Mergers and Acquisitions: Analog and Linear

Analog Devices and Linear Technology have announced today they will combine forces to create a semiconductor company worth $30 Billion.

This news follows the very recent acquisition of ARM Holdings by Japan’s SoftBank, and the later mergers, purchases or acquisitions of On and Fairchild, Avago and Broadcom, NXP and Freescale, and Microchip and AtmelIntel and Altera, and a few more we’re forgetting at the moment.

Both Analog and Linear address similar markets; Analog Devices is best known for amps, interface, and power management ICs. Linear, likewise, isn’t known for ‘fun’ devices, but without their products the ‘fun’ components wouldn’t work. Because the product lines are so complimentary, the resulting company will stand to save $150 Million annually after the deal closes.

Analog and Linear are only the latest in a long line of semiconductor mergers and acquisitions, but it will certainly not be the last. The entire industry is consolidating, and the only way to grow is by teaming up with other companies. This leads the question if there will eventually only be one gigantic semiconductor company in the future. You’ll get different answers to that question from different people. Hughes, Fairchild, Convair, Douglas, McDonnell Douglas, North American, Grumman, Northrop, Northrop Grumman, Bell, Cessna, Schweizer and Sikorsky would say yes. Lockheed Martin and Boeing would say no. It’s the same thing.

Analog Guts Display GPS Velocity in this Hybrid Speedometer

A digital dash is cool and all, but analog gauges have lasting appeal. There’s something about the simplicity of a purely mechanical gauge connected directly to a vehicle’s transmission. Of course that’s not what’s hapenning here. Instead, this build is an analog display for GPS-acquired speed data.

The video below does a good job at explaining the basics of [Grant Stephens]’ build. The display itself is a gutted marine speedometer fitted with the movement from a motorcycle tachometer. The tach was designed to take a 4-volt peak-to-peak square wave input signal, the frequency of which is proportional to engine speed. To display road speed, [Grant] stuffed an ATTiny85 with a GPS module into the gauge and cooked up a script to convert the GPS velocity data into a square wave. There’s obviously some latency, and the gauge doesn’t appear to register low speeds very well, but all in all it seems to match up well to the stock speedo once you convert to metric.

There’s plenty of room for improvement, but we can see other applications where an analog representation of GPS data could be useful. And analog gauges are just plain fun to digitize – like these old meters and gauges used to display web-scraped weather data.

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Make Math Real with this Analog Multiplier Primer

Remember learning all about functions in algebra? Neither do we. Oh sure, most of us remember linear plots and the magic of understanding y=mx+b for the first time. But a lot of us managed to slide by with only a tenuous grasp of more complex functions like exponentials and conic sections. Luckily the functionally challenged among us can bolster their understanding with this demonstration using analog multipliers and op amps.

[devttys0]’s video tutorial is a great primer on analog multipliers and their many uses. Starting with a simple example that multiplies two input voltages together, he goes on to show circuits that output both the square and the cube of an input voltage. Seeing the output waveform of the cube of a ramped input voltage was what nailed the concept for us and transported us back to those seemingly wasted hours in algebra class many years ago. Further refinements by the addition of an op amp yield a circuit that outputs the square root of an input voltage, and eventually lead to a voltage controlled resistor that can attenuate an input signal depending on its voltage. Pretty powerful stuff for just a few chips.

The chip behind [devttys0]’s primer is the Analog Devices AD633, a pretty handy chip to have around. For more on this chip, check out [Bil Herd]’s post on analog computing.

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Overthinking Solenoid Control

No circuit is so trivial that it’s not worth thinking hard about. [Charles Wilkinson] wanted to drive a solenoid air valve that will stay open for long periods of time. This means reducing the holding current to prevent wasting so much power. He stumbled on this article that covers one approach in a ridiculous amount of depth.

[Charles] made two videos about it, one where he debugs the circuit and learns things live on camera, and another where he sums it all up. We’ll be walking you through the long one, but feel free to skip around.

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Bela: Real-Time BeagleBone Audio/Analog Cape

Bela is a cape for the BeagleBone Black that’s aimed at artists and musicians. Actually, the cape is much less than half of the story — the rest is in some clever software and a real-time Linux distribution. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s talk hardware first.

First off, the cape has stereo input and output as well as two amplified speaker outs. It can do all of your audio stuff. It also has two banks of analogue inputs and outputs, each capable of handling eight signals. In our opinion, this is where the Bela is cool. In particular, the analog outputs are not Arduino-style “analog outputs” where it’s actually a digital output on which you can do PWM to fake an analog signal. These are eight 16-bit outputs from an AD5668 DAC which means that you can use the voltages directly, without filtering.

Then there’s the real trick. All of these input and output peripherals are hooked up to the BeagleBone’s Programmable Realtime Units (PRUs) — a hardware subsystem that’s independent of the CPU but can work along with it. The PRU is interfaced with the real-time Linux core to give you sub-microsecond response in your application. This is a big deal because a lot of other audio-processing systems have latencies that get into the tens of milliseconds or worse, where it starts to be perceptible as a slight lag by humans.

The downside of this custom analog and audio I/O is that it’s not yet supported by kernel drivers, and you’ll need to use their “Heavy Audio Tools” which compiles Pd programs into C code, which can then drive the PRUs. Of course, you can write directly for the PRUs yourself as well. If you just want to play MP3s, get something you have a bunch of simpler, better options. If you need to do responsive real-time audio installations, Bela is a way to go.

The project is open-source, but we had to do a bunch of digging to find what we were looking for. The hardware is in zip files here, and you’ll find the software here. The demo projects look/sound pretty cool and their Kickstarter is long over-funded, so we’re interested to see what folks make with these.

Amplifying the Body’s Own Electricity

Measuring the body’s electrical signals is a neat trick… if you can get your equipment dialed in enough to establish dependable measurements. The technique is called Surface ElectroMyography (SEMG) though you’ll hear many call this ECG. They’re essentially the same technology; the Electro CardioGraph instruments monitor the activity of the heart while SEMG Instruments monitor electrical signals used to control other muscles. Both types of hardware amount to an instrumentation type amplifier and some form of I/O or display.

This topic has been in my back pocket for many months now. Back in May we Hackaday’ites descended on New York City for the Disrupt NY Hackathon event. We arrived a day or so early so that we might better peruse the Korean BBQ joints and check out the other electronics that NY has to offer. On Saturday we gathered around, each shouting out the size of his or her t-shirt preference as we covered up our black Hackaday logo tees with maroon maroon ones (sporting the Hackaday logo of course) for a 24-hour craze of hardware hacking.

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There were two individuals at our tables who were both hacking away on hardware to measure the electrical field produced by the body’s muscles in some form or another. The electrical signals measured from the skin are small, and need careful consideration to measure the signal despite the noise. This is a fun experiment that lets you work with both Instrumentation Amplifiers and OpAmps to achieve a usable signal from the movement of your body.

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TI Releases New Edition Analog Engineer’s Pocket Reference

We aren’t sure that a PDF with 100 pages in it qualifies as a pocket reference, but TI’s Analog Engineer’s Pocket Reference is certainly a good read. You do have to register with TI (use a disposable address if you are too paranoid to do that), but the free download is well worth the effort. The document’s been around for awhile, but TI recently released a new 4th edition.

The first few pages might underwhelm you. You probably know the standard decimal prefixes and are more likely to ask Google to convert circular mils to square millimeters, for example. The second part, though, gets more into electronics. There’s standard values for resistors and quick reminders about the difference between X7R and Y5V ceramic in capacitors, for example.

Things get progressively more interesting, covering measurements and phase shifts, and then amplifiers. The little circuits are pithy but cover the bases including things like frequency response.

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