上网时间: 2011年11月28日? 作者:Junko Yoshida? 我来评论 【字号: ? ?小】


Image gallery: Japan bets on embedded

Junko Yoshida

While covering the Embedded Technology 2011 show in Yokohama, I couldn’t help but notice one big shift in the Japanese electronics industry’s agenda since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami: the industry’s collective focus on the “smart home.”

While covering the Embedded Technology 2011 show last week in Yokohama, I couldn’t help but notice one big shift in the Japanese electronics industry’s agenda since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami: the industry’s collective focus on the “smart home.”

Concepts like the smart house, city or society are no longer a pie-in-the-sky schemes dreamed up by Japanese academics applying for grants. Nor is this something concocted by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (MEITI) to promote Japanese industry.

Not that academia and MEITI have given up. Far from it.

It was clear at the show that technology suppliers are taking the “smart home” idea far more seriously than ever before, with a renewed interest and sense of urgency. They are pursuing embedded technologies that allow people to intelligently “control, conserve, store and distribute energy” within the home or community.

Unlike the U.S., where utility-led “smart grid” discussions dominate the conversation, Japan is reframing the debate around designing the “smart home,” observed Masaya Ishida, publisher of EE Times Japan, our sister publication based in Tokyo. While the concept includes the continuous flow of energy from utility companies, a “smart home” in this context could be better described as “energy-independent” or as a “sustainable-energy” home.

The idea is to embed the smart “control” functions in every device and every system, enabling consumers to achieve desired levels of energy consumption and conservation for every embedded system they use at home and at work.

Further, the notion of the “energy-independent home,” envisions a day when energy conserved can be stored in fuel cells in electric vehicles. Ishida reminded me that many Japanese living in big cities, for example, only drive on weekends, preferring public transportation for the daily commute. This leaves energy stored in the family car – which charges at low-peak hours -- to be intelligently distributed throughout the home to a host of devices during peak hours.

Lessons learned over the past summer

The rolling blackouts implemented in Japan this summer (due to the catastrophic nuclear power plant failures in Fukushima) taught Japanese companies, factories, retailers and consumers invaluable lessons in “perseverance” (limiting energy usage at peak time, banning neon signs on streets, turning off escalators in public spaces, removing a few fluorescent tubes from light fixtures in offices and stores, running factories on weekends) and a myriad of tricks used to save every milli-watt by manually manipulating power consumption.

While the Japanese are all feeling good about having met national ‘energy conservation’ goals this summer, they are girding for the upcoming winter. Energy demands are certain to exceed those experienced in summer.

This time around, though, the electronics industry’s new goal is to make energy saving “effortless” for everyone, rather than asking every consumer to “persevere.”

The industry sees that the answer may lie in embedded. They want to embed in devices every conceivable smart element – smart energy control, smart energy consumption to efficient energy storage and intelligent energy distribution technologies – at home, at work and in communities.

Smart house

The Fukuoka Smart House Consortium built a “smart house” complete with solar panels on its roof top and a wind turbine. The mock-up on display here illustrates how it all ties into the energy control system (shown on the computer screen on the photo) built into the house.

The diagram below shows all the building blocks for the Fukuoka Smart House, which needs to be supported by key interface standards and technologies, including power line communication, open services gateway initiative, vehicle to home standard and others. (Note the electric vehicle in the diagram – to store energy.)

Click on image to enlarge.

Energy usage pattern in smart home

Aval Nagasaki Corp., one of the many partners of Fukuoka Smart House Consortium, is playing a pivotal role by offering the company’s products such as smart power units, smart power modules and smart power managers. Asked about the lessons it has learned from the field trial of the Fukuoka Smart House, Wataru Nishikawa, manager of Aval Nagasaki, said: “Unlike the way consumers use IT systems, different families and consumers use energy very differently in real life. Such vast variables in their usage patterns can bring unexpected stress to the energy/power management system at home. Things are a lot harder to manage in the real world.”

Murata wireless gateway

Murata Manufacturing and its subsidiary SyChip Electronic Technology (Shanghai) Ltd. have developed a sensor network system for smart homes that supports construction of home automation and Energy Management System (EMS). With a wireless gateway system displayed at its booth, Murata showed off the sensor network system for smart homes. The system gathers information detected by sensors via the ZigBee Gateway, and it transmits this information via Wi-Fi or Ethernet over the Internet or to a tablet terminal. The system combines Murata's sensor and communications technology, offering a package consisting of the wireless Gateway, ZigBee sensor nodes and an original user interface.

Spin Flow

Beyond sun and wind, regular water flow in a stream or river can become the source for generating power.

Star Group of Japan demonstrated a product called “Spin Flow.”

By bobbing the Spin Flow unit on flowing water – rivers, streams, water that’s used for agricultural fields – power can be generated, according to the company. The Spin Flow floats on its own and circulates on the water’s surface by itself. There is no need to change either the directions of water flow, nor does it require falling water. When two Spin Flow modules are used on water running at a speed of 1.0 meter per second, the device can generate 264Wh in 24 hours, enough for camping, lighting the outdoor lamps or running agricultural pumps, the company claims.

NXP smart lighting

NXP is betting big on smart lighting.

The goal of smart lighting is to allow lights to be activated remotely and automatically via wireless controllers.

A module shown in this photo includes chip sets that offer highly efficient and dimmable drivers for smart lamps, according NXP.

Features included in the GreenChip module are an ultra-low power standby supply controller with 10 mW no-load capability; an IEEE802.15.4 standard-compatible integrated RF transceiver and wireless microcontroller with a Tx/Rx current below 17 mA; and low-power, IP-based wireless connectivity enabled by the open source JenNet-IP networking software. The module fits right into the light bulb socket.

Embedding visual smarts in a car

Toshiba has developed hardware-based IP called “FocusNavi IP.” Designed to embed more smarts into cars, Toshiba leverages its proprietary motion detecting algorithm. The hardware IP can determine, for example, whether moving objects are human beings, by applying the “Support Vector Machine” to the database. A tiny camera is installed in the first car of the miniature train in the photo below. While the train is running, the camera accurately discriminates between humans and other objects.

The second picture below is a monitor showing what the camera is actually “seeing.” The hardware IP can be dropped into any ASIC, FPGA or SoC to enable the feature. It then detects only the objects the system needs to detect, according to Toshiba. Beyond surveillance cameras, Toshiba’s FocusNavi IP’s most obvious applications are in cameras used in vehicles.

Smart robot feeds you food

One can’t walk around any Japanese electronics shows without bumping into warm and fuzzy robots. Here’s one. Although still a prototype (and nowhere near cuddly yet), this robot, equipped with eyes of Microsoft Kinect Xbox, is designed to help feed a handicapped person. It can feed “miso” soup without forcing a person to move his head or feed a spoonful of cooked rice or tofu right into one’s mouth without mashing or dropping it. The system was developed by Core Group, which is based in Kyushu, Japan.

Renesas mobor control

Renesas showed off a new motor control MCU designed for hybrid and non-hybrid electric vehicles. Using the company’s well proven SH-2A CPU (capable of running at up to 160 MHz), the Renesas engineering team has integrated both a resolver to digital (R/D) converter and motor control unit (EMU) inside the new SH72AY. The hardware integration helps offload CPU processing, making the new chip a perfect MPU for high-speed performance control motors demanded by HEVs and EVs. Renesas is sampling it now. Competitors such as Freescale are often running R/D converter or EMU functions in software on their MCUs, explained a Renesas representative.

Smart multi-unit dwelling

Tokyo Gas is building a new “smart,” multi-dwelling unit in Yokohama. The company’s lucky employees are expected to move in next year. The utility will install several of the company’s “Ene Farm” residential fuel cells in the building. By combining residential fuel cells together with those already used in EVs, the new smart multi-unit dwelling will offer plenty of space to store “left over” energy (and the energy generated by solar cells on the roof top) along with a method for sharing the energy among several families living in the building. The new mantra for new smart homes is the home that not only consumes energy but generates energy.

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