The Blog

Engineering Scholarship Winner

in Robots, Scholarship

Congratulations to Marina Dimitrov from Portland Oregon, the 2014 winner of Nuvation’s $1,000 engineering scholarship. Applicants were asked to submit a short essay about something they really enjoyed about engineering. Marina told us all about her work on robots that make elephants exercise!

Check out Marina’s winning essay.

Packy the Elephant Meet “Packy,” one of Marina’s oldest customers. Robot feeder and worktable Packy’s robot personal trainer is getting some upgrades from Marina’s FIRST Robotics team. Marina gets ready to make a robot!

Now a Sophomore at Stanford University majoring in Biomechanical Engineering, Marina discovered her passion for robotics during high school in the FIRST Robotics Competition, where she created robots that play Frisbee, soccer, and basketball (this time the robots did the exercising!).

Marina cutting metal Marina working in the lab. Elephant Feeder Process Flow Chart Elephant feeder UI flow chart. Robot playing sports Robots playing, ummm, what sport is that?

This summer she studied the “biomechanics of tuna” and is thinking of ways to make robots swim better by “striving to understand and mimic what nature has had millions of years to design.” Not a bad resume for eighteen years old – wait a minute, are we saying “Marina” is studying the biomechanics of fish at Stanford Hopkins Marine Station…I get the feeling we will be hearing more about this dynamic future engineer in the…future. Congratulations again Marina, and please drop by Nuvation’s California office sometime, and see if you have any biomechanical engineering tips for our air hockey playing robot.

Franken-Systems and Electronic Design

in Electronic Design Services

At Nuvation we began using the term “Franken-systems” many years ago (maybe back in the late 90’s?); nobody recalls the exact moment in time. Somebody probably blurted it out on seeing a lab setup with wires running all over between development boards and perfboard circuit prototypes. We’ve certainly seen the term other places as well, so we don’t know if we came up with it first. Doubtful we did, but we do like the term, it’s a concept that customers, vendors, and new colleagues all seem to understand.

A Franken-system refers to a collection of development boards for processors, FPGAs, sensors, and the like wired together to create a very non-form-factor early prototype in order to facilitate software and logic development. Sometimes we’ll make lab prototypes for certain circuits, sometimes we’ll have custom cables made, and sometimes we’ll go so far as to fabricate interposer cards to connect boards that have complicated interfaces, lots of connections or high-speed considerations.

A video Franken-system with 3 cameras.
Click to Enlarge

Some Franken-systems are “quick and dirty” while others can look quite well put together – the latter usually being mounted on a surface of some kind and often covered with polycarbonate to avoid inadvertent hands. There’s certainly a range to these setups, but they all have a common theme – enabling on-device software and logic testing before first full prototypes are available.

A Franken-system can be assembled and put into a developer’s hands in mere days, compared with weeks or months it may take before the full prototype is available, providing a setup on which to begin testing code and logic before actual hardware is developed. Simulators and virtualization can do great things and be very helpful, but ultimately until you’re working on the actual target chip, you’re always at the mercy of how well the simulator emulated it. This is particularly important for processors and hardened IP blocks in FPGAs. When you’re running on that development board you’re learning a lot about the processor – how the programming flow works, how the debugger interface works, how the boot loader works, how the I/O multiplexing works, and so on. Chip flaws will be exposed. Library limitations will be found earlier, and in general you’re efficiently de-risking your project.

A Franken-system mounted on polycarbonate to keep it together.

Looking beyond the processor itself is where you get into even more important results. On a good Franken-system your development board will now be interfaced to as many of the other target chips, devices and software as the hardware and software team can put together. Image sensors, ADCs, DACs, sensors, memories, transceivers, etc. – the more of these things that you can get into your

Franken-system the better. The upside rapidly outstrips the time and effort required to create even an elaborate Franken-system. Timing issues, driver problems, datasheet errors, register problems, subtle limitations – these things all can come up much earlier in the project process.

While the software/logic team works with the Franken-system they need to be ever-vigilant for the “discovered problems” that will impact the actual hardware design taking place in parallel. This is where one of the most profound upsides comes in; even a single somewhat-serious issue found through testing on the Franken-system, which allows for that issue to be resolved before the hardware prototype design is complete, pays for this activity. For example, imagine a chip-bug found in a transceiver that if unresolved would have required a prototype re-spin. And it doesn’t have to be a bug in the chip – a more common scenario is finding a subtle limitation in how a new device can be used that often only shows up in actual testing – on the Franken-system. Avoiding that re-spin saves you days or weeks of effort, and likely weeks of schedule, on top of the expense of a re-spin. That’s why Franken-systems are a key part of Nuvation’s First-Time-Right hardware design methodology.

Of course there are limits to the Franken-system approach. For example, you won’t be able to create a setup for some parts of the hardware design. For some parts you can’t get access to a development board (that issue can even apply to the main processor or FPGA, which should encourage you to look for a different processor), for some parts the wiring is impractical or too high-speed, and sometimes the processor/FPGA variant you’re using might not even have a development board in existence. These limits are drastically outweighed by the benefits, however, and are not sufficient reasons to forego the advantages.

Nuvation In the News – Autonomous Vehicles Research

in Autonomous Vehicles

Electronic Design News has published a story about Nuvation’s collaboration with the University of Waterloo on autonomous vehicles research. EDN began taking an interest in our exploration of this exciting emerging technology when our CEO Michael Worry suggested during a presentation at the 2014 EE Live! trade show in California that that it should be illegal for humans to drive.

Car Crash Image

Should it be illegal for humans to drive?


Autonomous Vehicle Research Presented at IEEE

Steven Waslander, the lead University of Waterloo researcher on the project, presented two Nuvation-sponsored research papers on promising autonomous vehicle technologies at the IEEE Intelligent Vehicles Symposium last June in Michigan. “Pneumatic Trail Based Slip Angle Observer with Dugoff Tire Model” explores ways autonomous vehicles can ensure accurate vehicle control “at the limits of tire performance,” and “MPC Based Collaborative Adaptive Cruise Control with Rear End Collision Avoidance,” well, that one’s a bit more self-explanatory when you know that “MPC” stands for “model predictive control.” Read More

New Battery Management System for Energy Storage Platforms

in Battery Management System

A couple of weeks ago Nuvation’s product management team asked me to start preparing some marketing materials for our new “gen 4” battery management system (BMS). Finally, it’s time to start talking about it! It’s been a while since we released a new “ready-to-ship” product, and we already have interested clients asking for more information. This is a true COTS battery management system – and it’s chemistry-agnostic, scalable, and configurable.

The new BMS is designed with a modular architecture (there are different physical BMS modules you can put together in a custom configuration for your target system) that makes it scalable for uses ranging from large electricity grid energy storage systems, large datacom/telecom systems like cell towers, and industrial transportation platforms such as tow motors, naval vessels, and mobile robots. We addressed safety by creating a fault tolerant fail-safe design with built in redundancy, and choosing processors with strong noise immunity.

BMS User Interface - Pack View

BMS User Interface – Pack View

But for me, the coolest part of this battery management system is it includes a Wi-Fi module, and we made an iPad app for it, so you can monitor the battery’s state of charge and other data remotely, on your iPad!

That’s all I can say for now (oops, did I accidentally leak a new impending product launch? Companies never do that, except by accident!). Stay tuned for more updates as we ramp up for a product demonstration at The Battery Show in Novi, Michigan this September.

Audio Testing…With a Pressure Cooker?

in Electronic Design Services

Nuvation recently developed a product for a client that was a high-quality audio recording device with an integrated microphone. Our client needed their device to have a high dynamic range and low noise, but also a low production cost. During the design phase we used engineering best practices to maximize the dynamic range and minimize the noise, and we selected the most cost-effective components that would meet the client’s product requirements.


An anechoic chamber



We could get a ballpark estimate of a the system’s performance  using datasheet specifications and engineering analysis, but to accurately assess whether the design met dynamic range and noise specifications required complete system testing. This type of testing can be performed in an anechoic chamber, but for this situation renting and transporting all the equipment was cost prohibitive and too time-consuming. Read More

SoC FGPA Design Webinar with Nuvation, Altera, and ARM

in FPGA Design Services, News

Nuvation Altera SoC

SoC FPGAs enable engineers to take advantage of the flexibility of FPGAs while leveraging 3rd party IP cores, reducing component power consumption, and simplifying engineering requirements. The design flow of an SoC FPGA can reduce engineering efforts by as much as 30% calendar time and 35% engineering cost compared to standalone FPGA and FPGA/MCU configurations.

Allan Dubeau, Principal Design Engineer at Nuvation will be delivering a webinar with experts from Altera and ARM, comparing the design flow of an SoC FPGA to that of a traditional FPGA.

Join us on Thursday May 8 at 11am Pacific Time / 2pm Eastern Time for this inside look into how SoC FPGA architecture can reduce both design and product costs.

Learn More

Great Week at EELive!

in News

Michael-Worry_EELiveLast week we attended EE Live with our design partner Atmel, as part of the Atmel Tech on Tour series. Nuvation CEO Michael worry gave presentations on autonomous vehicle technology advancements, as well as the importance of battery management systems. EDN wrote a great article about Nuvation and Michael’s talks here.

If you missed it, you’ll be able to catch another live demo of the Nuvation battery management system at The Battery Show in September. Check out our News page for more details.

FPGA Design: Tips From the Experts

in FPGA Design Services

10G AMC for TelecomLooking for FPGA companies? Our articles about FPGA project development have been some of the most popular on the blog. Here is a recap of our top 3 FPGA design posts. Is there another topic you’re interested in? Leave us a comment!

An Easier Verification Method for FPGA Designs

Verifying a video design in an FPGA can involve writing tedious video test inputs  and expected outputs. Our FPGA engineers developed a simulation tool in C++ called the Computational Model. See if this approach will work for your next FPGA design!

4 Reasons You Should Be Using VMs for FPGA and Software Development

Are you using a virtual machine for your FPGA development? Here are 4 ways VMs can improve security and FPGA design efficiency.

4K Video Design Challenges, Solved!

Any electronic product design that uses 4K video will need to solve unique memory and video interfacing challenges. FPGAs are a perfect solution! Find out how the processing power and architecture flexibility of the latest SoC FPGAs can be applied.

Looking for FPGA consulting? Check out Nuvation’s FPGA design services and contact us to see how we can accelerate your FPGA project development.