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Articles from 2018 In January

January 31 – Day 3 – Curiosity PIC32 MZEF

Webinar Information
Start Date: Jan 31, 2018 - 07:00 PM UTC

Bare metal IoT design is the theme of the day. In today’s lecture we will sing out of tune and, without the aid of MPLAB Harmony, craft a PIC32MZ EF microSD click board driver. While we’re at it, we will also teach the PIC32MZ EF to sense temperature and humidity using a DHT22-2 click board.

SI, PI, and EMI Have a Simpler, More Integrated Future

 SI, PI, and EMI Have a Simpler, More Integrated Future

If you want to think about where signal integrity (SI), power integrity (PI), and electromagnetic integrity (EMI) are going in the next five years, the first thing you need to do is stop thinking about them separately.

“SI, PI, and EMI won't be three technologies anymore. We're going to have to deal with them all simultaneously,” Steve Sandler, Managing Director at Picotest, told the DesignCon 2018 audience at a keynote panel, “SI/PI & EMI Challenges: Looking Ahead Through 2023.”

Sandler and a group of panelists that included Istvan Novak, Senior Principal Engineer at Oracle; Eric Bogatin, an Adjunct Professor at University of Colorado's Department of Electrical, Computer, and Energy Engineering; Alfred Neves, Chief Technologist at Wild River Technology; and Kenneth Wyatt, Senior EMC Engineer at Wyatt Technical Services, all concluded that the proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, coupled with new forms of computing and emerging technologies like autonomous vehicles, is going to conflate signal, power, and electromagnetism concerns in ways that will present brand new challenges for engineers and force experts in one area to gain experience in the others, as well.

Panelists at the DesignCon 2018 keynote,“SI/PI & EMI Challenges: Looking Ahead Through 2023" agreed SI, PI, and EMI will become integrated disciplines by 2023. (L to R) Steve Sandler, Istvan Novak, Kenneth Wyatt, Alfred Neves, and Eric Bogatin.
 (Image source: Design News) 

“The electromagnetic environment in hospitals, homes, vehicles, and what we carry on our bodies is becoming increasingly crowded and interconnected.” Wyatt said. “As these system proliferate they need to be compatible and will tax the available RF spectrum. Increasing spectrum allocation for things such as 5G and vehicle systems will present challenges to product designers, spectrum managers, and EMC engineers.”

Nevermind that a device as common as a microwave can still interfere with Wi-Fi signals. The University of Colorado's Bogatin said that emerging and future technologies such as augmented reality, man-machine interfaces, quantum computing, and even the maker movement are bringing even more complex technologies to fruition that will only further crowd the RF spectrum and create new issues for engineers and product designers. “Think of technology as a yin and a yang, a blessing and curse. A killer app is the blessing, but it can also come with unintended consequences.”

“We can't really partition these three disciplines into three separate categories anymore,” Wyatt said. “As we approach data rates of 40 Ghz and higher it's true we need to consider the physics of the board but there's obvious intersections between the disciplines.”

For his own part, Neves of Wild River Technology, a signal integrity expert, advocated for simplification as the future of signal integrity. “We're going to have to get back to work and understand what's happening to power and energy flow in our systems.”

Neves touched on an issue that all the panelists agreed will be at the forefront as SI, PI, and EMI issues become more intertwined – the lack of practical, basic engineering education in these fields. “Most product designers don't understand the basics of how energy moves in transition lines,” Wyatt said. “...We need to ensure we're really focusing on the basics of all these disciplines and how we can empower product designers in the trenches.”

“Education is the key. It is quite obvious we will all have to learn about the other disciplines,” Oracle's Novak, a 20-year veteran of DesignCon, added. “I think each company has to do a better job integrating these things.” Bogatin echoed Novak's statements, noting that companies are often organized so that SI, PI, and EMI are separate disciplines that can easily come into conflict, particularly during product testing. “How do your organize for holistic approach?” he asked.

Neves shared an anecdote about John Coltrane with the audience. It was said that when Coltrane's friends came to visit they wouldn't even bother knocking if they didn't hear him playing the trumpet, because if Coltrane wasn't playing the trumpet, he wasn't home. Neves' point was to outline the importance of personal commitment for engineers to overcome challenges, and to step up and take initiative in places where formal education is lacking.

“I don't think [professors] are teaching the art of engineering, except in a few cases,” he said. “The reality is that professors aren't practitioners in most cases. They don't build things and make measurements. Personal commitment is really important.”

Wyatt agreed with Neves, but took a more measured approach, suggesting that more outreach to bridge the gap between education and real-world application will be necessary. “A lot of professors aren't practitioners; that's why it's really important for us as practicing engineers to partner with colleges and universities.”

Watch the full DesignCon 2018 keynote, “SI/PI & EMI Challenges: Looking Ahead Through 2023,” below and for more updates be sure to follow Design News on Facebook.  

Pacific Design and Manufacturing


Pacific Design & Manufacturing, North America’s premier conference that connects you with thousands of professionals across the advanced design & manufacturing spectrum, is back at the Anaheim Convention Center February 6-8, 2018! Over three days, OKuncover software innovation, hardware breakthroughs, fresh IoT trends, product demos and more that will change how you spend time and money on your next project.  CLICK HERE TO REGISTER TODAY!

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at Design News, covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, and robotics.

Rigol Rolls New Spectrum Analyzer at DesignCon

Rigol Rolls New Spectrum Analyzer at DesignCon

Rigol Technologies will roll out a new spectrum analyzer for Internet of Things (IoT) applications at the DesignCon 2018 Expo in Santa Clara, CA this week.

The spectrum analyzer, known as the RSA5000, is said to combine swept-spectrum and real-time capabilities for a comparatively low price. “It brings two super-powerful capabilities to folks who are implementing Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Zigbee, and all the other ISM-band hopping technologies,” noted Mike Rizzo, general manager of Rigol North America.

Rigol’s new RSA5000 spectrum analyzer incorporates swept-spectrum and real-time capabilities. (Source: Rigol Technologies)

The new product is targeted at engineers working on de-bugging of IoT-type applications. By incorporating swept-spectrum and real-time capabilities, it allows developers to target signals in an area of interest, and then flip to real-time mode to focus deeply on a more limited frequency span.

Rizzo said that test engineers are increasingly using both modes in their de-bug environments. “In order to deal with all the channel contention within the 2.4-GHz band, everyone is implementing these (frequency) hopping technologies,” Rizzo said. “And they can be really hard to see with a swept analyzer. But a real-time analyzer will let you see it.”

To date, spectrum analyzers combining both modes in a single box have typically cost more than $10,000, and sometimes over $15,000, Rizzo said. The RSA5000 will start at $7,999 for a 3.2-GHz model and $10,999 for 6.5-GHz unit.

The new product employs a QuadCore processor and is built atop a Linux operating system. It includes a 10.1-inch capacitive touch display.

Rizzo said the technology is aimed at a broad array of test engineers, but particularly those who need to do analysis of complex RF systems. “It’s best-suited for someone who needs a monitoring solution for RF-hopping technologies, especially in the IoT,” he said.

Rigol Technologies will demo the RSA5000 at booth #1135 at DesignCon.

Read More Articles on Electronics Technology

Designers of Autonomous Vehicles Need to Change Their Test Strategies

A Signal Integrity Problem? Maybe Not

Washable, Wearble Electronic Circuits Printed onto Fabric

New Ethernet MCU Could Simplify Creation of Sensor Networks

Software Designers, Build Your Own

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 33 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.

DesignCon 2018 logoBy Engineers, For Engineers. Join our in-depth conference program with over 100 technical paper sessions, panels, and tutorials spanning 14 tracks. PLUS! New this year: Acquire an IEEE credit for every hour you spend at the conference. Learn more. DesignCon. Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2018, in Santa Clara, CA. Register here for the event, hosted by Design News’ parent company UBM.

Call for Speakers Opens for The Battery Show in Novi, MI

The Battery Show logo

The advisors of The Battery Show (TBS) Conference, Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology (EVT) Conference, and Critical Power (CPE) Conference, invite presenters to submit speaking proposals for the event conferences, to be held September 11-13, 2018.

Track topics for this year’s conference will include but are not limited to:

  • Advanced Battery Technologies
  • Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technologies
  • Critical Power Technologies

Sample topic areas for each track can be seen here:

encouraging attendees to explore topics with greater depth and breadth. Workshops are held on the Monday before the Expo and Conferences begin and offer a more detailed and interactive learning experience on battery and E/HV topics.

PLENARY PANEL DISCUSSION – 1.5-HOUR analysis of broad industry trends from a variety of angles. Plenary topics appeal to interests of both battery and electric and hybrid vehicle experts and provide an opening discussion that sets the mood for the technical discussions that follow. When proposing a plenary panel discussion, please provide a list of your prospective speakers.

TECHNICAL DISCUSSION – 20-MINUTE solo sessions explaining a new technology and its implications. Individual technical discussions are grouped by topic within either the battery or electric/hybrid vehicle tracks. Following a grouping of technical discussions, the four to five speakers gather in a panel discussion to answer questions. Please present your submission as a solo session. The conference director will then group solo sessions by cohesive topics.

OPEN TECH FORUM PRESENTATION – 30-MINUTE interactive presentations on the Expo floor that are open to all event attendees. These sessions can include teardowns, demos, and discussions of applications or trends.

We encourage talks that reveal new ways of thinking about and applying battery, power, and energy technologies. Real-world examples that show a novel application of technology or illustrate a solution to a technical challenge in an end product, including a detailed discussion of the trade-offs and choices made.

In general, we look for speakers who are willing to share their knowledge to help design and innovation continue and grow. Proposals that decidedly aim to market a specific engineer, company, or product will not be considered.

Proposals must be submitted by February 28, 2018, through the electronic portal.

For more information about attending any of the events, please visit:

If you have any questions, please contact Naomi Price, Conference Content Director.

January 30 – Day 2 – Explorer 16/32 Development Board

Webinar Information
Start Date: Jan 30, 2018 - 07:00 PM UTC

Today’s lecture will expand upon the capabilities of the PIC32MM0064GPL036. We will mount a PIC32MM0064GPL036 PIM on our Explorer 16/32 Development Board and use the MPLAB software tools to create firmware capable of driving even more MikroElektronika click boards including a GPS click module.

Manufacturers: Invest in Training for Digital Factory Jobs

Manufacturers: Invest in Training for Digital Factory Jobs

American manufacturers need to step up and invest in training and education for a new breed of digital factory jobs, otherwise those jobs will leave the country, an expert will say at the upcoming Pacific Design & Manufacturing conference.

 “Our big message is that blue collar jobs have become digital,” Sarah Boisvert, founder of the non-profit Fab Lab Hub and author of the book, “The New Collar Work Force,” told Design News. “To meet the needs of Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing, manufacturers are going to have to train people for ‘new collar’ jobs.”

Sarah Boisvert, founder of Fab Lab Hub: “The jobs will go to the countries that prepare, and we won’t be able to compete.” (Source: Fab Lab Hub)

The concept of “new collar” jobs will be important one for manufacturers going forward because new skills will be needed in digital factories, Boisvert said. Those skills include the ability to run and repair 3D printers, the ability to collect data, and the ability to work with CAD files and programs, such as Fusion 360 from Autodesk, Inc. Equally important, prospective employees will need to have hands-on experience in the so-called “maker space;” they will need basic math skills; and they will have to be adept at problem solving, she said.

Those skills are largely unavailable in today’s youth, Boisevert said, who also was a co-founder of the commercial division of Potomac Photonics, Inc. and has developed laser-based micro-machine tools. “Now that kids don’t buy cars and fix them up, and now that kids don’t learn those skills on farms and ranches, we have to create opportunities,” she told us.

Boisevert strongly recommends that manufacturers step in, provide funding and materials to schools, give access to hands-on experience, and open facilities to let youth see what a factory looks like and how it operates. Moreover, she said engineers should share their experience and expertise. “Engineers can and should be mentors. I recommend they go to a local fab lab or maker space or school. They should participate and let kids see what a real factory is like, that it’s not something out of Dickens.”

Part of industry’s problem, Boisvert said, is its image. She cited a study by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) showing that, when it comes to a lack of trained candidates, parents are a big part of the problem. “They want their kids to be doctors and lawyers,” she said. “They don’t think of manufacturing as a professional career.”

As a result, she said, experts expect the demand for candidates to be about two million greater than the supply by 2020. The shortfall is surprising, given the fact that SME has published figures showing that the average US manufacturing worker makes $77,506 per year.

The misconceptions can’t be cleared up, however, if manufacturers don’t make an effort, Boisvert said. “If they don’t step up to the plate, and don’t recognize the need to train workers for these new collar jobs, we’re not going to have manufacturing in this country,” she told us. “The jobs will go to the countries that prepare, and we won’t be able to compete.”

Boisvert also warned that automation alone won’t solve the problem. The key, she said, is an investment in people. “Machines don’t innovate,” she told us. “People innovate. “If we don’t have the workers on the factory floor who can innovate, industry is going to collapse.”

Boisvert will discuss the need for training in a session called New Collar Job Training for the Digital Age at the Pacific Design & Manufacturing conference in Anaheim on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018.

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 33 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.

Pacific Design & Manufacturing, North America’s premier conference that connects you with thousands of professionals across the advanced design & manufacturing spectrum, is back at the Anaheim Convention Center February 6-8, 2018! Over three days, uncover software innovation, hardware breakthroughs, fresh IoT trends, product demos and more that will change how you spend time and money on your next project. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER TODAY!


Printed, Carbon-Based Motion Sensors Eyed for Affordable, Advanced Wearable Tech

carbon sensors

Though the adoption of wearable technology is on the rise, there is still much room for improvement for these types of devices as 2018 begins, with better components, form factors, and materials all the subject of research.

A team at Florida A&M University-Florida State University (FAMU-FSU) is a part of this effort, revealing a new type of printed, carbon-based motion sensor that researchers said could spur the future of ubiquitous, fully integrated, and affordable wearable technology.

The team from FSU’s High-Performance Materials Institute—working with scientists from Institut National des Sciences Appliquées in France—has developed the sensors using bukypaper—ultra-thin, flexible sheets of pure, durable carbon nanotubes. Moreover, they fabricated the sensors using common inkjet printer technology, making them affordable to manufacture.

Current standard sensors for use with wearable technology have limitations. They are often bulky, technologically unsophisticated, expensive to mass produce, or lack the flexibility demanded to monitor human movements and other vital signs.

Researchers from Florida A&M University-Florida State University (FAMU-FSU) have developed a class of printed, carbon-based motion sensors that they said are ideal to form the basis for ubiquitous, fully integrated, and affordable wearable technology. (Source: FAMU-FSU)

The carbon-based sensors built by the team, however, represent a significant leap forward for this type of technology, solving these key issues, said Richard Liang, director of the High-Performance Materials Institute and professor at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.

“For sensor technology, you need it to be flexible, you need it to be affordable, and you need it to be scalable,” he said. “This new technology is versatile and the sensors are affordable to print. It’s a big innovation that presents many possibilities down the road.”

The sensor is comprised of a strip of seven micron-thin buckypaper with silver ink electrodes printed from a common, commercially available ink-jet printer. The result combines the sensitivity of semi-conductor sensors with the flexibility of metallic sensors, researchers said.

Sensors are measured by what’s called “gauge factor,” which indicates how much resistance value changes as a material is strained or bent, researchers said. The carbon-based sensors have gauge factors up to eight times higher than commercial sensors and 75 percent higher than many other carbon nanotube sensors, they reported.

The team published a paper on their work in the journal Materials & Design.

Researchers already have identified a number of applications for the sensors. Integration into bed sheets to monitor sleep quality, shoes to track step count and posture, or workout clothes to measure intensity of exercise are just a few they envision for their devices.

Wearable technology isn’t the only possible use for the sensors, which also could be used in soft robotics to design highly responsive, self-correcting artificial muscles, or in Internet of Things (IoT) devices for digitally connected furniture, appliances, and the like, researchers said.

“Most projects don’t have this many possible applications,” said doctoral candidate Joshua DeGraff, the lead author of the paper on the research. “This material could be used in structural health monitoring, wearable technology, and everything in between.”

The team plans to continue to improve the sensors to make them even thinner for optimal integration into comfortable and non-restrictive clothing, as well as perform more tests to ensure they are better able to conform to wearer’s body movements.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years.

January 29 – Day 1 – PIC32MM Curiosity

Webinar Information
Start Date: Jan 29, 2018 - 07:00 PM UTC

The first lecture of this series will introduce you to the Microchip PIC32MM Curiosity Development Board. We will utilize the latest versions of MPLABX, the XC32 C compiler, and the Microchip Code Configurator to assemble IoT firmware packages that drive the PIC32MM Curiosity’s PIC32MM0064GPL036 microcontroller and associated peripherals. We will also present source code to drive ADC and DAC MikroElektronika click boards, which are supported by the PIC32MM Curiosity Development Board’s mikroBUS.

The First Steps Toward Robot Automation

Epson Robotics, automation, systems integrators, automation processes, robots

The first few steps in introducing robots – or any other automation technology – are crucial to ensuring the overall success of plant automation. A botched early step can cause management to back away from the financial investment needed to automate plant processes. Companies that don’t have the proper engineering staff inhouse, can bring in a systems integrator to make sure the early steps toward automating the plant are sound and form a foundation for the next steps in the automation.

Choosing the right robot can make all the difference during the first steps in automating the plant. Photo couresy of Epson Robotics.

One obvious aspect of that first step is choosing an automation application that will deliver a clear return on investment (ROI). Yet not all ROI-based automation moves are the same. Some are fairly easy, while others are very difficult. “Frist off, start simple," Rick Brookshire, senior manager at Epson Robotics, told Design News. “Typically, we’ll go into a factory that has no robots, no automation, and there are lots of opportunities. Some look for the best ROI, but if it’s going to be really hard, that could be a poor choice. It’s best to choose something simple. If you do it well at the beginning, management will say ‘Let’s go.’ If it’s difficult, management will lose confidence.”

Do You Need a Systems Integrator?

One of the big questions in an automation project is whether it requires outside expertise. “You have to ask the question, ‘Can we do it by ourselves or do we need a systems integrator?’ How do you determine if you’ll need one? Do you have a mechanical engineer, an electrical or control engineer, and a software engineer to put it together? If not, you’ll need help,” said Brookshire, who will present the session, The Starting Point for Robot Automation: A Beginner's Guide, on Wed., Feb. 7, 2018, at the Pacific Design and Automation Show in Anaheim, Calif. “If you don’t have those three engineers, you’re probably best off with a systems integrator, because you want to have success.”

Choosing the right systems integrator is also important to ensure success. “You can use your robot vendor to help identify the right integrator,” said Brookshire. “If a customer has an application in medical assembly, we’ll typically refer them to a systems integrator that has medical experience, not one from the automotive world. It’s best to use someone who has done 50 medical systems, so they’re learning just your application and not the particulars of the medical industry.”

Matching the Robot with the Application

A miss-match between the process that needs to be automated and the technology to complete that automation can bring the automation process to a halt. “You want to work with a robot vendor that can help you choose the right robot for the job,” said Brookshire. “If you’re moving parts from a flat surface to another flat surface and speed is the issue, you can find a robot for that. If you have to move the part from a shelf and shift it to a right angle to put it down, you may need a six-axis robot. This is a conversation where a good vendor will help you find the right robot for the job.”

Automation projects run into trouble when plant managers are unclear in describing the process that needs to be automated. The process has to be completely understood, from each individual movement to the nature of the parts that are getting moved. “It’s important to be able to present the process so the vendor understands exactly what you want to do,” said Brookshire. “Customers say they want to automate this process. They say they want it to be high precision, but they can’t say how many parts need to be moved and in what time. The answers can be vague. Then you find out later that they’re working with plastic parts. That tells you they don’t understand the process.”

Automation applications are intrinsically designed to solve problems, and those problems have to be articulated. Areas of specific difficulty have to be explained in order to find the right solution. “You need to talk about the problem areas. When you explain the problem areas, you’re telling the vendor what needs extra attention,” said Brookshire. “If customers can explain the process with precision, and they know the process thoroughly, they will have an easy time finding am automation solution.”

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

Pacific Design and ManufacturingPacific Design & Manufacturing , North America’s premier conference that connects you with thousands of professionals across the advanced design & manufacturing spectrum, is back at the Anaheim Convention Center February 6-8, 2018! Over three days, uncover software innovation, hardware breakthroughs, fresh IoT trends, product demos and more that will change how you spend time and money on your next project.  CLICK HERE TO REGISTER TODAY!

DoE Research Into Motion of Water Molecules Paves Way for Liquid-Based Electronics

water molecules

Like air, water is one of our most important natural resources, something we need so fundamentally that most of us take it for granted and rarely give a thought to how it is assembled or functions on a physical level.

Researchers at the Department of Energy (DoE) feel differently, however, and have been studying the dynamics of water for many years, resulting in new observations about its viscosity that could pave the way for an advanced new class of liquid-based electronics.

A team of researchers led by the DoE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have used an advanced high-resolution X-ray technique to measure the strong bond involving a hydrogen atom sandwiched between two oxygen atoms—which is the essential chemical make-up of water. The bond is a quantum-mechanical phenomenon responsible for various properties of water, including viscosity, which determines a liquid’s resistance to flow or to change shape.

Though water is so abundant and intrinsic to life, its behavior at a molecular level has not historically been well understood. For many years it was thought that the collision of its molecules was controlling its dynamics—basically, how its molecules move around, said Takeshi Egami, a University of Tennessee-ORNL distinguished scientist and professor.

Using an advanced, high-resolution inelastic X-ray scattering technique, however, researchers were finally able to visualize the bond dynamics of water, discovering that it is the atomic bonding, not collision, that controls the dynamics, he told Design News.

“This experiment was designed to prove this idea, by actually seeing the bond dynamics of water,” Egami said. “My theory applies to liquids in general, but I chose water because it is such an important substance, the right actor to play the heroic role with brilliance and gravitas.”       

An Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)-led research team used a sophisticated X-ray scattering technique to visualize and quantify the movement of water molecules in space and time, which provides new insights that may open pathways for liquid-based electronics. (Source: Jason Richards/ORNL, U.S. Department of Energy)

Previously, because the motion of water molecules is so fast, researchers studied them mostly by ultra-fast laser spectroscopy, which provided inconclusive results, he explained.

“This method gives us the idea of time-scale, but nothing about the real-space motion, because the wavelength of light is 1000 times longer than the molecular size,” Egami said. 

Inelastic X-ray scattering—in particular, a pair-density function method that allows for visualization of static atomic correlations in crystals in real space—is a far better method for observing the molecules, he said. However, it only recently was possible thanks to instrumentation provided by SPring-8, a synchrotron radiation research facility in Japan that collaborated with Egami’s team.

“The instrumentation group led by A. Q. R. Baron of SPring-8 came up with fantastic set-up, which made it possible to achieve our dream,” Egami said. The team published a paper on their work in the journal Science Advances.

What the research proves is that it’s now possible to probe real-space, real-time dynamics of water and other liquids, Egami said. This opens the door for the development of new and advanced types of semiconductor devices with liquid electrolyte insulating layers, better batteries, and improved lubricants.

“Having succeeded in this goal, we now can explain the microscopic mechanism of viscous behavior of various liquids,” he said. “But the implication of this work is much wider. It showed that the local atomic dynamics can directly be observed. This approach will provide direct answers to numerous questions.”

The team recently completed a study of the water dynamics as a function of temperature, and has begun now to study the effect of adding salt as it continues its research, Egami told Design News. Future work could have a direct impact on the future design of electronics, he added.

“We will then study the dynamics of liquid electrolyte--highly polarizable liquid that could revolutionize the electronic industry by replacing oxide insulating films with a liquid electrolyte,” Egami said.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years.