Learn how SoMs can help you use the STM32MP1 MCU faster and better with a webinar with Phytec on March 25, 2021
Phytec: To improve the accessibility of our content, please find the audio version of this blog post.
What can a System-on-Module do for engineers? On March 25, Phytec, an ST Authorized Partner, will answer this question and more in a webinar that will focus on its phyCORE®-STM32MP15x, a SOM which uses an STM32MP1. In preparation for this event, we sat down with three experts from Phytec: Yves Astein, Head of Product Management, Phytec Germany, Christophe Parant, R&D Engineer, Support, PHYTEC France, and Dieter Heger, Team Leader-Customer Project Management, PHYTEC Germany. Embedded Linux continues to be increasingly popular in IoT, which has impacted the industry in many ways. For instance, SoMs are more common, and companies like Phytec are now providing new services and training opportunities. Hence, as workflows change, let us look at three ways developers can work differently for quicker and better results.
Tip #1. Use More than Some of the Features of Phytec’s SoM
Discovering All Hardware Solutions
A trap engineers sometimes fall for occurs when they start their custom carry-board before considering what’s already available. In this instance, the phyCORE-STM32MP15x can fit onto the phyBOARD-Sargas, a Single Board Computer with many I/Os. The SBC is thus essential because it allows developers to use the interfaces supported by the STM32MP1 rapidly. For example, the phyBOARD-Sargas comes with an Ethernet, a CAN-FD, an HDMI, and a MIPI DSI connector, a microSD card slot, and an Aduino connector for expansion boards. Moreover, Phytec includes a connector for its camera module to facilitate the creation of image recognition applications. Too often, engineers go through numerous PCB iterations. By starting with a phyBOARD-Sargas, designers can start from Phytec’s schematics and remove unnecessary features. PCB layout design, therefore, becomes simpler and more efficient, with a quicker path to the final product.
With or Without a Removable Form-Factor
Additionally, the ST authorized partner will soon be offering two versions of its STM32MP1 SoM. The current module comes with a Samtec 2 x 120 pins connector. Such removable form factor means one SoM can go onto multiple systems, thus vastly improving its practicality. In some instances, companies may also choose a removable form-factor for its upgradability. For example, replacing a SoM for a similar one with more memory could hardly be simpler. Moreover, Phytec is working on a phyCORE-STM32MP15x that uses a ball grid array instead of a connector. A BGA version takes less space on the PCB and allows for thinner designs. The absence of a connector also makes it more cost-effective. Hence, if engineers have space constraints, they can design around a more efficient SoM. Similarly, BGA packages are easy to solder on and enable good thermal dissipation between heat sinks and heat spreaders.
Tip #2. Jumpstart Your Application with Some of Phytec’s Software for Its SoM
A Virtual Machine and Quickstart Guide
Going from a proof-of-concept to a final product is often a daunting task. However, Phytec simplified the process by offering two software solutions. The first one is a virtual machine that users can install to start testing their SoM. The company also provides ample instructions on how to install it in its QuickStart Guide. As Phytec told us, the VM enables them to assist and lead their customers better. Indeed, it provides a common environment that engineers can use to learn more about certain protocols or features. It also removes a lot of the frustration developers often experience at the beginning of a project. Instead of spending hours or days figuring out how to boot, they can just start exploring the operating system.
STM32CubeMP1 Firmware Packages and STM32CubeMX Project File
The second software solution offers STM32CubeMP1 firmware packages and an STM32CubeMX project file. These software packages ensure engineers can rapidly get all the middleware and header files they require to start working. Traditionally, developers spend time on their pinout configuration or clock tree. They would then have to choose relevant middleware for their application. By downloading the files Phytec provides, engineers can start working on differentiating features immediately. Teams already familiar with the STM32 Open Development Environment will appreciate such packages even more since they contain the hardware abstraction layers and headers files. Programmers just have to start working on their main loop. As a result, it makes the transition from proof-of-concept to final application a lot smoother.
Mainline Linux Kernel
ST and Phytec place a similar emphasis on offering a mainline Linux kernel that works as the base for our and their Board Support Packages. By upstreaming its drivers, Phytec vastly improves the stability of and support for its BSP. Similarly, its work with the Linux community helps reduce the presence of bugs or vulnerabilities. The company also ensures that customers benefit from a common IP that’s more scalable and easier to work with. Indeed, a mainlined kernel enables developers to focus on their features rather than fix bugs, for instance. These are critical considerations when writing an industrial application with stringent requirements.
Yocto Layer and Training
Another challenge for many engineers is the Yocto layer that they must develop for their application. Phytec recommends that customers create a custom Yocto layer on top of the existing Board Support Package (BSP). It allows engineers to differentiate between their code and lower layers from Phytec and ST. Additionally, the company offers a two-day Yocto training. As Yves, Christophe, and Dieter shared,
“Our intensive Yocto training is for any engineer, regardless of their experience. Even those with advanced knowledge will get new information out of it. Indeed, the seminar is a hands-on experience that provides attendees with a much stronger understanding of Embedded Linux. Participants will leave with practical steps that will ensure they can configure and optimize their Yocto layer.”
Tip #3. Do More With the STM32MP1 than Some Do With Phytec’s SoM
Teams working with a Phytec SoM must think beyond the hardware. Indeed, too often, companies spend months on features to fully take advantage of their STM32MP1, only to realize the SoM maker had something ready all along. For instance, Phytec’s understanding of our MPU means that its engineers can prepare a system for Secure Boot. Too often, small teams overwhelm themselves and give up on implementing security at the risk of dire consequences. Thanks to a close partnership, the ST authorized partner can handle the cryptographic keys, deactivate the JTAG interface, and more. Customers can thus easily enjoy all the security features of the STM32MP1 without wasting time and money.
Outsourcing Machine Learning
Another important use case is the increasing popularity of machine learning at the edge. A device like the STM32MP1 offers enough performance to run powerful neural networks, for example. Demos repeatedly show the type of image recognition or cloud gateway software that can run on ST’s MPU. Last year, the Nanyang Polytechnic Institute in Singapore even had an entire presentation around a smart factory connected to the cloud with an STM32MP1. Unfortunately, too many engineers miss the opportunity to benefit from such features because they don’t have data scientists on hand or years to spend on cloud computing, data gathering, and neural network design. Too many fail to grasp the fact that Phytec engineers can implement machine learning algorithms or image recognition applications. The company even has an in-house data scientist, Dr. Jan Werth, to help customers innovate. Hence, teams with more limited resources can ship competitive systems that would be out of reach otherwise.
The challenge for engineers is to view a SoM maker like Phytec as much more than a hardware vendor. The company does have a module built around an STM32MP1. However, it is a one-stop shop solution with a wide array of services that makes our MPU more accessible and answer many of their customers’ challenges. Hence, using a SoM means taking advantage of all the technologies and services its maker provides. For instance, as we talked to Yves, Christophe, and Dieter, one thing they wanted to highlight was that,
“Developers are often wary of the maintenance that an MPU requires. The phyCORE-STM32MP15x is, therefore, popular because it’s a solution that moves some of the maintenance onto the SoM maker. More specifically, Phytec manages and updates its operating system and all the pre-installed software. As a result, teams can simply focus on their application.”