Embedded Software IP & Technology Transfer in Power Electronics Applications

This blog is now closed, thanks for passing by!

From now on, I will publish articles either on my LinkedIn profile or on IEEE IETTN publication.

Thanks for your interest during all those years.

Best Regards, Marc.

IEEE IECON 2017: Call for Papers

Call-for-Papers – 2017 43rd Annual Conference of IEEE Industrial Electronics Society (IECON 2017)
October 29- November 1, 2017, Beijing, China.


Dear Colleagues, you are cordially invited to submit your contributions to IECON 2017, to be held on October 29-November 1, 2017 in Beijing, China.

IECON 2017 focuses on industrial and manufacturing theory and applications of electronics, controls, communications, instrumentation, and computational intelligence. The objectives of the conference are to provide high quality research and professional interactions for the advancement of science, technology and fellowship. The main features of the conference include Plenary Speeches, Invited Talks, Regular Sessions, Special Sessions, Tutorials, Industry Forum, Student & Young Professionals Forum, covering a wide range of fields in Energy, Control, Mechatronics and Robotics, and Information and Communication Technologies.

The world’s industry, researchers and academia are cordially invited to participate in this exciting event and enjoy the wonderful city of Beijing – the heart of China, for its beauty, history and hospitality. Important dates:

  • Special Session Proposals: 15 February 2017
  • Contributed Papers: 17 April 2017
  • Tutorial Proposals: 15 May 2017
  • Notification of Acceptance: 3 July 2017
  • Final Submission Due: 15 August 2017
  • Early Registration Closes: 15 August 2017

Welcome and look forward to receiving your contributions and attendance to the IECON 2017!

General Co-Chairs, IECON 2017
Xinghuo Yu, Jinhu Lu, Kamal Al-Haddad, Luis Gomes

Program Co-Chairs, IECON 2017
Huijun Gao, Juan J. Rodriguez-Andina, Mariusz Malinowski, Yousef Ibrahim, Milos Manic, Yin Shen

Embedded software: sourcing specialized interfaces

When designing an electrical equipement product, you typically have the following sub-systems to design and integrate together:

  1. mechanical (a box)
  2. electrical (the wires to inteface with grid + load and power electronics)
  3. the electronics (driving the power electronics + human-machine interface + communication interface)
  4. and the software that runs on the electronics.

For (1,2,3), there are a lot of standard/COTS products available so that you can quickly have a prototype ready using those components (while there is still innovation going on in each of these areas). However, for (4), this is less obvious and knowing that embedded software costs amount for a large part of electronic product design (>50% according to PwC), it has to be carefully planned.

Splitting software into components

Software inside an electronic product can be split into 3 important components: (1) commodity interfaces, (2) specialized interfaces and (3) application software (that may or may not run over an OS) – see image below (taken from my ebook on custom electric motor drive design).

Commodity interfaces are typically packaged with your chip bundle of tools or available at a very low price, unless you are using something that’s not standard. Applications software is the software that is specific to your product (a robot, a drone, a medical device, etc.), i.e. “your sauce”. Then you have the “specialized interfaces”: middleware/drivers meant to work with a “complex” peripheral like a power stage or a camera. Those drivers typically contains very “domain-specific” functions that need advanced knowledge and expertise to be developped.

This is where it becomes tricky because you need to source those interfaces from somewhere: i.e. (1) develop them ‘in-house’ or (2) get them from a third party IP provider. The sourcing of the specialized interface is influenced by available time, budget, talent and also the type of product you are developping:

  • In house development of specialized interfaces can be an option when you have the expertise and when the product value is highly defined by this interface, e.g. a standard industrial motor drive.
  • Third party IP sourcing of specialized interfaced can be an option when your firm do not have this specific expertise in house and when the product is not highly defined by this interface, e.g. a medical device equipment.

Either option may also be influenced by the pressure on anticipated costs/profits and time of development of your product: the higher the pressure is on costs and time of development, the higher the benefits of leveraging third-party IP sourcing (if available and making financial sense against in-house development).

However, the lines get blurred when ones uses a “reference design”. Those reference designs typically come from a third-party (chip vendor) and are a great start for a project. However, it is important to know that a reference design is not an IP: you need domain expertise to use them otherwise you may get troubles, especially in power electronics applications. This topic is so important that I will make it stand as a future blog post shortly. Stay tuned!

Moving on further into embedded software intellectual property

Some of you may have noticed, I have changed the title of this blog from “FPGA Technology and Embedded Software IP in Power Electronics Apps” to “Embedded Software IP & Technology Transfer in Power Electronics Apps” (check the top of the screen). What has happened?

This blog began while I was still doing my PhD. in the field of FPGA-based motor drives in 2008 and lots of time has passed since then. With the recent acquisition of Altera by Intel, we can now think that FPGAs are now “mainstream” chips and their particularity is not that distant with other chips used for embedded computing on the market (as it used to be), other that you have some logic fabric on which you can design custom VHDL functions to work as peripherals to a processor (soft processor like NIOS II on the FPGA fabric or hard processor such as ARM on the chip itself aside the FPGA fabric). Of course this makes them special and unique to develop new type of applications – that you can’t do with other chips like DSPs and MCUs – but from the point of view of the embedded system design, especially with SoCs, they are not the “bizarre” chips anymore only reserved to old electrical engineers thinking only in VHDL.

That being said, the continuity with this blog is still “embedded software IP”. This is still a passion for me because, I am still amazed how the complexity of embedded software design is still ignored in the process of designing electronic products. Embedded software development for mobile phones, i.e. the “apps”, is very well developped and organized but it is pretty much complicated in all other applications where the electronic part is custom. There is still a lot of “electrical engineering” mentality in the approach of designing software for those applications and this is especially true for industrial/power electronics applications.

Because embedded software is so linked with innovation, i.e. little/no value in the hardware and most/all the value in the software, I have shifted the focus of this blog on the other side: on process of getting true innovation from labs to market, also known as “technology transfer. This is where it connects with “intellectual property”, i.e. invention, patents, etc. By learning the process of how to really leverage existing intellectual property, a designer can really improve his productivity in developping new products. The designer embracing technology transfer is like the software engineer that learns to reuse existing code and build his application on the top of it (very productive), rather than building everything from scratch (not productive). For me, technology transfer is like “code reuse 2.0”.

Hence, at that time of the year I used to write a review of what happened in the field of FPGA, especially for power electronics applications. I won’t do it this year. I may come back next year with a similar idea. Meanwhile, I hope you will like this blog’s “new flavor”. Feel free to let me know what you think !

ICIT2017 Next March 2017 in Toronto (Canada): Call for Paper


Click here to access ICIT2017 website

Paper Submission: Prospective authors are invited to electronically submit regular papers of their work in English. Accepted and presented papers will be published in the conference proceedings, and submitted for inclusion in IEEE Xplore on‐line digital library.

Topics: The scope of the conference will cover, but will not be limited to, the following topics:

New Technologies for Electric Transportation
Electric Energy Storage Systems
Control Systems, Robotics and Mechatronics
Power Systems and the Smart Grid
Renewable Energy Systems and Smart Grid
Sensors, Actuators and Micro-nanotechnology
Cloud Computing, Big Data and Software Engineering
Signal and Image Processing and Computational Intelligence
Electronic System on Chip and Embedded Control
Electrical Machines and Drives
Industrial Automation, Communication, Networking and Informatics
Special Sessions: More than 30 Special Sessions on specific, emerging topics are being organized during the conference, and are open for submission.

Important dates:
a) Deadline Full Paper Submission: Dec. 15th (EST) , 2016
b) Acceptance Notification: Jan. 15th , 2017
c) Final Submission and Registration: Feb. 15th , 2017

New ebook: Step-by-step design of a basic embedded system using an Intel MAX10 ® FPGA

Are you new to Intel FPGA-based embedded system design? Make sure to download my new ebook: it contains all steps to design a basic FPGA-based embedded system from scratch including a (1) NIOS II processor-centric system in Qsys, (2) MAX10 FPGA pins assigments and (3) software running on the processor.

While going through this ebook, you will be able to identify key steps in designing your own system using Intel FPGA free EDA Tools. This is a great way to save time and to quickly put your efforts in building your own FPGA-based embedded system! This ebook is great not only for people designing FPGA-based embedded control systems, but to any people planning to design a new electronic product with a Intel FPGA for the first time.


  1. Starting things off. EDA Tools and MAX10 Development kit.
  2. Basic concepts.
  3. First Step: FPGA/hardware part
  4. Second Step: Software part
  5. Third Step: Program & Play !
  6. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
  7. How Alizem can help you achieve your business and technical objectives ?

Format: Powerpoint presentation, 59 pages.

Power electronics innovations 2015 Review – M&A, IoT, GaN

Happy new year 2016 loading concept2015 has been a big year for power electronics innovations, both from a technical and a business point of view. Of course, Elon Musk has been making the news every week regarding Tesla or other new home battery project closing the gap between its solar power generation business and its EV business. Paris treaty on climate change (#cop21) is also probably a good long-term news regarding the increasing necessity to generate power from renewables sources (=> power electronics) and to reduce energy consumption in every sector, including aerospace ( conversion of hydraulic actuators to electro-mecanic actuators => more electric aircraft, solar powered airplanes => Solar impulse, etc.). Otherwise, here are specific topic/news that got my attention in 2015.

1- Chip vendors: Mergers and Acqusitions (M&A)

The big news of the year for FPGA-based embedded system designers is obviously the acquisition of Altera by Intel last June and closed last month. It has been rumored since a quite long time, especially by journalist Kevin Morris, and it will probably significatively change the dynamic in the FPGA technology business, i.e. the 30 years battle with rival Xilinx. Regarding Xilinx, there also have been rumors to be acquired by Avago (May) and later by Qualcomm and IBM (November).  According to this article, “2015 has become a perfect storm for acquisitions, mergers, and consolidation among major suppliers, which are seeing sales slow in their existing market segments and need to broaden their businesses to stay in favor with investors. Rising costs of product development and advanced technologies are also driving the need to become bigger and grow sales at higher rates in the second half of this decade. The emergence of the huge market potential for the Internet of Things (IoT) is causing major IC suppliers to reset their strategies and quickly fill in missing pieces in their product portfolios“.

Among other M&A relevant to power electronics applications are: (1) acquisition of Freescale by NXP (March), (2) acquisition of IRF by Infineon and finally (3) acquisition of Fairchild by ON Semiconductors but the last one is not closed yet.

2- Internet-of-things (IoT)

As indicated above, communication between objects – IoT – is now driving a lot of change in the semiconductor industry, including of course in power electronics applications such as power generation, industrial automation and automotive. It has never been more easy to acquire data and to pipe it out onto a SaaS platform to store it and analyze it (check this 5$ Raspberry PI or this 19$ per unit Photon). Value created by this process is amazing: you now have access to data you didn’t have before and this data allows you to take better business decisions and also to create completely new functionnalities. The challenge is now to analyze this data and build high-value information out of it: condition-monitoring and fault detection of PV panels is certainly a good example. If you want to learn more on the industrial IoT (IIoT), McRock Capital – a canadian VC firm specialized in this sector – has compiled 30 reports available for download on the subject.

Among the available IoT platforms out there, one did catch my attention: Initial State. This Nashville, TN, startup has managed to build a very easy to use web-based platform where you can stream your product data and quickly analyze it. My firm – Alizem – has even released a new IoT product based on this platform that allows you to connect existing electrical equipment to this platform. The same module has also been integrated as an option to Alizem Motor Control Software for Altera MAX10 FPGA devices and it is – to date – the only IoT software/IP solution available on Altera website.

3- Rise of GaN technology

While this blog is on power electronics, we mostly talk about digital control / software innovations related to power electronics applications and it is rare we see true / game-changing innovation on the power electronics device side. 2015 is not like other years with the rise of GaN technology. According to Alex Lidow’s led startup EPC, GaN-based transistors “have characteristics very similar to the power MOSFET, but with improved high speed switching, lower on-resistance, and a smaller size than their silicon predecessors. These new capabilities, married with a step forward in high-density packaging, enable power conversion designers to reduce power losses, reduce system size, improve efficiency, and ultimately, reduce system costs.” Hence, this is no big surprize that some GaN players are actively involved into Google’s Littlebox challenge, including Canada-based GaN Systems who raised 20M$ for its development in May 2015. According to the contest website, we should know about the winner pretty soon (January 2016).

What’s up for 2016? With all those major changes in the air, there is no reason to think that 2016 is going to slow down ! Thanks for reading this review and let me know of anything you think I should add up. Meawhile, we are now all set for a new  year of innovation in the crazy world of power electronics !

Monitoring, Fault Diagnosis and Increasing the Lifetime & Reliability of PV Systems

Solar panel on a red roof reflecting the sun and the cloudless blue sky

Have you checked the November 2015 issue of IEEE IES Transactions on Industrial Electronics ? There is a special section on the precise topic of “Monitoring, Prognosis and Techniques for Increasing the Lifetime & Reliability of Photovoltaic Systems“. Here are the titles of the seven articles selected for this special section:

1- “Operation of cascaded H-bridge multilevel converters for large-scale photovoltaic power plants under bridge failures”

2- “Online two-section PV array fault diagnosis with optimized voltage sensor locations”

3- “Photovoltaic systems reliability improvement by real-time FPGA-based switch failure diagnosis and fault tolerant DC-DC converter”

4- “Model-based degradation analysis of photovoltaic modules through series resistance estimation”

5- “Dual-Kalman-filter-based identification and real-time optimization of PV systems”

6- “A survey on mismatching and aging of PV modules: The closed loop”

7- “Innovative automated control system for PV fields inspection and remote control”

In the context of the rise of PV systems for solar power generation and also the Internet-of-things (IoT), the timing for this publication is very good. This is exactly the type of information that needs to be generated by controllers (and sent to operators via IoT) to maximize energy-efficiency of PV systems AND also reduce any chance of unplanified downtime leading to loss of revenues.

Internet-of-things (IoT) interface for electrical equipment manufacturers

Smart appliances in network. Concept for Internet of Things showing many different connection between device

You certainly know already a lots of things about IoT (if not, read this or this), but do you know about the Initial State’s IoT platform ? Briefly, that’s a web-based platform (SaaS) to which you can stream data out from your electronics devices. The platform is then going to store this data for you and enable you to visualize/report it quite nicely, always through your preferred web browser.

They have had quite success so far in the hobby/consumer space, enabling to easily pipe data out of a Raspberry PI for all sorts of cool applications. The need to pipe out informations from controllers is everywhere, especially in industrial electronics (that’s Industrial IoT, IIoT). Hence, this type of feature is a perfect fit with Alizem embedded motor control software products enabling to pipe out informations regarding electric motor’s states: temperature, currents, rotor position, speed, etc.

For those reasons, I am pleased to announce the release of Alizem IoT Interface software that’s meant to connect new and existing electrical equipment products to Initial State’s IoT platform. This new product is now available in two versions: standalone (great for existing products) and integrated into Alizem embedded motor control software (ideal for new products). Both versions include a reference design based on Altera MAX10 FPGA Development kit.

For electrical equipement manufacturers, that’s a great way to integrate IoT features easily and quickly and also to:

  • Accelerate product development by detection bugs early
  • Easily share data between development teams working at different locations
  • Remotely monitor critical performance data such as power consumption, load motion profiles, current shape and temperature
  • Build new value-added services by bundling their electrical equipment products with SaaS based monitoring services and provide peace-of-mind to your customers by having them access to all their equipment operation data

For more information, please visit www.alizem.com/iot and/or feel free to contact me over this blog.

Best Regards, Marc.

This blog has been originally published here, on LinkedIn.

FPGA and Embedded Motor Control Software IP – A Review of 2014

iStock_000048509430smallDear reader, thank you for reading my blog. I take this opportunity to wish you an happy new year 2015, fulfilled with great new designs and hopefully as few bugs as possible. Like previous years, I will take some time to review – from my perspective – the last year in the excitating world of electronics innovation (device + software) related to power electronics applications.

2014: The SoC year

For me 2014 has been the “SoC” year with main FPGA manufacturers (i.e. Altera & Xilinx) heavily promoting their new ARM processor centric + FPGA fabric devices (the Cyclone V SoC for Altera and the Zynq for Xilinx). While the idea of having a hard processor connected to a FPGA is not new (Microsemi is doing this since a while with SmartFusion released by Actel in 2009 and Xilinx have had hard PowerPC processors in their Virtex II since 2002), the idea of positionning those devices as “software-centric” is new. What it means is: with those SoC devices (Cyclone V & Zynq), you are not buying a FPGA anymore: you are buying a software programmable chip that has a bunch of peripherals around two ARM processors plus some FPGA fabric. That’s a radical change of mentality from hardware companies that must be applauded. The typical embedded software guy can now program a “FPGA SoC” device without having to deeply know about FPGA first: they can start programming their application software of the ARM processor and then optimize I/Os & some hardware accelerated functions with FPGAs. This is without mentionning that those device now integrate in the large ARM software ecosystem and all synergies that it provides.

How this impacts power electronics apps ? From an system architecture point of view, a power converter (for motor control and solar power conversion) is only another type of peripheral inside a system (just like an audio or a video peripheral). Electronic product devices typically have three interfaces: (1) a human machine-interface (buttons), (2) a communication interface (for external world data exchange / IoT) and (3) a specialized interface (in the case of a surveillance system, that’s a camera in the case of an electric motor drive that’s a power stage). Hence, in my opinion, those SoC devices are going to accelerate a convergence toward standard system architecture that include standard interfaces (for HMI and communication) and specialized interfaces (like camera or power converter). In the example of a smart camera system, you can think to have one processor dedicated to the general management of the application, one processor dedicated to extracting image features coming out of the camera and part of the FPGA fabric dedicated to run the multi-axis smart camera motor controller.

For more reading on the topic, I invite you to read Kevins Morris articles on this topic (this one, this one and this one). Also, don’t miss Adam Taylor’s MicroZed Chronicles: he did an amazing job of releasing ~60 blog articles in the last year on using Xilinx Zynq SoC devices.

Google Little Box Challenge

Last July, Google has launched an amazing power electronics system design challenge called the Little Box Challenge. Basically it means to “figure out how to shrink an inverter down to something smaller than a small laptop (a reduction of > 10× in volume) and smaller than everyone else”. Cash price is 1M$. According to Don Tan – president of the IEEE Power Electronics Society (PELS) – “the inverter will have to have an efficiency greater than 95 percent and handle loads of 2 kVA. It also has to fit in a metal enclosure of no more than 40 cubic inches (655 cubic centimeters) and withstand 100 hours of testing“. This is a great opportunity for  wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductors device manufacturers to show their energy-efficiency benefits and for the best power electronics system designers to show their talent and creativity. The grand prize winner will be announced sometime in January, 2016.

Altera MAX10: Getting some A2D to PLDs

Back to the electronic device world. Last September, Altera has announced the availability of a new type of device: the MAX10. From my understanding, this device positions at the high end of the MAX PLD family and the low-end of the Cyclone family. Hence, this is a very low-cost device (as typical MAX PLD) but has full-featured FPGA capabilities (as Cyclone device) which means that you can embedded a NIOS II soft processor in this device (not possible with previous MAX PLDs). The most important feature – that is especially relevant to power electronics control system design – is that this devices integrates 1 or 2 analog-to-digital (A2D) converter blocks, depending on the device model. In the design of a FOC electric motor drive for example, those A2D can be obviously used to sample phase currents. Typical DSP and MCU have integrated A2Ds and this was missing into the low-cost FPGA space (the notable exception being Microsemi’s mixed-signal FPGAs, but those are not positionned as ‘low-cost’ devices).

Again, you can read Kevin Morris on this topic.

Alizem COTS software for mission-critical motor electric motor drives applications

You know my firm Alizem innovates in the field of power electronics embedded software. The goal being to help system/product designers to spend less time reinventing the wheel and spend more time and money building their true product differenciation by reusing pre-tested software. In 2014, Alizem has released a brand new product meant to reduce energy loss and increase fault robustness of PMSM and BLDC motors. This new product is based on a technology developped over the last 10 years at the Canadian Space Agency. This is a great fit in aerospace applications (i.e. “More Electric Aircraft” technologies) that are always looking for ways to reduce airplane fuel consumption (they can achieve same performance with 20% smaller motors, hence reduced weight, space and fuel). Same logic applies for automotive industry. This is a perfect example of how EDA/IP industry can help OEM to integrate more innovation (value) in their products while reducing developments costs, risks and time-to-market.

My ebook on “How to design a custom electric motor drive system using COTS components ?”

That’s something I wanted to write since a long time because there are a lots of books on the market on the different aspects of electric motor drive design (i.e. electric machine design, power converter design, controller design) but none treating specifically on the embedded software of this application with a practical approach. While it may be improved, I am glad of the result and I invite you to download it for FREE. I would be more than happy to receive your comments about it (send me an email).

This review is for sure incomplete but – in my opinion – it gathers important points of 2014. Please let me know if you think I forgot something important. Again, happy design for 2015!