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During my recent trip to Munich for electronica, I met with Guy Volckaerts, director for EMEA embedded sales at Digi. Guy told me about Digi’s star-of-the-show, the Digi ConnectCore 6UL, for OEMS and developers who need a quick, simple, feature-rich, yet very flexible SOM solution. This module appears to pack a punch and kept the Digi team very busy during electronica week.
Judy Warner: Guy, we’re here on the final day of the show. Tell me about what brings you to electronica and what you are featuring here.
Guy Volckaerts: So the star of the show here really is the Digi ConnectCore 6UL, a system on module (SOM) solution. It is based on the i.MX6UL processor from NXP Freescale. It’s a single core, Cortex A7, 528MHz and it is using all of the pins from the processor itself. So we bonded out of the all the signals to the LGA pads on the module, in a patent-pending surface mount technology solution we call Digi SMTplus. We don't use any connectors. Others use connectors and then most of the time there are limitations and added costs. Digi SMTplus form factor gives you access to everything from the processor.
Next to the processor, we also put an 802.11ac wireless LAN solution, and Bluetooth 4.2. That is an option for the module. Obviously, we use the power management IC from NXP/Freescale, and then we have memory up to 1GB of DDR, and up to 2GB of flash. Another neat feature is we have what we call the micro-controller assist. This is basically an 8-bit connector from NXP again and that will allow us to add a lot of functionality.
Lastly, we have introduced Digi TrustFence giving OEMs built-in security. A critical piece is what we call the secure element, and that does the hardware encryption for the device security. We use the hardware ID of the processor and we generate a secure key. Then that key is used for encryption for all kinds of security including Secure Boot, Secure Storage and Identity Management. The hardware ID cannot be read out by anyone. It is unique to the processor and no one can read it. You can use it but no one can read it.
Warner: So every processor has a unique identifier?
Volckaerts: Yes, every processor can be uniquely identified which is the first step in securing your network. Here in the demo we show the SOM mounted on a single-board computer (SBC). Here we’re showing the power consumption of the board, which is the SBC that comes along with it. We also sell the SBC as a development board which is fully certified allowing the customer to get up and running quickly.
If we press the button we go into suspend to memory mode, that means the microcontroller assist (MCA) will be running in sleep mode and the RAM will be running. Then you see it goes to 20 to 30 microamps usage for the MCA. The module itself is only consuming four to five milliamps, and that's because the memory is running, then the board in total has about 14–15 microamps usage. Then only these two would be the MCA and it would be 30 microamps. The neat portion here is that when we start it up again it immediately starts. This makes Digi ConnectCore 6UL ideal for low-power or solar powered applications.
Warner: That was very quick.
Volckaerts: It is extremely quick, with a power down consumption of four milliamps.
Warner: Truly on demand. What markets and applications inspired Digi to create this product?
Volckaerts: The markets that Digi traditionally goes after are industrial markets, and the medical market, where you have lots of applications with people looking for reliability and being able to connect with confidence. It doesn't need to be very high-end video processing, maybe a small LCD or some dials of buttons or things like that, maybe showing a small video, but not high end like in HDMI applications. But it can also go into ID card readers, washing machine controllers—anywhere you need a little bit of computing power and where you need wireless communication. If you want to have the WiFi communication, Bluetooth, or even cellular—Digi is introducing a new XBee Cellular module that connects directly to the SBC.
Warner: So, it's very rich on features and bringing all of that into a simple and elegant design?
Volckaerts: It is, and the size of the module is 29 x 29 x 3.5 millimeters, so it's extremely small for the functionality it has.
Warner: Not much bigger than a postage stamp. Guy, your booth looks busy today. How has the response been from the attendees here at electronica?
Volckaerts: I must admit this is one of the best electronica's I have ever had. We have had tremendous feedback on the ConnectCore 6UL as well as our other new products. We have lots of interested customers coming by, having heard about it on the web or on Twitter. It's incredible; the traffic has been extremely good today.
Warner: Who is your typical customer? I know you just gave me a broad sense of applications but as far as companies, who is coming to this booth and saying, "This is exactly what I have been looking for"?
Volckaerts: So we actually have a demo in the booth here at Electronica, and we work with a company called Fraser Nash, who makes electrical cabs for the London market. In their cabs they use the Digi ConnectCore 6 and they will have also some new applications for the ConnectCore 6UL in the cab. We work with Furuno which is in the maritime sector. They also use the Connector 6 module, but this is a very high-end video application, fish finder application, satellite, etc.
Warner: So mostly OEMs, is what you are telling me. Do you have any engagement for people who are product developers looking to integrate your product inside of something that they are designing?
Volckaerts: We do also have a strong consultant type of customer where they will make a development for other customers. Sometimes, yes, we are talking to company 'A' and they build for Schneider or they build for Honeywell or Siemens, Porsche, etc. Digi also offers product development expertise through our services arm called Digi WDS for wireless design services.