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Articles from 2005 In September


RoHS Conversion May Produce Shortages

As component suppliers shift their production to RoHS-complaint parts in anticipation of the July 1, 2006 deadline, the electronics industry may experience parts shortages. While it seems logical there would be supply interruptions of newly compliant parts as OEMs rush to stock up, there is also concern there will be shortfalls in non-compliant parts needed by industries such as defense, medial and telecommunications that are at least partly exempted from RoHS compliance.

One of the reason for shortages is that some OEMs are stocking higher than usual inventory levels to protect themselves from potential shortages. Some analysts estimate that upwards of a billion dollars in components have already been snapped up. Those OEMs and EMS providers best able to cope with potential shortages will be those that either have the wherewithal to buy sufficient quantities of components in advance and those that have strong supplier relationships.

Eric Karofsky, senior research analyst at AMR Research, believes the components industry will experience shortages in both non-compliant and newly compliant parts. “There will actually be shortages of both types of parts. Non-compliant parts are being phased out by suppliers that are making new, backwards-compatible parts,” says Karofsky. “OEMs are taking advantage of last-time buys and accumulating stock.”

He notes shortages could be compounded by component suppliers that take a conservative position in the production of compliant parts. Demand for those parts is not yet certain, so suppliers may hold back. “Producers are unclear of volumes of compliant parts to produce given that every company has different cut-over plans,” says Karofsky. He also notes that inventory levels at parts suppliers will vary depending on their financial ability to produce and stock two versions of their parts. “A lot of this depends on the size of the component manufacturer and its ability – financial and business value – to run multiple lines.”

Much of the non-compliant inventory could find its way into the gray market. But if component suppliers end their non-compliant production, those parts could rise in value – those in exempt industries will still need those parts. “There will be a secondary market for companies trying to get rid of non-compliant stock,” says Karofsky. “Even non-exempt companies still need these parts since they are allowed to use non-compliant parts for products sold before RoHS goes into effect.”

Karofsky notes that non-compliant parts will be needed by service and maintenance groups that are allowed to use non-compliant parts for replacement parts in products sold before the July 1, 2006 deadline. “This brings up a whole new set of problems,” says Karofsky. “How does the service person know which part to put in? Will they need to stock two of everything, both compliant and non-compliant?”

EIA pushes for national recycling infrastructure

EIA pushes for national recycling infrastructure

With more than half of U.S. states developing environmental laws governing the electronics industry, the Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA) called on the federal government to bring consistency to the field. Dave McCurdy, EIA president and CEO – and a former House of Representatives member – testified before the House Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials this month asking for the federal government to bring infrastructure and overall national uniformity to the product disposal table.

McCurdy said he would like federal policymakers to work with the electronics industry “to develop an infrastructure that would keep costs to consumers as low as possible, create a level playing field for market participants, and ensure that products are being recycled in an environmentally sound manner.” McCurdy told legislators it is in the interest of the United States to create a national recycling infrastructure to help ease some of the intense competitive pressures on U.S. companies as they struggle to compete globally.

Fujitsu: Using Compliance as Competitive Edge

A substantial portion of Frisco, Texas-based Fujitsu Transaction Solutions’ revenue falls under the RoHS and WEEE directives. As the Fujitsu Ltd.’s subsidiary prepared to comply with the Euro laws, it decided to take up the compliance challenge as a move to gain marketshare. “As the company has improved it preparedness, it has begun capturing competitive advantages, taking the form of design changes and building relationships,” says Eric Karofsky, an analyst at AMR Research Inc. in Boston who studied Fujitsu’s environmental compliance strategies.

As part of its compliance strategy, Fujitsu started a dialog with customers about the European regulations and its preparation to comply. Since its competitors didn’t initiate a similar conversation with customers, Fujitsu gained an edge as a trusted supplier out to help its customers through the compliance hurdles. “This helped turn Fujitsu into a trusted partner rather than simply a supplier, and it also has exposed Fujitsu to additional decision-makers,” says Karofsky. “Ordinarily the company has access to operations personnel and possibly the CIO, but in discussing risk exposure allow Fujitsu access to its customers’ legal council and the CFO.”

The company created a detailed plan to move to compliance. First it created a steering committee. The team included the senior vice president with profit and loss responsibility. The committee was led by the person who managed the company’s Y2K transformation. Thirty cross-functional people became part of the team. The group was then split into three teams, one to focus on WEEE, one to look at RoHS, and one that concentrated on supplier and design issues.

In March of this year, Fujitsu contacted its 200-plus suppliers to create a dialog. “Central to the discussion was the understanding of the supplier’s conversion plans,” says Karofsky. “Unfortunately, a small sample had yet to define timeliness to compliance. As a result, Fujitsu dropped vendors and sourced replacement parts.”

Karofsky notes that in January 2006, the company expects to start certifying components, assembling products and testing for functionality and reliability. “The company estimates that it will roughly double its engineering force to accommodate these processes,” says Karofsky. “It also has developed mitigation plans for product redesign to rectify component sourcing and performance problems.”

Karofsky believes the advanced planning and continual communication with customers has allowed Fujitsu to make lemonade of compliance lemons. “The company is winning new accounts because of its preparation and collaboration,” says Karofsky. “Simultaneously, it is changing its supply base because vendors cannot deliver to the environmental standards.”

Real-time Open-Source OS

For years, the Linux operating system has piqued the interest of embedded designers in virtually all areas, except those that require hard real-time performance.

Now that may be changing. The growing throngs of Linux faithful say that Linux's v2.6 kernel has all the real-time capabilities a designer could need, for applications from machine tools to telecom equipment.

"There's a reason why the adoption rate for Linux is growing so incredibly high," notes Larry Weidman, chief executive officer of TimeSys Corp., which distributes the Linux 2.6 kernel. "It's because everything you once wanted from your proprietary embedded operating system can now be obtained from Linux."

Still, there is disagreement in the Linux camp over how best to achieve real-time. While companies such as TimeSys employ the 2.6 kernel as their foundation, some competitors have employed other means. The following three companies offer real-time, open-source solutions.

LynuxWorks LynxOS alternative

A cornerstone philosophy at LynuxWorks, Inc. is that Linux is inherently non-real-time. The company therefore developed LynxOS, a real-time open-source operating system that conforms to the Linux standard and uses open application programming interfaces (APIs). The company says that each component in LynxOS is designed for "absolute determinism," meaning that the system unfailingly responds in a prescribed time period. LynxOS has been employed on the Army's Future Combat System. For moreinformation, go tohttp://rbi.ims.ca/4397-533.

TimeSys 'build-it-yourself' technique

The TimeSys Component Repository and Embedded Linux Platform Builder help developers build their own operating system atop a 2.6 Linux distribution. The Repository allows designers to select a version of Linux for their particular processor, and the Platform Builder directs them to real-time components that enable them to build, test, and certify their systems. In that sense, it's an improvement on the publicly-available Linux kernel because it optimizes the OS for the processor family and application. Notes Weidman of Timesys: "We provide developers with the ability, and believe that 90 percent of those developers want to build their own (system)." TimeSys' Linux RTOS has been employed on a Mars Exploration Rover vehicle designed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, go tohttp://rbi.ims.ca/4397-531.

FSMLabs dual-kernel approach

The FSMLabs RTLinuxPro 2.2 dual-kernel approach runs Linux as a thread of a real-time operating system. The company's engineers claim that the dual-kernel approach combines the best features of Linux with hard real-time performance. "Linux provides some very sophisticated features and our design enables us to get hard real-time without sacrificing performance," notes Victor Yodaiken, CEO of FSMLabs. Yodaiken adds that RTLinuxPro offers "low-microsecond interrupt latency and scheduling jitter" along with full access to a 2.6 Linux kernel for non-real-time programs. Pratt & Whitney employed RTLinuxPro in afterburner tests of the F135 engine. For more information, go tohttp://rbi.ims.ca/4397-532.

Electronics

SENSORS

In three models

The D10 series of DIN-rail-mountable fiber optic sensors is available in three different models: the D10 Expert with Numeric Display, the D10 Expert with Bargraph Display, and the D10 Discrete Output. Each feature the same housing style and interface format and they are designed for fast and easy installation. They are ideal for a variety of applications, including guiding the edge of plastic material as it moves across rollers, triggering a vision sensor in an inspection, and locating the perforations between bags on a web. Banner Engineering Corp.http://rbi.ims.ca/4397-576

DC/DC CONVERTERS

High power density

Featuring high levels of integrated functionality to minimize external components and simplify circuit layout, the NDH series of board-mounted isolated dc/dc converters are dual output, 3W devices in miniature SIP packaging. They have a 2:1 input voltage range to enable design flexibility, and they have outputs regulated to 0.5 percent. Nominal input voltage options are 24V and 48V, with respective input ranges of 18-36V and 36-72V. C&D Technologieshttp://rbi.ims.ca/4397-577

INCLINOMETERS

Made for 4-20 mA data transmission systems

The SI-702BI is a bi-axial force balance inclinometer that is engineered with an ouput circuit configuration made for use in 4-20 mA data transmission systems. It is suited for applications requiring data to be transmitted over long distances in environments where interference from nearby electrical power lines could pose a problem. A single +15V supply is designed to power both the sensor and 4-20 mA line driver. Columbia Research Labs http://rbi.ims.ca/4397-578

ACCELEROMETER SWITCH

With a switching capacity of 500 mA at 60V dc

Designed to control, safeguard, or warn of undesirable variations in dc and low frequency acceleration, the SS-108 force balance accelerometer switch can be configured to trigger in one or both directions along the sensitive axis, at specified g levels within a selected operating range. The solid-state relay switching capacity is 500 mA at 60V dc. It uses the company's HP suspension system, and no signal conditioning is required to the analog output in most applications. Columbia Research Labshttp://rbi.ims.ca/4397-579

MINI FUSE AND RELAY

Rugged, compact

The Series 15300 power distribution module consists of the rear terminal mini-fuse and relay, and un-bussed and partially bussed versions have been added to the family. The products are designed to provide users a rugged, compact, IP67-rated power distribution solution. It holds up to 20 devices, including fuses, circuit breakers, relays, and diodes. Uniform component spacing accepts standard 2.8-mm wide terminal blades for all component connections. It is available in three configurations: all fuses, fuses and mini (larger) relays, and fuses and micro (smaller) relays. Bussman Automotive Productshttp://rbi.ims.ca/4397-580

MOTION CONTROL

Compact and intelligent

The MC73110 motor control IC features precision velocity loop for brushless dc motors. The product, designed to be compact and intelligent, is a single-axis IC that functions in internal velocity profile mode, velocity mode with an external velocity command signal, or torque mode with an external torque command signal. It is engineered for use in a variety of applications, including semiconductor automation and medical automation, along with applications with high performance, low-cost brushless motor amplifiers. Performance Motion Deviceshttp://rbi.ims.ca/4397-581

SENSOR

Large sensing distances

Engineered to precisely detect materials such as iron steel, stainless steel, copper, aluminum, and brass, the Uprox+ sensors are designed to do so at large sensing distances without a reduction in the rated sensing distance. Its patented multi-coil system replaces the wound coil found in conventional ferrite core inductive sensors, resulting in sensing distances up to 250 times higher, according to the company. TURCKhttp://rbi.ims.ca/4397-582

ROTARY SENSORS

12-bit resolution

The RSC3700 family of non-contacting rotary sensors is engineered to provide 360-degree absolute angle measurements with 12-bit resolution. Measurements are referred to a mechanical index point, providing retention of position in the event of a power failure. A microprocessor incorporated into the sensor allows a custom output characteristic curve to be preprogrammed for a specific application. It has a resolution of ± 0.09 degrees. Novotechnikhttp://rbi.ims.ca/4397-583

GAUGING SENSOR

Compact

The Class 3R and Class 3b Selcom® SLC 5000 non-contact sensors feature a totally integrated sensor within the head and a built-in processor for data averaging and filtering. A dynamic laser feedback loop is designed for accurate measurement without regard to speed, ambient light changes, color, and temperature of material or general environmental plant conditions. It has repeatability of up to 16,000 times per sec within a small, defined spot using very little power. LMI Technologieshttp://rbi.ims.ca/4397-584

LINEAR POWER SUPPLY

Dual output

The 22-100 linear power supply features an output voltage of ±15V and provides up to ±100 mA of output current. It can be powered by 100, 115, 220, 230, and 240V ac. It is designed to be very quiet and ripple at only 2 mV rms. It is engineered to be an ideal power source for sensitive analog circuitry, such as the differential amplifiers and voltage alarms. The voltage accuracy is ±0.5 percent, and line and load regulation is ±0.04 percent. Calex Mfg. Co. http://rbi.ims.ca/4397-585

INSTRUMENTATION AMPLIFIER

With shutdown mode

Described by the company as the industry's first instrumentation amplifier to offer high precision at voltages as low as 1.8V, the AD8553 is designed for a variety of applications that require low-voltage operation. It features a power-saving shutdown mode that extends battery life, along with low-noise operation. It also features high dc accuracy and very high CMRR. In shutdown mode, the total supply current is reduced to fewer than 4 µA. Analog Devices Inc.http://rbi.ims.ca/4397-586

REFERENCE DESIGNS

High availability

The BMR-H8S-ATCA board management reference designs support Renesas Technology's H8S/2168 series of microcontrollers. Its second-generation, high availability firmware enables field replaceable unit (FRU) designers to achieve compliant, interoperable board-level management solutions with low cost and low risk. They support the AdvancedTCA "IPM Controller" functions, allowing users to integrate boards, fan trays, power supplies, and other intelligent FRUs. Pigeon Point Systemshttp://rbi.ims.ca/4397-587

PHOTOELECTRIC SENSORS

Miniature package

The BOS 2K family of photoelectric sensors are designed to combine full functionality in a miniature package that is 20 × 7.5 × 10 mm in size. They have a scan range of up to 1.2m and supply four different sensing modes. A variety of reflectors, mounting brackets, and connectors is available. They are ideal for a range of assembly and handling applications. Balluffhttp://rbi.ims.ca/4397-588

FLASH MEMORY MODULE

Supports full chip erase

The AS8F2M32 is a 64 Mbit, 68-pin ceramic quad flat pack flash-memory component that is a multi-chip package designed to be programmed in-system with a single 5V, vcc supply. It is offered with access times of 90-150 ns, and it allows for the long-term non-volatile storage of the micro-code for the end platforms computational core. It supports full chip erase, is compatible with JEDEC standards, and features 100,000 program/erase cycles. Austin Semiconductor Inc.http://rbi.ims.ca/4397-589

THREADED SWITCH

More compact

Designed as a space-saving switch, the C08 switch family now includes a threaded version. It is designed to be approximately 20 percent more compact than the previous switches, and is M6 x 0.75 mm thread size. It is a coded output switch, available in hex or gray codes. Custom codes are also available. The product is available in both SMD and THT styles. Elma Electronichttp://rbi.ims.ca/4397-590

INDUSTRIAL MOTHERBOARDS

Long lifecycle

DFI industrial motherboards are a range of ATX, Micro-ATX, and Mini-ATX form-factor boards that are designed for dedicated application PCs, network appliances, and control and test systems that require longevity. They provide long life cycles with a commitment to complete revision control. Customer approval must be sought in advance before any change can occur. Saelig Co. Inc. http://rbi.ims.ca/4397-591

STEPPER MOTOR CONTROLLER

Four operation modes

Engineered to provide an easy way to control unipolar stepper motors up to 35V and 3A per phase, the Easy-Step 3000 has a small size that makes it ideal for use in robots and other industrial control equipment. It is 63.6 × 26.4 mm, and it can drive unipolar stepper motors in full 2-phase, full 1-phase, and half-step modes using an easy-to-use command set. Four modes of operation are supported: direct command set, slave/remote - pulse mode, voltage mode, and teach mode. Saelig Co. Inc.http://rbi.ims.ca/4397-592

RELAY

Application notes

The RF522 relay is designed as a compact, DPDT, surface-mount latching device characterized up to 10 GHz, and the company has released the product's application notes. The paper reportedly provides a detailed description of how the company mounts the product onto evaluation test boards. It also describes recommendations for the product's rework and removal. Customers may download the application notes online at the company's website. Teledyne Relayshttp://rbi.ims.ca/4397-593

OSCILLATOR

For telecom

Providing -150 dBc/Hz noise floor and ±50 ppm/min. APR pullability, the CVSS-940 is a true sine wave voltage-controlled crystal oscillator that is available in a standard 9 × 14 mm SMD package. It generates frequencies between 77.76-500 MHz, with an output level of 0 dBm min into 50 V and harmonics lower than -20 dBc. It is engineered to be ideal for telecom applications, broadband networks, SONET/SDH/DWD, network/switch, and ATM communications. Crystek Crystals http://rbi.ims.ca/4397-594

FUSES

Lead-free

The company has released lead-free versions of its 2AG, 3AG, 3AB, and 5 × 20 mm form factor fuses. They are designed to withstand the higher temperatures associated with lead-free wave soldering, and they comply with electronic industry manufacturing standards for lead-free circuit board content, including IEC 60068-2-20, EIA-IS-722, CSA, and UL approvals. Littlefusehttp://rbi.ims.ca/4397-595

CABLE SOLUTIONS

Use USB connection

The USB-COM-S series are ready-made cable solutions for allowing RS232 serial devices to talk to newer USB PCs. They add one, two, four, or eight RS232 Windows Serial COM ports without needing card slots or external power supplies. They use a laptop or desktop PC's USB connection, and they offer a set of data and control signals (TX-, TX+, RX-, RX+, GND, RTS-, RTS+, CTS-, CTS+) on their DB9M connectors. Saelig Co. Inc.http://rbi.ims.ca/4397-596

RELAY

High temperature

With quick connects for the load connections so there is no need for heavy copper traces on the PCB, the AZ762F relay is rated by UL for 20A, 277V ac, 100k cycles at 124C. It has an isolation of 10 mm and a dielectric strength of 500V rms. It is ideal for HVAC and white-goods applications where high ambient temperatures are a concern. American Zettler Inc. http://rbi.ims.ca/4397-597

DEVELOPERS KIT

Shortens design time

The MC73110 brushless motor control IC developer's kit is an integrated board and software package that enables users to evaluate and use the company's motor control ICs, while shortening the design time for users who are interested in building high-performance brushless dc motor controllers. The product gives users a platform with which an application can be developed, motors can be tested, and software can be verified. Performance Motion Devices Inc.http://rbi.ims.ca/4397-598

SENSORS

High sensitivity

The company's line of magnetic proximity sensors are engineered to use Giant Magnetoresistive technology to offer high sensitivity to magnetic targets. They detect magnets through all non-magnetizable materials, including stainless steel, non-ferrous metal, aluminum, plastic, wood, and glass. They are ideal for a variety of rugged applications, including speed monitoring, U-tube position on diverter panels, and pigging systems used in the food and beverage industry. ifm efectorhttp://rbi.ims.ca/4397-599

TRANSCEIVERS

Constructed to IPC class 3 standards

Compliant with industry-standard MSA 2xb footprint and packaging requirements, the company's family of ruggedized small form factor optical transceivers are constructed to IPC Class 3 standards. They are validated for compliance with MIL-STD-810E, and are engineered to provide the speed and security of fiber optic communications, along with the durability and reliability necessary for military and avionics applications. Stratos Lightwave http://rbi.ims.ca/4397-600

OUTPUT MODULE

Two channels

The PC104-DS synchro/resolver output module features two channels of digital-to-synchro and digital-to-resolver conversion in a standard stack-through PC104 footprint. It has 16-bit resolution, transformer isolated reference inputs, and short-circuit-proof outputs capable of driving up to a full 1.2 VA load per channel. Reference inputs are 2-115V ac at 57-300 Hz. Computer Conversion Corp.http://rbi.ims.ca/4397-601

PHOTOELECTRIC SENSORS

Completely self-contained

The WORLD-BEAM® Q12 ultra-miniature photoelectric sensors are completely self-contained. They feature an overmolded design to achieve an IP67 environmental protection rating and withstand the abuse of a harsh industrial environment. They are available in opposed, retroreflective, polarized retroreflective, and fixed-field modes, and are able to sense ranges up to 2m. The products are ideal for a range of applications, including materials handling, packaging, semiconductor, pharmaceutical, document handling, and assembly industries. Banner Engineeringhttp://rbi.ims.ca/4397-602

TEMPERATURE SWITCH

Dual stage

The TSS dual-stage temperature switch is a microprocessor-based switch that is engineered to accept up to two inputs with independent 8A relay output for dual stage control. It features a 30 mA alarm output for external buzzer activation. The product offers a temperature range of -58 to 302F, with an accuracy of ±0.5 percent or better. It provides 34 programmable parameters to customize control functions. LOVE Controls/Dwyer Instruments Inc.http://rbi.ims.ca/4397-603

PACKAGING TECHNOLOGY

New size

The FQ series of all-quartz crystal packing technology now includes a 5 × 3.2-mm package size. The FQ5032 features a profile of 0.8 mm. It is engineered for a variety of applications, including PDA, MP3, scanners, and GPS. According to the company, it yields costs savings of 15 percent in quantities of 10,000 to 20,000, and savings of 20 percent in quantities of 50,000 and above. Fox Electronicshttp://rbi.ims.ca/4397-604

AUDIO INDICATOR

For ice fishing

The TRIE-1201P electro-mechanical audio indicator is an integral component of an assembled, finished product designed for ice fisherman. The product clips to the fisherman's "Tip-Up" spring; when fish strike the lure, the product's audio alarm sounds, along with a flashing light. It produces a sound pressure level of 75 dBA, minimum, at a frequency of 2300 ± 300 Hz, with an operating temperature range of -20 to 70C. Transducers USAhttp://rbi.ims.ca/4397-605

DATA ACQUISITION SYSTEM

Supports Modbus protocols

Designed to implement industry standard Modbus RTU and TCP protocols, the isoLynx® SLX200 data acquisition system is a fast, intelligent, modular, fully isolated product. It is able to interface with more than 650 SCM5B analog i/o modules, and it offers flexibility for a variety of applications, including factory automation, process control, test and measurement, machine control, and data acquisition applications. Dataforth Corp.http://rbi.ims.ca/4397-606

CPU MODULE

For fanless operation

The PFM-620S is a PC/104 CPU module that supports onboard Intel® Ultra Low voltage Celeron® 400/650 MHz processors. It is designed for fanless operation and low power consumption, and it is suitable for single voltage (5V only) input requirement applications. The graphics chip section enables resolutions of up to 1280 × 1024 pixels for CRT operation and 1024 × 768 for LCD output. AAEON Electronics Inc.http://rbi.ims.ca/4397-607

Isolating the Key Detail (or Lunching With a Mermaid and Pickled Herring)

Q. There is a fault in my CMOS multiplexer . . .?

A. Recently, we considered an applications problem where the engineer was reticent, making it difficult to obtain the facts needed to solve it. Long ago, just after I joined Analog Devices, I met a problem where all details but one were almost irrelevant.

It was in Copen-hagen. I had been discussing an analog electronics course with a professor from the University of Copenhagen and we decided to walk through Kastellet to see the Little Mermaid on her rock before having lunch on the quayside at Nyhaven in the oldest part of the harbor. As we walked Lars told me that Karen, one of his graduate students, was having accuracy troubles making measurements on three channels with one analog-to-digital converter (ADC).

If there are three channels there is usually a fourth not being used—so I told him I could probably cure the problem on that information alone. We telephoned the student and told her to ground all unused multiplexer (MUX) inputs and outputs, and retest her system.

Unconnected channels on CMOS switches and MUXes, whether on a separate chip or part of a multi-input ADC, can pick up signals from stray electrostatic fields and inject them into the substrate of the chip, turning on spurious substrate devices—even if the unconnected channel is disabled. These devices' leakage can degrade the performance of the active channel or channels, or even of an ADC which shares the chip.

In the past the effect might be so large as to trigger a parasitic thyristor across the supplies and destroy the device, but modern CMOS processes are mostly protected against such catastrophes, but not against more subtle degradations of accuracy. "Fault-protected" switches and MUXes are far less vulnerable to such effects, too, but not totally immune—and by no means are all MUXes fault-protected as the protection circuitry increases chip size and, as a result, cost.

It is therefore essential that all inputs and outputs of a CMOS switch or MUX, even one integrated into an ADC, be connected to a potential somewhere between its supplies. Generally this means grounding all unused inputs and outputs, but sometimes leakage and/or capacitive crosstalk can better be minimized by connecting unused pins to a signal or a power supply.

By the time Lars and I had consumed a Tuborg and a plate of marinated herring, and had waved goodbye to the mermaid, Karen had called us back to report that her system was working perfectly.

To learn more about behavioral problems in ADCs & how to avoid them, g o to: http://rbi.ims.ca/4397-501

Stunning Competition

Stunning Competition

Fatalities and injuries have raised questions over the use of Taser stun guns, helping create a market opening for Stinger Systems Inc., which is beginning to ship guns it says are safer and more rugged.

Stinger designers recessed both the cartridge and the safety mechanism, greatly reducing the chance they can break during rough use-something the company says can happen with equipment from market leader Taser International. "Being second in the marketplace lets you learn from the other guy's mistakes," says Stinger CEO Robert Gruder.

Perhaps more important are differences in shooting range and stunning techniques. Stingers can fire four darts at distances up to 31 ft. That's more than the Taser's 27-ft standard, but less than an extended 35-ft cartridge. However, Gruder contends that Taser's dart pattern, which locates darts about 20 inches apart at 31 ft, will be more effective. He states that Stingers are safer because officers control the length of time electricity goes through the victim's body, releasing the trigger to stop the charge before the four sec maximum, which is less than Taser's five sec standard.

Not planning to give up market share easily, Taser filed lawsuits against Stinger for false advertising and unlawful patent marking.



Stinger CEO Bob Gruder takes aim at Taser.

MEMS Assist Microdetectives

MEMS Assist Microdetectives

MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) have the versatility to solve specialized problems, and the demonstration of that versatility continues at Sandia National Laboratories. Researchers there have devised an advanced gas-sampling procedure using picoliters of gas to check whether the atmosphere inside a MEMS device is pure.

A small commercial valve crushes a tiny object-the MEMS chip under investigation-and feeds the released gases to a custom-built intake manifold. Because the test mechanism requires only picoliters of gas, it can re-evaluate dozens of times, using bursts of puffs of gas that it receives. This repetition increases the final test's validity due to the repeated sampling and testing during a 20-minute period, compared with the uncertain validity of a single test and result.

Calling New Markets

Calling New Markets

Cell phones might seem to be everywhere, but new markets await. User penetration in the U.S. is less than two thirds.

Cell phones could help in preventing and responding to terrorist attacks, says Michael J. Hopmeier, president of Unconventional Concepts Inc. Authorities should be able to phone people with vital information and mobile users should be able to report suspicious activity by text message or photos. Pictures will improve 1.3 Mpixel camera phones replacing VGA phones next year, according to ABI Research.

Or consider helmet-wearing motorcyclists. Cardo Systems Inc. has developed a hands-free phone that fits in a helmet. The headset has a wind-resistant microphone designed for speeds up to 75 mph, and voice control for aswering calls.

Texas Instruments Inc. is focusing on India, where the mobile subscriber base is barely 10 percent of the population. TI chairman Tom Engibous recently demonstrated the company's single-chip phone, calling Europe from a meeting in New Delhi.


Bikers can now phone other drivers.

Single-Chip Solution For Passive Keyless Entry

Single-Chip Solution For Passive Keyless Entry

Engineers designing radio frequency systems for passive keyless entry and tire pressure monitoring may now be able to swap two chips for one, thanks to a new device that combines a microcontroller with a three-channel analog transponder.

Known as the Microchip PIC16F639, the new chip enables designers of RF devices, such as automotive passive keyless entry systems, to more easily package electronic components in handheld keyfobs. Microchip Technology, Inc. (http://www.microchip.com), makers of the new device, say that it can also be used in tire pressure monitoring, computer access, door locks, gate openers, and even "smart" doggie doors.

"When you put a chip inside somebody's keyfob, size is a big factor," notes Fanie Duvenhage, a product marketing manager for Microchip Technology, Inc. "The board-space savings alone can be very important."

Duvenhage adds that many keyfob designers are challenged when they try to incorporate antenna-based transmitters, coils, and batteries, along with microcontrollers, inside a device that fits in the palm of a hand. The new device makes the design process easier by replacing the conventional 14- and 20-pin packages with a single 20-pin SSOP (small shrink outline package), thus freeing up room inside the keyfob.

Microchip engineers see the chip as an alternative to passive keyless entry systems based on application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs). By employing a microcontroller instead of an ASIC, the engineers have added feature possibilities.

"ASICs don't drive your costs up, but they do reduce your flexibility," Duvenhage says. "Having a microcontroller in there gives you a lot more flexibility when you want to implement new features."

The company says that the PIC16F639 is also drawing interest in applications outside passive keyless entry. In automotive, its flexibility makes it a candidate for tire pressure monitoring systems, which need an RF transponder for communication between the dashboard and tires. Outside of automotive, it's seeing use in RFID, hospital access, garage door openers, remote sensing and home security. Microchip engineers say that the product has also drawn interest from makers of smart doggie doors, who want to use it as part of a smart system that would recognize house pets and prevent unwanted animals from entering homes.

"We're seeing an enormous number of different applications," Duvenhage says. "Passive keyless entry has enabled us to bring the costs down and open up a lot of new possibilities."

For more information on Microchip's Keyless Entry System, go to: http://rbi.ims.ca/4397-528