The HMI's Increasing Impact on Product Value
Modern society is flooded with all manner of electronic devices. Most embedded system products must incorporate an HMI (human-machine interface) that enables the electronics in the machine to communicate with users. Specifically, the HMI receives instructions and other communications from the people operating the devices and systems and communicates system status information back to them.
Not long ago, simple HMI designs with mechanical switches and indicator lamps served this purpose. Then computer technology made interfaces with displays, keyboards, and mice commonplace. Today, newer technologies such as touch screens and touch panels with color graphical user interfaces (GUIs) are mainstream HMI solutions.
Advanced HMI technology has had a major impact on embedded devices for household, business and industrial applications. In fact, the quality of the HMI now is a major factor determining the perceived value of the product itself.
A huge number of people around the globe like and prefer the sophisticated HMIs on their ubiquitous smartphones and are perpetually looking for even better visuals and even greater functionality. As the "Internet of things" (IoT) penetrates into every corner of daily life, they are demanding greater transparency in their HMIs—seeking easier ways to interface with devices, friends and other elements of the increasingly interconnected society.
One result of this trend is that system engineers developing enhanced HMIs for embedded devices are being challenged to implement more effective methods for connecting to and controlling various types of sensors, actuators and displays. Such operations are managed and directed by the complex, highly capable "brain" in the electronic device—typically a microcontroller unit (MCU) or SoC (system on a chip).
This EDGE story describes how Renesas supports HMI developers by supplying a broad range of advanced semiconductor solutions for incorporating improved user interfaces into a wide range of embedded system products.
A Growing Demand for High-Level Graphical Interfaces
Smartphones have dramatically 'raised the bar' for HMIs. Their easy-to-use GUIs have escalated demands for better graphics and touch features in many other types of devices and systems, too.
Consumers and business users increasingly want sophisticated user interfaces in household appliances and business, medical and factory equipment. They already take high-resolution displays and touch and swipe controls for granted, and expect HMIs with enhanced functionality to replace the simple LCD panels now used in a diverse and expanding range of products (see Figure 1).
RZ MPUs Support Smartphone-Grade GUIs
The high-level graphical user interfaces in smartphones, home computers, and newer car navigation systems typically are implemented with high-level microprocessors (MPUs) and dedicated SoCs. Until recently, it generally has been too costly and time-consuming to build such HMIs into everyday embedded system devices. But by announcing the RZ Family of MPUs last year, Renesas has provided a better system design alternative for incorporating high-level GUIs into all types of electronic products.
Our RZ chips now make it possible to build the types of HMIs made popular by smartphones—implementations that deliver smooth motion and beautiful and detailed graphics, and respond rapidly to taps, swipes, and flicks.
Video Demonstrating the Performance of a Simple HMI Solution
This short video (Video 1) highlights examples of HMI capabilities generated by an RZ-based Renesas demo board.
The demo GUI shown in the video is generated using just two Renesas system development tools: a GENMAI CPU board connected to an optional GENMAI display-output board (see Figure 2). This surprisingly simple system configuration creates smooth and attractive 2D graphics similar to those found on smartphones. The secret to this simplicity is the impressive processing power of the RZ Family MPU.
For more information about the CPU board and optional board, see the links below:
An HMI Controller Can Run Without External DRAM
A Renesas MPU from the RZ/A Series, a chip with rich peripheral functionality, implements the high-functionality HMI seen in the video. MPUs in this product family offer up to 10 MB of internal RAM. The large address space eliminates the need for external DRAM if the application code fits within the on-chip storage area.
This enables the creation of high-level 2D graphics—with a display size of up to WXGA (1280 x 768)—using just three components: the MPU, some ROM, and an LCD panel. Such simplified system designs, which utilize only the MPU's internal RAM, achieve very rapid memory accesses and deliver better graphics, while also consuming less power.
Our RZ/A MPUs support the strong graphics capabilities required by sophisticated HMIs. The chips include an internal frame buffer and an OpenVG 1.1–compliant graphics accelerator that speeds up 2D rendering. The RZ architecture and on-chip functions make it easy to implement user control operations such as zooms and flicks.
Renesas and our international community of technology partners also offer numerous development environments and tools, HMI evaluation boards, and products for facilitating HMI development. More information is available at the following websites:
(1) GUI tools: Designing GUIs on a Personal Computer
- MirrorLink, from Zuken Elmic, Inc. (Display on smartphone screen via USB) (in Japanese)
H.264 video encoding/decoding, from Techno Mathematical Co., Ltd.
(3) LCD Evaluation Platform
- Kiri-Asura Solutions Pack, from Core, Ltd. (in Japanese)
This SDK package is built from a Kiri-Asura board equipped with an RZ/AIH MPU. Its features include an IAR integrated development environment, an eForce RTOS, and middleware from ILC, Zuken Emric, Grape Systems, and CRI Middleware. The package thus offers total support for developers of embedded display systems.
(4) Other Evaluation Boards (in Japanese)
- Alpha Project
Opportunities—or realistically, market mandates—for building rich GUIs into embedded devices increase every day, so short R&D turnaround time are ever more essential to achieve market successes. The extensive RZ HW/SW tool suites and experienced application experts offered by Renesas and the RZ support community are helping customers' engineering staffs accelerate the quick progression of turning HMI concepts into system realities.
RZ MPUs Offer Powerful System Development Advantages
RZ microprocessors excel at implementing 2D-graphical HMIs. No longer do such applications require developing dedicated SoCs that drive up engineering costs, extend development timelines and require specialized technical expertise and experience. Renesas RZ MPUs eliminate these problems, allowing system designers to quickly create and upgrade products to meet the rapid evolution of end-user needs.
By making it possible to move new product designs with 2D-graphical HMIs into production in less time and at reasonable cost, our RZ MPUs deliver very powerful advantages for system manufacturers serving highly competitive global markets.
Please contact us to learn more about applying superior RZ system solutions.
The second installment in this three-part series will examine CMOS camera solutions for HMI operations that involve sensors, switches, and more.
OpenVG is a trademark of The Khronos Group Inc.
About the RZ Family:
High-End Renesas Embedded MPUs Featuring an Arm® core
The MPUs in the Renesas RZ Family contain the Arm Cortex®-A9 high-performance CPU and advanced peripheral functions interconnected in an efficient system architecture via a sophisticated bus structure. They are our top-level microprocessor offerings, delivering running speeds up to 400 MHz and attaining performance levels up to 1000 DMIPS.
Because RZ chips include large amounts of internal RAM, they can eliminate the need for external DRAM in many applications—a huge system design advantage. Traditional MPU-based implementations must use DDR2 or DDR3 high-speed external DRAM, mandating high-frequency design techniques, wide data bus structures, and EMC countermeasures. These factors lengthen development times, boost BOM component costs, require larger circuit boards, and entail DRAM procurement risks. Designs that apply our RZ MPUs have none of these disadvantages.
The Arm CPU built into Renesas RZ MPUs is important not only because it's a well proven, high-performance design that reduces engineering risk, but because it is supported by the vibrant global Renesas and Arm ecosystems of development assets. System engineers can take advantage of a variety of development environments comprising real-time operating systems, compilers, and debuggers. Moreover, they can readily obtain expert technical assistance from Renesas and the Arm community that offer application development examples and services.
Two earlier EDGE articles provide additional insights about the RZ Family: Processor Technology Advances!