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CES 2015

In January I attended the International CES with 170,000 of my closest friends, about 25% of whom were from outside of the US. Together we attempted to visit 3500 exhibitors and listen to many, many keynotes, panels and speeches. It was a people, technology, and gadget filled few days. Many of the announcements were very exciting, but not real as many vendors showed or proposed futuristic (not available today) devices and features in the keynotes and booths. You had to ask to really know, if it’s available now, will be available later this year, or just a great idea that someday may be available.

CES2015 Banner


BK Yoon of Samsung delivered an industry pitch for the Internet of Things. He mentioned that IoT will be open, secure, personal and everywhere. By 2017, 90% of Samsung products will be IoT, with 100% by 2020.

Mark Fields of Ford took a look at the challenges of mobility to mankind. He focused not on direct population, but on population density – of the top 100 densest cities worldwide, only one is in the US (Los Angeles, 90th on the list). Solutions ranged from parking to new methods for moving people in highly dense areas.

CES2015 Keynote

The Intel Keynote, by Brian Kranich, was a product pitch for Intel Real-Sense 3-D software. It will enable computers to See and be much more 3D aware, with gestures, being able to measure distance with a picture and other things. Bryan also announced a new small IoT computer from Intel is the Curie, a next Generation Edison that is the size of a shirt button.

The Mercedes Benz Keynote was delivered by Gary Shaprio, CEA president, who arrived on stage in a driverless concept car. The passengers sit in swivel char’s that enable them to face each other and not on the road. The walls of this concept car are computer screens that you can view your email or a show on. Very interesting, but as brought out in the Keynote, seeing driverless cars is now less about technology and more about the laws to allow them.

CES2015 Multi dronesThere was a specific area for drones in the main hall. There were so many it was bit overwhelming. Drones were big, small, had special controllers or cell phone controllers, consumer and industrial (costing up to $ 2,000). Many drones include their own camera or allow a camera as an add-on. Some were smart drones that attempt to come back to where they took off if you take them out of range (say send them out over 1500 feet).

CES2015 Drone cage

There were many screened off areas where the exhibitors showed their products. Some even had coordinated multi-drone flying in formation.



The wearable guys showed up in big numbers. From Fitbit to Jawbone, to Misfit, to not just for us, but also for our dogs and golf clubs. Wearables are also becoming a fashion statement with a Misfit activity tracker from Swarovski targeted at those who want some glitz. CES2015 Swarovski

CES2015 FitBark
CES2015 Golf

Much of the car talk moved from Telematics as in years past, to driverless and driver assisted cars.Hyundai had a movie in their booth that showed MANY drive assisted scenarios, from automatic parking to the car automatically detecting when a driver falls asleep and pulling over and stopping the car. When I asked a booth person about software/firmware updates for the car, he mentioned that they did not want the user to have to perform software updates so they will be done at the dealer at a twice a year frequency. Knowing what I know about software development, this seems like not frequent enough for me!

CES2015 Car

Toyota was promoting the Hydrogen powered car. This is essentially an electric car that converts the hydrogen to electricity. . It can be filled up quickly, as opposed to a Tesla that requires a couple of hours to recharge.

Android Auto (which shows as coming soon on the web site) was visible at CES, from Hyundai Pioneer, and others. It provides Googles Auto interface.

Apple Car Play was also visible at CES. Several vendors were showing support for it. Apple Car Play is largely and extension of the Apple iPhone screen to the car in-dash screen, speakers and microphone.It does take a physical wire hook up rather than blue tooth or other wireless connection.

CES2015 Eureka Park

Eureka Park was pitched by Gary Shaprio as the innovation center of CES. That’s where you found startups and crazy technology.

One of the most interesting innovations to me at Eureka Park was a cell phone jammer for drivers, which enabled anyone else in the car to use their cell phones but not the driver. A police captain had contacted the company for a cell phone jammer that works in crosswalks to reduce accidents for pedestrians who are focusing on their phones and NOT watching traffic.

Vocal Zoom from Israel, makes a voice recognition systems that uses lasers to detect sound coming from the skin on your face. An OEM product that they were just introducing at CES.

The fun-est booth was the Gibson Guitar booth. They had an open bar and live music and MANY guitars. Very awesome!

CES2015 Game of Guitars CES2015 Gibson Party

I’ve never thought of how Selfies drive our culture, but given that even our President poses for Selfies with other world leaders they sure must be. CES had multiple products to improve your selfie. Products from selfie stick to hold your cell phone away from you to a remote controlled camera that can be connected to your phone via Bluetooth.

CES2015 Selfie Stick CES2015 Selfy Booth

RoySherrill | January 21, 2015 | Consumer Other | Leave a comment

Mars Rover Flash Challenges

The Mars Opportunity Rover was in the news again this week, as NASA mission engineers try to overcome what they refer to as an increasingly troubling bout of rover “amnesia”.

In September of 2014, the team reformatted the flash memory. This algorithm tested each of the cells within the 8 banks for flash, marking any additional bad cells and recalculating the new drive size. After the procedure, the new drive was reduced in capacity by 1.7 megabytes and overall flash problems with greatly reduced for a time. The original design used 128 MB of DRAM, 256 MB of flash memory (in radiation-hardened card form), and another 3 MB of EEPROM.

The root cause is still under investigation. Possibilities include an intermittently bad spot in memory that isn’t read frequently, a structure which is not subject to wear leveling (explaining the improvement after the first reformat), or even just a timing issue – the memory takes longer to complete writes as it ages. One outcome of this investigation was a shift to a working mode that avoids the use of the flash data-storage system.

Embedded designers using NAND flash today also have to contend with the situation the media has too many bad blocks. With good wear leveling algorithms, the blocks that aren’t bad are likely close to the suggested erase count limit, so a reformat wouldn’t buy much time. Using DRAM instead of NAND flash is a bit extreme, but similar techniques are used today to reduce write amplification – such as caching data in memory until an entire NAND erase block can be written at once.

After another Opportunity reformat in early December, performance of the flash media remained intermittent. Repeated failures to write the flash caused watchdog software to reboot the rover, leading to a loss of communication over Christmas. Investigation is now centered on bank 7 of the flash memory, which seems to have the most failures.

I think it’s awesome that a device with an original planned mission time of 90 days on Mars is approaching sol 3900. Here’s hoping that your 2015 embedded designs keep going well beyond their expected lifetime!

Learn More about Wear Leveling

Thom Denholm | January 2, 2015 | Extended Flash Life, Flash Memory, Military/Aerospace | Leave a comment

Securing Data on NAND Flash Media

In an interesting article on security from Warren Kurisu titled Securing Data on Connected Embedded Devices, he discusses three situations where embedded devices need to protect data – when at rest, when in use, and when in transit. Datalight software can help protect the “data in use” case, including addressing an often overlooked vulnerability.

NAND flash media has become the standard storage media for embedded devices, either as raw flash chips, contained in devices such as eMMC and SD cards or as part of an SOC. In order to modify data on any NAND flash media, a copy is first made in memory, then modified and stored to a new NAND block. At this point, there are two copies of the secure data on the device – to ensure data security the original copy must be securely erased.

On eMMC media, the firmware provides secure operations that can be used to remove those blocks. We have discussed these operations before on our blog. Datalight’s Reliance Nitro is still the only file system that utilizes these secure operations on eMMC media. Another alternative is the Sanitize command, which securely erases any pending deleted blocks, whether or not they contain secure data. (Questions have arisen about the performance impact of that approach. Stay tuned for a report on an analysis of this aspect that Datalight is working on.)

Can the same thing be done on raw flash media? Absolutely!

Datalight’s FlashFX Tera has an API to request a compaction, which is an operation used to erase pending blocks. This is very similar to the eMMC firmware Sanitize operation. We are also considering adding the more direct operations of secure trim and secure delete to FlashFX Tera.

Reliance Nitro also provides features that help address the “data at rest” situations mentioned in Warren’s article. A full set of OEM attributes are supported and stored in the common disk format, available for any RTOS utilized by our customers. These attributes can be used to isolate data between users and groups on the same device or over any connections this device participates in. And of course, our customers can (and many have) plug in their own encryption module using Reliance Nitro APIs designed for this purpose.

Does your design rely on the ability to secure – and securely erase – data?

Learn more about the Reliance Nitro file system

Thom Denholm | December 17, 2014 | Datalight Products, Flash Industry Info, Security | Leave a comment

ARM Tech Con 2014

Arm TechCon logo

This conference was all about ARM, from a history of ARM (nearly 30 years, starting with the Acorn and Newton) through the newest systems challenges to Safety and Security. The mbed OS looks interesting – developed by ARM, this RTOS has power management, many different connectivity stacks and other components.

The Internet of Things was of course a major topic, and we enjoyed hearing about all the storage needed at the edge of the network. From data analytics to logging and cloud interface, it looks like MCUs will need a reliable file system for the best solution. Also interesting was the plan for MCU firmware updates in the field – they plan to provide a Flash area big enough for 2 copies of the application and a bootloader. Only one copy is updated, and the bootloader identifies the newest valid application and executes it.

There was a definite focus on energy use and efficiency. Some of the incredibly low-power (or low current) applications described were an ARM solar powered micro server. These harsh environment capable devices will be key in the third world. Especially fascinating was Jack Ganssle’s session on Ultra-Low Power design and debunking the 20 year life claim of coin cell devices.

RoySherrill | October 16, 2014 | Flash Industry Info, RTOS | Leave a comment

Making FAT reliable

Datalight developers know the danger of power interruption on embedded devices, and we also know the FAT file system well. In my 10 years as a software engineer on ROM-DOS, the internals of our FAT implementation were of daily interest. Recently, I put this knowledge to use in exploring how other developers have tried to make the legacy FAT file system more reliable while remaining exchangeable.

These operations are designed to improve the reliability of FAT media, and are somewhat successful in preventing the complete corruption of the file system data structures, but are rarely effective in protecting the user data. Some solutions can go further and, similar to Linux, can journal the user data, but these mechanisms greatly reduce performance, which is a cost too high to bear for most embedded designs.

Read more about making FAT reliable

Thom Denholm | October 14, 2014 | Reliability | Leave a comment

Designer of Things (DOT)

I just returned from the inaugural Designer of Things (DoT, like IoT) conference and it was an awesome start for a new conference focused on this key vertical market. There were two primary tracks: wearables and 3D printing. The sessions spanned the gamut from technology to make fashion, to how to build wearable devices that function 24×7. One of the key reasons I attend shows like this is to interact with a diversity of folks in our industry and after a slow start to the day (first session I was in only had 13 people in it) things picked up and by the time of the first keynote the audience had expanded to over 700.

A recurring theme for the conference was “Moving from Smart Devices to Wise Devices”, first mentioned by Gadi Amit of New Deal Designs in his Keynote on Tuesday — a great discussion of the power of the design of a new device. The focus was not on the hardware, nor on the software, but on the customer and the emotional connection with the new device from a holistic perspective. Giving the customer the best experience is the goal.

Designer of Things backdrop.jpgAnother theme was the maturing of devices as time goes on. The desire to upgrade the device and extend the functionality over time is a growing key expectation by customers. The best example, which came up often in the DoT conference, is the Tesla. Initially shipped without full functionality, the Tesla has an always on cellular connection so that software updates can be delivered seamlessly and improvements can be made often. Since initial production more than 500 updates have been delivered.

What became clear over the course of the week was that data is key, for both initial design and for continued evolution of the products. Data for design comes from potential customers and enables designers to better understand customers, their usage patterns, expectations, and preferences. Designers can perform A/B testing to identify the best feature mix, best interfaces and best interactions with customers. Data from the products informs future designs, shows what expectations were universal and which were not fully understood and which are the actual key features.

The inaugural DoT conference was a great first step. No doubt UBM will grow and enhance this conference and it will be even better next year.

RoySherrill | September 30, 2014 | Customer Industries, Flash Industry Info | Leave a comment

VxWorks 7

Datalight products have been supported on Wind River’s VxWorks environment for over a decade. As Wind River advances their operating system, Datalight enhances our products to support the latest releases. (Of course we continue to support legacy versions as far back as VxWorks 5.5.) As we finish up our integration into the VxWorks 7.0 environment we thought you might benefit from a heads up on some of the changes in Wind River’s new modular operating system environment.

One of the most significant changes from our perspective is a new distribution model for third party components – the VxWorks 7 Marketplace. The idea, according to Wind River spokesmen, is to provide their customers with an “Internet of Things” approach, a one-stop shop for in-house and OEM additions to the environment. As with many marketplaces in the physical world, this shop opened before all the shelves were complete. We expect the required changes to the Wind River build process (since VxWorks 7.0 debuted earlier this year) to be delivered at the same time as Datalight products become available in the Marketplace through a build package dependency, which should be seamless to our customers. If you need access to FlashFX Tera or Reliance Nitro for VxWorks 7 prior to the Marketplace availability, you can contact us and we’ll set you up with an independent download.

In VxWorks 7, the Datalight product build is considerably simpler. All source editing, building and debugging can be done in the VxWorks IDE. Processor build and environment are based on the BSP, and that information is now delivered to the installed package. The software developer would still want to customize the configuration files for Reliance Nitro and FlashFX Tera, especially when selecting a NAND flash part and controller. As always, unlocking the full feature set of Datalight products will still be done via a license key obtained from Datalight.

One welcome change – the FlashFX Tera build will be delivered with the NAND flash simulation project by default. Customers can now bring up the product with a block device immediately, which should allow faster integration and scalability.

In summation, we are pretty excited about this new Wind River release. The protected boot, signed images and other security options are exactly where embedded devices need to be. Modularizing the kernel means fewer “complete system” upgrades and more flexibility for OEMs and BSPs. We can’t wait for the Marketplace to go live in Q4 of this year.

Read more about Datalight's VxWorks solutions

Thom Denholm | September 4, 2014 | RTOS | Leave a comment

64 Bit Embedded

Desktop processors are universally available in 64 bit varieties, resulting in higher and faster processing power. Another major advantage of 64 bit processors include direct addressing of huge amounts of RAM. In the embedded realm, the first hardware architecture to provide 64 bit was the x86-64, provided by Intel and AMD. Later targets included MIPS and ARM.

According to market research firm Embedded Market Forecasters, use of 64-bit processors in embedded designs is increasing and they are now used in roughly 20% of projects. Embedded RTOSes that support 64 bit targets include Microsoft’s Windows Embedded Compact 7 (and 2013), Wind River’s VxWorks 6.9, Linux and of course Android. The latter environment drove much of Datalight’s 64 bit roadmap, as Google required a 64 bit development system to support Android 2.3 and above – even on 32 bit targets.

One drawback to using these faster chips is that 64 bit access requires larger pointers – which doubles the data and stack space requirements. This cost is strongly felt in embedded designs, where RAM can be at a premium. Conditional compilation was a required solution here.

Most of the changes required for 64-bit support were fairly standard, although extensive. From a technical standpoint, these processors have a new mode of operation – long mode. In this mode, 64 bit applications and operating systems can be used, along with a 32 bit compatibility mode. Also available is legacy mode, which maintains 100% compatibility for 32 bit applications and operating systems.

Datalight products released with full 64 bit support include Reliance Nitro, FlashFX Tera, FlashFXe, and our Windows desktop File System Exchangeability driver for Reliance Nitro.

Thom Denholm | June 30, 2014 | Android, Datalight Products, Flash File System, Flash Memory Manager, Performance | Leave a comment

Flash Friendly File Systems

Earlier this year I had an opportunity to speak at Embedded World 2014 on the topic of Flash Friendly File Systems. Flash media is growing by leaps and bounds, and the chosen file system is a key component. For this paper, I drew on both my own development and support experience at Datalight and the experience of our staff.

The paper we put together describes the important aspects to be considered before selecting a file system which will treat the flash media in the best possible manner. We looked at both performance and endurance, focusing on the reliability and power use needed by today’s embedded designs.

Based on the response from the Embedded World audience, we realized that more depth on this topic would be helpful. Returning from Germany, we edited and updated the paper with the very latest performance data. F2FS is beginning to mature as a product – though not all the tools are yet functional – which allowed us to include it in all of the measurements this time around.

The results of these edits are the paper linked below. If you want to know more about this topic, please feel free to contact me.

Flash Friendly File Systems white paper

Thom Denholm | May 23, 2014 | Extended Flash Life, Flash File System, Flash Industry Info, Flash Memory, Performance, Reliability | Leave a comment

Support: When You Need it You Need it Big Time!

I’ve always carefully considered which cell phone I use. Having had Datalight software in lots of cell phones has given me an extra affinity for them. I started with a Microsoft Windows-based phone long before any one called them a “Smart Phone”. I know the Apple iPhone is the darling of the market and has been since Steve Jobs announced “an iPod, an Internet device, a Phone…an iPod, and Internet device…”, but not being one to follow the crowd, I’ve never owned an iPhone.

Last fall, my Android-based Motorola Atrix phone just stopped working. I could not bring up my calendar, my email, nothing. It just died. I’d had it for about a year and knew it was time for a new one. I had an AT&T phone insurance plan so I went to AT&T and asked for a new phone. Given that I’d really enjoyed my Atrix and it was an Android phone, I opted to stick with Android.

AT&T provided an Android phone, but it was NOTHING compared to the Motorola Atrix. The Atrix delivered a great in car experience. When it was plugged into the car adapter its functionality changed from Smart Phone mode to a hands free GPS and music player and it read texts to me as they arrived – overall a great when driving-user experience! With the AT&T replacement phone I could at least make a phone call and get email, but nothing more! It sucked.

After taking some time to evaluate my options, I finally decided on the new Google Nexus 5 because Google, the makers of Android, and recent purchaser of Motorola Mobility (the Cell phone division), surely would make a great Android phone. While not having as good a car experience as the Atrix, the Nexus 5 was a nice phone.

I use my phone as my email, calendar, web browser, and communication device, both personal & corporate. Look up a local place to eat, use the GPS to find it and even record notes when a laptop is too clumsy. My life is on my phone!

Recently I was out of the country on holiday, in and out of cell and Wifi coverage, so the phone had data and then did not. Not a real problem for vacation, connected but not too connected. On Friday the phone stopped receiving email. I wasn’t too alarmed, figuring it would come back. Saturday morning I arrived back in the country, and still no email, or web. Wow, this is odd. Turn on airplane mode, turn off airplane mode… re-boot, re-boot, re-boot – still no data getting to my phone. Back home late Monday, I went into an AT&T store to get it fixed. They change the SIM card, monkey with it. Get an AT&T person on the line who plays with the network, trying to give me data back. All to no avail. AT&T says “It’s not the network. The phone is broken.” Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. NOT what I want to hear!

I get on Google website for Nexus 5 and find a phone number to call. I call and speak with Marc. He’s a friendly guy that recommends I re-boot, put it on airplane mode and take it off. Get a new SIM card, update the APN number (all stuff either I did or AT&T did for me when I was in the store). Marc says that he does not believe that Google will replace the phone if it’s only a data problem. I get real clear with Marc, if the data does not work, this phone is worthless to me! “Yes, I understand” he say, “I’ll check into it and see what I can do here at Google.”

As the call was ending Marc says, “There will be a 2 minute survey at the end of this call. Please take time to respond to this survey if you can. They ask if the representative was helpful.”

Did he take ownership of my problem?    Fully fixed my problem?   Marc was nice enough, but I was still frustrated!

Marc did follow up with an email that said do all the stuff he’d told me about on the phone. At the end of the email it says “If this does not fully resolve your problem let us know”. I fire back an email immediately. And get asked to take yet another survey!

Two companies, AT&T and Google, neither really took care of the issue but they sure did ask me a bunch if I was satisfied.

All this just reminds me: how proud I am of Datalight’s support. Our team does take responsibility for the customer’s problem. They often spend time investigating issues with the customer regardless of the time of day, regardless even of the likelihood of it being a problem with our software. Whether it’s a 6:00 AM call with Germany or an 11:00 PM call with Japan, whether it’s a hardware problem or not they are on it. I only wish they could fix my phone!

Learn more about Datalight support

RoySherrill | April 29, 2014 | Flash Industry Info | Leave a comment