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Embedded market applications have entered a new era thanks to extensive software support as well as the shrinking of borders between different processor technologies enabling the software ecosystem to expand to additional technology platforms. Consequently, the standard form factors at the board and module level must also be enhanced to fully realize the multiple interface options available with new processor platforms.

Kontron introduced the FIRST scalable ULP-COM form factor ARM building block, 82mm x 50mm as defined by the ULP-COM specification with a height profile under 6mm when coupled with the new ULP evaluation carrier board. The new specification has been developed by SGET to meet market needs for low power, low profile computer-on-modules.
This has opened the gates for ARM processor architecture, which has evolved to support a wider range of interfaces and functionality, allowing a true open systems approach. For this reason, there are an increasing number of smart connected solutions that are now ARMbased. Embedded systems designers are realizing ARM is an ideal platform for low profile, high density platforms such as new tablet-based applications, as well as HMI tools, due to this architecture’s performance per watt, low power and interface configuration advantages.

A host of embedded systems hardware suppliers understand that supporting a strong ecosystem can bring in new sources of revenue, and satisfy the market demand for efficient development and scalability from one generation to the next. However, ARM-based solutions have typically required more in-depth development because of their proprietary nature with the software directly tied to the hardware and specific application. This has made it necessary to start virtually from scratch on any new design. Seen as the foundation for growth, suppliers are coming together to develop a vendor-independent standardized ultra low-power Computer-on-Module specification. That is why the new Standardization Group for Embedded Technologies (SGET) has been formed and includes broad support from a variety of companies worldwide.

Setting the Standard

The SGET has taken a dramatic step forward in driving ARM solutions – creating a ‘super group’ with 23 member companies that have the charter to speed development of standardized hardware and software solutions for embedded computing. SGET supports this group by providing the appropriate infrastructure that will facilitate the efficient implementation of standardization ideas. Other companies from the embedded computing industry are invited to join the association to contribute ideas as well. In addition to embedded computer manufacturers at the board and system level, the invitation also extends to chip and connector manufacturers, research and educational institutions, embedded system integrators, OEM solution providers, and industrial users.

Helmed by Kontron and other embedded centric companies,, the SGET’s first target is the definition of the new ULP-COM (ultra low power Computer-on-Module) standard to ensure design security and longevity of ARM- and SoC (system on chip)-based applications. This new specification release candidate for ultra low power COMs is characterized by the extremely flat build of its form factor as well as a newly defined, optimized pinout for SoC processors. Overall, the new proposed ARM standard and products shift the focus to power consumption and performance per watt.

The ULP-COM release candidate uses a 314-pin connector that has a construction height of just 4.3 millimeters (the MXM 3.0) with an optimized ARM/SoC pin-out definition. This connection method allows robust and cost-effective designs that have an extremely thin construction height. Kontron has elected to use the version of this connector that is shock- and vibration-resistant to serve the needs of applications that will require reliability under rough environmental conditions. Furthermore, the standard integrates dedicated interfaces for the latest ARM and SOC processors. This means that not only LVDS, 24-bit RGB and HDMI are supported but embedded DisplayPort for future designs is supported as well.

Kontron has designed its ARM building blocks to be implemented as part of a higher level ultra-low power solution that includes a combination of carrier board, firmware and drivers, and operating system. Offering multiple layers that make up a complete ARM solution provides time-to-market development benefits and added value for OEMs.
As another first for the industry, dedicated camera interfaces are being incorporated into the standard. Consequently, users no longer need to compromise or work with inefficient specifications that are stretched between the x86 feature set and lean ARM I/Os. Two different module sizes are specified, in order to offer a high level of flexibility regarding different mechanical requirements: a short module measuring 82mm x 50mm and a full-size module measuring 82mm x 80mm. Additionally, ULP-COM will cover other known requirements analogous to other module standards, so that the release version 1.0 is already completely mature for the market.