Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Write Only Memory

Although its way past all fools day, I recently discovered Bob Pease's article on the origins of the Write Only Memory.

Check out the data sheet of Write Only Memory for some real fun.

Dhananjay V. Gadre

AVR2006 Contest - An Update

Atmel corporation and Circuit Cellar have organized the AVR2006 Design Contest.

The contest has been on for quite some time now. The chip and development tools samples have been exhausted which indicates the utter popularity of this family of controllers as well as the popularity of Circuit Cellar contests!

The last date of submission of entries has now been extended to August 16, 2006. The participants can design using any of the following AVR components: AT90CAN128,AT90CAN32, ATmega32, ATmega16, ATmega168, ATmega169, ATmega88, ATtiny85, AT90PWM2, AT90PWM3, ATmega48, ATtiny45, ATtiny25 and ATtiny13.

The ATxxPWM are the newer parts from Atmel, targeted towards designing lighting and motor controls and have integrated D/A converter and power factor correction.

As usual, a heavy response is expected for this contest. Although the participants would miss designing with the new PicoPower AVR devices which were introduced after the contest was thrown open.

Happy Designing...

Dhananjay V. Gadre

The Ubiquitous Remote Control

I recently came across an article (thanks to Anurag Chugh for the link) in the March 2006 issue IEEE Spectrum, by Rober W. Lucky, titled Remote Control. A remote control is one piece of ubiquitious, mundane hardware that you take for granted. One is likely to own a multiple of these devices, for a variety of consumer entertainment electronics.

Bob explains his encounter with a remote-less, bargain price HDTV Tuner and how he set about getting a "Universal Remote" to work with the tuner. I was curious to know more details of all the websites dedicated to remote controls and I contacted him. It turns out that many many brands of remote controls are available, but all of them are made by a single manufacturer! Hi-fi Remote is one of the most popular websites dedicated to remote controls, provides a wealth of inside information.

Dhananjay V. Gadre

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Truth about Windows Embedded Students Challenge (WESC) 2006 Finals Projects

Microsoft Corporation sponsored an international competition, titled Windows Embedded Student Challenge 2006. This contest was first organised in 2004 and has been held ever since. Due to the involvement of Microsoft, the competition attracts huge interest from the student community.

As part of the contest, the organizers (Microsoft Corporation) propose a theme for the competition and expects participating team to design and build projects in line with the theme. To help the design and implementation, it provides free hardware and software tools. The hardware platform is an x86 derived single board computer, called Ebox. The software tools includes the Windows CE RTOS development suite.

Participants are expected to design their projects around the Ebox and WinCE RTOS.

This year around 230 teams sent proposals to the organizers, out of which 200 teams were selected and were provided with the abovementioned tools.

Out of these 200 teams, about 185 teams sent final reports which were evaluated by a team of judges to select the top 30 projects. The list of these top 30 teams together with their reports is available here.

This year, the theme for the contest was "Preserving, Protecting and Enhancing the Environment".

The teams are supposed to follow eligibility rules as listed on the Windows Challenge website. One assumes that teams that do not meet the eligibility criterion, will be inelligible? Or so I thought.

Also, since this is a Microsoft spondored project, it is obvious that Microsoft's motive is to try and popularize the use of WInCE RTOS amongst the student community. The choice of Ebox is only to allow the operation of WInCE RTOS. It could as well have been any other hardware platform.

It is therefore natural to expect that a participant would develop a project that would justify the use of Ebox and WinCE RTOS. Or am I too naive to assume that?

It is worthwhile to note that the Ebox is a serious piece of hardware. It is an Vortex86 200 Mhz processor based, small foorprint embedded system with a serial port, a parallel port, 3 USB ports, an ethernet port, AV'97 audio, PS2 mouse and keyboard ports, VGA port. The Ebox consumes about 10W of power in active mode.

I was a mentor to a team from NSIT, which in my opinion implemented a wonderful project (which btw, is being patented now). Unfortunately, the judges did not deem the project as worthy of selection in the final 30 list.

My team brought to my notice that some of the teams did not meet the eligibility criterion. They also mentioned that many projects seemed very trivial for an Ebox. Many infact do not need any RTOS at all.

I then decided to read all the reports and make an assessment about such projects, which, in my opinion do not justify the use of an EBox and WinCE RTOS. My brief report about such projects is available here.

Read it for yourself and make your own judgement and decide if these selected project deserve to be in top 30 by any measurement metrics? If you would like to read my team's report for comparison sake or otherwise, send me a mail at dvgadre@gmail.com and I will be more than glad to mail you a copy.

I have brought this to the notice of the organizers of WESC'06 but they have decided to ignore my feedback and go ahead with the contest as per the schedule.

I guess its bye bye future Microsoft contests, as far as I am concerned.

Dhananjay V. Gadre