Designing next-gen UIs with the SAMA5D3 MPU

Intuitive user interfaces (UIs) are ubiquitous for smartphones, tablets and personal media players. But what about user interfaces in the world of industrial automation applications and home control units?

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Frédéric Gaillard, Atmel Product Marketing Manager, tells Bits & Pieces the use of MIMIC diagrams and traditional switches and rotary controls are still quite commonplace for industrial equipment. Ditto for home thermostats, the majority of which are mechanical.

“There are actually some very good reasons for this, as gloved hands, moisture, and condensation can play havoc with touchscreen controls. The industrial operating environment may dictate large switches for these reasons,” Gaillard explains.

“Safety considerations may warrant the use of traditional control mechanisms such as switches. Nevertheless, equipment manufacturers are keen to update both the functionality and cosmetic aesthetics of their products. Industrial automation equipment is increasingly networked.”

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Clearly, when it comes to home automation, there is a need for an integrated display and control center to control heating, ventilation and smart-energy monitoring.

“You need a higher performance microprocessor, but with a more intuitive, easy-to-understand user interface (UI). When embarking on a new control panel application, embedded developers are likely to select a microprocessor device rather than a microcontroller,” says Gaillard.

“This is dictated by the processing power required for the connectivity and the need to manage a TFT LCD screen and associated UI. An example of such a microprocessor is the Atmel SAMA5D3 MPU, based on an ARM Cortex-A5 core. It’s 65nm low-power process geometry delivers up to 850 DMIPS (drhystone million instructions per second) at 536 MHz and up to 1,328 MB/s at a 166 MHz bus speed.”

The SAMA5D3 also features a floating-point unit (FPU) for high-precision compute-intensive applications, along with a 24-bit TFT LCD controller and graphics accelerator for image composition. Optimized for use in industrial control and HMI (human-machine interface) applications, the device is equipped with a comprehensive set of peripheral interfaces including dual Ethernet, high-speed USB and dual CAN.

Simply put, the Atmel SAMA5D3 MPU is an ideal candidate for most control panel-oriented designs. With its Cortex-A5 core and vector FPU, the MPU is capable of achieving accelerated graphics processing. Coupled with the 32-bit DDR (dual data rate) controller performing up to 1,328 MB/s, it offers enough raw horsepower to drive a high-resolution screen display via the 24-bit TFT LCD controller block. Resistive touchscreen support is integrated into the device, although one can alternatively interface to an external Atmel maXTouch capacitive touchscreen controller.

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On the software side, Atmel has partnered with TimeSys to port the Qt framework and its comprehensive range of development tools for easy UI design. Qt can best be described as a cross-platform application framework with a reliable, easy-to-use toolkit to develop complex graphical user interfaces.

“Qt is based on a comprehensive set of widgets that you use to create a GUI screen design. Within the Qt Creator development environment, the Qt Designer tool allows you to lay out the interface design and plan the human interaction,” Gaillard adds.

“The excellent support for multimedia and 3D graphics, plus all the traditional concepts of text entry, check-boxes, and radio buttons, all help to facilitate the easy creation of industrial interface designs. Indeed, the Qt Designer creates C++ code that integrates into your application, while QML defines all the necessary visual graphical interface elements to create and animate visual interaction.”

Interested in learning more? Check out Atmel’s official white paper on the subject here.

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