All posts tagged: articles

One of the major hurdles of developing portable (and connected) devices is finding the balance between power consumption and battery storage that allows for a genuinely useful device and experience. Generally most components can be optimised through good design and wise choices, however the main microcontroller or CPU can be a sticking point – until now.

Intel have taken this problem to heart and as a solution, recently announced their “Quark” family of system-on-chip cores. They’re a family of low-power 32-bit CPU cores designed to compete with ARM’s Cortex-M series in modern Internet-of-Things and wearable embedded computing applications.

Quark is a very low-power and compact x86-compatible core designed to be even smaller and lower in power consumption than Intel’s low-power Atom CPU cores, which are targeted at tablets, low-power netbooks and smartphones.

Notably, Quark is the first Intel core that is fully synthesizable and designed for potential integration with third-party IP blocks. This means that a customer could use the Quark core, license it from Intel, and hook it to peripherals on a custom system-on-chip, like for example custom graphics, I/O, storage, 802.11 or 3G networking.

Intel Quark

It is claimed that Quark will be one-fifth of the size of the Atom core, and have one-tenth of the power consumption. At this level, Quark is much more powerful – and power hungry – than a lightweight 8-bit microcontroller, but it is also not a competitor to the more powerful ARM Cortex-A family either. It aims to compete with the popular Cortex-M family of 32-bit microcontroller cores from synthesizable microcontroller IP leader ARM.

The Quark core is a single-core, single-thread, low-power, small-footprint CPU core, and it is targeted at “Internet-of-Things” applications, wearable computing devices such as “smart watches”, and low-cost disposable medical devices as well as industrial and building automation control systems.

At this years’s Intel Developers Forum, a prototype “smartwatch” based on Quark technology was displayed as a proof of concept, along with a wearable instrumented patch for medical datalogging. Quark has been demonstrated in a prototype Internet-of-Things enabled HVAC automation application by HVAC leader Daikin. Daikin’s prototype system has WiFi and 3G support, and allows for secure remote control and monitoring.

The Quark product line is designed to slot in below the existing Atom family in terms of cost and power consumption, compatible with the Pentium instruction set architecture but aimed at markets where small form factor and low power consumption take priority, with a power consumption target that is apparently less than 100 milliwatts in some cases.

This power efficiency makes Quark attractive in wearable computing applications such as “smart watches” and Google Glass style wearable displays where battery capacity is very limited due to size constraints. Some bracelet-like wearable devices have been shown at this year’s Intel Developers Forum as a proof-of-concept of a wearable system powered by Quark technology.

Being smaller, lower power, and less powerful than Atom, Intel will be targeting the Quark product line at the Internet-of-Things market in applications where more power than a traditional embedded microcontroller is desirable or required, but less power consumption than an ordinary PC or notebook is desirable.

Quark is synthesizable, which means that customers can add their own IP around the core. ARM, for example, lets companies license its CPU cores and then add their own co-processors or other components to create chips optimised for a wide variety of projects and industries. How this would work in the case of Quark is not exactly clear however, since Intel plans to keep manufacturing of Quark silicon entirely in-house, at least initially.

This is a new move for Intel, but the company intends to retain control over their entire chip fabrication process in-house, bringing in existing customer IP for integration with Quark and in-house fab, although it is possible at least in principle that other foundries could fabricate Quark-based systems for licensees of the IP.

Intel Quark

Intel’s decision with Quark means leveraging its own IP in a way that lets it offer customisable hardware to potential customers, without giving up control of either its processor IP or its own fab capabilities. Designers will not be allowed to customise the Quark core, they can only connect third-party IP blocks to its fabric.

Quark’s partially-open fabric appears to be somewhat derivative of ARM’s long-standing and successful policy of licensing its Cortex IP to other chip makers in a synthesizable form. ARM Cortex M3 and M4 cores have been rapidly stealing market share away from other microcontroller platforms in recent years – since the 32-bit architecture offers significant performance gains over 8-bit platforms such as PIC or AVR.

Furthermore their Cortex-M3 is finding its way into smartwatches such as the Sony SmartWatch 2 and the Qualcomm Toq as well as wireless sensor network system-on-chips such as TI’s CC2538 802.15.4/ZigBee/6LoWPAN platform. However as the Quark matures we’re sure it will be a successful player in the portable device and IoT arena.

Technologies such as Intel’s Quark are an example of how technology is constantly improving, and with the right knowledge it can be used to your advantage. However there are also many existing power-saving chipsets on the market your team may not be aware of, or unsure about taking on a new development platform.

But don’t let that get in the way of improving your existing or new designs – if you’re not sure about your options, discuss them with a team that understands the latest technologies, platforms and how to integrate them for your advantage – the team at the LX Group.

Getting started is simple – for a confidential discussion about your ideas and how we can help bring them to life – click here to contact us, or telephone 1800 810 124.

LX is an award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia. LX services include full turnkey design, electronics, hardware, software and firmware design. LX specialises in embedded systems and wireless technologies design.

Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.


Muhammad AwaisIntel announces the new Quark family of SoC Cores

Making the decision to create a new product or the next generation of an existing product is always an exciting time for design engineers and hopefully the entire organisation. There’s always new features, options and technologies that can be integrated for the perceived benefit of the end user.

However as technology marches on, there is the possibility of going too far. At first that may seem like an odd statement, however considering the complexity of some products you may wonder how they’re comprehended by the end-user, let alone sales staff. This phenomena is also prevalent in the Internet-of-things arena, where “features” and usability can get out of hand.

Let’s consider the potential dangers of over-engineering and feature overcomplexity when bringing an Internet-of-Things automation or embedded sensor appliance to the market. With advancements in available technology, increasing miniaturisation and decreasing costs of sensors and components it’s tempting for more and more features and capabilities to be added to your device or product design, just to make your product “the best” or to satisfy the “because we can” motivation of the engineering team.


However, it can be important to keep this kind of over-engineering or “feature creep” under control in order to deliver a product that is easy for consumers and salespeople to understand and offers simple, sensible, intuitive user experience with a sensible amount of functionality – not too little and not too much – from a hardware system that is small enough and simple enough that it can practically be manufactured and offered to the market at an acceptable price for good consumer uptake.

Sure, your design might be “the best” from a technology standpoint, but what if the “best” hardware is significantly more expensive than the competitor’s not quite as whiz-bang product and your design is not considered financially attractive to consumers relative to the level of functionality that the users actually want?

It’s pointless to try and invent more and more features just because it is technologically possible to do so if those features don’t actually accomplish anything that is actually valuable to consumers. For example, providing a washing machine with Internet-of-Things connectivity and remote access and control via email or a smartphone application is quite pointless since a human operator actually needs to be there to load and unload the clothes from the machine.

The features and user experience should be kept intuitive and usable, without dragging the user down into an insane range of different options that most people are probably never going to use most of the time anyway.

Internet-of-Things sensor networks and appliances targeted at home and building automation should be easy to set up and configure, they should be compatible with existing typical household network infrastructure such as single-band 2.4 GHz 802.11b/g Wi-Fi access points (5 GHz might be technically “better”, for example, but users don’t want to upgrade all their existing access points just to use your gadget), and they need to be compact, visually unobtrusive – and as simple as possible in order to keep the hardware cost at a level that is sufficiently small for market acceptance.

This is particularly true for appliances that are designed for use as a network of many distributed devices – the cost of the total set of all the hardware devices needed for a typical network deployment needs to be kept at a reasonable level so that the entire usable system is available to consumers at an overall price point that they’re willing to pay. For Internet-of-Things networks consisting of meshes of multiple wireless devices to become ubiquitous, each node device needs to be as cheap and as small as possible.

For example, suppose that you release a smart email-controlled Internet-of-Things light bulb onto the market and it costs $100. Will customers replace their existing light bulb, which costs say $5, with your new $100 light bulb with the added convenience of control from your PC? Well, some consumers might try a single light bulb or two just to experience the relatively novel idea of a consumer-focussed household Internet-of-Things appliance.

However very few customers are likely to consider it worthwhile to set up a network of a dozen hundred-dollar bulbs to replace every bulb in the home. Such a system might pick up a few customers – the relatively wealthy technology fans who want to be early adopters of advanced, relatively complicated home automation and Internet-of-Things technologies, even if the price is high. But isn’t it better to have a product that is desirable for a broader market beyond just those who are willing to pay lots of money for the most powerful, advanced technology on the market?


Furthermore, realistic testing of your product’s usability and user experience is vital during the development process. Adding too many features can befuddle customers as well as befuddling salespeople whose job it is to help convince customers to buy your product and to demonstrate its user experience with consumers. Over-engineering and feature creep, even if it’s possible to integrate lots and lots of features from a technical engineering standpoint, can negatively affect sales as well as affecting your brand reputation.

The best user interface is “no user interface” – a user interface design that approaches the theoretical ideal of being completely transparent and natural in its interaction with the user. Similarly – although I know it might sound risky – the best documentation design is “no documentation”, or something approaching it. The ideal product is so intuitive and natural in its user experience that it just kind of “documents itself”, with little or no documentation really required. This means that the amount of documentation that the customer needs to read is minimised as well as minimising the amount and the cost of documentation that the manufacturer needs to print for every unit shipped.

With hindsight you can examine your own existing products and that of your competitor’s, and with a fresh perspective perhaps consider how things can be simpler for the end user without sacrificing usability. This is a simple step to initiate, however it can require a total redesign or approach from a fresh set of minds.

As part of our complete product design service, here at the LX Group we can partner with you to work on revisions of existing products or bring new ideas to life. With out experience in retail and commercial products we have the experience to target your product’s design to the required end-user market and all the steps required to make it happen.

We can create or tailor just about anything from a wireless temperature sensor to a complete Internet-enabled system for you – within your required time-frame and your budget. For more information or a confidential discussion about your ideas and how we can help bring them to life – click here to contact us, or telephone 1800 810 124.

LX is an award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia. LX services include full turnkey design, electronics, hardware, software and firmware design. LX specialises in embedded systems and wireless technologies design.

Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.

Muhammad AwaisLX Group discusses the danger of over-engineering

After the initial excitement of generating an idea for a new Internet of Things device, there’s still countless design considerations to take into account – some of which you may not have even heard of. And a fair amount of these will be generated by the needs of specific markets around the world. So let’s consider some of the challenges involved in designing an Internet-of-Things device or appliance and bringing it to the global market.

What are some of the different factors that need to be taken into account when bringing a hardware device to market internationally? The need for multi-voltage off-line power supplies and multi-lingual product manuals are well-known things we’re used to with all our technology products – but with modern Internet-of-Things gadgets employing Internet connectivity, cloud computing and wireless radio-frequency mesh networks, there are some increasingly important factors to consider which may not be as familiar to the design team.

For mains-powered systems, international differences in mains voltage and frequency are an obvious factor to start with to ensure compatibility with the worldwide market. Modern switch-mode power supplies can easily be designed to span the possible worldwide voltage range between 100 V AC and 240 V AC without manual switching or configuration, at grid frequencies between 50 and 60 Hz. However, it should be remembered that the mains voltage is only assured within a tolerance of around plus or minus 10 percent, so an example of a good input voltage specification for a well-designed modern SMPS might be 85-265 V RMS AC at a grid frequency of 50-60 Hz. Extra attention is needed in systems where a clock or timebase is derived from the frequency of the AC grid – in systems of this sort, manual specification of the frequency may be required even if the power supply itself does not care about the AC frequency.

lx1When designing and deploying wireless sensor networks, Internet-of-Things networks and similar modern technologies where radio communication is used, attention also needs to be paid to differing international allocations of RF spectrum and licensing requirements for the use of the RF spectrum. Spectrum allocations and licensing requirements for Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) bands differ between countries – for example, the 915 MHz band should not be used in countries outside ITU Region 2 except those countries that specifically allow it, such as Australia and Israel.

A device that operates with a certain frequency spectrum and power level that requires no license, or falls into a class license, in one country may not be able to be legally operated in another country without specific operator licensing. For example, some devices operating in the 70 cm (433 MHz) spectrum that fall within the Low Interference Potential Device (LIPD) class license in Australia and hence can be freely operated cannot be used in the United States except by licensed amateur radio operators. The European Union’s Reduction of Hazardous Substances (ROHS) directive took effect in 2006, restricting the use of certain substances considered harmful to health and the environment, such as lead and cadmium, except in technological applications where elimination of these elements is not viable.

While RoHS compliance is not required for all electronic equipment sold throughout the world and is only strictly required for devices sold into the EU market, it is achieving widespread acceptance throughout the electronic manufacturing industry worldwide. However, in some specialised applications where extremely high reliability and resilience against factors such as tin-whisker formation is required, such as space and defence technology, these factors may take precedence over ROHS compliance and the use of lead-containing solder alloys and platings may be specified.

lx2Different testing organisations are responsible for setting and enforcing the standards for electrical safety and RF spectrum usage in different countries, and it can be challenging to keep track of the different testing requirements needed before bringing your product to market in every market country.

For example, Underwriters Laboratories is well known in the United States for their role in drafting safety standards and providing compliance testing procedures for safety-related factors, whilst approval from the FCC is required to recognise compliance with RF spectrum and electromagnetic interference requirements – a completely separate thing to safety certification. And for another example, the TUV provides a similar role in the verification of safety-related standard compliance in the German market.

Other social and socio-economic factors that might not be as obvious can affect the user experience your product provides in different customer markets – for example, a device that constantly needs to “phone home” to an Internet-connected service may not function effectively in a country without widely available, or reliable, Internet access. In a situation like this, it may be beneficial to have a system designed to store and buffer its collected data locally on a storage device and only synchronise with an Internet service occasionally when connectivity may be available.

In conclusion, there’s a myriad of not only standards but also operational considerations to take in account when designing your next product for the global market. However don’t let that put you off – the greater the challenge, the greater the possible success. But if you’re not sure about testing, standards, compliance, markets abroad or any other factor – parter with an organisation that does: the LX Group.

Here at the LX Group we have the experience and team to make things happen. With our experience with connected devices, embedded and wireless hardware/software design, and ability to transfer ideas from the whiteboard to the white box – we can partner with you for your success.

We can create or tailor just about anything from a wireless temperature sensor to a complete Internet-enabled system for you – within your required time-frame and your budget. For more information or a confidential discussion about your ideas and how we can help bring them to life – click here to contact us, or telephone 1800 810 124.

LX is an award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia. LX services include full turnkey design, electronics, hardware, software and firmware design. LX specialises in embedded systems and wireless technologies design.

Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.

Muhammad AwaisDesigning Internet of Things Devices for the World

Australian Small Business Champion Awards
LX Design House has been recognised for its business innovation, passion and entrepreneurial prowess by being nominated in the Australian Small Business Champion Awards 2012.

LX has been named a finalist in three categories: Information Technology, Business Growth Champion and Small Business Champion Entrepreneur.

Criteria to become a successful champion finalist includes past business achievements, positive business culture, sustainability and future business vision.

LX Group is a multi-award-winning Australian electronics design house specialising in wireless and low-power electronics designs. LX’s motto, we take your concept and make it a reality”, reflects their passion for innovative electronic product development.

The Australian Small Business Champion Awards is a prestigious and comprehensive program that supports and recognises small businesses across Australia. The awards are the pinnacle of business success. They recognise the values associated with successful businesses.

The winner of the 2012 Australian Small Business Champion Awards will be announced in the Grand Ballroom of The Westin, Sydney, on Saturday, 21st April 2012.



LX Group

Debra Drury, Marketing, Tel:  (02) 9209 4133  Email: [email protected]

More Information:

About LX Group, visit

About Australian Small Business Champion Awards, visit

Published by LX Group for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.

Muhammad AwaisLX Finalist in Australian Small Business Champion Awards 2012