The song of the hornbill

C.P. Ravikumar, Texas Instruments

Sh! Can you hear that sound? It is the male Malabar grey hornbill,” whispered the tour guide. We listened intently and struggled with our binoculars to spot the bird.

Kodagu (anglicized to Coorg) provided a pristine setting for our little adventure. Water bodies, tall trees of a hundred varieties, coffee plants, pepper vines climbing on silver oak trees, moss, ferns. Above all, the relaxing silence, broken only by the sounds of birds.

Peering through the binoculars in the direction pointed by the tour guide, I spotted the hornbill. Vaibhav and Sagar spotted it too.  All the other visitors, except one, found the bird and nodded. The “exceptional gentleman,” as we began to refer to him during the course of the tour, struggled with his binoculars, veering it in all the directions, shaking his head. The hornbill evaded him and shied away into the recesses of the tree.

“We will perhaps find another one, Sir!” said the tour guide in an encouraging sort of way. “Meanwhile, I can at least show you a picture of the hornbill.”

The tour guide pulled out a book from his shoulder bag and struggled to locate the page where the hornbill made an appearance.

That was an “Aha!” moment for me. I thought of the numerous students who are looking for innovation challenges to take on or interesting projects to do, as part of the Texas Instruments Innovation Challenge. Here was an avenue that could be explored.  Why, there was enough research content here to challenge a Ph.D. student! Read on.

Audio signal processing has a forty-year old history.  A team of young engineers at Texas Instruments built the “speak and spell” product in the 1970s, which was capable of synthesizing speech. With the introduction of  even more powerful digital signal processors by Texas Instruments, many other feats became possible, such as speech/voice recognition, face recognition, and image matching to name a few. So, in some near future, I imagine that the hornbill incident could unfold in the following way.

A Smart Binocular!

Sh! Can you hear that sound?” whispered the guide. The exceptional gentleman pulled out his smart binoculars and pressed a few buttons on it.  Armed with a built-in DSP, the binocular processed the surrounding sound, eliminated the uninteresting background sounds, and picked the sounds of interest and possible origins of the sound. The Ocyceros griseus, or the Malabar Grey Hornbill, was one of them.  The homo sapien was the other.  The smart binocular presented an option to present more information on each of these species. The gentleman selected Ocyceros griseus and brief information about the bird was displayed, including a picture of the bird.

Digital Signal Processing is a key technology in the smart binoculars. In this example, the audio signals were processed in real time to extract “interesting” sounds from a recorded sound. One can also imagine a smart binocular with built-in digital image processing, where the user will click a picture of a bird and the system will recognize the bird and present stored information about the bird. Such applications can be developed on Texas Instruments digital signal processors today. The C5000 series of DSP will be well suited for audio signal processing; these are the “low-power DSP” from Texas Instruments. For image processing, the C6000 series of processors are recommended; these are the “high performance DSP” from TI. TI has also developed heterogeneous multicore architectures (such as Integra) which integrate ARM microprocessors and TI DSP cores on the same platform. The OMAP L-138 is an example of such an offering and includes an ARM9 processor core and a DSP C674x core.

I believe the OMAP L-138 will provide a good embedded platform for building a smart binocular. Take the quiz at the end of this blog post to find out why.

Reay Tracing in India!

Prof. Donald Reay was in India recently to conduct a course on digital signal processing using an eXperimenter kit based on OMAP L-138.  Prof. Reay teaches at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK. His interests include DSP and Analog Electronics. He has authored text books in DSP and has taught courses on DSP in Japan, China, and USA.  His recent text book entitled “Digital Signal Processing and applications with the OMAP L-138 eXperimenter” is now available.

Prof. Reay began his Indian tour from Bangalore.  His first course was held at TI campus in Bangalore, where more than 40 teachers took part in a faculty development program.   The participants were exposed to two days of rigorous hands-on experimental learning on the OMAP L-138.  Many teachers are presently using the 6713 platform today.  The OMAP L-138 is based on the C6748 processor core, which is capable of fixed-point as well as floating-point arithmetic.  You will now appreciate why the C6713 is “obsolete” in its status.  You may view pictures taken at the event here.  The event was held in technical collaboration with IEEE Circuits and Systems Society Bangalore Chapter.

Prof. Reay taught a similar course in Chandigarh, at the campus of Chitkara University (Punjab). Prof. Rajesh Hooda, who organized this event, was enthusiastic about organizing such a course. About 30 faculty participants from North Indian regions had assembled to take part in the course.  Pictures taken at the event are now available here.

Prof. Reay’s last stop in the tour was at Hyderabad. Prof. Anitha Sheela of the Department of Electroncics and Communication Engineering, College of Engineering, JNTU (Hyderabad), was the prime organizer of the hands-on workshop. The event was held in technical collaboration with IEEE Computer Society Hyderabad Chapter – thanks are due to Prof. Atul Negi (Chair of IEEE Hyderabad Section) and Mr. Mathapathi (Chair of IEEE CS Hyderabad chapter) for their cooperation. Pictures taken at the event are available here.

We have received great feedback for Prof. Reay’s workshops. Many thanks to everyone who helped with the organization of the workshops!  He seems to have enjoyed his visit as well. If you wish to invite Prof. Reay to your University for a workshop during the next vacation period, do not hesitate to contact him!  He may be willing to visit for a longer duration. If you are thinking of upgrading your existing DSP lab to an OMAP L-138 based lab, please contact our University partners. If you are thinking of building the capabilities of the smart binocular using the OMAP L-138, call me for a demo! You may be able to think of a range of features for the smart binocular – explore the right embedded processor and the right analog ICs for your project at And if you are thinking of doing some version of this as part of the Texas Instruments Innovation Challenge, go ahead, make my day!

A Quiz!

a)      Which peripheral on the OMAP L-138 will be useful for displaying messages on the smart binocular?

b)      Which operating system do you think will be appropriate in the smart binocular application? What hardware support does OMAP L-138 offer for running this OS?

c)       Which on-chip peripheral of OMAP L-138 will be useful if you want to support the transfer of images from the smart binocular to an external flash memory drive?

d)      Assuming that we wish to store information about 200 different birds and that there is 100kB of information about each bird.  Where will you store this database?

e)      In the active mode, the power dissipation of OMAP L-138 ranges from about 400mW to 1W. In the standby mode, the power dissipation is around 40mW.  Assume that about 90% of the time, the OMAP L-138 remains in standby mode. For the remaining 10% of the time, it is in the active mode of operation. Assume that 2 AA batteries are used in the binoculars. It is given that a AA battery provides an energy of about 2.5 Watt-hours.  Pretending that other than OMAP L-138 there is no other source of energy dissipation, how long will the batteries last?



  • A special thanks to Cathy Wicks and Prof. Donald Reay for their support!

  • It is really nice to see that how a visit and difficulties faced can combined with technology to build a  new product. Superb.

    Prof. Reay 's visit to India is very encouraging as hands-on expertise is very much needed to be successful in future time.

    Thanks for the information.

  • You must look at online resources on OMAP L-138 to be able to answer the quiz!

  • A message I received from Professor Devakumar who was a participant in the Bangalore workshop!

    ... first i wish to thank you for permitting me to attend the train-the-trainer program on “DSP on OMAP L-138 Trainer Kit” at TI, India.Really i learned lot and got practical experience.As you mentioned in the concluding session,i planned to present a DSP based project at 2015 conference by adopting the knowledge gained in this workshop.


    Assistant Professor, ECE Department

    National Engineering College