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.

A GUI for RF Performance Measurements

To help you measure RF performance in wireless designs, Atmel offers a Wireless Composer through the Atmel Gallery online apps store for embedded software, tools and extensions. The Wireless Composer provides a GUI for RF performance measurements while running selected Atmel wireless evaluation kits.

Using the Wireless Composer is straightforward — after you’ve downloaded the tool from Atmel Gallery, you select and download the proper hex file, and save it to any location on your PC. The Atmel Studio 6 Tools menu has a Device Programming menu that you can use to load the hex file into your target wireless platform. On the Composer’s opening screen, you select the Performance Analyzer from the Tools menu, start the tool and designate the proper port and connection to your target platform. Once all of the configuration steps are complete, you can view RF performance levels following measures including an energy detection scan, a single packet error rate (PER) test, continuous PER logging and more.

Wireless Composer supports several designated Atmel evaluation boards; the tool can also perform tests on other boards. The complete source code for the Wireless Library is available from Atmel Gallery. You can port this code to support the I/O configuration of a non-Atmel board. Just be sure that access is provided to the TXD and RXD signals of the UART or to a USB virtual COM port, if available. Also, make sure there are no conflicts with push buttons or LEDs used in the Wireless Composer apps or other I/O initializations. The tool should work easily with other boards as long as the boards use the same chipset or SoC used on a supported Atmel kit.

Adapt to Multiple Automotive Protocols with Highly Integrated Transceiver ICs

By Sascha Wagner

As you’ve probably experienced, having very flexible hardware is critical in automotive designs because the  protocols used in the industry are not standardized. Every OEM can define and use its own message structures and properties. Signal properties can be RF frequency, data rate, coding, modulation or deviation. Any combination, such as a short preamble or wake-up pattern (WUP) followed by a big gap with a start frame identifier (SFID) and a special ID at the beginning of the payload, can be used. Signal properties can also be mixed within one message. One device that can help you adapt to multiple automotive protocols is the Atmel® ATA583x family  of highly integrated transceiver ICs. These devices include an AVR® core, an RX digital signal processor (DSP) and a separate analog front end with two separate receive paths that allow two signals to be searched in parallel. These new transceivers cover most known protocols without limitations, as well as the standard frequencies.

A unique feature of the devices is their ability to handle mixed modulation within one message. Mixed modulation involves the use of two reception paths for the transceiver: one path for the wake condition and one for synchronization and reception. This simple feature allows the devices to handle complex protocols, and by using mixed modulation plus the gaps between the WUP and SFID, output power, and thus the transmission range, can be increased.

For diagrams and more details about how you can increase car access system flexibility with the  ATA583x transceiver family, read the full article,  “Highly Integrated AVR MCU-Based UHF Transceiver Family Increases Car Access System Flexibility.”

Using Custom Toolchains in Your Embedded Designs

Are you interested in using custom toolchains in your embedded designs? Watch this new video to learn how to configure toolchain flavors inside the Atmel Studio integrated development platform. With this capability, you’ll be able to build existing projects with a custom toolchain that you’ve provided.

A Pocket-Sized, Low-Power Ecosystem Makes Wi-Fi Easy

By Ingolf Leidert

Sensor networks are nothing brand new and even terms like “smart dust” have been around for a while. Many have envisioned a future where every technical entity around us will be “smart” in some way and is permanently connected to a huge network consisting of small sensors that help monitor and control our world. Usually, the large step into such a future vision is divided into several smaller steps. Obviously, one parameter seems to be essential for the small and smart sensors vision: the power consumption of such an entity. With the ATmegaRF SoC family, Atmel has introduced one of the lowest power IEEE 802.15.4 systems in the world. Its low power consumption combined with the full AVR microcontroller (MCU) capabilities makes networks built with lots of compact, low-power wireless sensors look more realistic now. One project that shows this perfectly is the Pinoccio.

Pinoccio is an open-source, crowd-funded solution that provides a complete ecosystem for building products supporting The Internet of Things. These small “scout” boards, compatible with the Arduino platform, come with everything a “smart, wireless, connected entity” would need:

  • LiPo battery (chargeable over USB)
  • LED
  • Temperature sensor
  • Antenna
  • Several I/Os for connecting DIY hardware (like more sensors)
  • And, as its “heart”, the Atmel ATmega128RFA1 with its excellent power consumption of less than 17mA when actively transmitting. The ATmega128RFA1 is pin-compatible with the new ATmegaRFR2 family…so perhaps we’ll see future “scout” boards in 64kB or 256kB versions. 

The developers have chosen that MCU explicitly for its low power and RF capabilities. And, as you can see from the estimated power specs, a sleeping scout board should be able to run for more than a year from one battery charge. Because the whole Pinoccio ecosystem includes a Wi-Fi board that finally connects all the tiny “scout” boards to an existing Wi-Fi infrastructure and even offers SD card data storage, this whole system looks like a wonderful first step into The Internet of  Things.

Automotive IC-Level EMC Testing: Emerging Trends and Standards

By Stephan Gerlach and Juergen Strohal

Standardization activities focused on electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) at the IC level are evolving to keep pace with current and future interference scenarios. With the long-term trend toward the concentration of functions in fewer active devices, a tiny amount of silicon housed in a small plastic package can produce an increasingly significant level of disturbance, making reliable testing more important than ever.

Most established electromagnetic surface scanning test standards are limited to frequencies up to 1GHz, or sometimes 2GHz. But with the prevalence of technologies such as WLAN and Bluetooth, test methods for reliably measuring frequencies of 3GHz or higher are needed. Two evolving standards for measuring higher frequencies are the IC stripline and the local injection horn antenna. In addition, the proven techniques of printed circuit board (PCB) scanning are helpful for locating sources of distortion, even at the sub-IC level.

  • The stripline standard (ISO11452) is widely used in module-level testing, with the wiring harness placed inside a stripline. The forthcoming IC stripline standards cover both aspects of radiated EMC tests for ICs: IEC61967-8 standardizes emission measurements, and IEC62132-8 standardizes immunity measurements. Unlike the ISO11452 measurement, the IC stripline does not use a wiring harness but instead covers the IC under test.
  • The evolving local injection horn antenna standard also extends IC testing to higher frequencies. Typically, the ICs under test are equipped with minimal external circuitry mounted on a small PCB, and the field strength deviation is less than 3dB across the surface of the IC. For measuring radiated immunity, a standard (IEC 62132-6) is under development that uses a horn antenna in the 1GHz to 18GHz frequency range. The IC is exposed to the antenna’s electrical field, and the magnetic field deflects circularly around the IC.
  • IC-based scanning systems can provide precise and repeatable measurements. Several electric and magnetic field probes for IC-based measurement are already available. E-field and H-field magnetic probes can be used within a frequency range of 30MHz to 3GHz. H-field probes with a low-frequency range of 9kHz to 50MHz are available for specific applications.

For diagrams and more details about these emerging standards and trends, see the article “Automotive IC-Level EMC Testing—Trends and Forthcoming Standards.”

Consumer Electronics: More Opportunity for Embedded Technologies

Now that the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is in our rear-view mirror, at least one take-away rings clear–consumer electronics represents a growing opportunity for embedded design.

According to’s Bernard Cole, “…the ability of embedded systems developers to continue to improve the hidden and invisible infrastructure upon which the consumer electronics systems and devices depend will determine the success or failure of consumer electronics as a market that drives the world economy.”

Indeed, embedded designers seem to be on the path of innovation when it comes to the consumer electronics infrastructure. Embedded systems and devices are playing critical roles in products from smartphones and tablets to wired and wireless home networks and beyond. More of our devices are Web-enabled and able to “talk” to each other, without our intervention. This is why The Internet of Things is more than a trendy term, and why some are calling this the “age of the microcontroller”.

What kinds of technologies should embedded designers continue to explore, in order to  create the systems that will power tomorrow’s consumer electronics?

Defining the LF Driver’s Main Parameters in Automotive PEPS Systems

By Dr. Jedidi Kamouaa

Passive entry passive start (PEPS) systems, already well established in the high-end car market, are the latest trend in mid-price vehicles. Strategy Analytics anticipates annual demand for PEPS systems to reach almost 19 million units by 2016. This trend is fueled by cost savings from a reduction in the number of coils per vehicle, the greatest contributor to system cost.

PEPS system design presents a number of challenges:

  • Generation of high drive current and, thus, the low-frequency (LF) magnetic field required to detect the key fob inside the vehicle or in the near vicinity
  • Drive-current regulation to allow reliable receive signal strength indicator (RSSI) measurement
  • Protection under thermal stress conditions and electrical diagnostics
  • Reduction in electromagnetic radiation
  • PEPS system speed

 A key part of PEPS systems is the LF driver. The Atmel ATA5279C multichannel LF antenna driver IC includes technical features to meet PEPS system requirements. It operates alongside the Atmel ATA5791 single-chip key fob controller, integrating the RF transmitter.

When developing an LF antenna driver system, you’ll need to consider:

  • Capability to generate sufficient magnetic field to detect the key fob inside the vehicle or in the vicinity of the vehicle
  • Use of a regulation loop of the drive current for reliable field strength and thus RSSI measurement
  • Protection under thermal stress conditions and electrical diagnostics
  • Electromagnetic radiation
  • The interface with the host microcontroller
  • Thermal factors

With the need for cost savings, car makers also expect the LF driver to perform the immobilizer backup function, which requires the merging of the immobilizer and LF driver functions, multiplexing one of the antennas and thus eliminating one coil (a major cost contributor). This merger allows the immobilizer base station coil in the steering lock cylinder to be removed, and the resulting change in car architecture will enable significant cost savings that should further increase PEPS system adoption.

For diagrams and detailed information about how to define the LF driver, see the article “How to Define the LF Driver’s Key Parameters in Automotive PEPS Systems.”

New ARM Cortex-M4 Flash MCU: Advanced Connectivity, Floating Point Unit

Industrial applications–from home and building control to machine-to-machine (M2M) communications to energy management–call for underlying technology with abundant connectivity peripherals, processing power and analog capabilities. Atmel’s newest ARM Cortex-M4 processor-based Flash microcontroller, the SAM4E, delivers on all of these fronts.

  • 10/100Mbps Ethernet MAC supporting IEEE 1588, full-speed USB 2.0 device and dual CAN
  • More processing power with a maximum operating frequency of 120MHz
  • Floating point unit
  • Two independent 16-bit ADCs with dual sample and hold, offset and gain error correction, programmable gain amplifier

As with Atmel’s other ARM Cortex-M as well as AVR microcontrollers, the SAM4E devices are supported by the Atmel Studio 6 integrated development platform. A free download, Atmel Studio 6 comes with more than 1,600 project examples that minimize much of the low-level coding for designs. With its integrated Atmel Gallery apps store, you can access a variety of Atmel and third-party embedded software, tools and extensions to support your design process.

Learn how SAM4E microcontrollers can support your next design.

New Dev Kit for Creating and Sharing Embedded Design Extensions

It’s the life of an embedded design engineer: design is becoming increasingly complex, while resources and budgets are as tight as ever. What’s more, design teams are often distributed across different locations, and the pressure to get to market remains constant. Good, easy-to-use software and tools can help, especially if they foster collaboration.

Do you create software, tools and other design resources that help engineers meet their challenges? Read this application note to learn about a new developer’s kit for creating and uploading extensions to the new Atmel Gallery online apps store, a part of the free Atmel Studio 6 integrated development platform for AVR and ARM processor-based microcontrollers. The Atmel Studio Extension Developer’s Kit (XDK) gives you resources to easily develop extensions that integrate with Atmel Studio and are available to design engineers on Atmel Gallery.

Creating an RF RSSI Sniffer Tool for Car Access Systems

By Chris Wunderlich and George Rueter

By reconfiguring the Atmel ATA5830N UHF transceiver chip through a simple method using its Flash program capability, you can create a received signal strength indicator (RSSI) monitoring tool that you can use both in a lab setting as well as in a vehicle.

The ATA5830N chip integrates a high-performance UHF transceiver with a low-power Atmel AVR 8-bit microcontroller. The device also has 6KB of Flash memory—this Flash memory space is what you can use to develop an application for an RSSI monitor that generates USART-formatted messages with RSSI data.  

To create the RSSI monitoring tool, we developed the software using the ATAK51002-V1 evaluation kit, a +5V power supply and the RF signal input. The kit includes a reference design that consumes about 9mA when running our application—low enough to support battery operation. Once we powered up the reference design, we awakened the ATA5830N device by momentarily connecting any of the “npwron” pins to ground or the “pwron” pin to +5V. Once the part was awake and active, we didn’t need to provide additional input and the RSSI data was available at PC3 pin 17.

Using the EEPROM configuration file, we programmed desired radio parameters into the part. You can select these values using an Excel spreadsheet tool that automatically generates the EEPROM file. Once we programmed the values into the EEPROM, the application of power automatically initiated the self-configuration and execution of the Flash application program.

You can use the resulting application for several common RF engineering tasks, including RF environment analysis, performance tuning of the receiver section, RF component selection and antenna performance evaluation. For diagrams and the full details about creating the RSSI tool, read our full article, “RF RSSI Sniffer Tool for Car Access Systems.”