Instrumentation & Test
High end instrumentation & test products are used in a variety of applications in many different environments from laboratories to manufacturing facilities. These products must sustain high data throughput with as low latency as possible – all in real time.
Instrumentation designers will find many solutions from BittWare featuring high-speed processing on a variety of form factors.
Instrumentation & Test Solutions… Built on BittWare.
For many of our customers, the right solution isn’t easy to come by. This was especially true for a custom traction control system required for high-speed rail. After trying to work unsuccessfully with numerous COTS boards on the market, the company came to BittWare. Their requirements posed challenges not only in signal processing , but also in regards to the extreme/harsh environment (salt and heavy mist) and extended temperature range ( -40°C to +85°C) in which the system was to operate. Drawing on our expertise in signal processing and rugged design, BittWare developed a custom solution while adhering to the strict quality control procedures administered by the customer. The end result was a fully ruggedized, conformally coated, custom quad processor board with a 3U cPCI interface.
Regardless of the application, space is an issue. This is especially true when dealing with consumer electronics. Cameras, tablets, cell phones – every generation is smaller than the one before. Many of these designs consist of a PCB populated with an ASIC and minor surrounding logic. But an ASIC is a costly endeavor; you only want to do it once. The design needs to be tested, tweaked, and tested again before it is finally ready to be put onto silicon. BittWare’s boards often provide the perfect test bench during the research and development phases of our customers’ designs. One such customer is among the top wireless telecommunications companies in the world. They needed to develop a test bed to quickly evaluate various next generation wireless communications protocols such as Ultra Mobile Broadband (UMB) and Long Term Evolution (LTE). The final system would eventually condense down to an ASIC, but multiple R&D systems were required to test and tune their compute-intensive algorithms. The test platform would need to be very high performance with tremendous flexibility as they would be continuously updating and adapting their algorithms in real-time. The type of data they would be analyzing required that the system be able to handle extended precision and dynamic range. A BittWare signal processing Advanced Mezzanine Card, provided the perfect solution. The combination of a high-density Altera FPGA with four processors enabled this customer to create a test system that offered complete flexibility coupled with the high-end signal processing their application required.
In our fast-paced technology-centric world, the sooner you can get a new design out the door, the sooner you get to revenue. The old adage “why reinvent the wheel” usually holds true, especially if it is quicker and less expensive than forging a solution on your own. Many of BittWare’s customers face a build versus buy decision when they are in the initial phases of their project. Do they design and build their own boards and then compile the system? Or do they look to a third party board designer/manufacturer and buy a COTS solution? The second option enables them to focus their time and energy on designing the complete system – their true value-add. A COTS solution is typically less expensive from both a dollar-cost and risk-basis and can significantly increase a customers time-to-market and in turn, their time-to-revenue. This was the case for one of BittWare’s telecomm customers. The company exclusively designs digital telecommunications testing equipment for various communications protocols such as Long Term Evolution (LTE), IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS), WiMAX, and VoIP, among others. This specific project centered on LTE test equipment. The main requirements were flexible signal processing on a small form factor . The end solution utilized a BittWare Altera Stratix II GX FPGA-based AMC with SFP/SFP+ – for the first generation of products, moving to an Altera Stratix IV GX AMC for the next generation. Both boards provide unparalleled flexibility via the on-board FPGA and BittWare’s FPGA Development Kit, all on a small form factor Advanced Mezzanine Card.
Biological cell sorting, is a highly complicated process in and of itself. Digital signal processing is the means by which this process is made possible, but for one of our customers, that was only the start of the story. The system challenges of this particular customer included the need for very high system throughput – 64 channels of 105 MHz ADC, processing of unpredictable and changing data in real-time, a very high level of flexibility for rapid adaptation and updating, along with extended precision and dynamic range.The original prototype designed by the customer used only Digital Singal Processors. When BittWare was brought into the process, the system was changed to a hybrid signal processing design – DSP+FPGA – enabling a lower cost system with increased flexibility. Adding FPGAs into the mix allowed the number of DSPs required to be cut in half, significantly reducing system cost. The hybrid solution provided the best of both worlds with the DSPs satisfying the need for sustained, low-latency, high-throughput processing, and the FPGAs providing fast, repetitive front-end processing and system flexibility. The integrated hybrid signal processing system designed and delivered by BittWare included:
- Up to 72 processors on multiple 6U cPCI boards
- Up to 64 channels of high-speed A/D I/O via multiple FPGA cards
- Custom cPCI backplane for inter-board communication
Our ability to leverage our expertise in new and unprecedented projects is a key BittWare strength. One such project was a large binocular optical telescope. The telescope would have different instruments in each mirror, each responsible for capturing a different image of the same object, such as optical and infrared. The end result is a complete picture of the object in question. The challenges for this type of telescope are many. The instrument must account for temperature variations, high altitude winds, and other environmental disturbances while it is simultaneously pointing and focusing on the object in question. Once pointed, the instrument must then track the object as the Earth moves on its axis. BittWare was tasked with providing the Mount Control System (MCS). This system provides controls for: altitude and azimuth, swing arms used to bring instruments and secondary/tertiary mirrors onto one of the focal points of the telescope, instrument rotators, and the enclosure rotation system. This system also needed to interface with the hydrostatic bearing system which controls the oil pumps, ensuring that the entire mechanism continues to move freely. The end solution was a 6U cPCI system based on multiple BittWare boards. By using high speed interfaces between the link ports, and programming the processors so that they would operate deterministically in a round robin fashion by using the link ports and interrupts, the need for a real-time version of Linux or an RTOS was eliminated.
When companies are working on revolutionary designs, they need to work with companies that are able to think outside the box. One such application was for a segmented mirror telescope which would be used for space applications. This telescope would use adaptive optics. As opposed to traditional telescope mirrors which take years to polish and which cannot correct for the earth’s atmosphere – thereby diminishing the telescopes optical performance, using adaptive optics means that the mirrors do not require polishing, and the actuators correct for poor mirror optics and atmospheric disturbances. The challenge lies in the number of actuators needed to control the mirror – 189 actuators per petal, times 6 petals totaling over 1,000 actuators – each needing to receive commands 200 times per second. This setup also requires phase sensors which use sub apertures – 61 sub apertures x 6 petals x 1024 pixels, with the camera transmitting 1024 x 1280 8-bit pixels at 500 fps. The algorithms needed to process this data – 2D FFTs, cross correlations, and large matrixes – are very computationally intensive. The large data sets also required high bandwidth I/O. In addition, BittWare developed and supplied the routing logic for the camera link board, and improved the Serdes data bandwidth to keep up with the camera output. BittWare’s FPGA Development Kit provided all data routing on each individual board and between boards. The result was a custom solution that efficiently and effectively solved the challenge at hand.
A solar image processing system required by one of BittWare’s customers had many challenges. The processing requirements – adaptive image processing using multi-channel correlation – necessitated a very large multi-processor system with a tremendous amount of I/O bandwidth, thus requiring a large amount of integration work, as well as efficient system cooling. BittWare’s solution included ten boards supplying 80 processors, and a custom chassis was designed to ensure that the multi-processor system was cooled efficiently. BittWare’s decades-long expertise in signal processing design was integral to creating an eighty-processor system that functioned with no issues, and was also cooled properly. Although the hardware used was COTS hardware, significant application-specific design work was needed to ultimately provide the final system to our customer.
Every design starts somewhere – a need arises, and a solution must be found. There are research phases, development phases, and finally, an end product that hopefully meets all requirements. The path from initial idea to final product can many times be made easier if some of the work has already been done. Enter the reference design supplying the essentials that can then be updated and modified as necessary. Freescale Semiconductor supplies one such reference design, a modular AdvancedMC platform for WiMAX base stations. WiMAX, the next generation of broadband wireless access, provides a means of wireless data transfer using a variety of transmission modes. Freescale’s Rapid System Development reference platform provides a starting point for those customers designing base station equipment and includes both hardware and software for a complete solution. The design uses a BittWare AdvancedMC for the FPGA/Fiber to Antenna interface, providing a flexible radio interface for the system along with dynamic algorithmic data processing. Based on the high-density Altera Stratix II GX FPGA, the AdvancedMC provides an ideal solution for the interface, enabling complete reconfigurability to support any required protocol – CPRI, OBSAI, or custom. BittWare’s FPGA Development Kit, implemented in the FPGA, provides seamless routing of the I/O.