The Shrinking World of Small-Form-Factor Embedded Computing

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March 25, 2020

The Shrinking World of Small-Form-Factor Embedded Computing

Published in Military & Aerospace Electronics
Written by Jamie Whitney

Whether on the ground, at sea, or in the air, military systems like monitors, sensors, and radios are filled with small-form-factor embedded computing technologies. Open-systems standards like C4ISR/EW Modular Open Suite of Standards (CMOSS)Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA), and Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) help to ensure components share a common platform and can interchange information across military branches.

Peter Thompson, vice president of product management at Abaco Systems in Huntsville, Ala., says he has observed a trio of trends advancing development in the world of small-form-factor embedded systems. First, Thompson says, is alignment with CMOSS and SOSA.

“The CMOSS initiative was begun by the U.S. Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) and SOSA was initiated by the U.S. Air Force’s Life Cycle Management Center,” Thompson says.

Microchip Technology’s SAM3X8ERT is a rad-tolerant microcontroller and features its latest Arm Cortex-M3 core processor and embedded Ethernet controller. Microchip Technology’s SAM3X8ERT is a rad-tolerant microcontroller, and features its latest Arm Cortex-M3 core processor and embedded Ethernet controller.“The second is the demand for the Xilinx remarkable Zynq Ultrascale+ RFSoC [radio frequency system-on-chip] technology, which integrates multi-gigasample RF data converters and soft-decision forward error correct (SD-FEC) into an MPSoC architecture. The third is for complete, pre-integrated, pre-qualified subsystems across a broad range of application environments, including mission computers, graphics/video computers, and artificial intelligence (AI) platforms.”

Regarding the Zynq Ultrascale+ RFSoC, Thompson says it is one of the densest field-programmable gate array (FPGA) digital signal processor (DSP) boards available on the market.

“(It) features the ability to synchronize multiple boards for even larger system applications,” Thompson says. “Boards such as Abaco’s 3U VPX VP430 that implement this technology are designed for some of the ‘hottest’ applications across the electronic warfare landscape — MIMO (multiple input/output), beamforming, sensor processing, and radar signal processing.”

The Abaco VP430 was among the first 3U VPX commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solution to feature Xilinx ZU27DR RFSoC technology. It also has eight A/D converter and D/A converter synchronized channels, and it can synchronize several boards for large system applications.

Designed for advanced electronic warfare (EW) MIMO applications, the VP430 enables beamforming, sensor processing, and radar signal processing, and allows the use of fewer boards and much less power while delivering increased processing throughput.

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Trends in embedded tech

At January’s Embedded Tech Trends (ETT) conference in Atlanta, Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions of Ashburn, Va., was one of many companies on hand to “talk shop” about rugged small form factor computing. Curtiss-Wright’s Ivan Straznicky, who is the chief technology officer (CTO) for the Virginia-based company’s Advanced Packaging division, explained that 5G, Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI) are three big trends driving development.

“What’s next is going to be dependent on how creative we can get,” Straznicky told his ETT industry contemporaries and conference attendees. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean recreating the wheel from scratch. There is a lot of work that has been done with commercial small form factor standards in VITA and other standards bodies. So, we should leverage what we can.”

The Curtiss-Wright CTO says that in addition to 5G, AI, and IoT, system-in-package technology is starting to provide additional functional density.

Straznicky explains system-in-package as “potentially a piece of silicon from a processor vendor like AMD or maybe even Intel and combine it with memory chips from Micron and you put that on the same substrate and create a package.”

Straznicky says that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Common Heterogeneous Integration and Intellectual Properties Reuse Strategies (CHIPS) program aims to use system-in-package technology. “They have some long-range strategies and plans to leverage this for defense applications,” Straznicky says.

Smaller than small

Mercury Systems has released its EnsembleSeries HDS6605, a general-purpose 6U OpenVPX embedded computing blade server with hardware-enabled support for AI applications.Mercury Systems has released its EnsembleSeries HDS6605, a general-purpose 6U OpenVPX embedded computing blade server with hardware-enabled support for AI applications. Curtiss-Wright is taking small form factor even smaller with what it calls “ultra” small form factor. One such example is the Parvus DuraNET 20-11, which is an ultra-small-form-factor rugged COTS 8-port Gigabit Ethernet switch subsystem.

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Size, Weight, Power and Cost Optimization

With the continued proliferation of protecting the warfighter and increase in use of unmanned vehicles (UAV, UAS,  UGV, UAH, UUV, and USV) and small tactical vehicles, there is increasing pressure to find ways to be more and more competitive in the deployed military market. The number of platforms that require low size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C) solutions is exploding. In response to this growing need, Curtiss-Wright continues to innovate by miniaturizing computing, networking, flight test, data recording and storage and video components or enabling the consolidation of multiple components into a single miniaturized solution. 

 

Small Form Factor Solutions Brochure

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