronization, low latency, redundancy and determinism, while simultaneously accommodating traditional network traffic, will benefit from this next stage of standardization.
As designers seek to inject more intelligence into their embedded designs, it becomes increasingly important that computing power be intimately and predictably connected to the outside world, and to other embedded devices. The whole TSN approach is certain to have a major impact in this new environment: it turns out that AVB could be about a lot more than ‘just’ AV.
Posted: 09 April 2014
Kris Jacobs and I recently attended the worldwide eclipse developer conference, a four-day event in San Francisco
eclipse is one of the key foundation platforms for xTIMEcomposer studio and helps us to deliver industry leading tools for our multicore microntrollers.
The conference itself was very well attended with the key themes being the Internet of Things, eclipse for embedded platforms and how the eclipse platform is evolving to support the new features of Java. It was great from an XMOS perspective to meet some of the developers responsible for the base platform we use and discuss plans for the future.
The industry and in particular open source tools are still moving slowly to support multicore, particularily in the areas of debug and trace and these are things which at XMOS we are constantly pushing forwards to help our growing user base. Of particular note was the presentation about multicore visualization which demonstrates how debugging has to change in order to scale to larger systems https://www.eclipsecon.org/na2014/session/cdt-and-parallella-multicore-debugging-masses.
A personal favourite presentation was one from NASA about how they use eclipse to develop the PC applications for their intelligent robotics group. eclipse in space seemed to be very popular with everyone in attendance; hopefully they will have a chance to play with the startKIT I left them in their robotics research https://www.eclipsecon.org/na2014/session/nasa-verve-interactive-3d-visualization-within-eclipse
Posted: 24 March 2014
Last week I attended the NMI (National Microelectronics Institute) event on Multicore Processors and Programming. The event was focused on how the embedded industry will adapt to the new wave of multicore processors.
One thing that struck me at the event was the range of systems that come under the banner "embedded". Everything from 8-bit micro-controllers to large SOCs running a version of Linux or Android are used in embedded systems. In all these areas, multicore is here and being used today.
At the larger end of the scale, you have chips running a full blown OS with large memory, dedicated graphics processors, many peripherals etc.
These are the same kinds of chips that are used in modern smart-phones. These generally exploit multicore via a single OS that decides at run-time which processes to run on which core (the symmetric multiprocessing approach). This route seems a natural one that builds on the current paradigm used for these kinds of system.
That is not to say it is without is perils however. As a good talk from Feabhas' Niall Cooling showed, programmers still need to know something about the system to avoid subtle race conditions in their code. There is also the lingering question of how to ensure real-time constraints in your program.
However, can we only exploit multicore with large, resource rich systems capable of running a large SMP-enabled OS? The answer is clearly no. We need to exploit multicore in deeply embedded systems where power and price budgets lead to natural resource constraints and a need for a large level of efficiency. The talk I gave at the event was on one way to program multicore for these kinds of systems.