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Q&A with a Senior Embedded Systems Engineer on the Product Development Process

Ralph Cassara

Sr. Director of Embedded Systems

1. What role does your team play in the product development process?

We bring products to life!

A holistic approach, the seamless marriage of hardware and software, is critical for successful embedded system design. This approach uniquely positions the Embedded Systems Group to provide solutions designed with high technical accuracy and faster time to market. The Embedded Systems Group accomplishes this through our diverse group of talented individuals that are experienced in multiple disciplines (EE/CS/CE). This allows us to architect and develop embedded hardware and software solutions with a wide range of capability, functionality, and complexity.

Learn more about IPS’ Embedded Systems Group and how we can help you make reality out of the possibility.

2. In general, what competencies do you and your team bring to most projects and what are your most frequent tasks?

In general, the Embedded Systems Group at IPS brings a diverse background of embedded hardware, software, and firmware development to every project. From bare-metal control systems, interrupt-driven scheduler, and RTOS based systems to FPGA development and Linux BSPs, there is a breadth of knowledge and know-how that is leveraged to develop our client products.

IPS’ Embedded Systems Group has developed products for a wide variety of markets and applications, but our focus is on control systems, power management, sensing, and IoT & Industrial IoT (connectivity).

We are design partners with many major silicon and IoT providers. (Silicon Labs, Microchip, ST Microelectronics, Analog Devices, Arrow (ACES Partner), AWS / Azure).

We are well versed in communication protocols and technology platforms. From USB to Ethernet, Bluetooth/BLE and WIFI to Cellular. We have provided software development to allow our clients the control they need and the ability to turn data into information. (Interfaces such as: USB, WiFi, Ethernet, I2C, SPI, RS232/422/485, Bluetooth, BLE, LoRA, ModBUS, CAN, Cellular, power line communication etc.)

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3. What are some of the most unusual or difficult challenges your team has been asked to meet and how did you meet those?

Design a hyper-spectral imager, in which 9 separate cameras were connected to a host PC via one USB port. Used an FPGA to create 9 separate camera interfaces and to combine the images from all cameras into one virtual camera. Used and MCU to read out the composite image data and rearrange it then transmit the images to a host PC by way of a custom USB protocol.

Handling power line communications on a noisy power rail in which a high-power motor was moving a shuttle. Controller communicated to shuttle overpower rails.

Steinway – Architecting, developing, and coding an embedded system that included every specialty in the group. Embedded Linux and bare- metal-based software designs enable a Steinway to become a connected IoT device (and then some). Developed custom CAN protocols and drivers for real-time system control and custom USB composite interface for system management. Embedded controllers perform real-time current control on note drive solenoids and position control on pedal solenoids.

Communication for status and control with BLE application, actuate internal timing and synchronization for record/playback functions (solenoid controls), allowing OTA updates for all embedded components within the system, while meeting the most stringent quality standards associated with the Steinway brand.

Electric Vehicle Power Management and Design – Several team members have work experience in the hybrid and electric vehicle sector. The team built a prototype electric passenger car and a low production run parallel hybrid truck, using ultracapacitors for energy recovery. The team implemented motor management, top-level system control, and vehicle integration. Used CAN bus for internal communications and OBD-II and CAN for vehicle interfaces.

4. Which other IPS departments do you work most closely with and what sorts of conflicts may commonly arise that require detailed collaboration and compromise?

The Embedded Systems Group (ESG) works with all the IPS departments but is probably on a more intimate level with electrical, software, and systems.

An example of this would be one of the many IoT products/systems we have developed for our clients.

  1. We do not view it as conflicts, but more of a collaboration and handling design tradeoffs. On many of the products we develop, design tradeoffs need to be made. For example, on many IoT Sensor projects, the communication protocol between the Mobile Application/Gateway Application needs to be defined to meet the desired capability. Some of these trades with the Software Group are:
    1. Amount of data to be transferred
    2. OTA updates
    3. Beaconing intervals
  2. These trades roll down to the Electrical Group and have impacts there.
    1. Battery Life
    2. Memory Storage/Access
    3. RF range/transfer rates
  3. Working with the Systems Group, we collaborate and find the middle ground to best meet the System Level Requirements and implementation to meet the desired client need.
  4. This kind of collaboration internally and with our clients is daily practice here at IPS. We strive to provide the most capability and value for our client while performing the necessary design rigor to make the product technically successful.

The Embedded Systems Group often works closely with the electrical engineering group on embedded control systems. Numerous projects have included software-driven power electronics, such as a theatrical lighting system with spread spectrum dimming and color tuning, software-controlled AC light dimmers and color correctors, and software-driven solenoid drivers with position control.

5. Tell us about the weirdest thing that has ever happened to you and/or your team during a product development project.

A few examples:

  1. Sprayed with Beer, and not being able to drink any during integration and test.
  2. A client installed a “lizard blocker” over our well measurement device which distorted our measurements.

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