ESC 2012 Boston Part 3 – Behind the Scenes

-October 15, 2012

Getting away from the office to attend a conference can often be very difficult to do. Project timelines are often compressed, features over extended which makes leaving the office for a week an epic battle with the boss. The boss will often understand the benefits of the conference but when conference time finally arrives they just don’t feel comfortable having you away from the office at this critical juncture. This is where a look behind the scenes of ESC Boston reveals how work is still progressing even though the conference is going on by using easily portable tools that allow conference attendees to bring the office with them to the conference.

Development and test equipment tools have been have been steadily shrinking in both size and cost. This has allowed not only hobbyists to purchase equipment that was once only available to professional engineers but also has allowed the traveling engineer to take his workshop with him. In Figure 1 the reader will find a snapshot image of an engineer’s hotel room during ESC Boston. This particular setup includes everything needed by an engineer (including beer) to not only progress a project but also to keep in touch with home base and troubleshoot issues on the go.

Figure 1. An engineer's hotel room during ESC Boston.

The majority of engineers now a days have grown accustomed to the use of multiple monitors to speed up development. This has allowed engineers to open up datasheets and schematics and keep them up on the monitor while they are on a separate monitor developing software. While on the go a laptop has become a crutch with only a single monitor to view. However, many people have with them iPads or other tablet pcs. In Figure 1, the engineer used an iPad along with an app named Air Display by Avatron ($9.99 in the AppStore) to turn the tablet into a remote monitor in addition to utilizing an in-room television set as a third monitor. This allowed the engineer to load up multiple screens worth of data and keep the information throughput at maximum.

This particular setup also included a digital multi-meter which includes a 2-Channel 20 Mhz Oscilloscope from Owon ($429). This portable oscilloscope offers the engineer the ability to easily troubleshoot and monitor analog signals from whatever product is currently in development. While the scope allows digital signals to be monitored, for the traveling engineer who wants to monitor and decode digital signals on the go the setup also included an eight channel Saleae Logic Analyzer ($129). The Saleae Logic analyzer allows for digital communication signals such as UART, SPI, CAN, I2C, etc to be captured at data rates of up to 24 MHz per channel and 10 billion samples! The tool includes decoding algorithms so that if you are monitoring a UART for example you can see the pulses decoded in hex, ascii, etc.

This particular setup also includes development kit, JTAG emulator, with built in power supplies of 3.3 and 5 volts, each capable of providing up 0.5 amps of current. The development kit interfaces and JTAG interface to an IDE through USB. This provides the ability to perform development and debugging of code or even a prototype or production system all from the comfort of your hotel room.

The next time the boss is convinced that you can’t leave the office to attend a conference, consider the possibilities of how work can travel with you. You might just be able to convince your boss that with a tool chain costing less than $600 not only will you be able to continue getting work done on that hot potato project but you’ll also be able to upgrade your skills and stay current on the latest and greatest techniques being presented at the conference. Just remember that if you have to fly to get to the conference, packing all of these wonderful toys will also most likely result in a present being left in your bag as seen in Figure 2.

Figure 2. TSA notice.

If you already have your travel lab please comment below on what tools you’ve found to be essential in your toolbox. It would also be great to hear comments on how effective the development has been, issues, and other interesting comments.

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