Author Archives: Atmel

About Atmel

Atmel Corporation is a worldwide leader in the design and manufacture of microcontrollers, capacitive touch solutions, advanced logic, mixed-signal, nonvolatile memory and radio frequency (RF) components. Leveraging one of the industry's broadest intellectual property (IP) technology portfolios, Atmel® provides the electronics industry with complete system solutions focused on industrial, consumer, security, communications, computing and automotive markets.

Wireless Composer in Atmel Studio 6

By: Magnus Perdersen

Wireless Composer in Atmel Studio 6

The Wireless Composer allows you to easily and seamlessly evaluate and test RF systems at an early stage of development. Wireless Composer simplifies the design process by tying together the tools required to edit the code in Atmel Studio, evaluate and test the RF system.

Wireless Composer is fully integrated into Atmel Studio 6.1 as an extension, and consists of:

  1. Wireless Library – Contains Atmel Software Framework (ASF) compliant Wireless example Performance Test projects to evaluate designs using various Atmel devices and transceivers. A set of precompiled projects are also available as a separate download in Wireless Library hex.
  2. Performance Analyzer – A tool used to evaluate and configure Low Power RF Transceivers and wireless microcontrollers from Atmel.

The Wireless Library contains ASF compliant Wireless example projects. The Performance Analyzer application is available for the following kits:

Atmel wireless evaluation and development kits are available for purchase from the Atmel Store.

The Performance Analyzer is a useful tool to help Measure and Analyze the RF performance characteristics of the supported Atmel 802.15.4 wireless platforms.

This tool provides the user with the capability to perform Energy Scans across standard 802.15.4 RF channels to create a visual representation of the RF energy surrounding the location of the radio platform, connected to the Performance Analyzer. Once you have selected a relatively quiet RF channel to use in further RF measurements, you will then find other helpful features contained within the Analyzer. The PER (packet error test) is one such example. This test allows one to collect numerical information regarding the quality of the RF link between two paired nodes.

Parameters such as LQI, RSSI, Packet Error Rate and Throughput can be examined and recorded. This information can also be used to create numerical information regarding Range capabilities between the two paired RF nodes. When it’s time to analyze RF transmissions, TX output power, RX sensitivity or power consumption, the Performance Analyzer provides many functions that allow configuration of the radio registers. Register access allows controlling the current operational state of the RF device, all without writing any additional C code, or developing additional test firmware to configure the device for these measurements.

wireless-composer

Why Choose Sub1GHz RF Solution?? It’s All About The Physics

Wireless communication is becoming an important part of our everyday life. Design engineers need to be mindful of have multiple design parameters when designing products for wireless applications. One of the parameters that need careful evaluation is the frequency band to be used for the wireless application.

In the world of ultra low power wireless devices compliant to the IEEE 802.15.4 standard, the number of bands to choose from are relatively low – it’s basically a choice between the 2.4GHz ISM band available worldwide, or the regional Sub1Ghz frequency bands at 700/800/900MHz.

Looking at the characterstics of the Sub1GHz vs 2.4GHz designs, ahcieving maximum range, yet keeping the power consumption to the ultimate minimum – it’s pretty much all about the physics.

At lower frequencies it takes less power to achieve the same range as higher frequencies. Free space path loss (FSPL) is given by the formula:


FSPL (dB) = 20 log10
 (d) + 20 log10 (f) + 32.44

Where:
            d is the distance of the receiver from the transmitter (km)
             f is the signal frequency (MHz)

The result shown in the table below comparing two IEEE 802.15.4 compliant transceivers, operated at the same conditions, one at 2.4GHz and one at 915MHz shows a range benefit of ~2.6x for the Sub1GHz system.

Sub1GHz vs 2.4GHz RF Tranceiver

In addition to the superior range given by the law of physics, Sub1Ghz also penetrate concrete, walls and humid environment much more effieciently. In some regions you will also experience a less crowded environment, not subject to interference from Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other consumer devices operating in the 2.4GHz frequency band.

Atmels® AT86RF212B Ultra Low power Sub1GHz RF transceiver has been designed for wireless products compliant to the IEEE 802.15.4 standard. It is a direct sequence spread spectrum RF transceiver, supporting various datarates from 20kb/s to 1000kb/s. Power consumption is as low as 0.2uA in sleep, 9.2mA and 18mA in receive and transmit, respectively. Maximum RF output power is +10dBm, while the receiver is able to receive signals down to -110dBm.

The AT86RF212B is designed to meet the tough requirements of systems in harsh environments, demanding years of maintenance free operation from a single battery cell. Example uses such as gas- and water-meters, ligthing control, environemental monitoring and other proprietary systems up to 1000kb/s.

If you are interested in experiencing the benefits of this ultra low power Sub1GHz RF transceiver, please visit store.atmel.com to purchase your AT86RF212B Evaluation Kit today. We’ll follow up with tips/tricks on how to evaluate the AT86RF212B using the Wireless Composer in Atmel Studio 6.   Stay tuned!!!

Arduino Uno vs BeagleBone vs Raspberry Pi

Left to right: Arduino Uno, BeagleBone, Raspberry Pi

Left to right: Arduino Uno, BeagleBone, Raspberry Pi

We like to build stuff here at Digital Diner. There is always some sort of project going on. These days, most of our projects include some sort of digital component – a microprocessor. If you haven’t gotten bitten by the Maker bug yet, we strongly encourage it. It can be incredibly rewarding. If you have even a minimal understanding of programming, there are websites, platforms and tools to help you develop your skills to the point where you actually create a hardware device with buttons, knobs and servos – a real physical world gadget. Software is fun, but when you can make your project physical it is even better.

There are so many great platforms for creating digitally enabled devices that its gotten hard to figure out which one to use. For example, we are currently building a hydroponic garden project and had to choose a controller to run the pumps, read the sensors etc. We were surprised at the number of choices that were available to us. It can be a little confusing for the beginner. To help, we’ve taken three of the popular models and compared them so that you can choose the right tool for your next project. Spoiler: we recommend all three.

The three models (all of which we use here at Digital Diner) are the Arduino, Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone. We chose these three because they are all readily available, affordable, about the same size (just larger than 2″ x 3″) and can all be used for creating wonderful digital gadgets. Before we get to the comparison, here is a brief introduction to each one.

Arduino with Atmel

Arduino with Atmel

The Arduino Uno is a staple for the maker community.  Arduinos come in various sizes and flavors, but we chose the Arduino Uno as an example of the prototypical Arduino.  It has an easy to use development environment, an avid user base and is designed to be easy to interface all sorts of hardware to.

Rasberry-Pi

Rasberry-Pi

The Raspberry Pi is the newcomer to the game.  It isn’t really an embedded computer.  It is actually a very inexpensive full-on desktop computer.  It is barebones, but at $35 for a real computer, its worthy of note, and it is a great platform for lots of Maker projects.

BeagleBone

BeagleBone

The BeagleBone is the perhaps the least known of these platforms, but an incredibly capable board worthy of consideration for many projects.  It is a powerful Linux computer that fits inside an Altoid’s mint container.

underside of Rasberry-Pi

underside of Rasberry-Pi

Raspberry Pi

The underside of the Raspberry Pi.

All three boards features that make them valuable to the hobbyist.  Below is a chart I put together outlining the features of the three for comparison.  If you aren’t familiar with what all these mean, that is fine.  However, there are a few differences that make each of these gadgets shine in their own types of applications.

Comparing the Three Platforms

Comparing the Three Platforms

Comparing the three platforms.

First, the Arduino and Raspberry Pi and very inexpensive at under $40. The BeagleBone comes in at nearly the cost of three Arduino Unos. Also worthy of note is that the clock speed on the Arduino is about 40 times slower than the other two and it has 128,000 (!) times less RAM. Already, you can see the differences starting to come out. The Arduino and Raspberry Pi are inexpensive and the Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone are much more powerful. Seems like the Raspberry Pi is looking really good at this point, however, it’s never that simple. First, its price isn’t quite as good as it seems because to run the Raspberry Pi you need to supply your own SD Card which will run you another $5-10 in cost.

Also, despite the clock speed similarities, in our tests the BeagleBone ran about twice as fast as the Raspberry Pi. And perhaps most counterintuitive, the Arduino was right in the mix as far as performance goes as well, at least for a beginner. The reason for this is that the Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone both run the Linux operating system. This fancy software makes these systems into tiny computers which are capable of running multiple programs at the same time and being programmed in many different languages. The Arduino is very simple in design. It can run one program at a time and it programmed in low level C++.

An interesting feature of the BeagleBone and the Raspberry Pi is that they run off of a flash memory card (SD Card in the case of Raspberry Pi and MicroSD Card in the case of BeagleBone). What this means is that you can give these boards a brain transplant just by swapping the memory card. You can have multiple configurations and setups on different cards and when you swap cards, you’ll be right where you left off with that particular project. Since both of these boards are fairly sophisticated, it even means that you can easily change operating systems just by creating different cards to swap in.

Choosing a Platform

So why would you choose one platform over the other?

For the beginner, we recommend the Arduino. It has the largest community of users, the most tutorials and sample projects and is simplest to interface to external hardware. There are more ways to learn about Arduino for beginners than you can shake a soldering iron at.

The boards are designed to easily interface with a wide variety of sensors and effectors without and external circuitry, so you don’t need to know much about electronics at all to get started. If you haven’t played with these before, get one (they’re inexpensive) and try it. It can be a really great experience.

Raspberry Pi

A credit-card sized computer that plugs right into your TV. It has many of the capabilities of a traditional PC and can be used for word-processing, spreadsheet, and games.

Rasberry-Pi-Atmel

Raspberry Pi
A credit-card sized computer that plugs right into your TV. It has many of the capabilities of a traditional PC and can be used for word-processing, spreadsheet, and games.

BeagleBone  It's the low cost, high-expansion hardware-hacker focused BeagleBoard for people that love embedded Linux systems. Basically a bare bones BeagleBoard, it can run all by itself or act as a USB or Ethernet connected expansion for your current BeagleBoard or BeagleBoard-xM

BeagleBone
It’s the low cost, high-expansion hardware-hacker focused BeagleBoard for people that love embedded Linux systems. Basically a bare bones BeagleBoard, it can run all by itself or act as a USB or Ethernet connected expansion for your current BeagleBoard or BeagleBoard-xM

Arduino Uno  An amazing tool for physical computing — it's an open source microcontroller board, plus a free software development environment.

Arduino Uno
An amazing tool for physical computing — it’s an open source microcontroller board, plus a free software development environment.

For applications minimizing size we recommend the Arduino. All three devices are similar in size, although the Raspberry Pi SD Memory card sticks out a bit making it slightly larger overall.  There are so many different flavors of Arduinos it is ridiculous.  Basically, what makes an Arduino an Arduino is a particular microprocessor and a little bit of software.  It uses a very small, inexpensive, embedded system on a chip microprocessor from a company named Atmel.  For advanced projects that need to be really small, you can buy these chips for a dollar or two and put the Arduino bootloader (a program that makes the Arduino give the Arduino its basic functions) on the chip and viola, you have an Arduino.  We have done this for a few projects and it can make for a very tiny little gadget when you don’t even have a circuit board.

A variety of different Arduino sizes and form factors

A variety of different Arduino sizes and form factors

The BeagleBone beside its big brother the BeagleBoard

The BeagleBone beside its big brother the BeagleBoard

The BeagleBoard has a larger and more powerful big brother, the BeagleBoard, so if you may need to scale up, the BeagleBone is a good choice.

The Arduino Uno, BeagleBone and Raspberry Pi Note the Ethernet ports on the BeagleBone and Raspberry Pi

The Arduino Uno, BeagleBone and Raspberry Pi
Note the Ethernet ports on the BeagleBone and Raspberry Pi

For applications that connect to the internet we recommend the BeagleBone or Raspberry Pi. Both these devices are real linux computers. They both include Ethernet interfaces and USB, so you can connect them to the network relatively painlessly. Via USB, you can connect them to wireless modules that let then connect to the internet without wires. Also, the Linux operating system has many components built-in that provide rather advanced networking capabilities.

A very small USB WiFi adapter plugs right in to the BeagleBone or Raspberry Pi, and the Linux operating system can support these types of devices

A very small USB WiFi adapter plugs right in to the BeagleBone or Raspberry Pi, and the Linux operating system can support these types of devices

The Arduino supports plug-in peripherals called “shields” that include the ability to connect to Ethernet, but the access to the networking functions is fairly limited. Plus by the time you buy the Ethernet shield you might as well just get one of the more advanced boards.

For applications that interface to external sensors we recommend the Arduino and the BeagleBone. The Arduino makes it the easiest of any of the boards to interface to external sensors. There are different versions of the board that operate at different voltages (3.3v vs 5v) to make it easier to connect to external devices. The BeagleBone only operates with 3.3v devices and will require a resistor or other external circuitry to interface to some devices. Both the Arduino and BeagleBone have analog to digital interfaces that let you easily connect components that output varying voltages. The BeagleBone has slightly higher resolution analog to digital converters which can be useful for more demanding applications.

With that said, it is important note that many things that you would want to connect to, including little sensors, have digital interfaces called I2C or SPI. All three boards support these types of devices and can talk to them fairly easily.

For battery powered applications, we recommend the Arduino.  The Arduino uses the least power of the bunch, although, in terms of computer power per watt, the BeagleBone is the clear winner.  However, the Arduino has an edge here since it can work with a wide range of input voltages.  This allows it to run from a variety of different types of batteries and keep working as the battery loses juice. The Arduino uses the least power of the bunch, although, in terms of computer power per watt, the BeagleBone is the clear winner.  However, the Arduino has an edge here since it can work with a wide range of input voltages.  This allows it to run from a variety of different types of batteries and keep working as the battery loses juice.

For applications that use a graphical user interface, we recommend the Raspberry Pi.  The Raspberry Pi is really in a category by itself because it has an HDMI output.   That means you can plug in a mouse and keyboard and connect it directly to your TV.  At that point you have a fully functional computer with graphical user interface.  This makes the Raspberry Pi ideal for use as a low cost web browsing device of for creating kiosk-type projects where you may have a display that people interact with.  In fact, just for fun, we installed the Arduino development tools on the Raspberry Pi and we were able to write a small program and download it to an Arduino from the Raspberry Pi.  It’s not a very fast computer, but it really is a computer.

Summary

The Arduino is a flexible platform with great ability to interface to most anything. It is a great platform to learn first and perfect for many smaller projects. The Raspberry Pi is good for projects that require a display or network connectivity. It has incredible price/performance capabilities.

The BeagleBone is a great combination of some of the interfacing flexibility of the Arduino with the fast processor and full Linux environment of the Raspberry Pi (more so in fact). So, for example, to monitor our hydroponic garden, we will likely use the BeagleBone since it has good input/output features and can easily connect to the network, so we can have it run a web server to make its readings available to us.

All three of these are staples of our projects here at Digital Diner. Of course, there are other platforms out there, for example, we monitor our tomato garden using Sun SPOTs, but these three will cover most people’s needs until you get fairly advanced.

Thanks to Make and Roger Meike for allowing us to repost his comparison article here on the Atmel site. Regarding original source, the Monday Jolt is a new column about microcontrollers and electronics that appears in MAKE every Monday morning. This post was written by Roger Meike and appeared on the Digital Diner on October 24, 2012. It is reposted here on the MAKE site with permission.  

News from the Gallery

News from the Gallery

By Joerg Bertholdt, Director of Marketing, Tools and Software, Atmel Corporation

We launched Atmel Gallery less than 6 months ago, the first app store of its kind to deliver integrated embedded tools and embedded software straight into a development environment, specifically for Atmel Studio 6.

We were excited to get into uncharted territory, but also anxious about the types of reaction we’d get from our customers. It’s time to see how we did.

With over 25,000 developers – and counting — signed up for a Gallery account, our expectations have by far been exceeded. The servers handled the big demands very well, proving the infrastructure design and scalability.

 Keil MDK-ARM Toolchain from Keil enables Atmel Studio to use its highly optimizing ARM compiler

Keil MDK-ARM Toolchain from Keil enables Atmel Studio to use its highly optimizing ARM compiler

With the February update of the XDK, the Extension Developer’s Kit, partners have been able to easily integrate embedded software and package integrations as projects that install directly into Atmel Studio. For example, developers who are interested in exploring commercial real-time operating systems, now have access to Micrium’s uC/OS and Segger’s embOS. Trial versions of these RTOSes are available as ready-to-run example projects for Atmel’s ARM Cortex-M4 based SAM4S devices.

Two popular extensions are compiler plug-ins. The Keil MDK-ARM Toolchain from Keil enables Atmel Studio to use its highly optimizing ARM compilerCodeVisionAVR allows the use of HP Infotec’s AVR compiler, which also includes CodeWizardAVR, a graphical peripheral configuration tool for AVR MCUs.

Besides development tools and embedded software extensions, training modules such as Integrating USB In Your Design have also been made available through the Gallery. With the XDK supporting the development of hardware extension boards for Atmel’s Xplained Pro kits, the drivers for the first Xplained Pro partner board will soon be delivered as an Atmel Studio project.

We’re six months in and happy to see the masses have adopted Atmel Gallery.

Are you a Gallery user? Let us know what you like, what you’d like to see improved or if there are additional extensions you would want to see. Just comment on this blog or send me an email to joerg.bertholdt@atmel.com.

Haven’t checked out the Gallery yet, just take a look at gallery.atmel.com. Don’t have Atmel Studio 6? It’s free, you can download it from atmel.com.

Are you an independent software vendor or developer and want to be part of the growing Atmel Studio ecosystem, join the Gallery as a developer; the XDK makes it easy to participate.

Praise the Lord!!! A New Sub-1GHz RF Transceiver Supporting 4 Major Regional Frequency Bands

Your prayers have been answered!  Atmel has just released its 2nd generation Sub1GHz IEEE 802.15.4-compliant RF transceiver, the Atmel® AT86RF212B.  Not only does it work in Europe (863-870MHz) and North America (902-928MHz), like some of the sub-1GHz RF transceivers you see in the market today, it also works in China and Japan compatible with the 779-787MHz and 915-930MHz regional frequency bands, respectively.  

map

The device is a feature-rich, extremely low power Sub1GHz RF transceiver designed for industrial and consumer ZigBee/IEEE 802.15.4, IPv6/6LoWPAN and high data rate Sub1GHz ISM band applications. The RF transceiver offers a true SPI-to-antenna solution, integrating all RF-critical components, except the antenna, crystal and decoupling capacitors.

It is designed specifically for these applications in mind:

  • Lighting control
  • Gas and water meters
  • Thermostats
  • Environmental monitoring
  • Remotes
  • Toys
  • Doorphones
  • Proprietary wireless systems up to 1000kb/s

To help with your design and prototyping needs, we have a slew of software and hardware tools at your disposal, such as the Wireless Composer for providing a performance analyzer application and contains easy-to-understand displays to configure, command, and monitor information coming from the performance test application running on the target, which is available through the Atmel Gallery app store (available in Studio 6).  Additionally, we also offer the Atmel BitCloud® ZigBee® PRO stack, the Atmel IEEE 802.15.4 MAC, and the Atmel Lightweight Mesh software stack

From the H/W side, we offer an evaluation kit that is shipped preprogrammed with the Atmel Radio Performance Analyzer application for easy evaluation of the RF transceiver’s key features and performance.

AT86RF212B eval kit

Please stay tuned on upcoming posts about why sub-1GHz is preferred over 2.4GHz in some designs and tips/tricks on how to use the Wireless Composer.

The Atmel Xplained platform is going Pro

By: Eirik Slettahjell – Sr. Development Engineer Atmel

Having been on the team that created the new Atmel® Xplained Pro platform,  let me share some more details about these new boards and the platform we are providing. Xplained Pro is the result of Atmel’s engineers aiming to make life easier for designers working with Atmel MCUs. In other words: designed by engineers for engineers:

“The work of engineers forms the link between scientific discoveries and their subsequent applications to human needs and quality of life.”1

Capture

SAM4L Xplained Pro MCU board

The Atmel Xplained Pro platform provides the full Atmel microcontroller experience, combining hardware and software. It equips you, the engineer, with a smart platform that makes it easy to excel with the complete application prototype up and running an hour after your boss discusses a new product idea. We want the Atmel Xplained Pro platform to inspire and enable new ground breaking designs and applications.

SAM4L Xplained Pro MCU board details

SAM4L Xplained Pro MCU board details

“How is this possible?”

Atmel Xplained Pro platform is capable of being a product prototype. With the evaluation kits, Atmel Studio and Atmel Software Framework you can put together the complete application prototype – really fast.

Start Atmel Studio and connect the Xplained Pro kit to your computer. You will discover the kit and its capabilities since Atmel Studio knows exactly which Atmel Xplained Pro evaluation kit you connected and what extensions are plugged into the kit. Download applications examples or software building blocks from Atmel Software Framework and build the prototype.

You also get direct access to datasheets and board documentation by connecting your kit to your computer.

Thanks to the embedded debugger, Xplained Pro are easy to use, yet provide powerful debugging capabilities.

You do not have to connect any external debugger or programmer. With only a USB cable connected to your computer you get:

  • Device program and debug with all the same capabilities as Atmel’s standard programmers and debuggers
  • Data Gateway Interface (DGI) for enhanced application data streaming and debug through standard interfaces
  • Virtual COM port (USB CDC) to easily allow printf-style debug and data logging directly into Atmel Studio

The Xplained Pro platform has been designed for flexibility. A standard Xplained Pro header makes it easy for anyone to design extension boards that connect to the Xplained Pro evaluation kits. Available boards can be found here, including IO, prototyping, OLED and segment LCD extension boards.

If you can’t wait for the extension that you want – just make your own.  The Extension Developer’s Kit (XDK) gives you a design guide that tells you everything you need to create an Xplained Pro extension board.

Xplained Pro Extension boards

Xplained Pro Extension boards

The Xplained Pro offering will continuously expand, covering the latest MCUs and technology available. More information about boards and kits is available on Atmel’s web site and can be purchased from one of Atmel’s distributors or at store.atmel.com.

References

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor (2006). “Engineers”. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition. Retrieved 2006-09-21.