PC/104 a presence at Embedded World 2016
PC/104 had a strong showing at the recent Embedded World 2016 trade show in Nuremberg, Germany. Slick PC/104 demonstrations showed robust graphics processing, industrial Internet of Things (IoT) gateways, innovative Ethernet switches, ARM/FPGA combinations, and military/industrial control applications. At the board level, PC/104 modules are easily recognized for their general shape, corner mounting holes, and stackable bus connectors, but the trade show floor held more than just board-level PC/104: It was at work inside all sorts of enclosure formats – from cubelike configurations housing a stack of modules, to low-profile flat configurations using PC/104 cards as mezzanines, to ultracompact palm-sized systems.
Tackling today’s application needs
Using the latest processors such as those from Intel, AMD, and Texas Instruments – and ARM processors as well – PC/104 manufacturers and system integrators are addressing a wide range of embedded-computing needs. Because of the versatility of its architecture and the expertise of those building to the standard, PC/104 solutions are not limited to a single market segment. PC/104 systems can be found in the latest embedded solutions serving aerospace, defense, communications, transportation, energy, medical, industrial, and research fields:
- Hyperspectral imaging using a single-board CPU and Camera Link peripherals
- Encrypted routers for military and commercial applications
- Vehicle event data recording for military and commercial applications
- Avionics communications with features like 20-port+ Ethernet switching, 10G LAN, JITC, and H.264
- Railway braking-control systems
- Portable communication units for tactical long-term evolution (LTE) wireless networks
- Security and surveillance for tollbooths, border crossings, and homeland security using single PC/104 CPUs and frame-grabber peripherals
- Medical equipment networking and monitoring
- General-purpose graphics processing unit (GPGPU) applications for military, industrial, and scientific work
- Oil well blowout-prevention-control systems
- Data collection and processing for airborne geological surveying
- FPGA on PC/104 peripherals to support applications like light detection and ranging (LIDAR), digital signal processors (DSPs), and radar imaging
- Unmanned autonomous applications used in security and surveillance, scientific research, civil defense, and homeland security
- IoT gateway computing for military and industrial networking
How are they doing it?
First, it’s worth noting that embedded manufacturers who build to the PC/104 standard are continually designing in the latest technologies to hit the market. With stackable PCI Express (PCIe/104 and PCI/104-Express), PC/104 meets demanding embedded computing needs while keeping size, weight, and power to a minimum. Second, there’s a lot of collaboration going on in PC/104. Component manufacturers are working with board-level designers and manufacturers bringing the latest technologies to stackable solutions. Lastly, PC/104 designers are working with each other, leveraging each company’s strengths to bring about hybrid integrated solutions that often involve peripheral and specialty I/O modules from multiple vendors.
One PC/104 manufacturer recently remarked, “We specialize in ‘x’ technology. It’s what we do, and we do it well. I don’t have to be an expert in ‘y.’ Someone else does that. I can buy their PCIe/104 card with its onboard I/O connectivity, plug it together with mine, and I have an excellent solution for my customer. That’s how the ecosystem works.”
Another note: PCI Express Mini Cards. It’s becoming more common for these to bring signal-specific I/O to the PC/104 footprint, or to augment a single board solution. Known by a number of different names that combine the words “mini” and “PCIe” or “PCI Express,” mini PCIe cards are being used as mezzanine solutions on carrier cards or as mini-expansion options on single-board computers. For size-constrained applications, mini PCIe gives PC/104 integrators added flexibility with minimal impact on size, weight, and power. Solutions in this area include WiFi, GPS, Camera Link, CAN bus, MIL-STD-1553, mass storage, and more.
Next moves for PC/104
Expect to see even more new board-level products and look for continued proliferation of ruggedized enclosures and watertight chassis. The PC/104 architecture is inherently robust, so it comes as no surprise that many full-up PC/104 system configurations are designed for high-shock and -vibration environments where temperatures are at either extreme. From down-hole to outer space, look for PC/104 solutions just about everywhere.