Take advantage of new HMI tools for embedded graphics design

In this Product How-to article, Waquar Saleem of Fujitsu describes how the use of the company’s CGI Studio tool suite can be used to speed up the design of display-enabled HMI/GUI-based embedded systems.

The quality and quantity of graphics content in display-enabled embedded systems is increasingly rapidly. So is the need for an efficient and easy to use HMI/GUI (Human Machine Interface/Graphical User Interface) tool.

These kinds of tools enhance the system developer’s ability to input a design, develop and verify the application, then rapidly deploy to the target system. They can save time and effort, from rapid prototyping of user interfaces all the way to serial development of the embedded system.

Also important is the ability to complete these steps easily and cost-efficiently with a process flow that is as seamless as possible.

Described here are the most desirable traits of an HMI tool followed by discussion about a specific tool offering from Fujitsu, the CGI Studio, and how it delivers the listed benefits.

Desirable features of an HMI Tool

The HMI tool should be able to allow early evaluation of HMI development, and structured so that it supports design reviews even in very early stage of the project. It should be able to conveniently support changes to the project implementation, such as graphics content, in the later stages of the project. All of these factors contribute towards making it cost effective.

For example, the HMI tool should give realistic preview of the graphics and scenes as soon as they are imported. This is implemented within the IDE of the tool and enables the designer to have WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) view of the graphics.

Widgets or business logic imported into the tool should be able to be run and verified immediately. This is only possible if the HMI tool has capability to simulate graphics application on the host PC. It should allow changing look and feel of the graphics without the need to recompile or rebuild the project (re-skinning).

This can be achieved by separating code and graphics data from the beginning of the project. For example, from the outset of the project, the graphics designer can churn out 2D and 3D graphics using industry standard tools such as 3D Studio Max or Maya.

Independently of the graphics design, software engineers can work on business logic to assign behavior to the graphic elements. The two elements can then be imported into the tool and verified together accordingly. If at a later stage, the look and feel needs to be changed, all that needs to be done is to re-import the new graphics assets without affecting the business logic part.

The HMI solution should allow the use of the same tool at all stages of the application development, including by studio artists, technical artists, and embedded engineers. This versatility results in a seamless process flow that brings many benefits to the project, including reduced cost, ease of managing the tool, common knowledge based, and others.

Each individual involved in the project can focus on his or her own role. The studio artist can design the 2D or 3D graphics content in the industry standard studio tools and then use the HMI tool for preview.

The technical artist can import that graphics content into the HMI tool and use the graphics to create scenes using appropriate lighting and composition. Finally, the embedded engineer can add his widgets to the project. This will assign appropriate behavior to graphics elements as required by the application.

Figure 1. Different roles in HMI Development

The tool chain should also support a flexible licensing model that allows its use in a variety of situations, for example, tool evaluation, rapid prototyping of a reference application, and product development. The user shouldn’t be forced to pay the same cost regardless of the immediate need.