Category Archives: Boards & Platforms

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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]

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ATtiny102/104 are self-programmable, 8- and 14-pin tinyAVR MCUs


New tinyAVRs deliver industry’s smallest and lowest power 8-bit MCU on the market today with 1KB Flash.


Making its debut at Embedded World 2016, Atmel has returned to its old-school ways with the world’s highest-performance, low-power, 8-bit microcontrollers boasting 1KB Flash memory. The all-new ATtiny102/104 run up to 12MIPS and integrate features previously only available in larger more expensive MCUs, making them ideal for smaller applications including logic replacement and the latest cost-optimized applications in the consumer, industrial and home automation markets.

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The majority of today’s 8-bit market growth is coming from applications that previously only required discrete components. With many of these requiring simple intelligent functions such as timing, motor control or on/off functionality, 8-bit MCUs are becoming an essential feature for the personal healthcare, small kitchen appliance and consumer markets.

The ATtiny102/104 provide all the necessary features to help spur the growth in these applications with its small, cost-optimized low-pincount package with just 1KB of Flash memory. These features include self-programming for firmware upgrades, non-volatile data storage, accurate internal oscillator to provide more reliable motor control, high-speed serial communication with USART, operating voltages ranging from 1.8V to 5.5V 10-bit ADC with internal voltage references, and sleep currents at less than 100nA in power down mode with SRAM retention.

“Atmel has already sold more units of its 8-bit AVR core-based MCUs than the 7.4 billion people on Earth,” says Oyvind Strom, Atmel’s Senior Director of MCUs. “We continue to expand our AVR portfolio with the new ATtiny102/104 8-bit MCUs. These are the first two devices in our new tinyAVR portfolio that are packed with features optimized for tiny, compact MCU systems such as LED lighting, fan control and other small applications.”

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Key specs of these tinyAVRs include:

• 1KB Flash / 32bytes SRAM
• 8- and 14-pin packages down to 2mm x 3mm in size
• Up to 12 MIPS at 12MHz
• Self-programmable Flash
• Accurate (±3%) Internal oscillator
• Multiple calibrated internal voltage references (1.1V, 2.2V, 4.3V)
• 10-bytes Unique ID (serial number)
• USART
• 10 bit ADC and analog comparator
• 1.8V to 5.5V voltage range
• -40°C to +105°C and -40°C to +125°C temperature ranges

The ATtiny102/104 engineering samples are now available with mass production samples slated for May 2016. The latest tinyAVRs are fully supported by Atmel Studio 7. Additionally, designers have access to the company’s embedded software, including the Atmel Software Framework and application notes, as well as the Atmel Gallery ‘app’ store.

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KeKePad is an ATmega32U4-powered wearables platform


KeKePad is a plug-and-play platform that replaces conductive thread with tiny connectors and thin cables.


Like most Makers, Michael Yang enjoyed using the Arduino Lilypad for his wearable and e-textile projects. However, he discovered that conductive thread has a few drawbacks: it is expensive, it has no insulation and its resistance is quite high. Plus, in order to achieve a tight connection, the wires need to be soldered (which means that it becomes rather difficult to remove if there are any mistakes).

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So, as any DIY spirited individual would do, he set out to solve this problem. The result? KeKePad, a new modular platform that’s 100% compatible with the Arduino LilyPad USB and can be programmed using the Arduino IDE. The board is based on the ATmega32U4 — the same chip that can be found at the heart of the wildly popular Adafruit FLORA — and features built-in USB support, so it can be easily connected to a PC. Like other wearable MCUs, the controller boasts a familiar round shape (which measures 50mm in diameter) along with 12 tiny three-pin Ke Connectors and 11 sew tab pins.

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What really sets the platform apart, though, is its unique wiring and connection method. The KeKePad entails a series of small sewable modules that link together via the Ke Connectors and special cables, or Ke Cables, with crimp terminals. This eliminates the frustration often associated with using conductive thread. With a diameter of only 0.32mm, the wire is extremely flexible, super thin and coated in Teflon.

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At the moment, there are approximately 20 different modules to choose from, including sensors for detecting light, UV, sound, barometric pressure, temperature, humidity, and acceleration, as well as actuator modules for things such as LEDs, MP3s, OLED displays and vibrating buzzers.

Intrigued? Head over to KeKePad’s Indiegogo campaign, where Yang and his team are currently seeking $2,000. Delivery is slated for April 2016.

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The Feather 32U4 FONA combines an ATmega32U4 and a GSM module


Let your ideas fly anywhere in the world with this all-new Adafruit board.


Another week, another Feather! Adafruit continues to expand its newest ‘all-in-one’ microcontroller family with the Feather 32U4 FONA. The latest in their constantly-growing lineup boasts the same form factor as its siblings along with a LiPo battery charger and microUSB. Unlike the others, however, this bad boy is equipped with a FONA 800 cellular module.

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As you can see in the Lady Ada’s demonstration video below, the Feather 32U4 FONA can do quite a bit: make and answer calls (connect a microphone and an external speaker to make your own phone), transmit and receive GPRS data, send and get SMS messages, as well as scan and receive FM radio broadcasts. What’s more, it’s even pairable with Bluetooth, so you can connect from your computer and control data and/or have an audio link for your hands-free headset. Don’t forget, like the rest of the Feathers, you can add any of the wide range of FeatherWings to create your own unique device.

“Connect your Feather to the Internet or make phone calls with our trusted-and-tested FONA module. At the heart is a GSM cellular module (we use the latest SIM800) the size of a postage stamp. This module can do just about everything,” the crew writes.

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Beyond that, the Feather 32U4 is built around an ATmega32U4 clocked at 8 MHz and at 3.3V logic. This chip packs 32K of Flash and 2K of RAM, and built-in USB.

Since you’ll be taking this on the road, Adafruit has added a connector for any 3.7V LiPo batteries and an integrated charger. It should be noted, though, that a 500mAh+ LiPo battery is required for use, as it “keeps the cellular module happy during the high current spikes.”

The board itself measures 2.4″ x 0.9” x 0.28”in size and weighs just over eight grams. It has plenty of GPIO, eight PWM pins, 10 analog inputs, a single analog output, a power/enable pin, four mounting holes and a reset button.

Intrigued? Head over to Adafruit to get your hands on this sweet $45 board!