Going back to the beginning of AVR with Vegard Wollan

The first episode of this series talked about the very beginning history of the AVR microcontroller chip co-invented by Vegard Wollan. In this clip, we delve into the beauty of Flash memory.

As mentioned in the previous post, engineers used to have to develop their firmware using special ceramic chips with quartz windows.

MicroChip-UVEEPROM-microcontroller

This early microcontroller has a quartz window in its expensive ceramic package so you can erase the program in an ultraviolet eraser.

Bad enough the chips themselves cost a lot, the real headache was when you had to debug or change your program. You had to pry it out of its socket, and stick it in a ultraviolet eraser for 20 minutes. This really slowed down your code development. It was like playing tennis in molasses.

UV_eraser

This UV eraser was used to erase the microcontroller program memory so you could reprogram it with something that you hoped would fix the bugs.

That is what Vegard realized back in the early 1990s: You could make a microcontroller using Flash memory and reprogram in seconds, not hours. Atmel already had a Flash 8051-style micro, so we were a natural to develop the AVR chips.

The aforementioned video touches on the low-power heritage of AVR, which as you already know, Atmel memory products are famous for extremely low power. This advantage was “baked into” the AVR products, since they knew that many applications would run on battery power.

Vegard was also nice enough to bring some early AVR prototypes from his lab in Norway.

Vegard Wollan holds one of the first 10 AVR prototype chips, the S1200.

Vegard Wollan holds one of the first 10 AVR prototype chips, the S1200.

When Vegard holds up the various prototype chips, you can see the pride of an innovator on his face. I think every engineer gets a real charge out of that first prototype, as even I have a collection of my own at home.

In case you missed our earlier segment on the history of AVR, you can check that out here. Feeling inspired to create and share your own 8-bit ideas? Enter them in our Simply AVR Design Contest today for your chance at $1,500!

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