by July 1, 2005 0 comments

An Indian company called eInfochips is busily devouring enterprise appreciation for their work in both the fields. The company also develops and sells its own patent intellectual property in the form of reusable logic cores for various purposes. They are busy creating a number of proof-of-concept cores and designs for devices that are set to invade our increasingly digi-populated environment. We got a unique PCQ style peek into what they did at their campuses at Ahmedabad, a patently odd place for such a setup.

How they do it
Doesn’t designing chips and boards have to do with static-free rooms where you walk around in space-suits and fiddle with robots? We didn’t see any such thing. Instead, what we did see were scores of programmers -or ‘engineers’ as they liked to call themselves-seated at their workstations busy coding. Coding? Apparently contrary to popular thought, embedded systems designs are done using programming languages like Verilog, which is the pick of eInfochips.
The code they write is actually the functional part of the final hardware device we see. This is then compiled into circuits and drawn on dies and made into chips and PCBs. The hardware part of the process is done by their clients, whoever places the order for the device. eInfochips by themselves do not own a fabrication plant and send the designs to OEMs in Taiwan for processing.

Interesting embedded devices
Among the things PCQuest got to see at eInfochips were a GPS navigation system, a TV set top box, video surveillance equipment and a KVM/IP device. Some of the other devices they demonstrated were under non-disclosure agreements but were otherwise quite interesting.

The GPS device was originally made for maritime navigation but is currently being adapted to work in aircraft. The system sees no fundamental change other than requirements to conform with aviation standards and requirements like power consumption and radiation output besides handling the faster rate of transport. The system has a pluggable SD-card interface to upload maps into the device that makes it easy to use in any location around the world. Well, the unit is as large as a small Tablet PC and is certainly not a hand-portable model.

TV set top boxes have been in the news for ages but we did not expect it carried so little electronics inside. The device uses two cards, the larger of the two being the only required part. But even that is just the eInfochip’s standard interface PCB for all its embedded property. The real device is the smaller daughter card that’s around the middle of that board, with all the large chips on it. The card on the right connected via white flat cables to the main board is simply an IDE interface that allows connections to a CD drive/writer or a hard disk for recording content. 

The main card provides connectivity to Ethernet, USB and television A/V sockets. A complementary LCD provides OSD functionality. The box receives telecast over Ethernet and plays it via television or records it to the connected hard disk. Everything can be controlled by software and we saw a demo of the movie ‘XXX’ being played effortlessly.

Video surveillance conjures up a mind-boggling image of a lot of cameras and antennae and large bulky boxes. Not anymore. If eInfochips have their way about it, it will reduce to the size of a simple PCI card (Okay, a little longer than a standard PCI card). The only problem with this card as you can guess is that it has cables attaching all around it- a bad idea if you actually want to plug it into a PC. We had to keep reminding ourselves that it was meant to go into a flat box not unlike a VCR in the real world. 

They have two supporting software applications (already embedded into the cards) which control the visual itself (to do PiP and other video manipulation) as well as control the equipment by configuring alert-ranges and so on. Once configured properly, the device can detect objects of various types (like cars, people, etc) and separate them using different colored boxes. You can also specify how large or small an object should be before the equipment alerts you to it. The entire system is highly programmable, with structured object information being passed on by the card’s software to an application program, which is then free to put that information into whatever use it sees fit.

KVM/IP devices are supposed to be humongously costly. But what if there was a PCI-based KVM/IP switch that sits in a regular PC and allows you to administer your data center and costs $200 per server? Well, that is exactly how this device was demonstrated to us. The device is not much larger than the other cards we saw(set top box and surveillance) and uses much the same hardware too. The interface on the outside of the card allows a special cable to plug in that connects to the video, keyboard and mouse ports on the system you want to manage. The KVM card itself talks TCP/IP over an Ethernet cable and you can use this to connect it to your standard Ethernet network. The demo PC with the KVM we saw had Linux running on it. The system being managed was running Windows 2000. The only limitation to its use is the length of the KVM cable to the target

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