Imagine you’re sending a piece of hardware to space on a satellite. Unless you’re buddy-buddy with NASA, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll ever be able to head up there and fix something if it goes wrong once it’s launched. Robust design is key, so that even in the event of a failure in one component, the rest of the hardware can keep working.

The example I2C isolation circuit from [Max’s] paper. The SPI implementation is even simpler.

[Max Holliday] found himself in this exact situation, running 69 I2C and SPI devices in a single satellite. Thus, he came up with circuits to auto-isolate devices from these buses in the event of an issue. That work is the subject of a research paper now available on the TechRxiv Preprint Server.

The problem is that these simple buses aren’t always the most robust, being vulnerable to single-point failures where one bad part takes down other parts of the bus. [Max] notes that vast numbers of sensors and devices rely on these standards, and it can be difficult or prohibitively expensive to design without them, so a solution was needed.

To fix this, [Max] developed a simple external circuit that could be placed on each node of a I2C or SPI communication bus. In the event of malfunction, that node can be cut off from the bus by this circuit, allowing the rest of the system to go on functioning.

With little more than a few transistors, MOSFETs and passives, you too could protect your buses from malfunctions using these techniques. [Max] did just that on the NASA V-R3x mission which flew successfully in January 2021 if you needed any further confirmation of the value of this technique.

It’s something that won’t bother the home hobbyist building a garage door opener, but it could be of great value to those designing systems that must fail gracefully if they fail at all. Be sure to share your best tips and tricks for robust SPI and I2C buses in the comments below!



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