ASN Filter Designer supports ST, NXP, Cypress, Analog Devices, TI

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Sometimes clients ask us if we support their demo-board of choice. The answer is simply: yes!

200+ supported IC vendors

The ASN Filter Designer has an automatic code generator for Arm Cortex-M cores, which means that we support virtually every Arm based demo-board: ST, Cypress, NXP, Analog Devices, TI and over 200+ other manufacturers.

Automatic code generation to Arm’s CMSIS-DSP

Simply load your sensor data into the ASN Filter Designer signal analyser and perform a detailed analysis. After identifying the wanted and unwanted components of your signal, design a filter and test the performance in real-time on your test data. Export the designed design to Arm MDK, C/C++ or integrate the filter into your algorithm in another domain, such as in Matlab, Python, Scilab or Labview.

Proud ARM knowledge partner

We are proud that we are an ARM knowledge partner! As an Arm DSP knowledge partner, we will be kept informed of their product roadmap and progress for the coming years.

Read more or try the benefits of the ASN Filter Designer yourself and download the demo:  http://www.advsolned.com/request-form-asn-filter-designer-demo/

ASP vs DSP – which one do I choose for my IoT application?

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The sensor measurement challenge

Sensors come in all type of shapes and forms…There are sensors for audio, pressure, temperature, weight, strain, light, humidity…the list is almost endless.

The challenge for most, is that many sensors used in these IoT measurement applications require filtering in order to improve the performance of the sensor’s measurement data in order to make it useful for analysis.

Before jumping into the disussion, let’s first have a look at what sensor data really is….

All sensors produce measurement data. These measurement data contain two types of components:

  • Wanted components, i.e. information what we want to know
  • Unwanted components, measurement noise, 50/60Hz powerline interference, glitches etc – what we don’t want to know

Unwanted components degrade system performance and need to be removed.

So, the challenge for every designer is first to identify what aspects of the data we want to keep, i.e. ‘the wanted components’ and what we need to filter out, the so called ‘unwanted components’. After establishing what need to be filtered out, the challenge then which domain do we tackle this problem in, i.e. the analog domain or in the digital domain ? Each domain has its pros and cons, as we will now discuss for a practical classic sensor measurement challenge using a loadcell.

Loadcell analog

A classic sensor measurement challenge using a loadcell is shown below.

Looking at the hardware setup, we see that have a loadcell excited by a DC excitation voltage, and the general idea is that the sensor’s differential bridge voltage is amplifier by the instrumentation amplifier (IA) when strain is applied.

For those of you unfamiliar with this type of technology, a loadcell is a strain measurement sensor that is comprised of 4 strain gauges, it’s also referred to as a Wheatstone bridge, hence the terminology bridge sensor.

Analysing the signals in the schematic, we see that the differential voltage is passed through 2 filters in order to remove powerline interference and reduce measurement noise.

What are the challenges?

The Instrumentation amplifier (IA) has high impedance inputs, which makes it easy to connect EMI (electromagnet interference) filters to the inputs. However, any mismatches with these filters will generally degrade the instrumentation amplifier’s common-mode rejection ratio, which is undesirable.

The instrumentation amplifier usually has a large gain (100 is quite typical), so any unwanted differential voltage on the inputs will be amplified. Looking at the filters, the notch depth of the powerline cancellation (50Hz/60Hz) filter will be dependent on component tolerances, and will vary over time and with temperature…This is problematic as we’ll discuss in the following section.

Finally, any analog filter or filters will require careful PCB layout and eat up precious board space, which is undesirable for many modern devices.

Loadcell digital – is digital any better ?

Replacing the instrumentation amplifier with a 24bit sigma-delta ADC (analog-to-digital converter), we simplify the circuitry – although many ADCs don’t tolerate high impedance at their inputs, which may be problematic for good RFI (radio frequency interference) filter design.

Nevertheless, some sigma-delta devices have an in-built 50/60Hz notch filter which simplifies the filtering requirement. Although these devices are more expensive, and the choice of sampling frequency is limited, they may be good enough for some applications.

ASP vs DSP

So, which domain is best for solving our measurement challenge, i.e. do we use analog signal processing (ASP) or digital signal processing (DSP)? In order to answer this objectively, we need to first breakdown the pros and cons of each domain.

Analog filters

Let’s first look at an implementation using ASP.

The most obvious advantage is that analog filters have excellent resolution, as there are no ‘number of bits’ to consider. Analog filters have good EMC properties as there is no clock generating noise. There are no effects of aliasing, which is certainly true for the simpler op-amps, which don’t have any fancy chopping or auto-calibration circuitry built into them, and analog designs can be cheap which is great for cost sensitive applications.

Sound great, but what’s the bad news?

Analog filters have several significant disadvantages that affect filter performance, such as component aging, temperature drift and component tolerance. Also, good performance requires good analog design skills and good PCB layout, which is hard to find in the contemporary skills market.

One big minus point is that filter’s frequency response remains fixed, i.e. a Butterworth filter will always be a Butterworth filter – any changes the frequency response would require physically changing components on the PCB – not ideal!

Digital filters

Let’s now look at an implementation using DSP.

The first impression is that a digital solution is more complicated, as seen above with the five building blocks. However, digital filters have high repeatability of characteristics, and as an example, let’s say that you want to manufacture 1000 measurement modules after optimising your filter design. With a digital solution you can be sure that the performance of your filter will be identical in all modules. This is certainly not the case with analog, as component tolerance, component aging and temperature drift mean that each module’s filter will have its own characteristics.

Digital filters are adaptive and flexible, we can design and implement a filter with any frequency response that we want, deploy it and then update the filter coefficients without changing anything on the PCB!

It’s also easy to design filters with linear phase and at very low sampling frequencies – two things that are tricky with analog.

Sound great, but what’s the bad news?

The effect of aliasing and if designing in fixed point, finite word length issues must be taken into account, including the limitation of the ADC and DAC. As there is clock source, digital designs will produce more EMI than analog filters.

Conclusion

When designing modern IoT sensor measurement applications, digital filters offer a greater degree of design flexibility and high repeatability of characteristics over their analog counterparts.

With the advent of modern processor technology and design tooling, it is estimated that about 80% of IoT smart sensor devices are currently deployed using digital devices, such as Arm’s Cortex-M family. The Arm Cortex-M4 is a very popular choice with hundreds of silicon vendors, as it offers DSP functionality traditionally found in more expensive DSPs. Implementation is further simplified by virtue of ASN’s strong partnership with Arm who together provide a rich offering of easy to use filter design tooling and a free DSP software framework (CMSIS-DSP). These tools and well documented software framework allow you to get your IoT application up and running within minutes.

Drones and DC motor control

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Drones and DC motor control – How the ASN Filter Designer can save you a lot of time and effort

Drones are one of the golden nuggets in IoT. No wonder, they can play a pivotal role in congested cities and far away areas for delivery. Further, they can be a great help to give an overview of a large area or places which are difficult or dangerous to reach. However, most of the technology is still in its experimental stage.

Because drones have a lot of sensors, Advanced Solutions Nederland did some research on how drone producing companies have solved questions regarding their sensor technology, especially regarding DC motor control.

Until now: solutions developed with great difficulty

We found out that most producers spend weeks or even months on finding solutions for their sensor technology challenges. With the ASN Filter Designer, he/she could have come to a solution within days or maybe even hours. Besides, we expect that the measurement would be better too.

The biggest time coster is that until now algorithms were developed by handwork, i.e. they were developed in a lab environment and then tested in real-life. With the result of the test, the algorithm would be tweaked again until the desired results were reached. However, yet another challenge stems from the fact that a lab environment is where testing conditions are stable, so it’s very hard to make models work in real life. These steps result in rounds and rounds of ‘lab development’ and ‘real life testing’ in order to make any progress -which isn’t ideal!

How the ASN Filter Designer can help save a lot of time and effort

The ASN Filter Designer can help a lot of time in the design and testing of algorithms in the following ways:

  • Design, analyse and implement filters for drone sensor applications with real-time feedback and our powerful signal analyser.
  • Design filters for speed and positioning control for sensorless BLDC (brushless DC) motor applications.
  • Speed up deployment to Arm Cortex-M embedded processors.

 

Real-time feedback and powerful signal analyser

One of the key benefits of the ASN Filter Designer and signal analyser is that it gives real-time feedback. Once an algorithm is developed, it can easily be tested on real-life data. To analyse the real-life data, the ASN Filter Designer has a powerful signal analyser in place.

Design and analyse filters the easy way

You can easily design, analyse and implement filters for a variety of drone sensor applications, including: loadcells, strain gauges, torque, pressure, temperature, vibration, and ultrasonic sensors and assess their dynamic performance in real-time for a variety of input conditions.  With the ASN Filter Designer, you don’t have do to any coding yourself or break your head with specifications: you just have to draw the filter magnitude specification and the tool will calculate the coefficients itself.

Speed up deployment

Perform detailed time/frequency analysis on captured test datasets and fine-tune your design. Our Arm CMSIS-DSP and C/C++ code generators and software frameworks speed up deployment to a DSP, FPGA or micro-controller.

An example: designing BLDC motor control algorithms

BLDC (brushless DC) BLDC motors have found use in a variety of application areas, including: robotics, drones and cars. They have significant advantages over brushed DC motors and induction motors, such as: better speed-torque characteristics, high reliability, longer operating life, noiseless operation, and reduction of electromagnetic interference (EMI).

One advantage of BLDC motor control compared to standard DC motors is that the motor’s speed can be controlled very accurately using six-step commutation, making it a good choice for precision motion applications, such as robotics and drones.

Sensorless back-EMF and digital filtering

For most applications, monitoring of the back-EMF (back-electromotive force) signal of the unexcited phase winding is easier said than done, since it has significant noise distortion from PWM (pulse width modulation) commutation from the other energised windings. The  coupling  between  the  motor parameters, especially inductances, can induce ripple in the back-EMF signal that is synchronous with the PWM commutation.  As a consequence, this induced ripple on the back EMF signal leads to faulty commutation. Thus, the measurement challenge is how to accurately measure the zero-crossings of the back-EMF signal in the presence of PWM signals?

A standard solution is to use digital filtering, i.e. IIR, FIR or even a median (majority) filter. However, the challenge for most designers is how to find the best filter type and optimal filter specification for the motor under consideration.

The solution

The ASN Filter Designer allows engineers to work on speed and position sensorless BLDC motor control applications based on back-EMF filtering to easily experiment and see the filtering results on captured test datasets in real-time for various IIR, FIR and median (majority filtering) digital filtering schemes. The tool’s signal analyser implements a robust zero-crossings detector, allowing engineers to evaluate and fine-tune a complete sensorless BLDC control algorithm quickly and simply.

So, if you have a measurement problem, ask yourself:

Can I save time and money, and reduce the headache of design and implementation with an investment in new tooling?

Our licensing solutions start from just 125 EUR for a 3-month licence.

Find out what we can do for you, and learn more by visiting the ASN Filter Designer’s product homepage.

Some points to bear in mind when designing and implementing algorithms

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I recently attended a seminar on advanced instrumentation, where algorithms were heavily featured. The project pitches heavily emphasised implementation rather than analysis and design, which started an interesting discussion, and led me to think about providing some hints that we’ve successfully used over the years:

1. What do we want to achieve? This is perhaps obvious, but I’ve seen that many people do over look this step and jump into Matlab or C in order to try something out. I would urge some caution here, and suggest that you think very carefully about what you’re about to undertake before writing a single line of code. Don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues/network for advice, as their suggestions may save you months of development time. Also consider using established techniques such as, MoSCoW.

2. The specifications: After establishing the ‘big picture’, split up the specifications into ‘must haves’ and ‘nice to haves’. This may take some time to work out, but undertaking this step saves a considerable amount of time in the development process, and keeps the client in the loop. The specifications don’t need to be 100% complete at this stage (they’re always minor details to be worked out), but make sure that you’re clear about what you’re about undertake, and don’t be afraid to do some analysis or short experiments if required.

3. Algorithm design: Sketch out the algorithm’s building blocks (Visio is a good tool), and for each idea produce a short list of bullets (pros and cons) and computational complexity. This will allow you easily review each concept with your peers.

4. Test data: arrange for some test vectors data (from clients or design some of your own synthetic signals), and sketch out a simple test plan of test vectors that you aim to use in order to validate your concept.

5. Development: Depending on your programming ability, you may decide to implement in C/C++, but Matlab/Octave are very good starting points, as the dynamic data types, vector math and toolboxes give you maximum flexibility. Use the testplan and vectors that you’ve designed in step 4. However, in the case of how to best design your algorithm for streaming applications, I would say that many aspects of the algorithm can be tested with an offline (data file) approach. For a majority of our radar and audio work, we always begin with data file comprised of 10-30seconds worth of data in order to prove that the algorithm functions as expected. Subsequent implementation steps can be used to make the algorithm streaming, but bear in mind that this may take a considerable amount of time!

6. Avoid a quick fix! Depending on the complexity of your algorithm, there will be certain testvectors that degrade the performance of your algorithm or even cause it to completely fail. Allocate sometime to investigate this behaviour, but remember to prioritise the importance, and don’t spend months looking for a minor bug. Try and avoid looking for a quick fix or a patch, as they generally re-appear in the future and kick you up the backside.

7. Implementation: after verifying that your concept is correct, you can finally consider target implementation. This step couples back to the previous steps, as the algorithm complexity will have direct influence on the implementation platform and development time. Some good questions to ask yourself: Is the target platform embedded? In which case, do I need an FPGA, DSP or microcontroller? Will it be fixed point or floating point? Perhaps it will be PC based, in which case is it for Windows, Linux or Mac or for a tablet? What tools do you need in order to develop and test the algorithm?

8. Validation: Verify that your implemented algorithm works with your test vectors and that look for any difficult cases that you can find – remembering point 6.

9. Documentation: In all of the aforementioned steps, documentation is essential. Make sure that you document your results, and provide a paper trail such that a colleague can continue with your work if you get hit by a bus.

About the author: Sanjeev Sarpal is director of algorithms and analytics at Advanced Solutions Nederland BV. He holds a PhD in signal processing and has over 20 years commercial experience with the design and deployment of algorithms for smart sensor applications.