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issue: April 2009 APPLIANCE Magazine

Appliance Engineer - Electronics Report
Speeding Up GUI Design

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 A color chip for LCDs and touch panels features a built-in LCD controller and microprocessor, allowing engineers to integrate graphical user interfaces (GUIs) into their applications easily.

The color Graphical OS chip allows engineers to easily add interactive graphical displays to new or existing applications such as home appliances, consumer electronics, or medical equipment.

As the popularity of gadgets like the iPhone grows, consumers have come to expect more-appealing interactive graphic displays on their home appliances. Designed for LCDs and touch panels, the color Graphical Operating System (OS) chip from Amulet Technologies (Campbell, CA, U.S.; www.amulettechnologies.com) is said to be an all-in-one solution that helps engineers execute GUIs on their applications with less time and cost. “The chip comes with the necessary hardware to drive an LCD display, but more importantly, it has all the software that supports complex view and control behaviors with color graphics found in high-end consumer electronic products like iPhone or Windows Vista,” says Jim Todd, sales and marketing director.

The color chip is equipped with an LCD controller, which supports 24-bit color and alpha-blending on active and passive displays up to 12 in. It has a built-in microprocessor that renders the graphics to the LCD panel and manages the touch panel interaction. This means the host processor can remain dedicated to running the application more efficiently. “Typically, white goods or home appliances incorporate 8-bit microcontrollers that monitor key pad and knobs; control timers; manage temperature; turn motors; and other functions found in most every modern appliance,” says Todd. “GUIs powered by Amulet require no bandwidth from the host processor, so the embedded engineer can continue designing new appliances using 8-bit micros and still achieve a high-end graphic look and feel associated with consumer electronic products.”

Using separate microprocessors for the application and the GUI has other benefits. For one thing, it allows the graphic designer to work independently from the embedded engineer. “Amulet provides the means for a studio artist and graphic designers to visually create compelling GUIs using standard Web page and graphic editing programs that they are familiar with,” says Todd. “Making changes in the user interface is as easy as substituting graphics that are used as background images or associated with view or control objects.” The embedded engineer, on the other hand, can focus on choosing the best processor for running the application without having to worry about accommodating the GUI.

Moreover, engineers can add GUIs to an existing application while keeping the original hardware and software intact. “Some additional code needs to be written to communicate with our chip, but since all the graphics, widgets, touch panel interaction, and HTML GUI code are stored in another location, even current products using 8-bit microcontrollers can be upgraded to a 24-bit color facelift,” Todd tells APPLIANCE.

The firm says its patented Graphical OS combined with the powerful processor is what makes the chip special. Royalty-free for its customers, the operating system handles the chip’s interaction with the LCD and the host processor. The system features the widget library, a collection of view and control objects for viewing information such as text, numbers, or other graphic and control features like buttons, sliders, and dropdown list. “The Graphical OS is what manages how the graphics are displayed and is responsible for the behavior of the various widgets as they interact with the customer’s host processor to take the appropriate action,” explains Todd. “All of the code needed to drive the widget library and support advanced graphic output has already been done for the customer.”

The color chip’s processor supports USB 2.0, TWI, UART, and SPI interfaces, and can be directly connected to four- and five-wire resistive touch panels. The company offers the chip in two packages: 208-PQFP and 225-ball LFBGA. The LFBGA features 39 dedicated general-purpose input/output pins (GPIO), and the PQFP can have up to 17 GPIO. Graphic formats supported include PNG, GIF and JPEG, and GIF animation.


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