issue: September 2003 APPLIANCE Magazine
Electronic Controls and Embedded Systems
A Smart Strategy
Email this Article
by Lisa Bonnema, Managing Editor
Smart appliance technology isn't anything new. At this point, many manufacturers have either released individual Internet appliances (i.e., Electrolux's Screenfridge) or a small line of communicating appliances (i.e., Salton Inc.'s White Westinghouse line).
However, most appliance OEMs have had a hard time committing
to a specific networking technology, and very few have chosen
to incorporate this advanced technology into the majority
of a product line, fearing the average consumer isn't ready
for it yet.
Even so, in a lofty effort to finally get this technology
into the mass market, Samsung Electronics Company Ltd. has
taken the next step. In June, the Korean manufacturer signed
a Strategic Alliance Agreement under which Samsung will adopt
Corporation's PL 3120 and PL 3150 Power Line Smart Transceivers
and the LonWorks platform in its Home VITA home products
line, which includes everything from refrigerators and microwaves
to air-conditioners and televisions.
The new PL 3120 and PL 3150 Power Line Smart Transceivers
are based on the LonWorks platform, an ANSI standard
for connecting everyday devices such as major appliances,
thermostats, air-conditioners, and lighting systems to
each other and to the Internet.
Michael Tennefoss, vice president of Product Marketing and
Customer Services at Echelon (Sunnyvale, CA, U.S.), says this
is a breakthrough announcement. "Echelon has been working
with appliance OEMs for many years. Some have kept their projects
in stealth mode, and some earlier adopters, like Merloni,
have released systems," he says. "What is unique about Samsung
is the scope of the project, both in terms of the number products
and the number of different applications. The HomeVITA concept
includes entertainment, data, appliances, and home control
devices, and there is simply nothing else like it in terms
of its scope."
Andrew Chon, Samsung Electronics' executive vice president
and Digital Solution Center manager agrees: "When people look
back at 2003, they will see it as the pivotal year for the
home networking market and the relationshipƒbetween Samsung
and Echelon as the catalyst that moved the market into mainstream,
Echelon's relationship with Samsung started more than 2 years
ago, when Samsung decided to test its networked appliance
"Before Samsung entered into this strategic alliance, they
completed extensive tests and fielded many systems to ensure
that the concept worked both in concept and in real homes,"
Mr. Tennefoss explains. "Samsung is a very fast-moving company
once when they have made a decision to move forward, but they're
very conservative with regard to their up-front engineering
assessments. In my experience, Samsung only ships products
that have been rigorously and thoroughly tested."
Part of the testing process included what Samsung refers
to as its Tower 1 and Tower 2 projects, which involved incorporating
its Home VITA line with Echelon networking technology into
some apartment buildings in Seoul.
After extensive testing, Samsung found that the key to igniting
the home networking market is to make the networks completely
invisible and totally reliable„a challenge it believes Echelon's
power line technology can meet.
"Our years of experience with Echelon's power line technology
has proved to us that rock-solid, plug-and-play networks of
appliances, air-conditioners, consumer electronics, and home
control devices are not only cost-effective to build, but
simple for consumers to install," says Mr. Chon.
One of most innovative aspects of the partnership is the
use of Echelon
Corporation's PL 3120 and PL 3150 Power Line Smart Transceivers,
which were released in February of this year.
Originally, Samsung was using Echelon's PL22 power line
system combined with a neuron chip. Together, these two components
provided functionality that is now available on the power
line smart transceiver.
"The power line smart transceiver is the result of a cost
reduction effort in which those two components were merged
together into a common integrated circuit. It was quite an
engineering task to combine such complex elements into one
low-cost integrated part," Mr. Tennefoss explains.
As with all LonWorks devices, the new transceivers are
designed with three Echelon-developed microprocessors, a
crucial aspect to the technology's reliability, Mr. Tennefoss
says. "A standard microprocessor contains a single processor.
If that microprocessor is used for a control application,
then it has to simultaneously run applications, monitor sensors
and control actuators, and manage incoming and outgoing network
messages. A standard microprocessor is not optimized for
such an application and as a result, delays or causes errors
when inputs, outputs, and messages need to be handled simultaneously," Mr.
Electronics will be incorporating Echelon's new
power line smart transceivers into its wide range
of Home VITA products, which include networked
refrigerators, microwaves, plasma TVs, and security
"When we designed LonWorks technology, the design target
was to support simultaneous processing of application programs,
sensor inputs, actuator outputs, and network messages," he
For example, in smaller applications like a light switch
or a carbon monoxide detector, one of the smart transceiver's
microprocessors would run the application that's monitoring
and processing the product I/Os, and the other two would
manage the network communications. However, in more complex
applications such as a dishwasher or washing machine that
already comprise multiple microprocessors, Mr. Tennefoss
says the manufacturer will often take a different approach. "Network
communications will still be managed by two of the smart
transceiver's microprocessors, but the third processor will
use our ShortStack software to interface with the machine's
existing microprocessors. ShortStack allows a product manufacturer
to use all of its existing, proven software applications
and processor architecture, and converts the smart transceiver
into a communication 'front end' for the machine," he explains.
One of the keys to reliable power line signaling, notes
Mr. Tennefoss, is the use of digital signal processing. "We
use very sophisticated algorithms within the transceiver
to overcome typical impediments to power line signaling," he
notes. "These impediments, such as electrical noise, tend
to be huge relative to the power line communication signal.
Think of the power line signal as being a boat, and noise
as being an iceberg„both in terms of its relative size and
as a hazard to navigation. Digital signal processing provides
the navigation information that we use to successfully sail
the boat through the iceberg field without any errors."
The power line transceiver also uses error correction to
deal with malformed packets or messages that have been affected
along the way.
Another feature is dual-channel signaling, which means
the transceiver can transmit at two different frequencies
to overcome power line impediments. "The smart transceiver
transmits first on the primary channel, using the highest
possible speed signaling and good error correction. If the
packet cannot get through the first time, we transmit on
the back-up, or secondary, channel, at slightly lower speed
but with extremely robust error correction. Dual-channel
signaling allows the signal to be reliably received and results
in extremely robust performance in the face of severe noise
sources," Mr. Tennefoss says.
The two frequencies also reportedly allow an appliance
maker to design a communication board or communication system
that can be sold in any country their products are sold. "Our
power line products have been designed, tested, and certified
for use in applications worldwide," says Mr. Tennefoss. "The
same product that sold into the U.S. can comply with the
very stringent European signaling standards, as well as the
very stringent, but different, Japanese signaling standards."
Another critical component is a high-performance amplifier. "The
impedance of the power mains, especially with high-current
appliances, can vary widely," notes Mr. Tennefoss. "When
motors turn on or off or heavy currents are drawn, the impedance
of the power mains can drop to almost a dead short from a
signaling perspective. To overcome this, we have designed
a special amplifier that's capable of delivering a high current
signal over a very wide impedance range."
The most difficult task in designing the smart transceivers,
according to Mr. Tennefoss, was offering a more sophisticated
technology at a lower price point and in a smaller package. "The
power line smart transceiver is designed with 0.18-micron
line width, which is approaching state of the art in terms
of standard manufacturing processes incorporating non-volatile
memory. We worked together with our manufacturing source,
STMicroelectronics, to fit our sophisticated power line modem,
three microprocessors, flash memory, RAM, and ROM into an
extremely small silicon die size."
The end result is a fully loaded transceiver that is about
the size of an eraser head on a standard yellow pencil. In
addition to the microprocessors, modem, and memory, the small
package also includes the amplifier, although it requires
two external power transistor drivers.
And while Mr. Tennefoss recognizes that cost is a very
important consideration for appliance makers, he notes that
reliability and consumer acceptance should be an OEM's main
focus. "Appliance makers cannot afford high warranty costs
since they already operate on thin margins. Rolling a service
truck to investigate a communication problem would greatly
diminish a manufacturer's profits and must be avoided. That's
why it's of paramount importance that any connected appliance
have robust, dependable signaling performance of the level
offered by our smart transceiver," he says.
"Adding intelligence to an appliance also adds cost, and
a manufacturer will only add cost when there is a compelling,
competitive advantage to do so," Mr. Tennefoss continues. "Over
the past couple of years, Samsung has been investigating
how to best achieve such competitive positioning, and what
benefits will accrue to the consumer. The result in the Home
VITA product concept."