Embedded Systems Conference, 2011

Rohde & Schwarz scope lab

A regular ritual of mine around this time of year is Embedded Systems Conference.  This conference and trade show is held every fall in Boston.  I’ve been going for years, including last year, and the year before that.  I love going.  I’ve always had a side interest in electronics and I’m a ham radio operator (N1KGH), and I seldom get many chances to see and work with electronics on a regular basis.

This year, scopes were everywhere!  I attended Rohde & Schwarz’s lab, and got to use the scope you see in the (too blurry!) photo above.  I didn’t get to spend a lot of time on it, but I did get to try the lab myself after my fellow attendees finished their session on the machine.

The lab involved inspecting a digital waveform with some deliberate glitches put in it by the demo board on the table.  (All the test & measurement vendors have boards like these.)  I had to define a mask on the screen, sort of a box, that would make the scope trigger if a “bad” waveform is detected.  I got through that OK after briefly chatting with the lab instructor.  The scope you see here has a touchscreen and it runs Windows 7 Embedded (no joke!  I watched someone open up Windows dialogs and menus on the thing as if it were their laptop.)

At about $17,000, I won’t be having one any time soon, but I had no trouble using it considering I’d had only a few minutes to learn it.

I didn’t want to be in a dark room all day so I went to the show floor and tried out another scope lab, this one by Tektronix:

 Tektronix scope lab

(My Kodak Zi8 really isn’t that great at run-and-gun shooting.  Sorry.)

This lab was similar to the Rohde & Schwarz lab except there was a good-sized line to be seated.  The Tek instructor had me do a different exercise:  Their scope was connected to a board with a microcontroller and a 2.4 GHz WiFi module and I had to use the scope to answer questions like, what is the exact frequency of the LO in the module, how long does it take to receive a command, start transmitting and settle down, and so forth.

Their scope, like many digital scopes, is “mixed signal”, and has not only the traditional scope probes (4 channels) but also a digital interface, a bunch of clips connected to a ribbon cable like in a logic analyzer.  The scope I used had a serial interface trigger (to connect to SPI or I2C, two very-common serial standards you probably never heard of) and an FFT module to measure frequency.  It being a digital scope, it had cursors you could place on the start and end of waveforms and measure time.  Like most demos, the exercises are always a little contrived and nudged to show the specific advantages of the product, but I still appreciated turning the knobs.

Tek was handing out a beautiful retro T-shirt:

Old Tektronix Logo T-shirt

That is Tektronix’s original logo.  I would be lying if I said that I never used or owned a scope with that logo.  (I once owned three tube-powered Tek scopes.)

Elsewhere on the show floor, I took advantage of an offer Texas Instruments was promoting:  If you turned in a competitor’s development board, you could get one of TI’s dev boards in return.  I turned in an old Zilog Z8 Encore board that I had bought at a past show in 2001, but never really used.  (Most of my dev hardware is TI nowadays, plus a Netduino that I will write about if I ever make the time to play with it.)

I got a watch in return:

TI Chronos EZ430

From the TI wiki:

The eZ430-Chronos is a highly integrated, wearable wireless development system that comes in a sports watch. It may be used as a reference platform for watch systems, a personal display for personal area networks, as a wireless sensor node for remote data collection, or simply as a watch.

It’s quite a device.  It has a wireless interface to send data back and forth;  the intended application is a sports watch;  it has an accelerometer and an interface to an optional heart-rate monitor, and a USB wireless dongle to send workout data to a PC to be compiled.

I probably won’t use it for exercise but the wireless feature would be great for automatic time synchronization with the NTP server I run at home.  Also, it’s the biggest watch display for its size that I’ve ever used.  It will be a very functional watch, at least when I’m not reprogramming it.

Oh, the XJTAG booth babes were here, again:

XJTAG Booth Babes

And someone called Smart Bear:

Smart Bear

That’s it for 2011.  Perhaps next year I’ll remember to look at the complimentary coupons in the bag they give to every attendee.  There was an offer for yet another dev board and I missed it!  (And I can’t even remember the vendor.)