Category Archives: Hardware

You may need a magnifying glass for this mini ATtiny10 breakout board

“I lost one in the carpet and I’m hoping to find it before the vacuum does.”

The super small ATtiny10 is a high-performance, low-power 8-bit MCU that combines 1KB of Flash memory, 32B SRAM, four general purpose I/O lines, 16 general purpose working registers, a 16-bit timer/counter with two PWM channels, internal and external interrupts, a programmable watchdog timer with internal oscillator, an internal calibrated oscillator, a four-channel A/D converter, and four software selectable power saving modes. The device operates between 1.8-5.5V.


But what really makes this chip stand out is its minuscule size. Because of this, the ATtiny10 doesn’t use the normal in-system programming port like its much larger siblings. Instead, this particular AVR employs a Tiny Programming Interface (TPI), which only requires power, ground, data, clock and a reset pin. Connecting these pins to the proper programming header is fairly straightforward, and with the right layout, you can cram everything into a breakout board that’s tinier than a typical 8-pin DIP.

Well, this is exactly what Dan Watson has done. The Maker has created a mini breakout board for the ATtiny10 that’s so small, you’ll lose it. “Literally,” he adds, “I lost one in the carpet and I’m hoping to find it before the vacuum does.”


The PCB itself is 0.25” x 0.325″ and uses 0.050″ header pins. The breakout could actually be made smaller, but turns out, Watson ran into the minimum PCB size limit on OSHPark. Despite its form factor, he was able to include a 100nF bypass capacitor, a power LED and a user LED on pin PB1 — that pin is also the clock pin for the programming interface, so it flashes when the board is being programmed.

Admittedly the board was a bit difficult to use and program, and is “certainly not breadboard compatible due to the small pitch headers.” To overcome this issue, Watson built a small landing pad for it, which adapts the 0.050″ headers to 0.1” headers. The landing pad has a 6-pin TPI programming connector, which enables the ATtiny10 to be configured using the Atmel-ICE development tool.


In any case, Watson is now the proud owner of a shrunken-down board that can fit pretty much anywhere. And since you can do plenty of things with 1KB, it’ll be interesting to see what the Maker comes up with. Some possible ideas include designing a pint-sized drone, building a swarm of cybernetic bats, showing off your fine soldering skills to friends, making digital fireflies, or simply incorporating it into a project’s PCB by adding 0.050” male headers to the board. Intrigued? Head over to the project’s page here.

Top 10 IoT technologies for the next two years

Gartner has revealed a list of the top technologies that will unlock the Internet of Things’ full potential in 2017 and 2018.

Fresh on the heels of CES and Mobile World Congress shows, Gartner has compiled a list of the top 10 Internet of Things technologies that should be on every company’s radar over the next two years. Among the key takeaways include security, device management and low-power, short-range networks. According to the firm, this handful of principles will have a broad impact on organizations, affecting everything from business strategy and risk management to a wide range of technical areas such as architecture and network design.


So without further ado, Gartner’s top 10 IoT technologies for 2017 and 2018 are:

IoT Security

The IoT introduces a wide range of new security risks and challenges to the IoT devices themselves, their platforms and operating systems, their communications, and even the systems to which they’re connected. Security will be required to protect IoT devices and platforms from both information attacks and physical tampering, to encrypt their communications, and to address new challenges such as impersonating ‘things’ or denial-of-sleep attacks that drain batteries. IoT security will be complicated by the fact that many ‘things’ use simple processors and operating systems that may not support sophisticated security approaches.

IoT Analytics

IoT business models will exploit the information collected by ‘things’ in many ways, whether that’s understanding customer behavior, delivering services, or improving products. However, IoT demands new analytic approaches. These tools and algorithms are necessary now, but as data volumes increase through 2021, the needs of the IoT may diverge further from traditional analytics.

IoT Device (Thing) Management

Long-lived nontrivial ‘things’  will require management and monitoring. This includes device monitoring, firmware and software updates, diagnostics, crash analysis and reporting, physical management, and security management. The IoT also brings new problems of scale to the management task. Tools must be capable of managing and monitoring thousands and perhaps even millions of devices.

Low-Power, Short-Range IoT Networks

Selecting a wireless network for an IoT device involves balancing many conflicting requirements, such as range, battery life, bandwidth, density, endpoint cost and operational cost. Low-power, short-range networks will dominate wireless IoT connectivity through 2025, far outnumbering connections using wide-area IoT networks. However, commercial and technical trade-offs mean that many solutions will coexist, with no single dominant winner and clusters emerging around certain technologies, applications and vendor ecosystems.

Low-Power, Wide-Area Networks

Traditional cellular networks don’t deliver a good combination of technical features and operational cost for those IoT applications that need wide-area coverage combined with relatively low bandwidth, good battery life, low hardware and operating cost, and high connection density. The long-term goal of a wide-area IoT network is to deliver data rates from hundreds of bits per second (bps) to tens of kilobits per second (kbps) with nationwide coverage, a battery life of up to 10 years, an endpoint hardware cost of around $5, and support for hundreds of thousands of devices connected to a base station or its equivalent. The first low-power wide-area networks (LPWANs) were based on proprietary technologies, but in the long term emerging standards such as Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) will likely dominate this space.

IoT Processors

The processors and architectures used by IoT devices define many of their capabilities, such as whether they are capable of strong security and encryption, power consumption, whether they are sophisticated enough to support an operating system, updatable firmware, and embedded device management agents. As with all hardware design, there are complex trade-offs between features, hardware cost, software cost, software upgradability and so on. As a result, understanding the implications of processor choices will demand deep technical skills.

IoT Operating Systems

Traditional operating systems such as Windows and iOS were not designed for IoT applications. They consume too much power, need fast processors, and in some cases, lack features such as guaranteed real-time response. They also have too large a memory footprint for small devices and may not support the chips that IoT developers use. Consequently, a wide range of IoT-specific operating systems has been developed to suit many different hardware footprints and feature needs.

Event Stream Processing

Some IoT applications will generate extremely high data rates that must be analyzed in real time. Systems creating tens of thousands of events per second are common, and millions of events per second can occur in some telecom and telemetry situations. To address such requirements, distributed stream computing platforms (DSCPs) have emerged. They typically use parallel architectures to process very high-rate data streams to perform tasks such as real-time analytics and pattern identification.

IoT Platforms

IoT platforms bundle many of the infrastructure components of an IoT system into a single product. The services provided by such platforms fall into three main categories:

  • Low-level device control and operations such as communications, device monitoring and management, security, and firmware updates
  • IoT data acquisition, transformation and management
  • IoT application development, including event-driven logic, application programming, visualization, analytics and adapters to connect to enterprise systems

IoT Standards and Ecosystems

Although ecosystems and standards aren’t precisely technologies, most eventually materialize as APIs. Standards and their associated APIs will be essential because IoT devices will need to interoperate and communicate, and many IoT business models will rely on sharing data between multiple devices and organizations.

Many IoT ecosystems will emerge, and commercial and technical battles between these ecosystems will dominate areas such as the smart home, the smart city and healthcare. Organizations creating products may have to develop variants to support multiple standards or ecosystems and be prepared to update products during their life span as the standards evolve and new standards and related APIs emerge.

Interested in reading more? You can find a more detailed version of Gartner’s analysis here.

The smart router is ready for IoT play

The evolution of router has reached the IoT’s doorsteps, and it raises some interesting prospects for industrial and smart home markets.

The router used to be largely a dumb device. Not anymore in the Internet of Things arena where node intelligence is imperative to make a play of the sheer amount of data acquired from sensors, machines and other ‘things.’ The IoT router marks a new era of network intelligence — but what makes a router smart?


For starters, it employs embedded hardware platforms with DIY capabilities while balancing the performance and power consumption requirements. Next, an IoT router provides the operational status on an LCD screen while manipulating the data from different interfaces. In human machine interface (HMI) applications, for example, a smart router offers LCD and touch screen interfaces on expansion I/Os.

Take the case of the DAB-OWRT-53 smart router, which is developed by the Belgian design house DAB-Embedded. The sub-100 euro device — based on Atmel’s SAMA5D36 processor and OpenWRT router hardware platform — is mainly targeted at smart home and industrial IoT applications.

The smart router of DAB-Embedded

The IoT router supports popular wireless interfaces such as Wi-Fi, ZigBee and Z-Wave, as well as a diverse number of wired interfaces including Ethernet, USB, CAN 2.0A/B, KNX and RS-232. And all the data from these interfaces can be stored in either microSD card or NAND flash.

Anatomy of Smart Router

The Atmel | SMART SAMA5D36 is at the heart of the smart router design. First and foremost, it optimizes power consumption in the battery-operated router that features 3.7V lithium polymer battery support with charging capability over a microUSB connector. The router boasts eight hours of battery lifetime while being in full ON mode with Wi-Fi communications.

Second, the ARM Cortex-A5 processor shows a robust performance in the communications domain. For instance, the SAMA5D36 implements routing functionality to transfer data from one Ethernet port to another in a way that router designers don’t require an external hardware hub or switch. Moreover, Atmel’s MPU offers greater flexibility to run a lot of embedded software packages such as OpenZWave and LinuxMCE.

Third, the SAMA5D36-based IoT router offers users the ability to manipulate firewall settings, Disable PING, Telnet, SSH and UPnP features. Furthermore, the hardware security block in SAMA5D3 processor allows the use of CryptoDev Linux drivers to speed up the OpenSSL implementation. The Wi-Fi module — powered by Atmel’s WILC3000 single-chip solution — also supports the IEEE 802.11 WEP, WPA and WPA2 security mechanisms.

The smart router of DAB-Embedded employs Active-Semi’s ACT8945AQJ305-T power management IC, but the real surprise is Altera’s MAX 10 FPGA with an integrated analog-to-digital converter (ADC). That brings the additional flexibility for the main CPU: Atmel’s SAMA5D36.

The FPGA is connected to the 16-bit external bus interface (EBI) so that IoT developers can put any IP core in FPGA for communication with external sensors. All data is converted inside the FPGA to a specific format by using NIOS II’s soft CPU in FPGA. Next, the SAMA5D36 processor reads this data by employing DMA channel over the high-speed mezzanine card (HSMC) bus.

An FPGA has enough cells to start even two soft cores for data preprocessing. Case in point: A weather station with 8-channel external ADC managing light sensors, temperature sensors, pressure sensors and more. It’s connected to the FPGA together with PPS signal from GPS for correct time synchronization of each measurement.


OpenWRT Framework

The SAMA5D36 embedded processor enables DAB’s smart router design to customize free OpenWRT Linux firmware according to the specific IoT application needs. The OpenWRT framework facilitates an easy way to set up router-like devices equipped with communications interfaces such as dual-port Ethernet and Wi-Fi connection.

What’s more, by using the OpenWRT framework, an IoT developer can add now his or her own application (C/C++) to exchange data with a KNX or Z-Wave transceiver. OpenWRT even supports the Lua embedded interpreter.

Next, while DAB-Embedded has built its smart router using the embedded Linux with OpenWRT framework, Belgium’s design house also offers a board support package (BSP) based on the Windows Embedded Compact 2013 software. That’s for IoT developers who have invested in Windows applications and want to use them on the new hardware: the DAB-OWRT-53 smart router.

Later, the embedded design firm plans to release smart router hardware based on the Windows 10 IoT software and Atmel’s SAMA5D family of embedded processors. The Belgian developer of IoT products has vowed to release the second version of its router board based on Atmel’s SAMA5D4 embedded processor and WILC3000 chipset that comes integrated with power amplifier, LNA, switch and power management. Atmel’s WILC3000 single-chip solution boasts IEEE 802.11 b/g/n RF/baseband/MAC link controller and Bluetooth 4.0 connection.

Majeed Ahmad is the author of books Smartphone: Mobile Revolution at the Crossroads of Communications, Computing and Consumer Electronics and The Next Web of 50 Billion Devices: Mobile Internet’s Past, Present and Future.

Atmel wireless connectivity supports industrial IoT revolution

The BTLC1000 exhibits the lowest BLE power consumption in the industry.

With both this year’s CES and Embedded World now behind us, it’ll be interesting to see which of the gadgets unveiled during these shows find a way to market — some will go to production, others won’t. I am skeptic about the smart shoe offering self-fastening mechanism… And during these two weeks, the IoT revolution has silently progressed in industrial automation. (You will be surprised if you read some very serious white papers extracted from the Internet of Things series published by Bosch.)


While attendees flocked to Vegas, progresses were made in industrial automation thanks to hard work being done in Germany. In fact, these two worlds — consumer oriented and industrial — are both relying on wireless connectivity, including products from Atmel: the ATWILC1000, ATWILC1500 or ATWILC3000 supporting Wi-Fi and ATBLC1000 supporting BTLE 4.1,which  was recently crowned “Product of the Year” from Electronic Products.

According to Bosch’s white paper “Leveraging the Internet of Things: Companies can streamline business processes for stakeholders across the extended enterprise,” we realize that Bosch’s managers have brainstormed about the IoT to extract the added business value for the enterprise, like for example, “in manufacturing, data automatically collected from smart and connected products, give companies meaningful feedback as to how products should be reengineered, and provides opportunities for additional revenue through selling services.”

In order to become smart and connected, industrial products need to integrate either a Wi-Fi connection supported by ATWINC1500, or a Bluetooth supported by the very tiny (see above) ATBTLC1000.


Shows the requirements for scalability on two current customer PoCs at Bosch Software Innovations. These PoCs start in year one with a very low umber of connected devices and sensors. However, in a short space of time, they scale massively upward for commercial launch and rollout.

From the above graphic, extracted from another white paper from Bosch, “Realizing the connected world-how to choose the right IoT platform,” we can derive two crucial information. The first is the fact that IoT is already a reality in the industrial market segment, not really known to be fashion driven like could be consumer electronic. The second information is about scalability. In both examples, the number of connected devices was very low, but in a short space of time they scale massively, reaching 500k devices for the first and up to 3 million for the other. A single industrial automation application can generate a very good semiconductor business, including sensors, MCU and wireless connectivity device. In our previous blog, we have investigated the ATWINCxx00 family bringing Wi-Fi connectivity to any embedded design. Let’s take a look at the award winner ATBTLC1000 device supporting BT 4.1 connectivity.

Atmel's BTLC1000

The BTLC1000 is an ultra-low power Bluetooth SMART (BLE 4.1) SoC with an integrated ARM Cortex-M0 MCU, a transceiver, a modem, MAC, PA, TR Switch, and a power management unit (PMU). It can be used as a BLE link controller or data pump with external host MCU, or as a standalone applications processor with embedded BLE connectivity and external memory. If we look at the key features list:

  • BLE4.1 compliant SoC and protocol stack
  • Lowest BLE power consumption in industry
  • Smallest BLE 4.1 SoC — Available in WLCSP (2.26×2.14mm) or QFN ( 32p 4×4 mm)
  • Optimized system cost — High level of integration on chip reduces external Bill of Material significantly
  • Wide operating Voltage range — 1.8 – 4.3V
  • Host Interface — SPI or UART
  • Certified modules — FCC, ETSI/CE, TELEC
  • Enterprise Development support & tools with the ATBTLC1000 Xplained Pro

The main reasons why the Atmel BTLC1000 has won the Electronic Design award are power, cost and certification. This chip not only exhibits the lowest BLE power consumption in the industry, it’s also the smallest BLE 4.1 SoC (see picture) offering optimized system cost, thanks to high level of integration. If companies like Bosch supporting industrial automation segment for years (if not centuries) start to be seriously involved into smart connected IoT systems, no doubt that ATBTLC1000 and ATWILC1000 devices have a bright future…

This post has been republished with permission from, where Eric Esteve is a principle blogger and one of the four founding members of the site. This blog first appeared on SemiWiki on January 10, 2016.

SensorTape is a sensor network in the form factor of masking tape

Sensor deployment made as simple as cutting and attaching strips of tape.

Developed by students from MIT Media Lab’s Responsive Environments group, SensorTape is a sensor network in the form factor of masking tape. Inspired by the emergence of modular platforms throughout the Maker community, it consists of interconnected and programmable sensor nodes on a flexible electronics substrate. In other words, it’s pretty much a roll of circuits that can be cut, rejoined and affixed to various surfaces.


And what’s even cooler is that it’s a completely self-aware network, capable of feeling itself bend and twist. It can automatically determine the location of each of its nodes and the length of the tape, as it is cut and reattached.

As the neighboring nodes talk to one another, they can use their information to assemble an accurate, real-time 3D model of their assumed shape. Tapes with different sensors can also be connected for mixed functionality.

SensorTape’s architecture is made up of daisy-chained slave nodes and a master. The master is concerned with coordinating the communication and shuttling data to a computer, while each slave node features an ATmega328P, three on-board sensors (an ambient light sensor, an accelerometer, and a time-of-flight distance sensor), two voltage regulators and LEDs. The master contains the same AVR MCU, as well as serial-to-USB converter and a Bluetooth transceiver. The tape can be clipped to the master without soldering using a flexible circuit connector.


In terms of communication protocol, the team chose a combination of I²C and peer-to-peer serial. Whereas I²C supports most of the data transmissions from the master to slave, addresses are ‘assigned dynamically’ over peer-to-peer serial. This enables a fast transfer rate of 100 KHz via I²C with a protocol initialization sequence that accommodates chains of various lengths, up to 128 units long. (For testing, the MIT Media Lab crew developed a 2.3-meter prototype with 66 sensor nodes.)

Aside from its hardware, SensorTape has black lines that instruct where it’s okay to cut and break the circuits using a pair of scissors. As you can see in the image above, this can be either in a straight line or on a diagonal, which allows you to piece together the tape into 2D shapes just as you would when forming a picture frame.

Although still in its infancy, sample use cases of SensorTape include everything from posture-monitoring wearables to inventory tracking to home activity sensing. What’s more, the team has created an intuitive graphical interface for programming the futuristic tape, and it’s all Arduino-friendly so Makers will surely love getting their hands on it and letting their imaginations run wild. You read all about the project in the MIT group’s paper, as well as on Fast Company.

Using everyday household items to make artificial skin sensors

Researchers have developed a paper-based sensor that mimics the sensory functions of human skin using items found throughout your house. 

Aluminum foil, Post-It notes, sponges and tape are usually not what would come to mind when thinking about embedded technology. However, a team of electrical engineers from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) has successfully used these everyday materials to create a low-cost sensor capable of mimicking the human skin’s natural ability to feel sensations such as touch, pressure, temperature, acidity and humidity.


The aptly named Paper Skin performs as well as other artificial skin applications currently being developed while integrating multiple functions using cost-effective materials. Because of its unique features, Paper Skin could one day transform the field of medicine and robotics by laying the foundations for flexible and wearable multi-purpose sensors, including wireless monitoring of patient health and touch-free computer interfaces.

The engineers developed the artificial skin through a process called “a garage fabrication approach,” combining a bunch of things typically found in any kitchen drawer: tape, aluminum foil, sticky notes and sponges. These household items were then integrated into a paper-based platform connected to a device to perceive changes on electrical conductivity. The team tapped into specific properties of the objects, such as adsorption, elasticity, porosity and dimensions. Even more impressively, the total cost of goods to produce a a skin patch 6.5 centimeters on each side came to just $1.67.

Coloring a piece of the Post-It with an HB pencil allowed it to detect acidity levels, while sponges and wipes were used for pressure and aluminum foil for motion. Increasing levels of humidity, for instance, increased the platform’s ability to store an electrical charge, or its capacitance. What’s more, exposing the sensor to an acidic solution raised its resistance, while exposing it to an alkaline solution decreased it. Fluctuations in voltage were sensed with temperature changes. Bringing a finger closer to the platform disturbed its electromagnetic field, decreasing its capacitance.


While this innovation clearly has the potential to be revolutionarily, it still has to overcome a few challenges before a flexible, multi-functional sensory platform can become a commercial product. For this to happen, wireless interaction for the Paper Skin must be developed. Reliability tests also need to be conducted to assess how long the sensor can last and how good its performance is under severe bending conditions. From there, researchers hope to first employ the Paper Skin in the medical setting by monitoring real-time vital signs like heart rate, blood pressure, breathing patterns and movement.

Intrigued? You can read all about the Paper Skin project here.

[Images: KAUST]

tinyAVR in 8- and 14-pin SOIC now self-programming

The ATtiny102/104 retain the AVR performance advantage — still a 12 MIPS core with 1KB Flash and 32B SRAM — and upgrade many of the features around it.

At this week’s Embedded World 2016, Atmel is heading back to 8-bit old school with their news, straight to the low pin count end of their MCU portfolio with a significant upgrade to the tinyAVR family.

According to Atmel’s briefing package, development of the ATtiny102 and ATtiny104 has been in progress for some time. We got a peek at the company’s roadmap for AVR where these are labeled “next generation tinyAVRs,” and all we can say is this is the beginning of a significant refresh — alas, we can’t share those details, but we can now look at these two new parts.

What jumps out immediately is how the AVR refresh fills a significant gap in Atmel’s capability. The existing tinyAVR family is anchored by the ATtiny10, a capable 8-bit AVR core running at up to 12 MIPS with 0.5 or 1KB Flash and 32B of SRAM. The pluses of extended availability are obvious at the beginning of the lifecycle, but by the midpoint of a long run, the technology can start to seem dated.

 ATtiny102/ ATtiny104

ATtiny102/ ATtiny104

That is certainly the case for the ATtiny10 introduced in April 2009. At that time, the ATtiny10 was a shot straight at the Microchip PIC10F, with much higher CPU performance and a competitive 6-pin SOT and 8-pin DFN package offering. Outside of the CPU itself, the ATtiny10 and PIC10F line up pretty closely except for two areas: self-programming, and the accuracy of on-chip oscillators and voltage references. ATtiny10 parts require pre-programming from Atmel or a distributor, and its rather wide accuracy specs need help from product calibration and external componentry – however, cost and code compatibility still have a lot of sway, and the popularity of the ATtiny10 was unshaken.

The ATtiny102/104 retain the AVR performance advantage — still a 12 MIPS core with 1KB Flash and 32B SRAM — and upgrade many of the features around it. First and most noticeable is a packaging improvement. The ATtiny102 comes in an 8-pin SOIC (with the 8-pin DFN option still available). For a generation of applications needing more I/O in a low-cost part, the ATtiny104 comes in a pin-compatible 14-pin SOIC with 6 extra I/O pins.

Features for ATtiny102/ ATtiny104

Self-programming of Flash has been added to both versions, and with the same core footprint a single production image for both parts is achievable. Fast start-up time is available as an option as well. The internal voltage references are now highly accurate, with calibrated 1.1V, 2.2V, and 4.3V taps at +/- 3%. Internal oscillator accuracy is now +/- 2% over a 0 to 50 degrees C temperature range at fixed voltage. Those changes prompted expanding successive approximation ADC resolution to 10-bit, and channels are doubled to eight. Two of the I/O pins can now be configured for a USART, adding serial communications capability. A new 10-byte Unique ID provides a serial number.

Those features translate to customer satisfaction with intelligent devices using the ATtiny102 and ATtiny104. The more accurate internal oscillator improves the precision of motor control in personal care devices such as toothbrushes and electric shavers. The calibrated voltage references enable applications where rechargeable battery management is a primary function, for example in the d.light family of portable solar-powered lighting.

For more information on the ATtiny102 and ATtiny104 MCUs, you can check out Atmel’s recent post here.

This announcement, and what I think will follow from Atmel later this year, reaffirms just how important 8-bit is for the future at Atmel. The AVR architecture is beloved because of its simplicity and ubiquity with over 7B cores now shipped. The advances in the ATtiny102 and ATtiny104 are aimed at reducing BOM and manufacturing costs and enabling further innovation in intelligent consumer devices.