Category Archives: Fun or Amazing Stuff

Semiconductors For ADAS

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Please excuse my ignorance.

When I came across the acronym, ADAS, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, what popped into my mind was some sort of software or hardware driver – for helping a piece of equipment work inside an application.
However, the indicated ADAS driver in fact sits behind the wheel of a vehicle, typically, a car.
The scope of ADAS is infinite: From an audio beep that prevents you from knocking down your neighbor’s fence while reversing – to automated driverless systems.
The engineering possibilities are limitless as well: cameras, controls, software & hardware drivers, sensors, meters, and more. The designs are not confined to safe driving –  entertainment systems and improvements in driver “usability” are driving development in parallel with vehicle safety features.
The idea behind automatic driving is not new. Assisted driving mechanisms in today’s vehicles are no longer considered “extras”.

Schematic of in-vehicle system Intelligent Cru...

Schematic of in-vehicle system Intelligent Cruise Control. Red car automatically’ follows blue car (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Without differentiating between well-known consumer “beeps & whistles” that constitute vehicle extras, and advanced vehicle automation safety design, let’s take a look at some of the driver applications in which semiconductors are embedded.

Semiconductors for Driving

Devices Applications
 Sensors, Comparitors
  • Object detection
  • Proximity detection
  • Pedestrian detection
  • Local and remote temperature sensing
  • Analog Front End (AFEs)
  • Current sensing
  • Over/under-voltage detection
  • Camera sensors
  • Parking help
  • Sleepiness sensing
  • Traffic signal sensing
  • Speed limit signs detecting
 Audio Processors
  • Collision-warning beeps
  • Vehicle audio entertainment systems
  • Analog Front End (AFEs)
  • Audio amplifiers
  • Vehicle motors
  • Power steering
  • Brake systems
  • Engine pumps
Visual Processors
  • Speed limit sign detection
  • Night vision
  • Blind spot detection
  • Vehicle entertainment systems
  • Sensor output signals
  • Traffic signal sensing
  • Pedestrian detection
  • Cameras for all-around-the-car viewing
  • “Heads-up” information
  • Back seat entertainment systems
  • Camera sensors
  • Proximity detection
  • Blind spot detection
  • Parking help
  • Cruise control adjustments
  • Warning systems
  • Vehicle entertainment systems
  • Error output signals
Power Regulators
  • Over-temperature detection
  • Low or high voltage regulating
  • Redundant systems
  • Panel displays
  • Sensor output information

But don’t relax too much next time you’re out driving –  when you fall asleep at the wheel, you can’t get away with blaming that zener diode again!

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The Transparent Future of OLED Development

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The future is now when it comes to the development of applications for the integration of Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) into our everyday lives. Bringing us closer to the maturity of OLED development, lighting systems giant, OSRAM, has taken the term that best suits the application potential of this technology—”transparent”—and run with it.

English: Osram factory, Drammen, Norway

Osram factory, Drammen, Norway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Announcing the development of the “Rollercoaster” luminaire in December, 2012, with production slated for 2014, OSRAM has started to overcome some of the issues that have been challenging engineers involved in the development of transparent organic light technologies.
I’m not sure if I would choose to hang the Rollercoaster luminaire in my living-room, but the scope for the design of applications using the technology that has evolved into the creation of this glass structure is tremendous. The glass panels are luminous and can potentially light up a wide area of a hotel lobby. Or, try to visualize a room divider created out of opaque lighting. Or the reflective roof of a car or bus-stop. Then, turn out the lights. The luminaire switches to natural lighting and completely changes your view of the world.
OSRAM discusses how the company is overcoming the challenges in the development of transparent OLEDs in their December, 2012 press release, which can be read on the OSRAM website.

This content of this blog post was originally published in a Used-Line newsletter in February, 2013.

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Agilent 5975 Gas Chromatograph Analyzes Vegemite Yeast Extract

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I know this is a cliche, but either you love it or you hate it. We’re talking about Vegemite. Actually, I’ve never tasted Vegemite, but I love to eat Marmite, a British and South African almost-clone of the Australian Vegemite. The rest of my family hates it. How can you kill a piece of toast with that extremely salty, hard-to-smear, strong smelling stuff, they ask?! In answer, I tell them that the trick is to spread a generous helping of butter on your toast, followed by a thin layer of Marmite. (If you’re avoiding either fat or salt, forget about it.)

But there is no need to convert the converted and I doubt I’ll be able to sway those diehard Marmite/Vegemite objectors.

I have to “import” Marmite from South Africa, where it is kosher. I hope my cousin does not have to pay for the extra weight of her luggage when she brings me my little jars of Marmite, but the good news is that it lasts FOREVER, so she does not have to satisfy my yeast extract fix too often.

Here are two of my current jars of Marmite.


Marmite in my kitchen.









So where does Agilent come into this culinary discussion? Well, I don’t know if the recipe for Vegemite has been as closely guarded a secret as the recipe for Coca Cola, but Renée Webster, an Australian pursuing her doctorate, has analyzed the contents of Vegemite to find the distinct chemical compounds that produce the unique odor of the much-loved (or much-rejected) yeast extract. The Agilent 5975 gas chromatograph played a major role in the Vegemite analysis by breaking up this smelly (but delicious) mass that smells distinctly of – well – Vegemite – into more than 35 compounds that smell of everyday items such as flowers, wine, and leather, and which seem to have no connection to the smell of the yeast extract itself. I’m not sure if I really needed to know what Vegemite (and possibly Marmite) is composed of. You would not normally catch me spreading anything that smells of wax – or rancid fat (yes, rancid fat really is one of the detected odors) – or sweat – on my toast!

Renée Webster conducted her analysis in three stages:

  1. Sampling: Using a kitchen knife, a Solid Phase Microextraction (SPME) sampler, and a lab oven. I wonder if she regrets sacrificing to science the sample of Vegemite she needed for her experiment – never to be spread on a piece of toast!
  2. Separation: Using an Agilent 5975 GC/MSD (gas chromatograph with mass spectrometer) to separate the Vegemite compound into its multiple chemical components for individual analysis. The 5975 is built with 7890 GC technology. The gas chromatograph is responsible for the separation part of the process.
  3. Analysis: Using the mass spectrometer that, together with the included software, analyzes the detected chemicals. Hmm, couldn’t she simply use her olfactory system, that is, her nose, instead of the mass spec? Well, that might not be ideal if you want exact measurements, percentages, and specific odor descriptions.

According to the article, Agilent Helps Uncover Vegemite Mystique, on the Agilent News Hub, the GC performs the separation, and the mass spec does all the detection work. I’m guessing that with over 35 compounds and odors to detect, the 5975 GC/MSD is ideal because it allows for quick column changing; thus speeding up the detection and analysis process.

Here are a few of the top chemicals that were found in Vegemite, including their accompanying odors.

Vegemite Compound Analysis (Top three by percentage)

Percentage of TotalChemical CompoundAssociated Odor
43.8ethyl decanoatefruit, oil, sweet, wax
16.6ethyl trans-4-decenoatewax, leather, pear
12.5octanoic acid, ethyl esterfruity, fatty, floral, green, menthol, anise

To see the complete results of the separations and each component’s odor, you can read the Guardian’s Australia FoodBlog on the Vegemite analysis. As well, for details on the process Renée used to conduct her analysis, view her own blog.

If you are now inspired by the 5975’s work on Vegemite, take a look at the list of 5975’s currently available on Used-Line.

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Hearing is Seeing – with the OrCam

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Imagine yourself walking to the refrigerator of your local supermarket, with a quest for 1% strawberry flavored yogurt and not being able to distinguish between the 0%, 1%, 3%, and full fat containers, not to mention the chocolate, coffee, vanilla, strawberry, peach, and natural flavors. Why not? Because you are visually impaired.


Entering a library to check out Volume Three of War and Peace, and not being able to distinguish between the titles of the four volumes (plus epilogue) of this huge literary masterpiece.

At this point, you should be asking how people who are visually impaired are able to read non-Braille books anyway.

So, read on – and listen up!

OrCam, a young (2010) Israeli company has designed an audio device that uses visual sensors to light up the world for the visually-impaired. The device, consisting of a “seeing” sensor and an audio output that externally uses the little bones of the ear to conduct the signals coming from the sensor, is attached to a pair of glasses – yours or theirs – creating what OrCam cites as Artificial Vision. Just point to the object you want to read or see, then the OrCam sees it for you, and reads it to you.

Watch the video to see how the OrCam works and what it can do.

Here are some fascinating features of the OrCam:

  • Easy to learn and easy to use.
  • Reads to you from books, newspapers, and product descriptions.
  • Lets you distinguish between similar looking objects, for example different brands of cereal.
  • Is pre-programmed with a number of commonly known objects.
  • Can learn or edit objects based on your own familiar surroundings.
  • Can learn to recognize people you know and to remember their names.
  • Works with your own prescription glasses or frames from the company. Can even work with sunglasses.
  • Can operate with a hearing aid.
  • Intended for the visually-impaired but also a powerful aid for people with dyslexia or for sufferers of memory loss.
  • Currently priced at $2500, which seems like a small investment for such a huge quality-of-life improvement.

And here are some musings about the product:

  • Amazing how the sensor can distinguish between red and green traffic lights. But how about black and blue socks in a drawers? Does it have the sensitivity to read (and learn) duller colors or less distinguishable colors?
  • Can the sensor read script or handwriting?
  • Does the device use OCR, that is, Optical Character Recognition? Or is it really Object Character Recognition? In other words, is the same technology used to sense characters (such as letters and numbers) as well as objects, such as people, food products, and vehicles?
  • What powers the Orcam? How many hours of use are provided?
  • Although currently programmed to work with common, everyday objects, can it potentially be used in specialized areas of research; designing it to work in areas where more than 20/20 vision is required? Or where unusual, uncommon objects can be programmed to be recognized?

My late Father was visually-impaired, and then legally blind for most of his adult life. How he could have benefited from an aid such as this!

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Three Test & Measurement Instruments You Can Create with a Smartphone

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Should I be embarrassed to even admit that I don’t own any kind of smartphone? I own a Kindle. Does that count? Somehow, I don’t think so.

But despite not being able to try this out for myself unless I borrow my brother-in-law’s iPhone or my  niece’s Android phone, this is the first thing that has really tickled my fancy about smartphones (aside from Waze).
3 Test & Measurement Instruments You Can Create with a Smartphone Signal Generator, mixed signal… Click To Tweet

Test & Measurement Instruments

Test & Measurement Instruments

Anyway, back to the topic. I’m talking about turning your smartphone into a test & measurement instrument. Not a surprising development. And not that new, either. For some time now, we’ve been watching T&M instruments approach the size of smartphones. Handheld T&M instruments, while not necessarily offering the type of specs you’d find on a benchtop, have been finding their niche in the market as engineers are called upon more and more to leave their benches and go out into the field without the inconvenience of a heavy bag.

I don’t think smartphones are ruggedized enough yet to withstand the conditions that handheld T&M instruments are built for, although according to an article in the National Instruments Developer Zone, smartphones do have the potential to at the very least take over handheld  meters in the field.

Anyway, let’s take a look at just a few sample products (there are many more out there), and see what we can measure with a smartphone.

 The ‘Scope on a Phone

This should be a cinch, right? Simply show voltage over time? Yes, but what scope leads do you use? Do you need some sort of external hardware module? If you short two pins on your Device Under Test – will you fry your smartphone? What happens if your phone rings while you’re checking the output on pin 3 of your 7400? (I did not invent this question!)

In 2010, Onyx Apps introduced Oscilloscope 1.0 for iOS. The write-up on DailyAppShow describes the features and capabilities of this app, which can also generate sine, square, triangle, and sawtooth waveforms up to 22 kHz. Instead of using the  audio input, which is somewhat limiting in terms of sampling and frequency, the Onyx scope app uses the microphone or a device plugged into the microphone input. Today, Version 1.9 is available. This app offers many of the typical features you would find on a desktop oscilloscope, such as triggering modes (Normal, Single, and Auto), screen capturing ability, reference signal calibration, and more.

The Mixed Signal ‘Scope on a Phone

Believe it or not!

How did they do that? We can thank Oscium for its Model iMSO-104 mixed signal oscilloscope (MSO) for iPad and iPhone, which consists of a module that includes one 8-bit analog channel and a four-input digital harness.
3 Test & Measurement Instruments You Can Create with a Smartphone Signal Generator, mixed signal… Click To Tweet
You might need something a little more serious for devices in the GHz range, but with a 5 MHz analog bandwidth, a sample rate of 12 MS, and the ability to instantly probe a circuit from a tiny device powered by an iPhone or iPad, who’s complaining? The software app is super user-friendly, replacing knobs and buttons easily with those adept key strokes and finger swipes.

Here are some interesting pointers I learned from the FAQ on the Oscium site:

  • The analog channel can be used for measuring AC or DC. Maximum voltage range is -40 V to +40 V (10x mode).
  • Digital threshold is 1.7 V (fixed).
  • Triggering is available up to 100 ms. What’s really cool is that if your timescale goes higher, the triggering menu disappears. Although this can be scary when you first encounter this phenomenon, it’s a user-friendly tip once you’ve learned why or when this occurs.
  • The IMSO-104 is supported by iOS version 5.0 or higher.

 A Do-It-Yourself Signal Generator

Test & Measurement Instruments

Test & Measurement Instruments

An article that appeared this month in an EDN Network newsletter does not consider the 20 Hz to 20 kHz frequency range of a smartphone’s audio plug to be a limitation. There’s a lot you can do in this range. The article suggests that many of the components in medical devices fit into the lower end of the range. Here are some examples found on the National Instruments site:

  • ECG (or EKG): 0.01 – 300 Hz
  • EEG (electroencephalogram): 0.1 – 100 Hz
  • EOG (electrooculograph): 0.1 – 10 Hz
  • EMG (electromyograph): 50 Hz – 3 kHz

With the availability of hardware and software for less than $20 (not counting the cost of the smartphone!), and some light labor (get out your soldering iron) you can be up and running in no time with two channels (your left and right stereo connections) generating sine, square, and sawtooth signals.

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Wearing the Internet, or, Do I Need an Eye Exam for Google Glass?

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Yes, I know everyone has already written about it. Google Glass is old news (not really, it’s new news -but it’s old in that everyone knows about it already). It’s passé (writing about it, that is). But I just can not pass up on anything that looks so Borglike. So, resistance is futile. You’ll have to read this umpteenth blog on Google Glass.

When the term, “wearing” Google Glass, was first coined, I must admit I expected some sort of shirt made out of opaque glass with your choice of colors. Well, at least, I did get one thing right – the color choices. Right now, you can get Glass in Charcoal, Tangerine, Shale, Cotton, and Sky. It wouldn’t surprise me if you can find matching colors at the Gap.

Right, so it’s not a shirt. It actually looks like goggles. Strictly speaking, one-eyed goggles. Even more strictly speaking – right-eyed goggles. I don’t believe there is a lefty version yet. I guess they couldn’t call it Google Goggles, because Google Goggles already exists as a mobile application that sends images to do your searching for you. Which I’m guessing (I’m not that sure) Google Glass can do for you, or if not now, will do so in the near future.

I’m not here to review Google Glass. I couldn’t possibly do that without trying it out. Just google Google Glass and you’ll find all the reviews you want. I’m hear to express my fascination with the concept of actually wearing something that you can chat to, ask directions of, send commands to, sent text messages with, photograph with, share stuff through, check stuff with, get information from, search with. Look, Ma, no-hands Internet! I’m sure Ma is thrilled.

l just have one kvetch. Why is everyone calling it Glass? As in, with Glass you can can send videos in real-time. Glass lets you send text messages. Get your flight arrival information from Glass. Why is Glass personified? Glass isn’t my next-door neighbor. Glass isn’t even a Borg. It’s just a piece of equipment.To me, glass is that ubiquitous substance that you make out of sand and it’s only capitalized when it’s the first word in a sentence. Google Glass is not (yet) ubiquitous and I’m sure it will take a while before I can pour my soda into it.

But I look forward to the day when Google Glass will get sold on Used-Line!

And, no, I doubt you need an eye exam to wear Glass. But what do you do with your prescription glasses while wearing Google Glass? Seems it could be a little awkward wearing Glass together with your eyeglasses. Do you need to wear contact lenses? Have laser eye surgery? Well, I shall have to go and google Glass and find out!

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It’s All in the Tool

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So there I was in front of the kitchen sink, scrubbing this pot that had at least eight years of grime stuck to it, having realized that I don’t want to keep serving Chicken Cacciatore left over from January 2013 to my family. Nor that delicious pot roast in wine sauce that I concocted in March 2012. I mean, both beef and wine do age well, but we’re talking health hazards here – not epicurean tastes.
So, sighing with muscle fatigue, regretting that I had stopped popping in to the neighborhood gym park some time ago, and realizing that the only iron I was pumping these days was beneath the enamel of the above-mentioned pot, I opted for a coffee break, using my left hand to pour (my right arm having ceased to function normally after its scrubbing aerobics), and decided to rest for a few minutes and ponder the tackling of this task.

coffeeCoffee always inspires! I remembered! The green baize scrubby thingy works wonders! Well, not exactly baize – more like a rough green plasticy sheet that feels gentler than sandpaper but works in the same way. After a thorough search for a piece of the green wonder (the coffee gave me the energy to do this), I found some of this treasure in the drawer at the bottom of a kitchen closet that only opens if all the other doors in the room are closed (Don’t even ask!). A few minutes inside my pot, after taking another rest to recover from the drawer/closet battle, and I could view my own reflection inside my suddenly-like-new pot!


This ultimately successful experience reminded me that winning battles with equipment is all in the tool! It threw me back to my technician days at Bull HN Information Systems. H = Honeywell, and N = NEC. If you are too young to have heard of Groupe Bull (pronounced Bee-yool in France, home of the company’s corporate headquarters) in their Honeywell days, here’s a link to a little history about Honeywell and it’s relationship with Bull.

Don’t Let The Equipment Beat You! You Can Do This! Click To Tweet


Proud to have graduated as an electronics engineering technician from Seneca College, Toronto, I arrived at my first job in 1991 – at Bull’s Component Repair shop in Scarborough, Ontario, eager to try out my new troubleshooting skills with a DMM and scope. My analytical skills knew no bounds. Really, all you need to know to succeed in this work are a few logic gate specs and some sort of expectations about what should be showing up on those pins: 5 V, maybe 3.3 V, 0 V. Some interesting waveforms on the screen. Right?



So, first things first. Read the complaint written on the Repair Requisition slip. These can be very informative.
Like this one:


That’s quite useful information. Usually it produces the avoidance response. Avoid powering up the instrument. Avoid calling up the customer to enquire, “So what’s actually wrong with the instrument?” Why not just avoid trying to repair it?

Not an option.


Okay, then, let’s take a look INSIDE! My job was to repair monochrome monitors and Honeywell DPS “dumb” terminals. The terminals weren’t really dumb – but after a while, the technician (yours truly) got to feel like not such a bright spark.

In order to view the inside of the instrument, you need to open it up. How I struggled to open those boxes. On my first day on the job, I was presented with a set of tools including a power screwdriver, all shiny and red.

It had a forward/reverse button and I had two bits for it, a Phillips and a flathead. As soon as I saw it, I thought, “This is it!” This tool will take me anywhere I need to go.
As it turned out – not everywhere.

Well, after ruining the threads of almost every screw on the terminal, I bashfully, in a rather subdued voice, approached my co-workers for advice. “Help me, help me, help!”, she cried. After ensuring that there were no hunters chasing after little rabbits, (Scarborough, Ontario not really being a cottage-in-the-woods kinda place) three technicians called out in unison: “It’s All in The Tool”!

I dropped my powered screwdriver like a hot cake, and trying to be brave, dared to ask, “What tool?!”

Screwdriver in toolbox


And out they came – the powerful, yes, but not powered – the wonderful Phillips screwdrivers in all shapes, sizes, and lengths. Why did I not have one of these in my default tool set? Because they all came from Dad’s toolbox in his shed in the backyard. Note that ISO 9002 came later – we were still basking in the days of unrestricted shop conditions. They went on to explain that the power screwdrivers are fine for many tasks but not for those stubborn screws that have become embedded in plastic after years of heating. It’s guaranteed that they will want to remain right where they are. But, wait, there’s more.


It’s not only in the tool, my new instructors cried – it’s also in the torque. Torque? And then my new-found instructors taught me how to use the tool. Choose the correct size screwdriver, position the tool correctly in the screw, apply pressure. and only then, turn. Fortunately, those were the days preceding my need to take coffee breaks each time I applied a little torque, else I would probably have been responsible for breaking some sort of Union law relating to multiple coffee breaks.


After that, opening equipment became a breeze. I couldn’t wait to pass on my new-found knowledge to the new wet-behind-the-ears recruits, who, like me, thought they knew it all. Now, so many years later, I would like to thank my co-workers in Bull HN Component Repair for their patience, excellent skills, and teaching abilities. I really appreciated all your assistance. Thank you!

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