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Embedded board standards take on spacecraft design

Posted: 25 Jan 2016     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:embedded  VITA 48.4 standard  robotics  Industrial IoT 

This year's Embedded Technology Trends (ETT) conference had the overall theme "Houston, We Have a Problem," which focused on expanding the role of standards-based board architecture in solving airborne and space-bound design challenges. It was organised by the VME Industrial Trade Assocation (VITA), which manages different open standards for embedded computing systems.

Conference topics included discussion of the emerging VITA 48.4 standard for air-cooling of small VPX modules as well as progress in the definition of a space-qualified variation of the Compact PCI modular standard. Marketers also pointed out that the products developed to these standards could serve not just aerospace but wherever ruggedised systems with reduced size, weight and power are important design requirements, including industrial robotics and transportation systems.

The conference opened, in fact, with an analysis of the industrial systems market by research firm IHS. Mark Watson, senior research manager at IHS, indicated that the market for industrial automation reached $176 billion in 2015. Motors and motor control composed 36.5 per cent of that total, automation control equipment formed 38.2 per cent, and power transmission made up most of the rest.

Watson also identified several key opportunities in this market, including Industrial IoT (IIoT), robotics as a labour alternative and the decentralisation of intelligence in industrial control. Further, Watson noted, suppliers to this market are moving to supply services and software as an integral part of their offerings, as commoditisation and over capacity are eroding the demand for capital equipment alone.

One of the most frequently mentioned modular standards was VPX, a replacement for the venerable VME bus standard that replace parallel connections with high-speed serial ones, and its SpaceVPX (ANSI/VITA 78.00-2015) variation that added features essential for spacecraft design. (SpaceVPX received final certification as a standard in April last year.) Ken Grob, director of embedded technology at Elma, for instance, discussed the market forces driving VPX. Grob indicated that increasing use of 10G Ethernet and PCIexpress Gen. 3 on the data plane were stimulating new product offerings, as was growing interest in the IEEE 1508 precision time protocol.

In addition, SoC FPGAs and high-performance single board computers (SBCs) for these standards were on the rise. Aitech Defense Systems, for instance, announced a new line of ruggedized 3U VPX products that use a 5th-generation Intel Core i7 processor.

Grob also expected that systems based on the VPX standard would continue to grow in capability. "The good thing about VPX is that it was designed to change," Grob said. He pointed out that there were now 10 types of serial interfaces available for VPX backplane connections, including optical.

One such optical interface from Reflex Photonics saw introduction at the conference. The LightABLE 40G SR4 is a four-lane duplex optical transceiver that operates at 10Gbit/s over a full -40V to 85C temperature range.

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