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MicroLabBox – Exciting New Options for Universities

Mollie I. Minsel, Academic Sales Representative, dSPACE Inc.

Mollie I. Minsel
Academic Sales Representative
dSPACE Inc.

February 12, 2016: As the Academic Sales Representative for North America at dSPACE, Inc. I am empathetic to the same series of issues from my customers who are seeking the best products on a limited budget: price, functionality and endurance. 

For over a decade, the solution was the dSPACE DS1103 controls prototyping system.  Although still reliable, useful, and affordable, the DS1103 will only be available until December 2016 (not to worry, we will guarantee the hardware support until dSPACE release 2018B). 

In developing a new system, we took to heart some of the most desired upgrades, such as physical features, ease of connectivity, simplicity in connection to the host PC/laptop, documentation, etc., and brought to the market a brand new solution – the MicroLabBox (released in 2015).    

What’s Inside?

The MicroLabBox is a multi-purpose rapid control prototyping system. It is a compact, all-in-one platform designed specifically for use in a lab environment. 

Internally, the MicroLabBox includes the DS1202 base board that houses the main, real-time, dual-core processor, and a separate co-processor that manages host PC communications. This is an important feature because every so often, we get questions from our customers about the impact of a lot of host PC data traffic, caused by data capturing, and how it might impact the processing power of the platform.

In the case of the MicroLabBox, the separate host communication processor takes care of the flight recorder capability to capture data, the host interface, and the ethernet I/O so the real-time processor can be dedicated to executing the application model. The MicroLabBox also includes a dedicated USB interface for data logging.

Like all other dSPACE platforms, the MicroLabBox includes a RTI Blockset that allows you to model your control algorithms and access virtually all of the I/O and the capabilities of the MicroLabBox in Simulink. In addition, the C library allows you to use the MicroLabBox for C-coded applications.

Our Fastest Processor Yet

The MicroLabBox has powerful computing capabilities. With its dual core processor, the new system boasts speeds of up to 2 GHz. The MicroLabBox can compute models up to 6 times faster than the DS1103 or DS1005, making it our fastest processor yet. This feature is especially beneficial for medium- and large-sized models.

Built-In FPGA Supports High-Speed Control Algorithms

With built-in, programmable FPGA, the functionality of the MicroLabBox is better than ever. One key benefit of the FPGA-based I/O feature is that you can implement high-speed control algorithms to be executed in parallel to the slower applications running on the processor board.

On a standard MicroLabBox, the FPGA comes automatically programmed to provide certain I/O capabilities. However, individual users can custom reprogram the FPGA and get higher resolution and fast current control loops on the FPGA itself.

While the FPGA controls most of the I/O on the MicroLabBox, it does not control two power supply sources, so external devices can be powered separately. The FPGA also does not control a dual CAN transceiver, which supports high-speed CAN and partial networking. If you’ve used any of our platforms before and have implemented CAN communications on them, you’re familiar with RTI CAN or RTI CAN MM blocksets. Those same blocksets support the CAN communication on the MicroLabBox.

Two Variants Offered for I/O Connectors

Whether you prefer to stack the MicroLabBox with other lab equipment or simply use it as a desktop device, we offer two variants.

Features

  • Compact all-in-one RCP System
  • Ethernet Host Interface
  • Programmable status LEDs and buzzer for feedback
  • Programmable FPGA

Top Panel: Desktop use

  • Totals 48 x BNC I/O Connectors

  • 4 x Sub-D 9 I/O Connectors

  • 2 x Sub-D 50 I/O Connectors

  • 32 Channels Analog In

  • 32 Channels Analog Out

Front Panel: Stack with your other lab equipment

  • 4 x Sub-D 50 I/O Connectors
  • 4 x Sub-D 9 I/O Connectors

Application Areas for Mechatronics Research & Development

MicroLabBox can be used for control system development and testing across a very wide spectrum of applications such as:

  • Robotics
  • Medical Engineering
  • Electric Drive Control
  • Renewable Energy
  • Vehicle Engineering
  • Aerospace

With the large number and variety of I/O signals, MicrolabBox is suitable for control applications across the industries and applications.

Optional Software

RTI CAN Blockset: CAN communication is most commonly used in RCP applications.  With this blockset, the user adds one Simulink block for each CAN message to be sent or received.

RTI Electric Motor Control Blockset: With moving from mechanical to electric motors, the control of electric motors is very common today.  Dependent upon the supporting hardware available on the given platform, EMC is considered the ACMC blockset of the MLBX.  Sensors such as Hall, Incremental Encoders, Resolvers and so forth provide feedback from an electric motor.  Typically, this requires the high performance of an FPGA to quickly compute the location of the motor rotation.

RTI USB Flight Recorder Blockset: USB 2.0 interface for data logging via USB mass storage device requires separate license, the RTI_USB_FR.  Once at the data acquisition phase, this blockset allows you to record data for later playback or analysis.

RTI Ethernet Blocksets: Ethernet connection is the most common host interface today for connecting a PC to the dSPACE platform.  Sometimes our customers wish to connect other hardware devices to the dSPACE platform.  Therefore, dSPACE provides additional Ethernet ports so that multiple networks can be configured without being limited by any host PC Ethernet traffic

Academic Packaging

dSPACE understands and supports our academic customers and recognizes the importance of contributing to research and development for our industry and the many industries we support, whether it be automotive, aerospace, medical or education. 

We know that universities have stringent budgets with competitive teams of professors and students applying for grants to obtain their hardware and software.  To give back, we offer ACE Kits.  The “Advanced Controls Education Kits” include the hardware, such as the MicroLabBox, and the CDP (Controls Development Package) software and the GNU Compiler, packaged together at a discount over and above already deeply discounted academic pricing.

The MicroLabBox offers a lot of performance improvement at about the same price point as existing systems, and the architecture will allow it to last for many years into the future.

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