EEWeb Pulse - Issue 92

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Skooks Pong Senior VP of Technology Synapse

Electrical Engineering Community



Skooks Pong


SENIOR VP OF TECHNOLOGY AT SYNAPSE A conversation about the company behind Nike’s FuelBand, SportWatch GPS, and many more.

Featured Products


Rail by Viableware: A Fraud-Free Tableside Payment System


How Viableware, a WA-based startup, turned to Synapse to help develop a tableside payment system at restaurants to prevent customers from giving their credit cards to complete strangers.


Pericom: Dealing with the Stress of High-Speed Signal Layout How this rising semiconductor company’s unique devices and support help customers overcome key signal integrity issues.


Designing a Binary Clock


How to design a binary clock using the Basic Stamp Homework Board microntroller with an attached breadboard.


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Synapse is a multidisciplinary

engineering firm based in Seattle, Washington. They combine mechanical, electrical, and software engineering with unique design teams to help the world’s leading companies fully realize—from idea to reality—new technology devices. We spoke with Skooks Pong, the Senior Vice President of Technology, about the company’s innovative approach to product development, its broad range of clients, and the company’s truly unique work environment.



EEWeb PULSE How did you get into engineering? I have a pretty unconventional background. My dad was always trying to do his own thing and was very entrepreneurial. I worked with him quite a bit on his various projects, so I remember learning how to use a micrometer and a lathe when I was around 8 years old. While in high school in the early 80s, my dad started a company that developed a small lightweight aircraft engine, so I started working with him pretty much full-time. I had a number of different interests, especially mechanical projects, so I got into motorcycle racing and started raising money to build some of my own stuff. Eventually, I wound up in the bicycle business, running my own shop for a few years, as well as working with Cannondale. During that time, I met one of the founders of Synapse. As time went on, I was less interested in running my own shop and managing all the other things that go into owning a

design firm here in Seattle. With their encouragement I jumped into the consulting arena and I’ve been doing it ever since. How would you describe the team at Synapse? Synapse is a multidisciplinary engineering firm. We combine mechanical, electrical, software engineering, project management, and manufacturing support to build collaborative teams helping some of the world’s leading companies fully realize— from idea to reality—new technology, devices, and experiences. There are a little over 250 employees here. We are based in Seattle, Washington, and also have offices in San Fransisco, California, and Hong KongWith small design firms, a lot of time is spent innovating on the front end of product development and dabbling a bit with industrial design, as well as supporting products after they launch. We’re okay with not being the designers— we’re engineers and we’re proud to be engineers, so we like solving hard engineering problems. The more the project involves the full range of our capabilities, the more we like it. With engineering at the core of those capabilities, I think it really helps create a strong focus for our business.

“We’re okay with not being the designers—we’re engineers and we’re proud to be engineers, so we like solving hard engineering problems. business. A couple engineers that I met through Cannondale moved out west and started working for a


Synapse has been around for 10 years. When the company was originally founded, we just wanted to work with our friends on really interesting and challenging projects. Over the last decade, we’ve evolved to better address our clients’ strategic needs. Companies are wanting to introduce ambitious devices as

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consumers demand more and more innovative products. As our clients respond to these transformations, we expanded our services to include full end-to-end consultation capabilities in order to guide them through a successful development process. What type of clients does Synapse have? We work on a variety of things. When we first started, we did a lot of lab automation for companies like CombiMatrix, Ekos, and others in


Synapster (sin•âp•ster) n. A person or animal which works for Synapse Product Development. Ex. I’m so jealous of those synapsters; they have the best jobs ever. Source: The Urban Dictionary




Synapse boasts a unique work environment geared towards employee satisfaction.


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INTERVIEW the area. We helped CombiMatrix go from optically detecting and reading micro-rays to doing it electrically—in order to create a smaller and cheaper device. From an electrical engineering perspective, we worked closely with them to develop ways of measuring and detecting very small currents. Those were interesting projects. Now we have a client base that spans a wide range of industries and we’ve built a large team capable of managing and helping in the creation of entire lines of products for companies such as Nike. With Nike, our engagement has been in the development of wearable fitness devices. We started working with them around 2006, shortly after they launched their Digital Sport division. Some of the earliest projects were the AMP+ watch and then the SportBand. Over the past 7 years we have gone on to work on the SportWatch GPS, countless other prototypes and ideation studies, and most recently the Nike + FuelBand. What is the scale of the projects you typically work on? We do everything from small-scale proof-of-concept projects to full concept to market development for new products and experiences. We want to make sure that our business is successful and the way do that is by making sure our people are successful at what they do. That’s the company’s top priority. How do your teams work together? There’s a very open and collaborative feel in this office. For each project—depending on the client and project—we build specific teams to help meet the set of requirements given to us from the client. From this

“The few of us who got the company started all came from different design firms. Our goal was to create the best place we ever worked.” list, we can see which MEs and EEs will be good for the project (depending on their expertise) and see what they can leverage from their own experience. From there, we bring them together move into the brainstorming part of it, which is really a crucial part of the process. It’s not as rigid as it sounds—it’s actually a lot of fun, especially collaborating with people from different disciplines. There’s a lot of emphasis on brainstorming and there are essentially no bad ideas—even the craziest ideas that might seem impossible can end up leading us to other solutions. We have a lot of interns here as well, and if an intern has a great idea, we’ll use it. We try to be egoless and collaborative. If we have a few failures, we can only learn from them. What do employees like about working at Synapse? The few of us who got the company started all came from different design firms. Our goal was to create the best place we ever worked. That is essentially the DNA of the company—to really drive to make it the best place to work for our employees. We do want to make sure that we turn a profit, but it’s not necessarily the number one priority. The goal is to create an environment that makes it exciting

for people to come to work and collaborate to solve hard engineering problems and support our clients’ product goals. We provide an all-hands catered lunch every Wednesday, and we have a snack kitchen, and people can bring their dogs to work, so it’s a pretty fun place. Plus we encourage people to organize company events, which is a really great to build community and let employees dictate the culture. In talking about Synapse as a company, we always look for ways to support the various community outreach projects people are involved in. For example, we support people who are doing job shadowing for high school students and college students. Also, we had our 10-year anniversary last year and to celebrate we decided that it would be good to give something back to the community. So we gave a $20,000 grant to IGNITE, which is a Seattle-based group a couple of our engineers are involved with. IGNITE is dedicated to encouraging girls to pursue education and careers in engineering, science, and technology or STEM education. That sort of outreach is one of the things that we continue to build upon. ■



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FEATURED PRODUCTS Burst-Mode Laser Transceiver The MAX24003 is a complete burst-mode laser driver transmitter and limiting amplifier receiver for use within fiber optic modules for FTTx applications. A fully compliant GEPON module with digital diagnostics can be realized when used with a 2KB EEPROM and suitable optics. Alternatively, a microcontroller can be used in conjunction with the MAX24003; however, this is not a necessity to achieve SFF-8472 compliance. The 2.5Gbps limiting receive path features programmable output swing control, rate selection, and OMA-based loss of signal detection. The burst-mode laser driver has temperature compensated modulation control using a look-up table. For more information, please click here.

Handheld +5V Digital Pulse Generator IXYS Corporation announced the introduction of the PDG-2500 Handheld +5V Digital Pulse Generator by its IXYS Colorado division. The PDG-2500 portable handheld pulse generator produces single-shot pulses from 80ns to 1s in width and pulse frequencies from 5 Hz to 1 MHz. It features an intuitive touch screen interface to control both the high resolution digital pulse generator as well as an additional user-adjustable voltage, variable from 0 to +5V DC. This DC voltage can be used as a control voltage to set high voltage power supply levels or other equipment parameters that are controlled with a DC voltage. The PDG-2500 can operate on internal battery power for up to six hours, or on 100-240VAC power with the included power supply. For more information, please click here.

“Jade:” Fujitsu’s First SoC Graphics Controller MB86R01 ‘Jade’ is a highly-integrated device for embedded automotive graphics applications. Incorporating an ARM926EJ-S CPU core, together with an enhanced version of the successful Coral PA graphic processor and a number of external interfaces, this 90nm technology device is highly optimized for various types of applications which require outstanding CPU performance in combination with sophisticated 2D/3D graphics features in a compact SoC. Target applications include onboard and mobile navigation systems, graphical dashboard systems, HUD (head-up display) units, rear seat entertainment systems, Point of Sales terminals and industrial control panels. For more information, please click here.

Flexible Digital Power Management Solution Intersil introduced its newest digital power supply management solution, featuring automatic compensation and adaptive performance optimization algorithms that significantly improve power conversion efficiency. The ZL8101 is an adaptive digital DC/DC PWM controller with auto compensation that provides a single phase solution with output currents up to 50A. Designed to work with an external driver and with DrMOS solutions, it can be used in parallel for current sharing between multiple ZL8101 devices. The ZL8101 uses a dedicated, optimized state machine for generating precise PWM pulses and a proprietary MCU for set-up and optimization. For more information, please click here. Visit


FEATURED PRODUCTS Automotive SoCs for CPU and Graphics Renesas Electronics Corporation and Renesas Mobile Corporation announced the availability of a new member of the R-Car Series of automotive Systems-on-Chip (SoCs). Capable of delivering more than 25,000 DMIPS, the R-Car H2 provides high performance and state-ofthe-art 3D graphics capabilities for high-end multimedia and navigation automotive systems. The R-Car H2 is powered by the ARM® Cortex™A-15 quad-core configuration running an additional ARM® Cortex™A-7 quadcore—the industry’s first implementation of a Quad ARM® Cortex A15 and the big.LITTLE processing technique in an automotive SoC. For more information, please click here.

3 Input HDMI 1.4a Compliant Receiver The TDA19977A; TDA19977B is a three input HDMI 1.4a compliant receiver with embedded EDID memory. The built-in auto-adaptive equalizer, improves signal quality and allows the use of cable lengths of up to 25 m which are laboratory tested with a 0.5 mm (24 AWG) cable at 2.05 gigasamples per second. The HDCP (TDA19977A only) key set is stored in non-volatile OTP (One Time Programmable) memory for maximum security. For more information, please click here.

SSR for High Current Apps The ASSR-1611 Solid State Relay (SSR) from Avago is specifically designed for high current applications, commonly found in industrial equipment. The relay is a solid-state replacement for single-pole, normally-open, (1 Form A) electromechanical relays. The ASSR-1611 consists of an AlGaAs infrared light-emitting diode (LED) input stage optically coupled to a high-voltage output detector circuit. The detector consists of a high-speed photovoltaic diode array and driver circuitry to switch on/off two discrete high voltage MOSFETs. The relay turns on (contact closes) with a minimum input current of 5mA through the input LED. The relay turns off (contact opens) with an input voltage of 0.8V or less. For more information, please click here.

Integrated AFE for Pulse Oximeters The AFE4490 is a fully-integrated analog front-end (AFE) that is ideally suited for pulse-oximeter applications. The device consists of a low-noise receiver channel with a 22-bit analog-to-digital converter (ADC), an LED transmit section, and diagnostics for sensor and LED fault detection. The AFE4490 is a very configurable timing controller. This flexibility enables the user to have complete control of the device timing characteristics. To ease clocking requirements and provide a low-jitter clock to the AFE4490, an oscillator is also integrated that functions from an external crystal. The device communicates to an external microcontroller or host processor using an SPI™ interface.This AFE4490 is a complete AFE solution packaged in a single, compact QFN-40 package (6 mm × 6 mm) and is specified over the operating temperature range of –40°C to +85°C. For more information, please click here.


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estaurants are subject to an incredible amount of credit card fraud—over 60-percent of data breaches happen in the hospitality industry, costing consumers billions each year. However, restaurant “skimming”— when servers illegally copy your credit card information—is a very easy scam to pull off. We willingly hand over our credit cards to complete strangers who walk away—oftentimes completely out of sight—before returning the card several minutes later. In 2010, Viableware, a Kirkland, WA-based startup, conceptualized a solution to this costly problem, a tableside ordering and payment system called Rail. To develop the system—an integration of hardware and software—it turned to Synapse, a Seattle-based engineering firm specializing in product realization. According to Ziv Magoz, electrical engineer for Synapse, Viableware had several requirements for the device. It had to communicate wirelessly with restaurant POS systems, have RFID and NFC capabilities, and a touchscreen durable enough to accept signatures without scratching the surface. Another important requirement was that the device had to be waterproof, meaning it could have no plug-ins for charging. To address this, Synapse developed an induc-

tive charging station. Functioning like a transformer, the primary coil is in the transformer and the secondary coil in the Rail. When the Rail is placed into a slot on the charger, the distance is short enough to have roughly 70-percent efficiency between the two inductors, driving 5 watts of power into the Rail. Fully charged, the 4.2 amp/hour battery in the Rail has enough power to last 16 hours. With security being the paramount concern, Synapse incorporated a card reader with a magnetic stripe that encrypts the credit card number before sending it wirelessly to the server. The decryption then occurs on the credit card company’s side of the transaction, making the information secure throughout the entire transaction process. Viableware is currently piloting the device in PF Chang’s and has plans to also expand into New Orleans-based Dickie Bennan restaurants. More recently, the company announced that it had integrated its technology with leading restaurant POS systems, MICROS, NCR Aloha and Dinerware, which serve over 60-percent of the 400,000 full-service restaurants in the US. For more projects from Synapse, please visit:

Percent of Americans who have been victims of credit card fraud


Percent of Americans who have been victims of debit or ATM card fraud


Median amount reported on credit card fraud


Percent of all financial fraud related to credit cards


Total amount of credit card fraud worldwide

$5.55 Billion Source: Consumer Sentinel Network, U.S. Department of Justice Date Verified: 7.23.2012





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EEWeb PULSE Customer Service One of the biggest differentiations in Pericom’s business model is its emphasis on customer service. In talking about his role at the company, Joseph Juan stated, “I frequently visit customers with our regional sales team to reiterate how Pericom offers a lot of diverse product lines to help them solve various integrity issues.” The hands-on approach that Pericom takes with its customers provides insight into why their customers come back for more.

models, the team can run a SPICE simulation that can show the customer where to place the repeater products to get the optimal effect. The combination of these services enables customers to design more effectively and efficiently, which cuts the time from design to market.

Signal Conditioning and the Pericom Solution

Pericom has a variety of products to deal with the signal conditioning of products covering high-speed Paired with their comprehensive design resources serial interfaces. As these interfaces migrate from and online support, Pericom’s solutions make it parallel to serial high-speed interfaces and the speed goes above 5GB per second, the easy for designers to meet their problems with signal attenuation design requirements. Among the The hands-on apand insertion loss arise, which various design resources are apcauses the system to have integplication notes, design guideproach that Peririty issues. That’s where Pericom lines, and simulation models that com takes with comes in. In order to overcome you can run before you start the its customers some of the more difficult layout PCB layout. “The customer can issues, the application team at provide us with all of their deprovides insight Pericom uses a variety of tools. sign requirements,” Juan told us, into why their “The tools we use in our lab con“From there, we can take consist of pattern generators or highnectors, PCB layers, board macustomers come speed signal analyzers,” Juan terials and parametric and plug back for more. told us. “This is done in order to them into the simulation models.” re-produce a data pattern across After developing the simulation


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Actual Size of Pericom’s USB3.0 PIEQX501 ReDriver

the high-speed signal.” Juan also mentioned how the regular basis, which allows us to offer fully tested team uses a high-speed scope that runs “upwards and compatible devices that can be attached to other of 20GB in order to measure all of these slopes and host controllers.” rise/fall times.” In hearing about the many ways that the Pericom These requirements are reflected in Pericom’s team shows commitment to creating a unique and products. For signal conditioning products, Peri- easy experience for the customer, it’s evident that the com has a very-well defined USB3 ReDriver (re- Pericom solution is a pairing of quality devices and peater) product that superlative customer service. While this approach has allowed them to should be a prerequisite business model for any successfully break semiconductor company, based on Pericom’s fastPericom’s team the notebook growing sales and stature, it seems to be the key to attends the com- into and server markets. their success. ■ pliance workApart from the USB3 ReDrivers is a line shop regularly of PCIe ReDrivers, to ensure that which is something their products the company has been seeing a lot of are fully comdemand to ensure patibile with the desired SI level. other devices. “Pericom makes the effort to make sure that all of the IC controller products meet the compliancy testing,” Juan told us. “We attend the compliance workshop on a Visit


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Binary Cl Design Rob Rieman Rob Riemen

Computer Engineering Student The University Of Cincinnati

The Basic Stamp Homework Board (BSHWB) microcontroller, the PIC16C57, is a surprisingly useful and somewhat powerful microcontroller. I decided to use this to design a binary clock, along with an attached breadboard and available I/O pins, which make development of a project such as a binary clock much easier.


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I designed the binary clock based on the graphic below:

inputs and only give you one extra output. Obviously, I didn’t want to clutter the limited breadboard space I had with 4 ICs. So, for this project, the I eliminated the seconds, as shown below.

The above graphic shows how a binary clock should be positioned to function correctly. I used six LEDs to represent the hours of the clock. Seven LEDs will represent the minutes of the clock. Finally, I used seven more LEDs to represent the seconds of the clock.

Now only 13 I/O pins were used, under the assumption that most clocks do not have the seconds displayed. Most binary clocks do include the seconds section, but with these seven LEDs removed, three extra I/O pins were now available for added components.

With a total of twenty LED’s to represent a full 24 hour clock, however, this isn’t the only way this particular binary clock can be setup. I initially thought that the LEDs cycled from the top eight to the left bottom one, in a sort of carry effect, but each row stands for its own number of time, as in a single row cannot exceed 15 from binary converted to decimal. In relation to the binary clock, a single row cannot exceed 9.

In order to make this design a little more original, I wanted to add the functionality of switching the clock over to a 12 hour mode. Usually, binary clocks feature only a 24 hour display mode. To do this, I needed a pushbutton switch, as well as an extra LED. The pushbutton would allow the user to switch between 12 hour mode and 24 hour mode. The extra LED would notify the user when the clock is in A.M. (off) mode and P.M. (on) mode. The list of parts are detailed below:

There are limitations that come with the BSHWB. There are only 16 I/O pins available for use. There are 20 LEDs that are needed for a full clock as shown above. For this specific design, I wanted to limit the parts that are used, in order to reduce clutter, and cost. Unfortunately, functionality is also decreased with fewer parts. The above clock could be created using only 16 pins, but a couple different integrated circuits (ICs) would have to be used. The simplest way would be to use 14 pins for the minutes and seconds sections of the clock. The rest would have to be interfaced through at minimum four, four-output demultiplexers. These IC’s require three


• BASIC Stamp HomeWork Board • 9V Battery • 14 LEDs (7 Yellow, 6 Green, 1 Red) • 14 – 470 Ω resistors • 1 – 220 Ω resistor • 1 – 10 kΩ resistor • 1 – pushbutton • At least 1 extra breadboard • Sufficient amount of wires

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For this project I decided to use 470 Ω resistors between the I/O pins and the LEDs. This is not the only way to set this project up, but I felt that 470 Ω is the right amount to get the desired brightness out of each LED. Another commonly used resistor that would work just as well is the 1 kΩ resistor, but with the 1 kΩ resistor the LEDs would be slightly more dim.

PROGRAM FLOW Fortunately, with the use of the BSHWB, coding for circuits is simple. The BASIC Stamp Editor codes in PBASIC, which is a simple and educational coding language. It allows for the declaration of variables and includes IF-ELSE statements and FOR Loops. I coded this project as simply as possible. I tried to limit variables and only used the HIGH/LOW command to turn the LED’s on and off. There are more efficient ways to structure and design this code, but because I was working on a budget, I tried to make the design of the code similar to the design of the circuit. Using one continuous loop simulating a non-stop 24hour cycle, a combination of IF-ELSE statements, and one FOR Loop is used. The FOR Loop’s arguments only apply to the variable used by the first row of the minutes section, but all of the IF checks for the correct


time are made in both the infinite loop and the FOR Loop. Nothing special went into efficiently keeping track of the illuminated LEDs. I used four counters for each row of LEDs. Each counter had a series of IF statements associated with it in order to make sure the correct LEDs were illuminated. The counters updated at the end of each series of IF statements. Each LED was then commanded to go High or Low depending on what period of time it represented. I set up my program to start from time zero every time. This is not the way a clock should be setup. You are rarely going to be starting this clock at midnight every time you replace the battery. If you would like to add functionality to this binary clock, increase the number of available pins with a few demultiplexers and use a potentiometer and an extra pushbutton to help with setting the time.

FINAL DESIGN Although there are some limitations with the BSHWB, the potential for a full scale binary clock is available. Actually there are ways to develop a binary clock only using Flip-Flops and Gates. There are also other microcontroller based circuit boards with more I/O pins that can make development much easier. My particular setup is shown below:



Flight Plight: CES Series Part 6

Frequency Disturbance

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