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EE Live! conference a big splash in Silicon Valley

-April 14, 2014

I went to the EE Live! conference in San Jose and it was a blast. This is the new incarnation of the old Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). Last year it was branded Design West, but I suspect that was too generic, since it is not aimed at mechanical engineers that might read Design News. Another problem with the word “design” is that in the semiconductor industry, only IC engineers are considered “designers.”

I was delighted to hear that UBM, the folks that run the show, are considering moving it to the Santa Clara Convention Center next year. I like Santa Clara better since the parking is free, it’s easier to get to, and it's right near my house.

So following are some snaps I took on the show floor. Bear in mind that another big part of the EE Live! is the conference part, where you can learn about the latest secrets and tips and tricks from technical experts. You have to pay for the conference, but they were nice enough to give a single-class pass to regular shmucks like me that were just attending the free show in the exhibit hall.


As you entered the show floor, there was this great theater (or should I say theatre) set up. Here we see show runner Karen Field and EETimes editor Max Maxfield doing a fun give-away. I ran into Max later that evening and he gave me his business card, which lists his title as “Editor of all things fun and interesting.”


There was always a healthy crowd at the theatre, and they were always having a good time. It’s really great to see this combination of social and technology at technical conferences.


If you work with RF, you know that Rohde & Schwarz makes some of the best test equipment on the planet. They are best known for their spectrum analyzers, but now they are making oscilloscopes and hand-held instruments.


Where Rohde & Schwarz really stands out in my mind is with network analyzers like this baby. They have some of the lowest-noise units in existence. A network analyzer is like a spectrum analyzer that also measures the phase change of a signal. So rather than just read the spectrum, the unit sends out a signal you connect to your circuit, and then you can get a gain-phase plot, or in this case, you can see a Smith Chart displayed right on the screen. Note the frequency range for this instrument—9 kHz to 6 GHz. That is 9,000 to 6,000,000,000, or nearly 6 decades of range. That is quite an accomplishment. Those N-type connectors on the front belie what a fast beast this is. BNC connectors are not suitable for multi GHz frequencies.


Here is Rhode & Schwarz account manager Steve McMoyler in front of a display of a bunch of cool test equipment he sells. I complained that Rohde & Schwarz stuff is so good we can never find a cheap deal on eBay. He laughed, and pointed out a lot of their new stuff is really cost competitive. I put this to outfits like Rigol selling $400 scopes that, while not the greatest, will actually trigger and show you a waveform. These cheap scopes have put pressure on all the test equipment manufacturers. Then again, the Maker movement has increased the market for these inexpensive products, so the manufacturers can archive high-volume cost efficiencies.


National Instruments had a great booth at EE Live! this year. This pic was as the show opened on Thursday, but before long, the booth was swamped with engineers interested in everything from LabView visual programming to the MultiSim Spice simulation program so loved by colleges around the world.


Element14 was at the show, the folks previously know as Newark Electronics. Everything from game controllers to motor control was on display.


One nice feature of EE Live! are these little classes put on in glass booths throughout the show floor. You can see this one was packed, standing room only. There is a real hunger to learn the expertise to design and program embedded systems.


The Segger folks were there. Atmel uses Segger debugging technology in a lot of their eval boards. Here we see James Murphy and Shane Titus ready to answer any questions.


Here is the Atmel SAMA5D3 evaluation board with Segger technology running their emWin graphics library.


The PCB fab companies were there, including the PCB-POOL folks my buddy Wayne Yamaguichi liked so much.


Here we see Tony Shoot from PCB-POOL showing some of their capabilities, as they segue into a full prototype shop.


The LeCroy folks were at the show. I can’t get over how beautiful the display is on these modern scopes. I bought one of their $60k units when I was at National Semiconductor. The engineers used to Tek or Agilent would complain the user interface was weird, but once they bothered to learn it, you could not tear the LeCroy scope out of their hands. I myself have a LeCroy 9360 digital scope at my home lab.


Here is a LeCroy serial data analyzer on the left and a HDO4000 scope on the right. It's got a 4k screen and 12-bit resolution. Those big 12-inch screens sure can spoil you. Note they have a web-cam perched on top of the scope with a real-time video displayed on the top right of the screen. They are piping the scope screen to the TV, talk about reducing eye strain when you debug. Sweet.


The Screaming Circuits folks had a booth. These are the people that will assemble small quantities of your circuit boards. They have special machinery so they don’t need 3 feet of tape and real parts for any build. You can send them your Digi-Key cut-tape parts and they can feed them into their tape and reel machines. That way you can check out your insert file and assembly drawing and have circuit boards made in a real IR reflow oven. Here Scott Pohlmann was ready to answer any questions about protying and their partnering with Sunstone and other fab houses, as well as Digi-Key. They can even have your design kitted up, get the boards fabbed at Sunstone, and delivery you assembled boards.


Atmel had their giant Tech on Tour trailer right on the show floor. Michelle would buzz you in to checkout all the demos and give access to Atmel applications people that could answer your questions or help with your next project.


One demo that people loved was the MakerBot, which would make items like this while you watched.

Here is a little movie of the MakerBot in action. It is hypnotizing to watch.



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