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ARM TechCon 2016 Highlights ARM’s Growing Momentum

This year’s ARM TechCon shinned a light on just how popular the ARM architecture in the general market. Now its sphere of influence is flowing rapidly into the defense market.


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In this era where keeping SWaP (size, weight and power) low is a key design requirement for military platforms, ARM-based computing embedded solutions are rapidly gaining mindshare. The annual ARM TechCon in late October was where all the key chip, board and software vendors delivering those ARM-based building blocks gathered to showcase their latest technologies. COTS Journal's staff was there and this article examines the key ARM technologies topics and product ewe saw at ARM TechCon 2016, while also looking at the ARM's adoption in general in our military embedded computing industry.

One important shift in the ARM world occurred this summer when Softbank announced the acquisition of ARM for $32 billion at a 43 percent premium and the deal was closed within 7 weeks. As a result of the acquisition Simon Segars, CEO of UK-based ARM Holding, has a new boss, Mr. Masayoshi Son, chairman of Softbank, a Tokyo based telecom conglomerate. ARM, an IP company enjoying a healthy growth of 20 percent year after year, enables silicon partners to produce products to power supercomputers as well as small sensors used in the Internet-of-Things connections around the world (Figure 1).

Figure 1
Masayoshi Son, CEO of Softbank (which now owns ARM Holdings), projected that the IoT connected sensors would reach one trillion accumulatively by 2018.

ARM Gaining Military Mindshare

The U'S Army is applying the latest embedded computing technologies, similar to those shown at ARM TechCon, to advance the development of its vehicles to save lives and reduce costs. At the 2016 North American International Auto Show, the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) displayed driverless army vehicles capable of machine driving. The capabilities include a convoy of autonomous vehicles following one human driver or a driverless vehicle navigating by itself. According to Dr. David Gorsich, chief scientist of TARDEC, a lot of technologies are packed inside the vehicle such as computer, sensors, LIDAR to sense the environment and even thermally in the dark using IR. The use of autonomous driverless vehicles can save lives by going through areas with high improvised explosive devices (IEDs) (Figure 2). TARDEC started testing its radio technology on a convoy of tractor-trailers along interstate 69 in the St. Clair and Lapeer counties of Michigan to prepare for future driverless and connected vehicle development.

Figure 2
The U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) is testing driverless army vehicles that will save lives.

Information Technology is critical to the success of defense. More than 20 years ago, the department of defense (DoD) funded the development of the ARPANET, the beginning of internet. Today, the cloud and IoT is center of attention of the industrial world. According to report published by the CSIS Strategic Technologies Program the deployment of IoT-related technologies by the military has primarily focused on applications for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) and fire-control systems and is limited and poorly integrated. It is expected to get better over time. Wind River, a division of Intel, in its white paper, suggested the collaboration of DoD and technology companies to develop a military IoT platform in which network security is matter of life and death.

ARM SBCs and COM Solutions

As ARM-based computing becomes increasingly attractive to the defense market, more and more hardware manufacturers seek to provide more ruggedized ARM-based SBCs and computer on modules (COM) solutions. Among these as Congatec, Extreme Engineering and Diamond Systems. Congatec provides the Qseven compatible Conga-UMX6 (NXP i.MX6 Dual ARM Cortex A9) and Conga-QMX6 (NXP i.MX6 ARM Cortex A9 processors) while Extreme Engineering offers ARM-based XMC/PrPMC mezzanine module, 3U OpenVPX SBC, 6U VME and 6U VPX SBC. Diamond for its part teamed up with Toradex to create a platform allowing ARM-based plug-in modules to be added. As technologies like security, IoT, driverless vehicles continue to expand, the defense market will want to leverage those in their system designs.



ARM-Based Solutions Showcased at ARM TechCon 2016

Exhibitors at ARM TechCon showcased a wide mix of technologies and products. Here's some the most interesting ones from the show.


Innovative Tactile Feedback Technology

At the ARM TechCon, Ultrahaptics demonstrated a unique technology which uses sound waves to provide touchless tactile feedback. Users can feel the shape of an object without touching it. For example, in mid-air, the user can press a button on an elevator or turn the knob on a stove. Potential applications include automotive infotainment gesture control, 3D holographic displays for computing, control of domestic appliances like induction hobs, industrial and medical systems and gaming/AR/VR. The company also started a partnership with the Shinoda & Makino lab in Japan to further explore new applications of the technology.

Based on the academic research at the University of Bristol, UK in 2013, led by Tom Carter, now Ultrahaptic's CTO and founder, and colleagues, the touchless haptic feedback project has become an innovative commercial product. It uses acoustic radiation force to generate a sensation to be felt by the surface of the skin of a human palm giving the sensation of virtually touching an object (Figure A). According to Ultrahaptics, studies have shown that the reflection coefficient of airborne ultrasonic waves from the human body is very high, 99.9 percent of the pressure waves generated are reflected away from the soft tissue with only 0.1 percent of the energy being absorbed. Ultrahaptics points out that the technology is very safe because the amount of energy being absorbed is very small.

Figure A
Touchless tactile feedback uses acoustic radiation force to generate a sensation to be felt by the surface of the skin of a palm giving the sensation of virtually touching an object.

An array of ultrasonic speakers or transducers along with the proprietary signal processing algorithms, multiple ultrasonic energy force points are generated to hit the surface of skin with the 100-300 Hz carrier frequency. The modulated frequency can be managed by the API to create different sensations to simulate various objects.

To help developers to come up with their own custom device, Ultrahaptics provides an evaluation kit (UHEV1) which includes everything needed except the PC; transducer array and logic processor board with firmware, third-party camera sensor for hand position/gesture recognition, an Ultrahaptics software (SDK) license, a host processor running Ultrahaptics and camera sensor API (Application Programming Interface). The square transducer board provided consists of 16x16 (256 transducers). The number of transducers required to be active at any time is determined by the 3D interaction zone above the array and the strength of the haptic sensation desired.

The transducers have a 60-degree beam angle which provides a range of 15 to 80 cm. Ultrahaptics' ultimate business model is to license software and would assist OEM customers in the development of system hardware. An OEM customer would be able to deliver a complete solution, say, a touchless sound system to automakers installed in a car. Consumers would be able to select a CD track and control the sound volume without looking at the dash board. The tactile feedback gives the sensation of touching and turning of the knob. This technology has broad applications and has potential in the defense market.

Ultrahaptics, Bristol, UK. +44 117 325 9002.


System-on-Modules Support Robots and Drones

Thundersoft has developed products to meet demands in many market segments including smartphone, tablet, IoT, automotive and enterprise (Figure B). Thundersoft's product lines support Android, Linux and Windows. Based on the Qualcomm snapdragon chip, Thundersoft has developed a line of system on module (SOM) for drones, smart camera, robots and VR. These developments based on common technologies and algorithm from Thundersoft including vision, image processing and control capability.

Figure B
Based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon chip, Thundersoft has developed a line of system on module (SOM) for drones, smart cameras, robots and VR.

Robots with artificial intelligence technologies are used in various segments including consumer, entertainment and industrial. Recently this author saw one such robot at the San Jose airport for travelers to interact with to find restaurants and other travel related information. It would even sing. This is an area with great potential. To address needs in Robotics, Thundersoft, provides two versions of system-on-modules (SOM). One is the high-end aim at industrial service sector and the other is middle to low-end for house hold and commercial use.

The high-end SOM is a versatile, small board (50x40x6 mm) based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon QCT APQ8096/Kryo 2.15 GHz/Andero 530 chipset. It has two 32 LPDDR4 3 Gbytes/1600 MHz memory with 32 Gbytes of storage. Its network functions include Qualcomm QCA61741a 02.11 ac/a/b/g/n MIMO and BT4.0. Multiple high-speed ports are available including HDMI and misc. signal. Also included are the camera and display ports. The low-end, SOM is a small board (40x40x10 mm) based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon QCT APQ8016, 1.2 GHz quad core A53 design. Memory and storage are smaller; 1G/2G and 32 G. I/O includes MIPI (display), CSI (camera), I2S, I2C, UART, SPI, AD, GPIO and USB 2.0.

For drone applications, Thundersoft provides a system-on-module (SOM) solution based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset (APQ8074) quad core processor. The SOM for drone measures 33 x 50 mm and weighs less than 15g. The chipset integrates flight control, camera and data translation functions in one unit. The GPU is 578 MHz maximum with 2G DDR and 16/32 gigabyte EMMC. It has built-in Wi-Fi of 802.11 b/g/n at 2.4G/5GHz. Multiple interfaces are available including 4 lane MIPI for camera, UART for IMU SPI, GPS, Ultrasonic, ESC and remote control, USB 3.0 and SD Card. Video works 4K at30 fps and MPEG-5 AVC/H264. Supported operating systems include Linux and ADSP (RTOS).

Thundersoft America, Milpitas CA. (408) 472-9861.


COM Solution with ARM Plug-in Choices

At ARM TechCon Diamond Systems announced a new ARM-based versatile Eagle and Eaglet SBC product lines with add-on modules from Toradex (Figure C). The computer-on-module (COM) Eagle/Eaglet family is a scalable platform in which users can customize a solution based on space, performance, I/O and power requirements. There are two different modules in the family; the full-size, full-featured Eagle and the smaller-size Eaglet. Customers may purchase a fully configured off-the-shelf solution with pre-select ARM module and heat sink installed or the baseboard and ARM module separately for configuration flexibility. Development Kits, including the fully configured SBC, pre-configured Linux OS on a microSD card, and a full cable kit, are available.

Figure C
The computer-on-module (COM) Eagle/Eaglet family is a scalable platform that supports three different plug-ins from Toradex.

The Eagle and Eaglet measure 4- x 5.75-inchs and 4-x 4-inches accordingly. The Eagle has 8 serial and 16 digital I/O verses Eaglet's 2 and 8 lines. Compared with the Eaglet's fixed power input of +5 VDC, the Eagle can accept 9-36 VDC. The Eaglet supports 1 Gbit Ethernet, half of what the Eagle has.  The CSI camera serial interface is also available on the Eagle. Both versions support 1 micro SD, 1 mSATA socket, HD audio and operate from -40 to +85 degrees C (depending on installed COM). The modules come with a low-cost I/O expansion and the PCIe MiniCard and daughterboard sockets.

To add ARM and NVIDIA computing power to the Eagle/Eaglet platform, Diamond partnered with Switzerland-based Toradex to provide 3 different plug-in modules (Apalis TK1, T30 and iMX). Toradex manufacturers the Apalis family of computer on modules (COM) based on the ARM Cortex and the NVIDIA Tegra or NXP/Freescale iMX multicore processors and all three modules support Windows Embedded Compact, Embedded Linux, Android, Floating Point Unit and NEON. The pre-built Windows Embedded Compact 7 and 2013 images are bundled with the hardware modules.

The Linux BSP for Apalis use the Open Embedded Build Framework and include driver support as part of the solutions. The board support package (BSP) and work space can be downloaded for free. The L1 instruction and data cache are 32 Kbytes per core and the L2 cache is 2Mbytes for TK1 and 1 Mbyte for T30 and iMX. RAM capacity ranges from 512 MB DDR3 to 2GB DDR3L (64 bit) with flash memory from 4 to 16 Gbytes (8 bit) depends on the module. Multiple I/O including USB, I2C, SPI, UART and more. The hardware modules measure 82x45x6 mm with power dissipation ranges from 3 to 15W and come with a support commitment until year 2025.

Diamond Systems, Sunnyvale, CA. (650) 810-2500.


Secure Software Tools Support Connected Vehicle Tech

The two hot topics form the commercial market-connected cars and security-have huge relevance in the military realm. As cars are getting more and more connected, they have also provided increased opportunities for hackers to gain access to cars. It has been demonstrated that it would only take minutes to remotely unlock the door or gain access of the control of a car. A partnership formed between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) United States Department of Transportation (DOT) to investigate vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication. Cars equipped with V2V technology will be able to communicate with cars nearby to alert drivers of dangerous condition ahead to avoid crashes. For example, a driver will be warned that another car at the intersection is approaching quickly so the driver can slow down to avoid a possible head-on collision.

V2V makes use of a protocol called Dedicated Short-range communication (DSRC), a two-way, wireless communication with a range of 300 meters depends of the surrounding environment. It operates at the 75MHz band of the 5.9 GHz spectrum allocated by the FCC. There are challenges about V2V such as secure connections and public key management to ensure false signals or hackers are filtered out.  What to do about it?

Addressing that issue Green Hills Software has proposed multiple solutions to address the security and safety problems. Green Hills provides a platform-independent, real-time operating systems (RTOS) INTEGRITY-178b, which was the first RTOS certified by the National Information Assurance Partnership (NIAP).  It is a partnership between the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Security Agency (NSA) responsible for U.S. implementation of the Common Criteria, including management of the NIAP Common Criteria Evaluation and Validation Scheme (CCEVS) validation body.

Recently, ARM launched the 32-bit Cortex-M23 and Cortex-M33 cores based on the new ARM v8-M architecture which incorporates the ARM TrustZone technology traditionally for the low power Cortex M0 and Cortex-M3. At ARM TechCon, Green Hills announced the support of the Cortex-M23 and Cortex-M33 with its real-time operating system (RTOS), development tools, and defense-in-depth security services. These security services include embedded cryptographic toolkits, authenticated boot, key insight and TrustZone consultation.

Meanwhile Green Hills announced the support of the new ARM v8-M architecture with its C/C++ compilers which have been listed by the EEMBC Benchmark Compilers. EEMBC is an industry alliance provides benchmarks to help developers to select processors based on their performance. These above services enable developers in the automotive industry and other segments including financial systems, microprocessor manufacturing, industrial automation and military communication to develop robust products needing better security and safety. Additional certification includes ISO 26262, IEC 61508, EN 50128, DO-178B and EAL 6+.

Green Hills Software, Santa Barbara, CA. (805) 965-6044.