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Updated: 19 min 49 sec ago

Top 6 ways DIYers are making the world more fun!

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 9:12am

Happy Geek Week! At TI, DIYers are continually making the world safer, smarter, greener, healthier and, of course, more fun. This week, we’re celebrating makers with the top 6 ways our DIYers are making the world more fun. Check out the list and learn more about the parts that bring these projects to life.

1. Making popcorn chattier…Mark Easley combined the world of social media with one of our favorite treats when he invented the tweeting popcorn machine.


Check out a tutorial guide for parts used.

2. Making sports rowdier…Jason Rubadue gave sports fans more reasons to stand up and yell for their team with his FanFlare Rally Light.

Parts used: TI MSP430G2432 microcontroller (MCU)bq24092 battery chargerTLV70030 low dropout regulator (LDO)OPA348 low-power operational amplifier and TPS61160 LED driver.

3. Making beer brewing smarter…Leo Estevez created a better brewing process with a smartphone-controlled microbrewery kit using our MSP430™ LaunchPad. 

Parts used: TI MSP430G2553, TI MOSFETS, TI Power Management IC and TI Bluetooth radio.

4. Making robots even cooler…Last year’s DIY with TI chief geek winner was Koopa the Robot (created by Bart Basile, Amy Schnoor, Walter Schnoor and students from the Conrad High School Robotics Club). This robot is so robust that it can crash through and over tough obstacles without breaking apart, and it was a division finalist at First Robotics World Champs.

Parts used: NI Control System powered with TI Analog and a TI Mentored Team

5. Making chores easier…Marcus Cooksey created Rosie the Robot with the support of his Kids in Training for Robotics (KIT4 Robotics) to help kids complete simple chores around the house – like turning off a light switch.

Parts used: Tiva LM4F, 32-bit ARM Cortex M4F processor

6. Making hats geekier… Adrian Fernandez designed a smart hat with sentiment analysis that can tell when the twitterverse is feeling happy or sad based on the tone of tweets. 

Parts used: MSP430F5529 LaunchPad, CC3100 Wi-Fi BoosterPack

Check out more DIY with TI projects and be sure to tip your (smart) hat to a geek this week! Have a project to share? Post about it in the comments!

Bluetooth 5 breaks connectivity barriers

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 8:22am

The Bluetooth® that has connected much of your life is transforming. No longer is it simply a personal network for listening to music wirelessly or talking on the phone a few feet from your device.

Enter Bluetooth 5. With standards developed through a global body that included representatives from our company, the technology will radically improve wireless connectivity for applications ranging from building automation to industrial controls.

“The limit is our imagination,” said Olivier Monnier, marketing and business manager for smart connectivity solutions. “The Bluetooth 5 standard is breaking the status quo.”

Designers can start designing Bluetooth 5 products today. We are the now the first company to release fully qualified Bluetooth 5 software, creating opportunities for companies to get products to market fast by integrating it with our SimpleLink™ wireless microcontroller technology. This powerful system enables connections with four times the range, twice the speed and an 800 percent increase in data capacity.

“Customers can use our hardware and software, develop their applications and move to production now,” Olivier said.

This advanced capability will shift Bluetooth’s focus from personal electronics such as audio players and sports watches to more demanding uses such as industrial motors and home networks.

Extending networks

The Bluetooth standard – one of several wireless connectivity technologies that also include near-field communication, Wi-Fi® and Sub-1 GHz networks – has become a popular way to connect devices at short distances. But previous Bluetooth standards have natural challenges. Applications keep asking for lower power. The amount of data that can be transmitted is limited. Connections have to be nearby.

Bluetooth 5 offers groundbreaking improvements in each of those areas. Its improved low-energy capabilities provide longer battery life. The range extends up to one-and-a-half kilometers – almost a mile. Large amounts of data can be sent over the wireless connection.

Enormous opportunities

Those improvements will create enormous opportunities in a wide variety of applications, including building automation, home networks, patient monitors and other medical uses, asset tracking, and industrial sensor networks and motor drives.

“People want to use the technology in your hand – smart phones and tablets – for more applications than they have in the past,” Olivier said. “They want to expand the scope from personal-area networks to house coverage, to monitor sensors in a building, to control lighting or a gateway.

“Those who work in industrial environments care about maintenance, noise and vibration,” he said. “Is the motor working well or will it fail soon? A connection with a tablet or smart phone could quickly provide information about the health of a motor and whether it needs to be serviced. Bluetooth 5 will break down barriers and open opportunities for new innovations in industrial settings.”

Bluetooth 5 also will enhance applications such as beacon technologies that provide direction in urban settings for people who are blind, for travelers trying to find their gates at major airports, or even for fans ordering food at sports stadiums. Utility companies will be able to extract more information about energy use from electric meters without redesigning the meters. Smoke detectors will be able to tell a smart phone or tablet when the battery needs to be replaced.

“Bluetooth 5 represents a fundamental change in how this technology is being used,” Olivier said. “The market is ready for it. People are eager.”

Read more about Bluetooth 5:

New mmWave sensors offer unprecedented accuracy for automotive, industrial applications

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 10:41am

The world is changing. You can see it on the roads, in buildings and in cities.

Meeting that change is a new family of highly accurate, single-chip millimeter-wave (mmWave) sensors enabling applications ranging from automotive radar to industrial automation. These precision sensors give designers a platform to bring new levels of intelligence, safety and autonomy to automobiles, buildings, factories and drones. Advances in technologies such as mmWave sensors are timely. For example:

These changes will require new levels of precise sensing to detect the range, velocity and angle of objects; to penetrate plastic, drywall, glass and other materials; and perform in extreme and challenging environmental conditions such as rain, fog, dust, light and darkness.

Until now, sensing systems have used discrete components to transmit, receive and analyze signals. Using discrete components on circuit boards increases the size, power and overall cost of systems. Our technology − built on a complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) platform − integrates a best-in-class digital signal processor (DSP) and microcontroller (MCU) into a single, small package that will use less power while delivering up to three times more accuracy than current solutions.

Automotive applications

Sensors in automotive applications will support advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) designed to help warn, brake, monitor and steer our cars as we drive to the grocery store, to work and on long road trips across the country. These increasingly in-demand systems are essentially the first step on the technology road toward full autonomous driving.

Technologies widely available in cars today include adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning and even parking assistance. But future advances – autonomous parking, highly automated driving and, ultimately, hands-off-the-wheel autonomous driving – will depend on increasingly sophisticated sensing intelligence from radar, as well as from technologies such as laser, ultrasonic, infrared and lidar.

Industrial applications

These sensors are enabling the next level of efficiency and intelligence for buildings and factories.

The applications for industrial systems are myriad. For example, the sensors’ unprecedented accuracy will enable companies to precisely measure the fluid levels in tanks as a way to manage inventory and detect leaks early. Perimeter sensors will provide security systems with precise motion-sensitive detection and tracking. Traffic-monitoring systems enabled with mmWave sensors will create smarter cities through reduced traffic stress.

Sensors also will provide more precision for robots and forklifts and be able to determine how many people are in a room.

Our world is in the midst the next great industrial revolution that will require unprecedented precision. Technologies such as mmWave will enable designers to meet these needs in new, innovative ways. 

One to Watch: Dietmar Walther says 'learning from failures is essential'

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 10:23am

In our ongoing series, ‘One to Watch,’ we profile the movers and shakers at TI who are making a difference through innovation or citizenship.

German engineer Dietmar Walther pushes boundaries every day; he doesn’t believe in setbacks or constraints.

“My motto is, ‘learning from failures is essential,’” he admits.

Finding out how things work is what inspires and drives Dietmar. This puts him in good company with decorated innovator Thomas Edison who famously said, “I have not failed. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb."

Dietmar was in high school when he first saw how PCs connected using RS-232 cables would quickly pave the way for devices with wireless connectivity.

“Within five or six years, the world completely changed,” he said. “This triggered my fascination to find out how things work, which led to why I became an engineer.”

The delight that people have when they use technology drives Dietmar to continually develop his understanding of technical issues and challenges.

“Innovation is a very, very important thing,” he said. “TI is a strong driver for this. If you innovate in a very creative way, which really helps to solve certain issues in daily life, I think it correlates to good business.”

Dietmar particularly enjoys the variety and unpredictability of his work. “I honestly never know when I come to work in the morning what’s going to happen,” he said. “It never gets boring, and I learn each day.”

Cutting down on the noise

Technically, Dietmar’s daily work involves layout and design analysis, as well as lab and production testing and measurement. But it is his work to advance the understanding of how external electromagnetic interference (EMI) can disturb the operation of devices that established his reputation within our company and helped lead to his election to the TI Tech Ladder as a member of the group technical staff.

For example, think about when your radio speaker and smartphone are placed too closely together – sometimes this negatively affects operation of one or both devices – making the sound of each fade in and out and buzz or vibrate. This effect is what happens when EMI, also called radio frequency interference (RFI) or “noise” interferes.  Technically, EMI is defined as the disruption of one electronic device by another electronic device when they are in the vicinity of each other and electromagnetic fields or radio frequencies collide. 

One of the biggest achievements for Dietmar was creating a methodology to characterize the electromagnetic sensitivity of electronic devices. This methodology – Fast Transient Characterization – proved invaluable in tackling problems facing customer product design all the way down to the chip level. 

Prior to this new characterization, engineers were looking at the issue of physical damage, reset, or hang-ups from electrostatic discharge (ESD) – the sudden flow of electricity between two electrically charged objects – but only from an overall printed circuit board (PCB) inside an electronic device. However it was Dietmar who pointed out effects on the actual silicon (or chip) on the PCB during a system-level ESD strike.

“Chip designers and developers previously said they couldn’t solve application issues, but this methodology proves that chip design can be influential,” he said. “It means we’re now solving application problems that we couldn’t before.”

A large number of TI MSP microcontrollers (MCUs) benefit from Dietmar’s research. In fact, it also enabled TI customers to pass tests mandatory for electronic devices certification in Europe, helping save a lot of time and money in development.

Not only did Dietmar solve a variety of customer issues with this one technical characterization process, but he helped to make TI products more robust and more competitive. The unyielding desire to learn – not discouraged by failure —and hard work paved his way to success.

“To Dietmar, learning means doing, and vice versa,” explains Dominik Giewald, his product line manager. “He always tries to harmonize theory and practical applications and to evolve both.”

Multiplying knowledge

“With his high level of personal engagement, enthusiasm and technical leadership, Dietmar is able to learn on an individual level but to also achieve a TI-wide learning success that has a direct impact on our microchips’ resilience,” Dominik said. “To Dietmar, learning doesn’t mean only learning for himself but also sharing, so new innovation can have a broad effect and thus increase the beneficial effect for TI.”

Dietmar places strong emphasis on multiplying the knowledge he has acquired during his decade at TI. He learned a lot from more experienced colleagues and would like to pass his knowledge on to future TIers, including interns and university students whom he mentors.

“If you do not share your knowledge, people have to learn things the hard way,” he says. “You may find 1,000 ways to not invent the lightbulb, but sharing your discovery with others and the path that brought you there will keep them from doing the same 1,000 futile attempts.” 

Portraits of success: Lancaster school district helps students realize STEM success

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 8:36am

When you ask Trevor Johnson what he wants to be when he grows up, the answer is simple:

A “world-changer.”

How will he change the world? Through electrical engineering, he says. The soon-to-graduate senior at Lancaster High School near Dallas fell in love with math in 5th grade – in a crowded elementary cafeteria-turned-auditorium, during a Math Olympiad competition.

“It was really special,” Trevor said. “I was pretty much in love with math and ended up placing. It made me feel like my hard work paid off.”

Seven years after that Math Olympiad, Trevor has participated in engineering club, robotics, field trips to the Perot Museum and a trip to Houston for a National Society of Black Engineers event. He’s taken dual-credit courses through a local community college and has been accepted at nine universities, with three scholarship offers.

To Trevor, the narrative of his middle school and high school experience is business-as-usual. But for Lancaster Independent School District (ISD) – a low socio-economic, high-minority population district – stories like Trevor’s represent a profound transformation.

“We’ve had to shift the mindset of what school is,” said Kyndra Johnson, Lancaster ISD director of STEM and Curriculum Innovation. “We have a new generation of students that requires us to prepare differently and deliver instruction in a different way.”

Starting in 2012, Lancaster ISD has implemented an innovative STEM District model that focuses on developing teachers, raising academic standards, preparing students for success in college and careers, and introducing more black, Hispanic and female students to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, in which they are traditionally underrepresented. The model brought together proven programs from other areas of Texas into one focused effort. It is designed to be replicable throughout the state.

Ninety-five percent of students in Lancaster ISD are black or Hispanic, and 90 percent are on free or reduced lunch programs based on family income. When the “STEM for all” district-wide initiative began, the district’s college and career readiness scores were among the lowest in the state of Texas.

Excellent teachers and higher expectations are two cornerstones of the approach, along with ensuring students have a strong foundation in math and science, and exposing them to engineering careers, Kyndra said. Community support is also critical.

“When (students are) here with us, we have a responsibility…to provide them with the best education and an environment that is safe,” she said. “They feel like they’re cared for, but they’re also going to be pushed and challenged.”

Exposure to engineering careers

For Trevor, learning about the variety of engineering careers began in eighth grade. His eyes light up when he talks about robotics and the engineering club. Activities like the trip to Houston for the National Society of Black Engineers event made him feel encouraged and uplifted, he said.

Trevor credits his teacher and mentor, Charles Richardson, with challenging him inside the classroom and supporting him outside the classroom, including influencing him to attend STEM summer camps.

Like other Lancaster teachers who set high standards for their students, Charles said he’s proud of Trevor.

“You can be exposed to STEM, but if you don’t apply yourself, it won’t happen,” he said. “As we like to say, STEM also stands for ‘Striving To Empower Minds.’ It has a lot to do with the exposure and experiences our students are afforded at an early age. When something becomes a habit, you’re developing that skill, talent or learning.”

Charles, a former engineer who turned to teaching, was recognized as a recipient of the Texas Instruments Foundation Innovations in STEM Teaching Award in 2016.

Great expectations

Trevor describes himself as ambitious, practical, creative, skillful and tenacious – qualities that will help him succeed at whichever university he chooses.

“We try to teach students to be flexible and adaptable, how to weather circumstances. That’s the grit we know they’ll need in the real world, their defense for those barriers that come up,” Kyndra said.

“We realize the demographics in the community pose various challenges and barriers, but we also recognize how the district and the community have rallied together to make sure that regardless of those situations or issues outside of school, when they’re with us, we act like a family and work like a team,” she said.

Kyndra said parental and community support has been critical to the efforts. She also credits the support of Educate Texas and the TI Foundation with helping accelerate the district’s efforts to build capacity in teachers, provide students more exposure to STEM, and enhance advanced academics in STEM, beginning in pre-K.

“It’s not to say we couldn’t have done it, but we would have taken longer to kick these changes into gear,” she said.

Lancaster ISD’s progress

Five years ago, Trevor’s odds of success preparing for college or an engineering career would have been much slimmer based on the school district’s demographics and performance.

The district, which has one high school in a community of about 36,000 people, has come a long way in a short time.

Dr. Michael D. McFarland, Lancaster ISD superintendent, cites three keys to success that have driven the district’s transformation:

  • A “can do” culture in which every child wants to be and can be successful.
  • Professional development of teachers and principals.
  • Measurement and adjustments in professional development for teachers for constant improvements in student achievement.

Lancaster ISD students have made impressive gains in math and science scores on standardized tests.

“The gains are something to be celebrated,” Kyndra said. “These middle school students will enter high school more prepared for post-secondary education and have a great awareness of career pathways.

“We want students to graduate with more than a diploma. We want to help them graduate with certifications and/or dual credit. We’re seeing the graph go up and to the right, and next we’ll see evidence of the kids’ performance on exams…They will be reaching higher.”

The district was recently recognized by the Texas Education Agency with a T-STEM Exemplary Award and a grant for an Innovative Learning Lab – signs that the district has become a mature, role model district. Lancaster ISD also earned a “Bright Spot Award” from the Commit! Partnership, an community organization which helps drive student achievement in Dallas County by leveraging data, expertise and collaboration.

Bringing it home

Trevor said that some of his fellow students gave him a hard time about being a math geek. His response?

“Hey, a geek made your cell phone!”

Trevor’s hope is that, as an engineer, he can help make things better.

“There’s always something more reliable, more economical or environmentally safe,” he said.

And it’s not lost on Trevor that black engineers are few and far between.

“I can set an example,” he said. “It can happen.”

It’s easier being green: Innovations in circuit-level power design create a conduit to more energy efficiency

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 5:20am

You’ve probably felt a twinge when you see them: the small red power light on your high-definition television or the phone charger you forgot to unplug.

You know the vampire current is sucking just a little electricity and that your carbon footprint could be a bit smaller if you took a few seconds to pull the plug from the wall outlet.

Those tiny watts of vampire power add up. If everyone in the United States simply unplugged unused chargers for the cell phones bought in a single year, the energy savings would be enough to keep the lights on in a city of 200,000 people. Extend that a few years and imagine the power plants that might not have to be built.

The vampire is working elsewhere, as well. It’s gradually drinking power from high-voltage applications such as electric vehicles, factory robots, telecom base stations and vast data centers.

But help is here.

Today, power supplies – the tiny circuits that transfer and convert power in devices of all sizes – are able to achieve higher density, lose less power, and create less heat and signal noise because of innovations in circuit design and the use of groundbreaking semiconductor materials such as gallium nitride (GaN).

As a result, the evolution in power delivery is enabling system developers to use smaller, more efficient circuit boards for high-voltage applications.

That translates to a greener, more energy-efficient world.

Our commitment to innovation and our expertise in power design is playing an important role in this transformation. Read our white paper – Evolving high-voltage power delivery through the power process chain − to learn more about how we’re innovating to enable greater power density.

Peter Balyta: 'We must act; STEM skills are survival skills for students today'

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 9:27am

In Peter Balyta’s unique role as president of Education Technology and vice president of academic engagements and corporate citizenship, he interacts with students and educators at all levels. In this “Inspire STEM” series, he addresses the challenges facing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in the U.S. – and talks about ways each of us can and must help bring STEM to life for the next generation of innovators.

I’m on a quest of sorts – and I’d like you to consider joining me. It involves education; it involves our economy. It involves the next generation of innovators and their ability to advance technology and continue to move our world forward.

I’m on a quest – to change those things that are within my power to change – to help bring STEM subjects to life in learning environments and to open students’ eyes to the potential of careers in electrical and computer engineering.

The power of vision

“You can’t be what you can’t see.” I couldn’t agree more with this quote from Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. I want to help students today to see what their future can be. As business people, as educators, as leaders, as parents – as a concerned community – let’s make it our objective to help students picture careers in STEM. My goal is to not only help them see electrical and computer engineering, but envision – and embark upon – paths for themselves that lead them to become engineers.

And even for students who don’t choose technical careers, STEM skills are survival skills for kids today, and an incomplete understanding of STEM is an incomplete understanding of the world.

Why STEM matters: By the numbers

The case for action is clear. The number of U.S. jobs in STEM is growing about three times faster (depending on which statistic you cite) than non-STEM jobs, with a projected 9 million STEM jobs needing to be filled by 2022.[i]

Meanwhile, with 18 percent of bachelor’s degrees being conferred in STEM subjects, we are not projected to graduate enough STEM professionals to meet the demand.[ii] And student interest in STEM professions has remained relatively flat since 2000, though there has been some modest growth in recent years, with a 1 percent increase in student interest in STEM careers between 2013 and 2015.[iii]

The growth in student interest is hardly an accident. For more than a decade, U.S. businesses – including our company – as well as non-profits, community groups, concerned parents and civic leaders across the country, have collectively invested hundreds of millions of dollars and countless hours to help improve and advance STEM education.

The sad truth is, we’re not yet getting a great return on our investment.

High-stakes and multi-faceted

The problem of insufficient STEM education is high-stakes. I’m not one to overstate things, but there are very real connections between our ability as a country to train up the next generation in STEM and our ability to stay vital and vibrant in the future.

The problem is also multi-faceted. To hone in on just one underlying issue – and one that confronts university educators and students on a daily basis – the majority of students entering college in the U.S. are not ready for college-level math or science.

Less than half of high school graduates are ready for college-level math and less than a third are ready for college-level science, according to the ACT's 2016 Condition of College & Career Readiness report.[iv] And even among students who perform well in math on their SATs or ACTs, they often haven’t learned how to apply math to real-world situations.

Math matters. Not just for students who will pursue careers in STEM, but for students interested in obtaining a college education. Studies show that students who completed Algebra 2 in high school are twice as likely to finish a bachelor’s degree than those who did not.[v] As I mentioned before, for students, an incomplete understanding of STEM is an incomplete understanding of the world.

The roadblocks

From the perspective of a student today, the path to becoming STEM-savvy can be precarious – marked by a number of potential roadblocks that can begin as early as kindergarten. These barriers include grouping kids by ability; limited availability of relevant and rigorous curriculum materials; lack of ongoing, high-quality teacher professional development; and an underlying problem to all of these – the math fear factor.

The courage to do what we can

In the coming weeks and months, I will write about some of these roadblocks and how some educators – often with the support of local businesses or community members – are working to overcome them.

Ultimately, I believe the best approach we can take is to focus on changing those things that are within our power to change. At TI, we are doing this every day, in many different ways. From volunteerism to funding for robotics competitions; from mentorship to curriculum development and investing in interactive learning environments, we focus on inspiring STEM understanding in ways that are meaningful, fun and relevant.

If we can connect STEM understanding to things that matter in the lives of students, they will learn to love it. And if we infuse the learning experience with hands-on, interactive experiences that teach STEM concepts in ways that are intuitive, easy to grasp, and that help kids understand the world around them, then STEM will come to life. That’s the spark we need to ignite. That’s the flame we need to fuel.

I’m on a quest to change STEM education in the U.S. Won’t you join me? Teachers, parents, mentors, supporters: here’s how to get involved.

Passionate about STEM? Share your thoughts in the comments.

[i] Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Quarterly, STEM 101: Intro to tomorrow’s jobs

[ii] – Maltese, A. and Tai, R., Pipeline persistence: Examining the Association of Educational Experiences With Earned Degrees in STEM Among U.S. Students,” Science Education volume 95, issue 5

[iii] Change the Equation Stemtistics

[iv] ACT: The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2016

[v] Change the Equation

Power trip: new integrated device sends power and data over isolation barrier

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 3:08pm

Adjusting the thermostat to beat the summer heat brings to life many high-voltage circuits, including those that drive the air-conditioner’s compressor and blower motors that cool the house and make life more comfortable.

The space available for these drive and control circuits is small, subject to a lot of noise and vibration, and exposed to more pollution than indoor applications. In that limited space, designers must devise a way to get both power and data for control signaling safely over an isolation barrier to the high-voltage motors, while protecting the person at the thermostat.

“Isolation barriers are essential to allow people to safely interact with what is increasingly becoming a world full of efficient high-voltage drives and actuators driven by explosive growth in industrial and home automation,” said Kannan Soundarapandian, our Isolation Products product line manager. “Isolators allow high voltage circuits to talk to low voltage circuits – essentially machine talking to machine − without killing each other.”

The need for isolated data and power in motor drives and factory and building automation applications has been growing steadily, and the story is similar in areas such as electric grid, medical, and test and measurement applications. Our isolation technology is a perfect fit for reliability and performance in those applications.

Our company released the industry-leading ISO7840 reinforced digital isolator family in 2014. But integrating an isolated DC/DC converter to transfer power into this technology proved elusive.

Until now.

A new integrated device sends both data and power over the isolation barrier in a single, robust package that’s a fraction of the size required to discretely accomplish the same task previously.

ISOW7841 runs much cooler, with 80 percent greater efficiency, and much quieter, with more than 10dB reduction in radiated noise levels than competitive solutions today.

“Given its sheer ease of use and the accelerated time to market it gives developers, we call it the Swiss army knife of isolation products,” Kannan said.

Another key benefit − particularly over discrete implementations of isolated power − is that the ISOW7841 helps with easier and faster system certification.

Worldwide certifications

For many applications, sending power over an isolation barrier required installing a discrete – and bulky – transformer on a circuit board. This approach creates reliability problems, consumes valuable board space, and puts the burden of complying with complex and time-consuming safety certifications squarely on the system designer.

The new innovation combines isolated data and power in a single, much-smaller package.

“The idea was to get board space back, achieve the highest levels of reliability and lifetime operation with unprecedented efficiency and emission performance across a wide temperature range, and put it all in the strongest technology available,” Kannan said. “We succeeded. That’s exciting.”

More power to the people: Power follows the pattern of data evolution as the two often converge

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 11:05am

In his Tech Trends column, Chief Technologist Ahmad Bahai explains emerging technology trends that will change our world and the key innovations needed to make them a reality.

Thirty years ago, the way we all interacted with data began a seismic shift from centralized information that flowed from giant telecommunication and over-the-air broadcast companies to our wired telephones and televisions.

Now, the evolution of high-voltage power is following a similar trajectory.

We are seeing higher power conversion in smaller form factors. In our daily life, we see more and more demand on power efficiency, intelligence and footprint. There is now significant storage capacity in a mobile device’s battery, and it still struggles to keep up with our usage and expectations.

On a larger scale, we see data centers growing and consuming more than 70 megawatts of total power at any point in time – a significant amount of energy -- even as they idle and anticipate web-search clicks. In the automotive world, electric vehicles can run on an 800-volt battery supply while supporting 12-volt and 48-volt rails. This demands new power devices and highly efficient power conversion among different voltage domains.

Power is no longer available only from giant generation plants and distributed over miles of AC electric lines. You can harvest power from solar panels on your rooftop and then sell it back into the grid. A wall-mounted battery, charged daily from solar panels, can provide enough energy to free you from the electric grid. Even your electric car may someday serve as an energy-storage center.

And much like the way data has become decentralized, interconnected and able to be stored in a multitude of ways – from cloud-based servers to USB drives in your pocket – changes in the generation, storage, distribution and flow of power will have far-reaching effects on how we live our lives and do our work.

You might call it getting more power to the people.

But the relationship between data and power doesn’t stop with the similar ways they have evolved. Now they’re beginning to converge, in some applications, into the same media and be transferred together over next-generation USB connections and – embedded more deeply in our high-voltage applications – over isolation barriers in integrated chips.

These generational transformations are having a significant impact on innovation in the semiconductor industry.

Energy efficiency

We live in a power-hungry digital world. Every time we check our social media feeds, pay our bills, download a book or send an email, we tap into a large number of servers that sit in vast data centers.

Those servers require enormous amounts of electricity as they are anticipating or processing your clicks. The demand for the power that keeps them humming, that keeps growing numbers of electric and hybrid-electric vehicles on the road, and that energizes a rising electrification wave will continue to grow. Many of those innovations are still gleams in their inventors’ eyes.

And as these innovations increasingly become integral to our daily lives, our continually growing appetite for energy won’t be sustainable. The need to improve energy efficiency has become urgent.

Groundbreaking materials

Like data, power today moves in many directions. And converting high-voltage energy – from AC to DC, DC to DC, and DC to AC – requires efficient power-conversion modules. As the demand for power grows, those modules, in turn, require even more efficient, better-performing technologies that deliver high-voltage power under sometimes tough conditions.

That’s where advanced technologies such as gallium nitride, silicon carbide and silicon super junction will make a significant difference. These materials generate less heat than traditional silicon power devices, which means they transfer high-voltage power among multiple sources and convert from one source to another efficiently.

These groundbreaking technologies require complex circuit architectures and packaging technologies that are vastly different than the architectures that have formed the foundation of semiconductor development for generations. And while traditional CMOS technologies have generally followed Moore’s Law – doubling data transmission and processing rates every couple of years – these new materials deliver step-function improvement in high-voltage power density about every five to 10 years.  

These improvements are critical in a highly electrified world. Demand for higher power efficiency in battery operated systems is key as battery technology can hardly keep up with the emergence of new features. Also, improvements in power management are essential for applications such as the growing number of data centers that enable so many parts of our connected lives. The servers in those centers consume enormous amounts of electricity, and these semiconductor technologies will improve their efficiency by reducing the number of step-down power conversions.

In the automotive world, designers are incorporating more power-hungry, high-voltage electronics into vehicles every year. Interestingly enough, each 100 watts of power adds $5 in manufacturing costs, and automotive power is growing at 100 watts per year – even faster for electric vehicles. Advanced power devices gallium nitride and silicon carbide will play an increasingly important role in these circuits because of their ability to improve power density. With electric vehicles, for example, that means batteries get charged faster, hold a charge longer, go farther and run more high-voltage systems.

USB Type-C™ technology

Power and data are converging in next-generation USB Type-C connections that are changing the way we plug in to the technologies we use every day. For example, most notebook computers today incorporate several connections – for charging, displays, audio and more traditional USB interfaces.

USB Type-C, the connection that is becoming the new standard, consolidates all those data and power ports into one high-capacity line that you can plug in right side up or upside down.

Isolation barrier

Power and data are also converging in their journey over the isolation barrier used in high-voltage circuits for applications ranging from air-conditioning systems to factory automation. The need for isolated power is growing rapidly, and, while the capability to transfer data over that barrier has been available for several years, transferring power required a discrete transformer that took up valuable board space and created reliability problems.

But a new device – ISOW7841 – has solved that challenge by integrating multiple silicon die and a transformer into a single package that is 80 percent more efficient in power transfer and runs much quieter than other solutions on the market.

More semiconductor content

As our economy continues to grow, the technologies that operate our automobiles, data centers, factories, homes and the many other systems that improve our lives, in turn, will need to operate more efficiently.

And as power management technology becomes more critical for every electronic system, the pace of innovation will continue to increase and the number of semiconductors at the center of our digital lives will grow.

Perseverance embodied: From remedial math to doctoral student in applied mathematics

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 3:04am

By the time Angel Castillo was in eighth grade, he knew education was the key to his future and the way out of his circumstances. But Angel wasn’t always so sure of his path in life.

Now a doctoral student in applied mathematics at Tufts University, Angel became a ward of the state when he was 11. His parents had been incarcerated for drug use and violations, and his aunt stepped in and became his legal guardian.

Angel was given a small space – defined by  a 4-foot by 6-foot mat on the floor – in his aunt’s mobile home, which often had no electricity or running water. At the time, several of his cousins, who also lived there, had traded their school careers for gang membership or other pursuits.

“I was a real troublemaker in seventh grade,” Angel said. “I was failing math, and I didn’t pay attention or do my homework. But somehow my teachers at the time saw something in me – an aptitude. They began to work with me and gave me a chance.”

One of those teachers was Coach Bertha Chavana at Harwell Middle School. She met Angel in a math enrichment group designed for students who struggled in math. But when Bertha asked a question, Angel always seemed to know the answer. In fact, he barely let any of the other students reply. Feeling a bit puzzled, she told the principal and fellow teacher Yvonne Johnson that Angel didn’t belong in her class.

“Angel was walking down the hall one day, and I stopped him,” Bertha said. “I told him, ‘You’re pretty smart. I talked to the principal and Ms. Johnson about you, and I told them you don’t belong in our math class, you belong in a gifted and talented program.’ Well, Angel was really upset at first I’d been talking about him, and he kind of blew me off.”

Before she knew it, Angel was blossoming.

The definition of perseverance

Despite his home life, Angel was in school every day, ready to learn, said Yvonne, his physical education teacher in middle school.

“Angel never missed a day of school,” she said. “He was very introverted at first, but we found out he loved playing soccer, so we got him involved on the team. By eighth grade, Angel was passing classes. By the time he was in ninth grade, Angel was in the top 10 percent of his class. His GPA was more than 100 when he graduated, earning him a full ride to Texas A&M University.”

Yvonne observed Angel’s transformation and eventually became one of his most influential teachers. By the time Angel was in high school at Edinburgh High in Edinburgh, Tex., Yvonne had become the GEAR UP program teacher there,  guiding and assisting students in math and science programs and helping them plan for future education.

GEAR UP is short for “gaining early awareness and readiness for undergraduate programs.” It’s a discretionary grant program designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. GEAR UP provides grants to states, as well as partnerships to provide services at high-poverty middle schools and high schools. TI works with school districts across the country that receive the national GEAR UP grants to help provide a good foundation in STEM, providing hands-on technology such as calculators, development boards and software, as well as professional development, lesson plans and curriculum.

Angel took on leadership positions within GEAR UP and was selected as student ambassador for the Rio Grande Valley at the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP) in 2009.

“Angel spoke about success at the GEAR UP convention,” Yvonne said. “He said he kept hearing about success, but he’d never experienced it in his life and around his family. Once he determined exactly what it meant, he knew that’s what he wanted to be.

“Angel embodies perseverance,” Yvonne said. “Many kids teach you more than you teach them. In fact, Angel was instrumental in changing a lot of things I believed about education, and I’ve been teaching for 30 years. I like to remind students in tough circumstances that their situations could always be worse. There really are no excuses.”

Today, Angel charts his own course. Analytical research is ‘his thing,’ he says. He loves to dig deeply into problems, pour his heart and soul into his work and collaborate with team members at Texas A&M University, where he completed his undergraduate degree. Now a doctoral student at Tufts University, Angel is working on his Ph.D. in applied mathematics.

Find your anchor

Looking back on his struggles, Angel says the most important thing he did was to talk to people. A little bit of encouragement and inspiration can go a long way.

“Having conversations with other students, but especially key teachers is really important,” he said. “There is always someone who believes in you, even if it doesn’t seem like it. They held me accountable and believed in me – it gave me the responsibility to do well. They believed in me and invested so much time and energy into me. I didn’t want to disappoint them. Without this, I would not have had an anchor.”

Angel’s parting piece of advice for those facing difficult times is powerful in its simplicity:

“Oh, and never give up.” 

Multiple connected products and standards, 1 platform reshaping the Industrial IoT

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 8:41am

Picture the connected factory of the future. The factory floor hums with activity – motors spinning, robotic arms shifting about, equipment humming and vibrating with electricity. Everything the eye can see – and more – is connected electronically. This is the vision of the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

A multitude of data is being continually relayed from each machine to a remote server in the cloud and back – conveying a digital “mirror image” of each piece of equipment and its status – from the vibrations and noise produced to the temperature and humidity emitted. In the cloud, data analytics are applied to capture each machine’s “normal state” – and alert operators remotely if anything out of the ordinary occurs.

The connectivity needed to link the equipment in the industrial Internet of Things and relay information to the cloud could include Sub-1 GHz, Wi-Fi® network(s), and/or a local Bluetooth® low energy connection to help operators locate equipment in the factory using beacons, then connect directly to configure and service or operate the equipment.

“A system deploying all of these ‘connectivity standards’ would require three wireless technologies on top of any wired connections,” said Systems Engineer Roger Monk. “In the past, this would have required the engineers to develop three separate products, use three sets of tools, manage many sets of software dependencies, and climb a big learning curve.”

Moreover, they might have to go through the same process all over again if a new connectivity standard emerges later. It could slow or delay the pace of innovation for the IIoT.

But with our new SimpleLink™ microcontroller (MCU) platform – available now – the whole system can be built with one product family and easily configured for the required connectivity technology with a common software update mechanism, peripheral drivers and development environment.

The platform allows developers to use simple plug-ins to reuse 100 percent of the code already developed whenever the connectivity needs of an end product evolve. It is also possible to add another connectivity standard later with an additional plug-in. Watch this short video to see how it works. 

(Please visit the site to view this video)

“I see this platform as a game-changer,” said Ajinder Singh, general manager of building automation.

“From the development cycle that can now be shortened, to improving the ease of maintaining software, developers of industrial designs will see a lot of efficiencies."

Moreover, for a lot of our industrial customers, understanding and enabling products such as garage door opener or sprinkler systems across different connectivity standards is relatively a new journey that requires resources and additional skillset. SimpleLink offers an efficient, and highly scalable and sustainable platform that will make it easier for developers to adopt future connectivity standards into their products, thus shortening their development cycle.

The platform allows developers to use existing and future products across our Connected MCU portfolio – along with a cohesive software platform and a common set of tools.

The SimpleLink MCU platform is designed to protect developers’ software investments for equipment they are building today and in the future.

“For our customers, this solves the biggest challenge that engineers face when designing with connected microcontrollers. Adapting to a new connectivity standard previously meant starting the most time consuming and costly portion of the design – software – over. With SimpleLink MCU, that is no longer the case,” said Ray Upton, vice president and general manager of Connected MCU.

Innovators can now have more agile development cycles, spend less on development, get to market faster and expand their product offering more quickly. In this fast-growing market, the standards change rapidly, and this platform now offers unparalleled flexibility.

Often during early development stages, the processing performance, peripheral interfaces and wireless connectivity options needed for an application aren’t known until a significant proportion of the development work has been done, or until field trials and user feedback is received.

“With this platform, developers can start out quickly building first versions of their products on a solid base platform for testing, knowing that they will be able to easily innovate or differentiate, changing components as necessary without having to re-invest in software development for the new features,” Roger said. “Being able to adapt and push those decisions later in the product development has huge benefits for customers.”

Developers can use our cloud-based resource, dev.ti.com, to browse and rebuild example applications on the cloud server, then create application-specific projects to run on real hardware. We also offer an expanding online “SimpleLink Academy” with step-by-step guides targeted toward specific components.

“We’ve had customers quickly evaluate performance of algorithms or even cloud protocols using these tools without spending any time installing custom tools locally. They’ve even been able to share those ‘cloud’ projects with worldwide development teams,” said Roger.

From our SimpleLink MSP432™ MCUs to our Wi-Fi products, our SimpleLink portfolio streamlines our development platforms and makes it easier for our innovators to work across these platforms.

“We think about platforms in terms of new silicon and new features, but really when we step back and look at the problems we’re trying to solve, we’ve found that protecting our customers’ software investment is key,” said Ray.

The SimpleLink MCU platform is available today, recently launched at Embedded World.

To learn more about the platform, here are two related white papers:

Threading the needle: new op amp delivers exceptional precision, accuracy

Mon, 03/06/2017 - 8:29am

Precision affects every part of our lives – from ordering lunch meat at the deli to calibrating delicate lab equipment.

And a new high-precision operational amplifier – a circuit that magnifies tiny electric currents so that they can be measured and managed – offers an exceptional level of accuracy in industrial, automotive, medical, personal electronics, and test-and-measurement equipment.

“The performance on this device is so precise that it’s like measuring a dime on the Empire State Building,” said Richard Barthel, a systems engineer who worked on the team that developed the OPA388. “It takes something very small and gets it right on target.”

Operational amplifiers – or op amps – are links between sensors that measure analog signals such as pressure, temperature and flow and the digital brains behind technologies that are so integral to our everyday lives.

Sensors pick up analog signals from the environment around us that in many cases are measured in the millionths of a volt – too small to be useful for the circuits that convert them to digital signals. The job of op amps is to boost those signals to higher voltages that can then be measured, interpreted and managed by computers.

In that amplification process, any variation in the signal gets progressively more distorted as it works its way through the subsequent signal chain. That, in turn, affects the precision of the final measurements produced by a piece of equipment, said Ying Zhou, product marketing manager for the device.

Our zero-drift and zero-crossover technologies – which our newest op amp combines in one device for the first time – correct for any noise and errors in the signals and remove the need for designers to add discrete calibration circuits to the systems they create.

Combining these technologies will lead to improvements in the accuracy of measurements in applications ranging from electronic scales to heart-rate monitors and pressure sensors. For example, the device’s precision is beneficial for equipment such as:

  • Gauges used in CT scan machines. This medical equipment requires a smooth and consistent movement so the weight and weight distribution of patients can be measured precisely, a critical factor in accurate diagnosis and treatment.
  • Construction equipment. Contractors, civil engineers or other workers will be able to measure elevation and distance with pinpoint precision during building construction, which could increase structural integrity.
  • Weigh scales. Achieve more precise weight measurements – whether you’re ordering a few slices of lunch meat at a deli or checking the weight of a fully loaded semi-truck.
  • Medical lab equipment. Smaller equipment and more precise diagnoses could mean less time in the clinic and more accurate diagnoses for patients.

“Precision affects everybody,” Richard said. “The OPA388 takes very small measurements and gets them right on target with high accuracy and resolution. It threads the needle.”

If you are interested in learning more, read these TI Tech Notes regarding the features and benefits of zero-drift and zero-crossover technologies.

TI grant aims to narrow the income gap in Silicon Valley

Tue, 02/28/2017 - 10:39am

Buried under Silicon Valley’s prosperity lies a secret: poverty.

Pockets of poverty are scattered across the high-tech capital as many residents struggle to live in an expensive region. Persistent poverty can affect many generations of families and take a toll on the fabric of a community and business growth over the long term.

SparkPoint, a one-stop resource center, aims to help low-income people in Santa Clara County gain stable financial footing, thanks in large part to a $1 million grant from the Texas Instruments Foundation. The grant came from the TI Community Fund at Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

TIers from our Santa Clara office recently joined about 60 other people in San Jose to celebrate the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the center.

Located on the San Jose City College campus, SparkPoint San Jose is a partnership between United Way Bay Area and San Jose-Evergreen Community College District’s Workforce Institute.

“We know that the best way out of poverty is a good-paying job,” said Dave Heacock, TI senior vice president, during the ribbon cutting.

And “the best way to a good job is an education,” Dave said. “At TI, we believe strong companies must help build strong communities, and those strong communities in turn strengthen our companies.”

While Santa Clara County boasts the highest median household income ($96,310 in 2015) of nine Bay Area counties, about the same percentage of residents earn less than $35,000 a year as do over $200,000 a year.

When SparkPoint San Jose opens this spring, it will offer one-on-one career coaching, financial education, tax help and other services for free to any community college student or qualifying Santa Clara County lower-income resident to address the income gap.

Since United Way Bay Area opened the first SparkPoint in Oakland in 2009, the program has helped more than 24,000 Bay Area residents become more financially stable. Additionally, 83 percent of its clients have made progress toward their financial goals and 36 percent achieved a prosperity milestone (100 percent self-sufficient income, three months of living expenses saved, a credit score of 700+ or no revolving debt).

The success of the first SparkPoint center in the South Bay is important to TI because of its proximity to our Santa Clara and Sunnyvale offices.

“One of the criteria for our grants is to have proven programs,” said Andy Smith, executive director of the TI Foundation. “SparkPoint fits perfectly with our support of United Way across the country. The results showed a really great program that’s helped clients achieve financial self security.”

Victor Barrios, a 26-year-old student from South San Francisco, calls his experience with SparkPoint a “transformation.”

After his father left the family, Victor – then a teenager – felt lost, he said. He partied a lot, joined a gang and was in and out of juvenile hall and jail. He “wanted to make a change,” so at 21, he enrolled at the Bay Area’s Skyline College, but he struggled financially. A professor encouraged him to check out Skyline’s SparkPoint center, which helped him gain access to food stamps and save $200 a month.

Barrios completed two years at Skyline, and last month he enrolled at San Jose State University to study electrical engineering. He’s also taking advantage of SparkPoint’s food pantry and financial counseling.

“It helped me stay in school because I felt school was making everything harder,” Barrios said. “For me, it was monumental because I could have been lured back into the neighborhood and doing the wrong things.”

Debbie Budd, chancellor of San José-Evergreen Community College District, says “SparkPoint services mitigate economic disparities to improve educational access and outcomes.”

Despite being one of the nation’s wealthiest regions, nearly a quarter of Silicon Valley’s residents earn annual salaries at or below 200 percent of the national poverty level ($23,760 for one person or $48,600 for a family of four). Many residents struggle to live in an area with rents, home prices and the cost of living substantially higher than other parts of the country.

Santa Clara County’s poverty rate was 9.5 percent in 2015, but the rate was more than double that for people without a high school diploma.

“Less than 50 percent of students who enroll in community college in the state of California end up getting a degree,” Dave said. “These students are often working multiple jobs, taking care of their families, and many are deeply embedded in a cycle of generational poverty, and the odds are not in their favor.”

The San Jose center is the fourth SparkPoint located at a community college to address low graduation rates, said Randy Hyde, senior vice president of marketing for United Way Bay Area. If a community college student uses at least three SparkPoint services, their persistence rate (continued enrollment) is 97 percent vs. the average statewide rate of 50 percent, he said.

United Way Bay Area based SparkPoint on an Annie E. Casey Foundation model that showed offering multiple services under one roof led to better results.

TI and TIers have partnered with United Way Silicon Valley for many years, contributing over $400,000 a year through workplace campaigns and TI Foundation grants. When United Way of the Bay Area merged with United Way Silicon Valley in July, it was able to expand SparkPoint. “TI has demonstrated our commitment to the Silicon Valley area since we acquired National Semiconductor in 2011,” Andy said. “This grant is another sign of that.”

Breaking it down: Lesly Zamora shatters stereotypes with help from High-Tech High Heels, all-girls high school

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 9:00am

Seventeen-year-old Lesly Zamora can take apart and reassemble a computer tower in less than seven minutes.

It’s a skill she discovered after joining the Tech Girls Club at her high school last year.

“I like to destroy things,” she said with a smile, quickly adding, “but I can also fix them.”

Instilling a passion for technology in girls like Lesly is exactly what Dallas-based non-profit High-Tech High Heels aims to do. In partnership with the Communities Foundation of Texas, it provides funding to non-profits and offers grants designed to close the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by sparking and cultivating a love for these subjects in girls.

The Young Women’s Preparatory Network, which oversees Lesly’s all-girl public high school in Dallas, is a beneficiary of High-Tech High Heels. Lesly attends Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, which has an intense focus on leadership and STEM.

(Please visit the site to view this video)

“As a student of an all-girl school, I have been taught that women can make a difference in the world, and that is what I plan to do within the field of technology,” Lesly said. “Taking things apart is what I love to do. Not everything without a reason, but rather to know how things are put together and function as a whole.”

Lesly’s love of math stems from the fact that, “no matter what the situation, there will always be one correct answer, but there are many ways to solve the problem to find that answer,” she said.

“The interest that I have for science and math has grown immensely over the years,” she said. “Science amazes me because it explains how things are created.”

High-Tech High Heels, founded in 2001 by 30 TI women who wanted to make a difference in STEM, celebrated its fifteenth year in 2016. Building the pipeline of women in STEM continues to be as critical as it was when the organization was founded, said Heidi Means, its co-president and manager of our wafer manufacturing site in Sherman. Currently, women represent only 12 percent of the engineering workforce, and fewer than one in five engineering graduates is a woman, according to the white paper Women in STEM: Realizing the Potential.

“We believe the world will be a better place when there is a diverse, qualified workforce with more opportunities for women in STEM,” Heidi said. “Programs that High-Tech High Heels funds help young women to learn about STEM careers and become confident that they can excel in these fields. The gap for the STEM pipeline starts early; we support programs at middle school to high school levels to prepare young women to pursue STEM fields of study in college.”

“We’re all about closing the gender gap in STEM education and STEM fields,” said Ellen Barker, a board member of High-Tech High Heels and chief information officer at TI. Sixty percent of High-Tech High Heels’ board members are women who work at TI.

At TI, we believe in helping spark a love for STEM in today’s youth – and fanning the flame to help shape tomorrow’s innovators – like Lesly. One example of how we do this is the TI Foundation’s support of High-Tech High Heels and other organizations working to increase STEM learning among groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields, including women, Hispanics and African Americans.

Lynn McBee, CEO of Young Women’s Preparatory Network, stressed the importance of preparing more young women like Lesly to fill the STEM pipeline.

“That’s what Young Women’s Preparatory Network does – we get our girls in the game and arm them with what they need to persist, thrive and advocate for themselves in all aspects of life, especially their careers,” she said.

“Our girls are largely from economically disadvantaged families, and many will be the first in their families to attend college. We achieve 100 percent graduation from high school and 100 percent acceptance to college, with millions of dollars in scholarships.”

Young Women’s Preparatory Network works with school districts to operate its college preparatory schools. Its class of 2016 had 291 graduates who received a total of $41.9 million in academic and merit scholarships, Lynn said.

“The notion that women ‘don’t or can’t do science’ is totally inaccurate and to me, quite ridiculous,” said Lynn, who worked as a biochemist for 24 years before turning her attention full-time to preparing young women for careers in STEM and leadership.

Taking initiative to learn new things is a key focus at Irma Rangel, Lesly said. Her responsibilities in the Tech Girls Club include diagnosing and finding solutions for hardware and software problems.

Lesly interned at a computer engineering company last summer, and that experience made her “100 percent sure” that she will major in a technology field in college, she said. Her top three choices of universities are Texas Women's University, University of North Texas, and University of Texas at Dallas.

High-Tech High Heels supported Young Women’s Preparatory Network last year with $26,500 to help start an all-girl’s robotics club at Lesly’s school and to enable middle schoolers to attend a summer science camp at UTD.

Tech Trends: 4 key technology trends driving innovation in 2017

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 9:03am

In his Tech Trends column, Chief Technologist Ahmad Bahai explains emerging technology trends that will change our world and the key innovations needed to make them a reality.

The electrification tide is rising. Electronics are permeating every aspect of our lives. Everything around us is getting more intelligent, more connected – and therefore replete with semiconductor content.

Big data is getting bigger, personal electronics are getting more personable, and smart machines are getting, well, smarter.

In 2017, I see the following technology trends helping to steer the course of innovation. Some of these trends are carryovers from the prior year, but continue to be pervasive and increasingly important in the technology landscape.

1 - High voltage

The growth in high voltage is driven in part by the increasing popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs). Most major car companies are aggressively developing both EVs and HEVs, and the need for power drivers and charging stations will fuel the growth of high voltage power electronics.

Also, high voltage power will be necessary to power more robust data centers with the development and proliferation of 5G-enabled devices. We’ll talk more about this later –under smart buildings and smart cities. Off-line applications, such as smart and rapid chargers – dependent on high voltage power – are also showing signs of healthy growth.

Traditional power devices continue to experience a healthy growth.  More advanced power devices, such as gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC), show promising opportunities, though only when they become more affordable, by offering higher power density in a smaller footprint.

2 - Semi-autonomous systems

The automotive industry is embracing the latest electronic features at the pace of the consumer market. Even more telling is that the semiconductor content growth within cars continues to outpace automotive market growth since 2010. However, with automotive quality standards demanding higher reliability and longevity, innovation for next generation cars has prompted both new technical challenges and market promises. New complex advanced driver assistance (ADAS) systems will deploy multiple cameras, radar, LIDAR and ultrasound sensors for autonomous driving. Additionally, the EV/HEV market, which has driven innovation in power electronics, shows promising growth but still a small percentage of total market.

Another semi-autonomous system that will see growth this year is robots. Traditionally, robots have been used in industrial applications for some routine and precise applications. Robots are now finding roles in enterprise, education, the consumer market and in assembly lines working alongside people. Advanced control techniques, in conjunction with high performance motor drive and sensors, will be extensively utilized in modern robots.

Drones will also see expansion of professional applications. Their use in security, entertainment and survey services will grow this year. We will see advanced sensor systems and flight time improvements for many critical applications.

3 - Smart buildings and smart cities

Smart buildings and cities are adopting industrial internet technology at a faster pace than the rest of industry 4.0. More commercial and industrial buildings are adopting sensor networks for security, utility monitoring, water and air quality, and more.

Urbanization is accelerating globally. With higher concentrations of people in big cities, we cannot underestimate how critical it is to ensure energy efficiency, improved transportation quality, and better water and utility management. Cities are also deploying intelligent traffic monitoring and control, security systems, and intelligent utility monitoring at a faster pace.

As big data continues to grow, the demand for data – both wired and wireless – is growing exponentially. Video will contribute to about 60 percent of data traffic on networks, and mobile data is doubling every 15 months (Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2016–2021). The need for processing and moving massive amounts of data around buildings, factory floors, and inside cars or public transportation have pushed many aspects of the technology to its limits. The explosive growth of data in wireless networks has expedited the development of 5G radio infrastructure.

Data centers are also rapidly expanding. The implications of this trend manifest themselves in ultra-high speed interfaces up to 100Gbps, advance power management, and integrated radio units. Data analytics, in many cases real-time, is critical in many applications and has prompted new processor architectures. Machine learning accelerators for embedded processors and GPUs with special hardware features for artificial intelligence are utilized in many new applications.

4 - Personal electronics

The fast pace of personal electronics growth drives the development of innovations with increasing semiconductor content and differentiating features. Many of the personal device innovations will gradually enhance and emerge in automotive and industrial markets as well.

Devices around us are more powerful and omnipresent than before. Therefore, our interaction with machines is more frequent and evolving. While touch has been the dominant human machine interface, more native approaches that leverage speech, vision and gestures are emerging. Voice interface is increasingly more reliable and affordable for many consumer and automotive applications. Virtual and augmented reality started for entertainment and gaming – with dizzying effect – but have been evolving for many professional applications, such as flight simulation. Flexible electronics and display is finding applications in mobile and medical applications.

Keep an eye out for my columns this year – each diving deeper into these trends. We’ll discuss the technical challenges within each and how semiconductors are driving the technologies forward.

MSP430™ MCU, I heart you: How a community of innovators has formed around these little microcontrollers

Tue, 02/14/2017 - 1:05am

It’s not every day that a development board gets a marriage proposal. But when it comes to the MSP430™ MCU LaunchPad™ development kit, it’s just another day in the life of this little red rectangle of possibility that’s captured the hearts of makers everywhere.

This Valentine’s Day, we’re celebrating #MSP430Love and honoring all the students, makers, hobbyists – all the engineers the world over – who’ve used our little MCU or its development kit – the MSP430 LaunchPad kit – to learn, to build, to innovate.

The tale of love for MSP430 microcontrollers (MCUs) began – and flourished – on the internet. It all began with engineers going to the World Wide Web to get information and share ideas about designing and developing with our MSP430 ultra-low power MCU. From thousands of forum posts on our E2E (engineer-to-engineer) Community to videos about different designs to an entire website dedicated to the MCU, love was in the air.

For students, the flexibility and accessibility of the MSP430 MCU makes it ideal for engineering education. For makers, it’s at the heart of a host of DIY projects – from homemade 3D printers to LED light applications to robotic arms.

For instance, at a recent Maker Faire, one hobbyist used the MSP430 LaunchPad kit to make a robotic arm that, using a web interface, allowed users to paint on a computer, which the robotic arm could mirror on a separate paper.

Our MSP430 LaunchPad kit team often attends Maker Faires and other events to connect with enthusiasts and makers, said Adrian Fernandez, our MCU customer experience manager. The team uses feedback from makers to create new tools and resources within the MCU LaunchPad ecosystem.

Startups and Kickstarter projects often use MSP430 products at the core of their designs. For instance, the MSP430 LaunchPad was used to prototype mini-satellites for KickSat, which makes small, cube-shaped satellites to conduct experiments in space.

When the MSP430 LaunchPad development kit was first introduced in 2010, most development kits were priced between $100 and $1,000. So for innovators around the globe, its price tag – under $10 – was a thing of beauty. Adrian said the goal was to make it easier for anyone to use our tools for their projects.

Just a few months after the first LaunchPad development kit was released in 2010, Gerard Sequeira, an inventor and TI MCU LaunchPad kit user, created 43oh.com, which included a forum to help people discover new ways to use their MSP430 LaunchPad development kit and address any challenges they may face.

“There will always be competition in the low-power and connected-device space,” Gerard said. “A good development platform, a rich peripheral choice and support community is vital for device adoption. Early exposure to a controller in schools and universities is a must. It takes one student, who graduates to a developer, to select a controller that gets into millions of devices. The MSP430 MCU satisfies all the above.”

The support that TI provides to help developers get started makes MSP430 MCU attractive to users, said Dennis Eichmann, an MVP member of our E2E Community. Dennis has 6,000 posts on the forum – most of which are to help other members with MSP-related issues.

Launched in 2008, E2E boasts a community of over 250,000 engineers and experts across 200 countries. Many of these are highly active MSP E2E community members, and non-TIers, who choose to help thousands of members with MSP-related challenges in their free time.

“What I like most about the MSP430 MCU is the fact that you can easily switch between the different parts and families without being confronted with a new processor,” Dennis said.

The large volume of application notes and reference designs are also helpful in making designers feel comfortable using the MCU, Dennis said.

Over the years, we’ve also used feedback on MSP430 MCUs and LaunchPad kits from the E2E forum to create what has evolved into an ecosystem of engineering tools.

Inspiring the next generation of makers

Currently, about one third of all LaunchPad kits shipped go to university students, with competitively priced hardware and easy to use software and code examples being the driving factors.

“We believe so strongly in STEM – how can we get more engineers out there in the workplace?” Adrian said. “That raises the water level for everyone…Just the thought of having more technically, electronically savvy people, we can solve harder and harder problems.”

Are you a fan? Share your #MSP430Love in the comments or on social.

Drought in Africa inspires students to invent smart irrigation system using calculator, development board

Tue, 02/07/2017 - 11:01am

The worst drought to hit southern Africa in 35 years is only expected to worsen this year. 

Students in southern Africa are struggling to focus in class and, in some cases, unable to participate in sports. At Chidyamakondo high school in southern Zimbabwe, some of the reigning championship football teams’ best players have dropped out of school to help their families find food[i].

Nearly 10,000 miles away, students at Sachse High School near Dallas worked hand-in-hand with TI mentors on a potential solution to the drought ― a programmable smart water irrigation pump that could foster the growth of crops during a drought, allowing African students to return to school educations and eventually get back to normal life. Not only does the project help solve a real-world problem, but it offers Sachse students a unique opportunity to combine science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) into a single project with great impact.

From the classroom to the real-world 

The story begins with TI STEM Innovation manager Fred Fotsch. A 28-year teaching veteran, Fred knows firsthand that students are motivated by real-world experiences and now uses his experience to design curriculum using TI products.

“When I design lessons for the classroom, I like for them to have a real-world application,” Fred said. “I like them to be emotionally engaging and have a storyline so when students question, ‘Why do I need to know this,’ they have an answer. I can say, ‘Look, this is a real problem and these are real people.’ If you can find something that relates to a students’ world, then all the better.”

After reading about the drought in Africa in an article in The Guardian, Fred knew that while high school students in the states might not understand the pressing reality of a drought, they can empathize with being unable to attend school and play sports with their friends. It was the perfect making of not only a good lesson plan, but an opportunity to introduce students to hands-on STEM learning through real-world problem solving.

Changing the game

Coincidentally, Fred’s colleagues, Dave Santucci and Harshal S. Chhaya, were seeking to partner with local schools and educators to develop coding groups for students, using the brand-new TI-Innovator™ Hub, a classroom tool that introduces students to coding and engineering design to prepare them for the jobs of the future. In just 10 minutes of lessons, students are introduced to coding and programming.

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“Up until now, as we talked to educators and teachers, they all value STEM and they all have been told by their administrators they need to teach programming or coding, but they were trying to figure out how to take the next step. They really don’t know how to get involved with STEM projects,” Fred said. “The Innovator has made coding and programming accessible to teachers who aren’t necessarily experts in that field. Now, teachers can bring an authentic STEM experience to their classroom.” 

In early August, Fred, Harshal and Dave met with the team at Garland Independent School District, of which Sachse High School is a part. They shared how the Innovator could offer students new opportunities for coding and programming, all with an easy learning curve for teachers. As a result of that meeting, administrators from the school district informed the team that their students had an interest in integrating all STEM subjects and programming into a single project. But they wanted to do more than just program; they wanted to demonstrate to students how STEM skills can have a positive impact on the world.

Fred’s smart water irrigation idea was the perfect concept.

“We wanted to combine math, science and technology to show our kids how all those areas depend on each other.  It is important for our students to know how different professions—from agriculture to design—need to work together in today’s globalized society,” said Jasna Aliefendic, technology applications coordinator on behalf of the Garland school district. “The TI calculators are the perfect tools to bring programming to life. When Dave showed us the Innovator and explained what it can do, it was the selling point to further engage our students in computer science.”

School district officials worked quickly to create a coding club pilot program at Sachse High School. A team of TI mentors, University of Texas at Dallas graduate students, and Sachse teacher and club sponsor, Brian Torres, helped the students build sensors that would monitor factors such as light, temperature, humidity and more. Then, using the Innovator and TI-Nspire™ CX graphing calculators, the mentors explained how writing specific code enables the sensors to inform the program and eventually control the pump actuator based on the sensor reads, ensuring optimal conditions for irrigating land and growing crops amidst a drought.

“While we have been able to do data collection on our calculators for several years now, the TI-Innovator™ Hub adds to the capabilities a way to control objects like motors, pumps, lights, fans and speakers,” said Harshal Chhaya. “That’s brand-new functionality we didn’t have until the TI-Innovator was available. These capabilities were critical to our project because students could then control a pump, vary the speed of the pump and see water flowing – all controlled by a program that they wrote on their calculators.” 

The “ah-ha moment” 

Until now, the coding club, made up of about 18 high school students, had only ever coded on a computer. The new tool was a catalyst for students, helping them realize how their STEM skills could someday turn into careers that were solving real problems.

“Coding on a calculator was astonishing because up until now, I’d been coding on a bulky computer and now I’m coding on a skinny calculator,” said Nelson Flores, senior at Sachse High School. “It put everything in perspective. I realized how quickly technology is advancing and how we can continue to solve problems and help people by using technology.”

After about three days into the project, students tasted success. All of the sudden, the pump turned on for the first time and students got to see a direct result of their programming. For the first time, they understood how coding on a small calculator could have big results. 

“At first, we started with background concepts ― getting use to coding, using the sensors, etcetera,” said Dave Santucci. “Then one day, we got the pump going. Immediately, kids could hear the whirling sound of the pump turning on, and they were really excited about that — it was amazing! The club is scheduled from 2:45 to 3:45 p.m., and on this particular day, we looked up and noticed it was past 4 p.m. They were so engaged. A lot of times, when kids start to get this kind of exposure, they realize programming is something they can and even want to do with their careers.”

Growing the program

The program at Sachse has been so successful that the district hopes to implement the model in other schools. In fact, two middle schools have already launched coding clubs using the Innovator. 

“It’s not just curriculum that makes students successful. This project has helped our students develop empathy for people, especially children who are not as fortunate as they are. I think that’s a complete cycle—education, empathy, and social awareness connected through technology.” Jasna said.

Of course, implementing a smart water irrigation system in the real world is much more challenging than creating a prototype in the classroom. But this project has ignited a spark in students and helped them dream big about how they can use technology to change the world and improve lives.

Additional Resources:

[i] Source: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/apr/21/drought-southern-africa-heavy-toll-students-fainting-malawi-zimbabwe