Exploring the Digi ConnectCore 93: Tech Chats | Mouser Electronics

Exploring the Digi ConnectCore 93: Tech Chats | Mouser Electronics

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(light music) The recent advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, object detection, facial recognition, image classification, cloud services, wireless connectivity, and more are staggering. These applications get a lot of attention and deservedly so, but let's not forget that underlying all these important applications is some truly remarkable hardware including ICs and System-on-Modules. Some companies like our special guest today develop advanced hardware and software together into complete ecosystems that can really accelerate your innovation. Welcome to "Tech Chat" sponsored by Mouser Electronics where we chat with engineering experts about the latest technical innovations that are shaping and reshaping our world.

Today, we welcome back Andreas Burghart, a senior product manager at Digi International. Welcome back to "Tech Chat", Andreas. Hi, Dale, thank you and great to be back.

Yeah, it's good to have you back. Now in our last "Tech Chat," we discussed your MP1 family of Wireless SoMs. What are we gonna be talking about today? Today, we're gonna talk about the Digi ConnectCore 93 SoM solution which is a System-on-Module, but there's a lot around it which I'd like to highlight today. Well, it sounds good, let's get started. Before we get into the details of the ConnectCore 93 System-on-Module, I'd like to highlight that Digi ConnectCore is a complete SoM solution with a rich ecosystem. We take a systems approach to integration.

ConnectCore is offering way more than the actual embedded module. ConnectCore provides a lot of the essential building blocks required by OEMs to get a new product to market and to maintain that product throughout the entire product lifecycle. In addition to the highly integrated hardware and software, we provide a suite of development tools that simplify design activities and the required technical support or even design services to help with the development. But Digi also provides a security framework to enable a security design and to ConnectCore Security Services to maintain the security of that design and update the device after it has been deployed to the field. We offer services to remotely access devices in the field to monitor them, to update them over the air, and manage your complete fleet of IoT devices in the field.

These services are really making a difference for customers since they do not have to integrate that full end-to-end solution on their own anymore. We are removing the integration complexity for them. So now customers can focus on their core expertise again on the application level and build on top of our secure end-to-end solution with the embedded SoM at its core, the connectivity, and the services that enable them to create their full product solution and very important again, maintain that product throughout the entire life cycle. Now you highlighted a couple interesting things there. First off is that you're allowing these customers to focus on their application and their functionality, the problems they wanna solve, and not some of the underlying challenges that maybe aren't important.

Well, they're important to them, but they don't wanna be the experts in the security and the maintenance. Is that really important for people not only in developing products, but also in just getting to market faster? Absolutely, there's a lot of special knowledge and expertise required nowadays, and the integration of a full end-to-end solution is really complex. So with ConnectCore, we are providing more building blocks that OEM needs to get their solutions to market quickly. Let's look at the i.MX 9 processor now

and I'd like to go over some of the highlights and details in the i.MX 9 family. i.MX 9 provides a lot of the key features that our customers are looking for. There's a focus on security just like we focus on security in Digi, as well as power management with a new Energy Flex Architecture NXP is introducing.

That architecture provides more options to manage and tailor the energy profile to the customer's use case. That means you can have less performance at very low power states and full performance on the other end, but you have also many states in between to scale the performance to the exact use case of that product at the time, providing maximum power efficiency. The i.MX 9 is a very scalable offering from single to multi-core and there are even hexa and octa-core options on the NXP roadmap with the higher end i.MX 9 variants coming out.

i.MX 9 provides all the essential connectivity in the chip and has options for rich 2D and 3D graphics, as well as other multimedia capabilities. I like that NXP brought back the LVDS interface which is more common in the industrial space than MIPI. This is a nice advantage compared to some of the i.MX 8M family members. And another great addition, something they brought back, is the FlexCAN interfaces. CAN is widely used in industrial applications and even medical, so having this interface provided by the SOC is a plus.

And the i.MX 93 of course has that built-in NPU, neural network processing unit, for AI and machine learning applications across the whole range of that i.MX 9 product family. Now you might be getting to this later, but you mentioned two different things that were brought back with a particular focus for industrial applications.

Is that kind of where we're going? Is this new ConnectCore 93 really targeted at industrial space? The product is really targeted to different markets. It's widely used, so a key focus for us was to really meet the requirements for medical devices, as well as EV charging and some of the industrial applications. So with the ConnectCore 93, we are really providing a lot of the key building blocks for medical applications.

It's a solid down form factor, so it's a very robust device. It's very power efficient and we have built in a lot of extra things to maximize power efficiency, and it has a fully integrated wireless solution which is key for some of our medical customers. Also the software side is very important. We have fully validated software and the product is designed for longevity with 10 plus years supporting the long lifecycles of medical products. But also for the EV charging market, I mean, there's key things.

Security which is important for medical and EV charging and other industrial applications, but also wireless connectivity there, cellular integration, and then having design services available to support customers with their designs to hit the market quickly and in time. On the SoM level, we are providing Wi-Fi 6, the next generation Wi-Fi implementation, along with Bluetooth 5.3 and we also have an option for 802.15.4 radio, for short range communications on 2.4 gigahertz for the future, for example, to run Meta or other 802.15.4-based protocols directly on the SoM.

ConnectCore 9 will be a complete SoM family providing scalability for our customers and actually we enable carrier board designs that support both the ConnectCore 8 family, as well as the ConnectCore 9, providing even more scalability in terms of features and performance. We have a lot of customers that build battery-powered devices. Our SoMs are designed to maximize the power efficiency with lots of different power modes and options and with the new NXP Energy Flex architecture, we can further maximize the energy efficiency for applications.

For the i.MX 9 family, there's still some work in progress to fully support this, but it's looking promising to achieve new levels of power efficiency and all ConnectCore 9 family members will have the NPU to enable machine learning and AI applications with the endless possibilities. Now I've been hearing a lot about Wi-Fi 6, but honestly I don't know what makes it unique and important for this type of product. Can you help me understand what are kind of the new things in Wi-Fi 6 that are enabling or improving the performance of these applications? With the Wi-Fi 6 implementation, we have moved to the next iteration of the Wi-Fi network protocol and this is a substantial upgrade over its predecessor. Wi-Fi 6 cannot only be faster due to technologies like traffic prioritization or OFDMA and beamforming.

It also provides more network capacity which is the more interesting feature I think. There can be more nodes on a network and this is certainly very interesting for crowded environments like hospitals, for example. Also there are new features like target wake time that provide benefits in terms of the power consumption and help to save energy, especially important for these battery-powered devices.

The NPU is a dedicated neural processing unit to accelerate the processing of a neural network that is used for inferencing or decision-making in machine learning and AI applications. The I.MX 93 has a very efficient architecture. The NPU can operate independent from the Cortex-A cores in conjunction with the lower power Cortex-M cores to maximize the power efficiency. So the Cortex-A cores could be put to sleep while the more efficient Cortex-M core and the NPU are still operating, providing the inferencing machine learning functionality. With the NPU, computer vision applications like facial recognition or general object detection and segmentation, as well as gesture control are possible. It's also usable to enable voice control for products in a very efficient way.

With the ConnectCore 93 and its NPU, we are enabling all these edge AI applications, running neural networks at the edge, enabling real-time decision-making based on local data. The data is not transmitted to the cloud and you don't need to wait back for the answer, but it's all done locally at the edge and this presents a number of advantages such as faster response times or lower power since you don't need to send all the data over the network, for example, using a cellular device. And privacy, the data is not going over the internet, but stays locally on the device, just to name a few. Now Andreas, this highlights a pretty significant advancement in hardware.

For many years, the CPUs and the GPOs, simply they got more powerful to address these AI and ML applications. But now here we're seeing the specialized hardware being built alongside the CPU to go after those applications, so that has to really improve not only your performance, but power which is gonna be super important here for these sometimes battery-operated applications. Yes, absolutely, there's more specialized cores now available in these SOCs to really drive down the power consumption and drive up the performance so we can meet all those different specific application requirements. Yeah, it's a pretty amazing time on the hardware side of things these days. It's a very fast-moving environment and while we didn't see a lot of customers use NPUs in the past, the interest has increased a lot and more and more customers are getting into machine learning and AI applications for their products. With the ConnectCore 93, we are providing a highly integrated system including the processor or system on chip with all its great features we just talked about and up to two gigabyte of low power LPDDR4 memories and eMMC storage that can go up to 128 megabytes.

We are integrating the NXP Power Management IC designed for this system to maximize the power efficiency,. The Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.3 interface, as well as that future option for 802.15.4 as a third radio on the SoM. The SoM is integrated with our range of Digi XBee short-range and long-range RF modules, as well as the XBee cellular devices to provide additional connectivity options for our customers.

As all of our products, it's specified for the full industrial temperature range and we provide our leading three-year hardware warranty as a commitment for the quality of our designs that are ready for industrial markets and ready for the use in harsh environments. We do a lot of testing on these including temperature and shock testing, as well as haul testing to simulate the use in harsh environments so to make sure the device is functioning reliably, even in very demanding applications. We are offering our complete development kit for customers to get started quickly with their hardware designs and their application development. Our get started procedure we provide in our online documentation portal which is just five steps actually. Provides simple instructions for customers to set up the hardware, load the OCTA firmware image and provision the device into the Digi ConnectCore Cloud Services using a smartphone app communicating over Bluetooth with the dev kit.

So you said that's about five steps. Out of the box, about how long would it typically take someone to get set up and connected to the cloud and transmitting some data? Within half an hour I'd say. It's very easy steps to follow and with that smartphone application, you scan the barcode of your device and you enter a few details, and you are registered to the ConnectCore Cloud Services which we include in every development kit and make that part of the get started experience. So within 30 minutes, you have remote access to your development kit through our cloud services and you can remote control and monitor or update your development kit from a web interface. That's pretty incredible.

Every kit includes that full ConnectCore Cloud Services license to remotely access, monitor, and manage the development kit. We are providing a demo application. It's that application with this remote dashboard you can see here providing monitoring and management functionality including key features like OTA software updates I just mentioned or monitoring of the dev kit's temperature or memory usage usable with those dev kits for engineers from day one. The application we're looking at here is provided in source code and customers can modify it to represent their specific product. For example, instead of showing that dev board, you could show a truck trailer, for example, and you could have a gauge showing the tire pressure of that truck trailer coming from a sensor connected to the I2 bus of the development kit. So with this, we are really enabling very fast proof of concept designs for full industrial IoT solutions.

With our connected development kits, we have taken the next step and we are providing a full end-to-end solution to enable customers to develop their own remote applications for products. Andreas, that really just goes back to one of your earlier slides where you're talking about providing the entire ecosystem and so that people can get started quickly, and focus on those target applications quickly and efficiently without having to worry about how do they make those connections to the cloud? How do they deal with the security? That's all built in from what you guys are providing, correct? It's complex to do a full end-to-end industrial IoT application and many customers struggle resolving that issue. I mean, they're not web developers. They're not focusing on the connectivity.

They focus on their exact product expertise. So providing that as ready-to-use building blocks really helps OEMs to get connected products to market quickly. Absolutely.

On the device software side, Digi Embedded Yocto is a major value-add we are providing. It's a fully validated and tested complete Linux operating system with many extensions to accelerate the development and the time to market. And security is very important for connected devices. We provide a superior security offering with ready-to-use security features, fully integrated and tested, simplifying securing connected products. Security is the number one topic for many companies today. As I mentioned earlier, the ConnectCore Services are now part of our overall ConnectCore solution and we are offering Digi ConnectCore Security Services.

That's a collection of services and tools that enable customers to maintain the security of their product during the entire lifecycle. This empowers customers to solve the ongoing challenge of keeping products secure after they release. Our services include the analysis and monitoring of a custom software bill of material, the SBOM of the software image that is running on the Digi ConnectCore SoM in that customer product. It's analyzed for security risks and vulnerabilities. And to help fixing these identified issues, the service provides a curated filtered vulnerability report highlighting critical concerns. It also includes the security software layer including patches for common vulnerabilities so customers don't have to integrate all these patches on their own, and then we have consulting services baked in also to help with the other issues that are more application-specific.

We are offloading some of the security work here from customers. They often don't have the expertise and the resources available to cope with the continuous flood of vulnerabilities coming in, and the efforts that are needed, and the expertise to get these fixed in time. Well, that makes perfect sense. I mean, we've all kind of gotten used to the updates for security coming to our phones or our laptops and PCs.

We don't monitor those. We don't install the patches. It all kind of gets handled for us, so you're talking about targeting medical applications, industrial systems. Security there is more important than it is on my smartphone probably, so it really makes sense to me that you guys are handling all that for the customers because it does require constant vigilance and a lot of expertise that I certainly wouldn't have. Yeah, and there's also a lot of regulations and legislations getting put in place in all the different regions around the world regarding cybersecurity requirements, and customers don't have the resources and expertise to cope with that, and they need reliable partners on the side actually to provide a level of security for their products that is required.

Yeah, that makes perfect sense. I wasn't even thinking about the regulations which are gonna be staggeringly difficult in addition to the security. So that's an important addition. Thanks for highlighting that. And once you have fixed your firmware and you have fixed all those security issues, you need a way to deploy that new firmware to your fleet of products in the field, right? So for this, we are offering the Digi ConnectCore Cloud Services that empower OEMs to develop smart connected devices and maintain them after they release with the secure, over-the-air firmware updates. But there's more features to the ConnectCore Cloud Services.

It provides a complete tool set for remote management, for monitoring, for complete fleet management. You can group devices. You can create sub-accounts, so it's that full suite of features you need for building a service around that. So our services integrate programming software and a feature-rich cloud platform with complete APIs that are enabling remote management and monitoring of time series data received from field-deployed devices.

And the combination of the Digi ConnectCore SoMs and Cloud Services create a proven, reliable, and off-the-shelf hardware and software solution enabling companies to create their own innovative customer service plans to improve their product quality, the technical support, and the customer experience, and also capitalize on the data collected by their devices in the field. To summarize, the ConnectCore 9 SoM solution provides the same value than our other ConnectCore SoM platforms with flexible wireless connectivity with the onboard Wi-Fi 6 and the Bluetooth 5.3 interface, but also the XBee integration including cellular capabilities. The new ConnectCore Cloud Services, to take this a step further, was providing essential features to OEMs to create connected devices and maintain them in the field. Our complete software offering with the feature-rich, ready-to-use Digi Embedded Yocto Linux distribution that is fully validated and tested with every release, providing a robust and stable software environment to customers.

And then our design tools including a very popular tool called Digi ConnectCore Smart IOmux, helping developers to create error-free designs in time to hit the project schedules and faster time to market. And we have exceptional support delivered by our sales engineers and technical support around the world, really helping customers in their projects from the start to production and beyond, as well as a group of design services engineers to complement customer design teams with resources and expertise. We also provide the built in security with Digi Trustfence, the ready-to-use security feature set and building blocks to create secure products, but also our new ConnectCore Security Services to maintain the security of these devices in the field throughout their entire product lifecycle. Well, Andreas, that was a great introduction to the ConnectCore 93 and that incredible ecosystem you guys have going on. For people that are interested in getting started, what's kind of the next steps or where should they reach out? Well, I always tell people have a look at our online documentation because it's great. We're really proud on the online documentation.

It is very detailed, very clear. But starting with a project on the ConnectCore 93, you should get a development kit and the good news is the ConnectCore 93 development kits including the Cloud Services licenses are currently on sale at only $93 available from Mouser. They are available at this price from the Mouser website for limited time, so be quick and get your kit today. Wow, that's pretty exciting.

That's quite the special you guys are offering through Mouser. Andreas, it was great talking to you again. Glad to have you back on "Tech Chat" today. Thank you, Dale, it was great to be here.

Before we conclude today's "Tech Chat," we do wanna thank our sponsor, Mouser Electronics. So if you're looking to purchase any of these amazing Digi ConnectCore products including the development kit you see here, please head over to mouser.com. We want them to continue to support educational presentations like this and join us again next time on "Tech Chat" where we chat with the leading technical experts like Andreas Burghart from industry-leading innovators like Digi International who are changing our world every day. (light music)

2024-02-10 15:34

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