PC/104 Embedded Consortium Announces Design Contest Winners

Embedded Consortium has announced the winners of its first PC/104 Design Contest to recognize engineers who are designing innovative products based on PC/104 or PC/104 Plus technology. Winners were announced in three categories: Commercial for Industrial/medical/transportation/other, Commercial for Military/aerospace/COTS, and Research Project.

Embedded Systems Conference - San Francisco, Calif. – April 24, 2003 – The PC/104 Embedded Consortium has announced the winners of its first PC/104 Design Contest to recognize engineers who are designing innovative products based on PC/104 or PC/104 Plus technology. Winners were announced in three categories: Commercial for Industrial/medical/transportation/other, Commercial for Military/aerospace/COTS, and Research Project. Winners will be recognized at the PC/104 Embedded Consortium annual meeting at the spring Embedded Systems Conference.

Commercial for Industrial/medical/transportation/other:

Jeff Owen, chief engineer for Nordson Corporation, Westlake, Ohio wins this award for his design of the LA4400 pattern controller, a unit that controls adhesive guns on production lines in order to deposit a user-defined adhesive pattern on a product. The LA4400 pattern controller is a high-end unit that can control up to 16 independent guns. Its operator interface consists of a quarter-VGA color LCD with a touch screen, driven by a 486 single board computer running Windows CE. The real-time pattern generation is accomplished with custom PC/104 pattern controller engine cards. The real-time requirements for the PC/104 pattern controller engine are non-trivial, requiring the gun outputs to fire within +/- 16 us of the ideal position to hold 0.5 mm accuracy at 900 meters/minute line speed.

In his project description, Owen states the advantages of using PC/104 technology: “Having a PC/104-based pattern controller engine allows Nordson to produce new pattern controller units without having to spend months in software and hardware development for each new unit and without experiencing a significant cost burden for the privilege.”

“This application really struck my fancy because it's an excellent, clever example of applying a general PC/104 board implementation to a problem that's very specific to each individual end use,” said Jeff Child, contest judge and contributing editor for RTC Magazine and COTS Journal. “Systems like that can really revolutionize an area of production because it avoids the need for very expensive, customer-specific control systems. The tricky real-time issue involved also caught my interest.”

Commercial for Military/aerospace/COTS:

The winner in the Commercial for Military/aerospace/COTS division is Phillip Thow of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division, Newport, RI for the Navigation Interface Unit (NIU). The NIU interfaces with multiple sources of ship’s navigation systems onboard the 688 and 688I class submarines. NIU has different hardware interfaces, which makes it versatile in connecting to shipboard equipment. The NIU is unique in that it interfaces to a number of ship’s systems to receive data and allows other systems to receive this navigation data.

Space is a factor on a submarine and PC/104’s small form factor allowed Thow to fit six boards into a small enclosure, dictated by the size of the military connectors. Cost was also a major driver of this project. The size, cost and availability of software, as well as PC/104’s functionality, allowed the NIU to be designed, built and tested within 6 months, meeting the integration schedule with other equipment. Using the reasonably priced PC/104 boards allowed the project design cost objectives to be met.

PC/104 boards are also ideal for this application because they are rugged. The NIU had to be grade B shock certified. This means the equipment has to be able to withstand nine indirect hammer impacts. The results can not create an electrical or mechanical hazard to personnel or other ship’s equipment. The shock requirement was accomplished by hard mounting the PC/104 boards between the bottom and top plates of the enclosure.

“The Navigation Interface Unit project submitted by Phillip Thow puts PC/104 through its paces,” said Bill Wong, contest judge and Electronic Design magazine editor. “Its rugged, grade B-certified design is complemented by its low cost and flexible RTOS design. The system handles a wide range of inputs and is only outdone by the number of different communication and peripheral interfaces employed by the system.”

Research Project:

Paul Yih, graduate research assistant at Stanford University, wins the award in the Research Project category for his experimental steer-by-wire vehicle being used to evaluate a driver assistance safety system. Driver assistance takes knowledge of road hazards and intercedes when the driver is unable to avoid them; however, away from hazards the vehicle steers and handles normally. For example, when a drowsy or distracted driver begins to drift too far outside the lane of traffic, the assistance system provides a correcting steering input to move the vehicle back to the center of the lane.

The project converted a production model 1997 Chevrolet Corvette to steer-by-wire by attaching a brushless DC servomotor actuator to the pinion to replace the original steering shaft. Two sensors measure the pinion angle and steering wheel angle. An onboard computer processes the sensor signals and decides via a feedback control algorithm how much torque the steering actuator should provide. A separate motor provides feedback torque to the steering wheel. The steer-by-wire system is accurate and fast enough to execute moderate emergency maneuvers, and has been tested and validated with over 20 hours of on-the-road driving.

The number of sensors needed to implement this system presented a challenge for selecting computer hardware. A single board computer provides easy interface to PC/104 devices with plenty of I/O and left room for future expansion.

According to Yih, PC/104 also greatly simplified the task of powering the computer from the car battery. “PC/104 modules have proven to be reliable components that, due to their compact dimensions and plug-in functionality, are easy to use,” said Yih. “In our experience with this and other research projects, we could almost always find a solution using PC/104 devices.”

PC/104 Technology Continues Strong:

“We’re amazed by the broad range of applications we continue to find PC/104 products in,” said Jim Blazer, PC/104 Embedded Consortium Chairman. “We were very impressed with the designs that were submitted for the contest, which continue to demonstrate how pervasive and practical this proven PC/104 technology is.”

Runners up for each category are:

• Commercial for industrial/medical/transportation/other: Frank Latino, Festo USA, Hauppage, NY for an electro-pneumatic stackable valve manifold.

• Commercial for Military/aerospace/COTS: Warren Wettenstein, Trek Aerospace, Sunnyvale, CA for a SoloTrek™ XFV® transportation device.

• Research Project: Hyun Taek Choi, post-doctoral fellow, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI, for a brain for an autonomous underwater robot, ODIN.

About PC/104

The PC/104 Consortium and standard were established in 1992. PC/104, in use since 1987, is a small form factor, embedded PC physical and electrical interface standards that provides embedded system designers with an architecture that is dense, cost effective and based on proven, practical technology. PC/104-Plus is an extension that was added to the standard in 1995 that incorporates PCI technology.

Longevity is one of the hallmarks of the PC/104 technology. Because customers require stable, long-term supply, PC/104 module vendors typically offer products that do not change specifications as fast as commercial PC vendors. PC/104’s proven reliability is valued by thousands of OEMs in application areas of industrial computing, telecom, and measurement instrumentation. For more information on PC/104 and PC/104-Plus, please visit www.pc104.org.