Many products require a graphic display that includes text, icons, and images plus touch controls. Creating such a display used to involve hours of graphic design, lots of C/C++ code, and friction between artists and engineers who had to implement–and regularly revise–code to accommodate changes. Amulet Technologies aims to change that approach to LCDs.
Amulet’s route to display success involves two components; an LCD controller chip with a built-in graphical operating system and GEMstudio display-design software. The chip–called the GEM Graphical OS chip, and available for color or monochrome displays–drives an LCD and handles high-level communications with a processor or microcontroller. Communications use a standard UART and follow a format that exchanges commands and information based on Amulet’s open protocol. Don’t let “operating system” scare you. The OS handles display functions and interprets high-level commands. No API programming needed.
To investigate the chip’s capabilities, buy the GEMstarter kit ($US 300, STK-480272C) that includes a 24-bit color 480 x 272-pixel TFT display, an integrated touch panel and controller board, a power supply, stylus, and USB PC interface cable. You can download compiler software from Amulet. For kit information, go to: www.amulettechnologies.com/products/starterk.html.
The company also sells a GEMexpress (GCC-1) board that provides a universal display driver board for TFT and OLED displays. Other LCD Evaluator Kits let you try a wide range of LCDs from several manufacturers in Amulet reference designs.
The GEMstudio software lets you quickly design a display that can include pushbuttons, sliders, keypads, graphical effects, and alphanumeric information. The software provides drag-and-drop controls and widgets that you position in a workspace for the LCD you have connected to an Amulet board with the graphical OS on it.
GEMstudio operates much like Microsoft’s Visual Basic–each widget has a range of properties that change colors, describe actions, and so on. In a button, for example, you could choose a command to “fire off” a command to an MCU to take an action such as accept payment, dispense change, and so on. Rather that go into a long explanation, watch the video demonstration at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTLHPlR1at4. that illustrates how to create a refrigerator touch-screen display. No longer must you worry about counting pixels and positioning widgets by trial and error on an LCD.
You can use the GEMstudio simulator on a PC to run through display actions to ensure they meet design goals. Then, the software will compile the display project, optimize it, and compress the images for the GEM board that directly drives a display panel.
Although you could operate the GEM Graphical OS chip as a slave device, Brian Deters at Amulet noted most engineers implement a dual-master arrangement so the MCU can send commands to the OS chip as needed and vice versa. That means when the OS chip “detects” a pushed “button,” it can immediately send the corresponding command via the serial port to the MCU. Likewise, when the MCU decides to change a display or color, it can immediately send a command to the OS chip. The arrangement of Amulet software and hardware can save considerable time over approaches that use line-by line C/C++ code for LCD control, touch-screen sensing, serial communications, and other tasks.
GEMStudio is available now for $499. Amulet’s GEM Graphical OS IC costs $US 6.72 (100K pieces). The chip includes the royalty-free GUI OS. LCD Evaluator Kits are available for $199, plus the price of an LCD. Production quantities of Amulet’s GUI OS boards cost $US 69 (5K pieces). A 30-day trial edition of GEMstudio ships with many kits. www.amulettechnologies.com. –Jon Titus