Tag Archives: 32-bit ARM Cortex M0+ core

Why connect to the cloud with the Atmel | SMART SAM W25?


The “thing” of IoT does not have to necessarily be tiny. 


The Atmel | SMART SAM W25 is, in fact, a module — a “SmartConnect Module.” As far as I am concerned, I like SmartConnect designation and I think it could be used to describe any IoT edge device. The device is “smart” as it includes a processing unit, which in this case is an ARM Cortex-M0-based SAMD21G, and “connect” reminds the Internet part of the IoT definition. Meanwhile, the ATWINC1500 SoC supports Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n allowing seamless connection to the cloud.

What should we expect from an IoT edge device? It should be characterized by both low cost and power! This IoT system is probably implemented multiple times, either in a factory (industrial) or in a house (home automation), and the cost should be as low as possible to enable large dissemination. I don’t know the SAMD21G ASP, but I notice that it’s based on the smallest MCU core of the ARM Cortex-M family, so the cost should be minimal (my guess). Atmel claims the W25 module to be “fully-integrated single-source MCU + IEEE 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi solution providing battery powered endpoints lasting years”… sounds like ultra low-power, doesn’t it?

Atmel claims the W25 module to be “Fully-integrated single-source MCU + IEEE 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi solution providing battery powered endpoints lasting years”…sounds like being ultra low-power, isn’t it

The “thing” of IoT does not necessarily have to be tiny. We can see in the above example that interconnected things within the industrial world can be as large as these wind turbines (courtesy of GE). To maximize efficiency in power generation and distribution, the company has connected these edge devices to the cloud where the software analytics allow wind farm operators to optimize the performance of the turbines, based on environmental conditions. According with GE, “Raising the turbines’ efficiency can increase the wind farm’s annual energy output by up to 5%, which translates in a 20% increase in profitability.” Wind turbines are good for the planet as they allow avoiding burning fossil energy. IoT devices implementation allows wind farm operators to increase their profitability and to build sustainable business. In the end, thanks to Industrial Internet of Thing (IIoT), we all benefit from less air pollution and more affordable power!

ATSAMW25 Block-DiagramThe ATWINC1500 is a low-power Systems-on-Chip (SoC) that brings Wi-Fi connectivity to any embedded design. In the example above, this SoC is part of a certified module, the ATSAMW25, for embedded designers seeking to integrate Wi-Fi into their system. If we look at the key features list:

  • IEEE 802.11 b/g/n (1×1) for up to 72 Mbps
  • Integrated PA and T/R switch
  • Superior sensitivity and range via advanced PHY signal processing
  • Wi-Fi Direct, station mode and Soft-AP support
  • Supports IEEE 802.11 WEP, WPA
  • On-chip memory management engine to reduce host load
  • 4MB internal Flash memory with OTA firmware upgrade
  • SPI, UART and I2C as host interfaces
  • TCP/IP protocol stack (client/server) sockets applications
  • Network protocols (DHCP/DNS), including secure TLS stack
  • WSC (wireless simple configuration WPS)
  • Can operate completely host-less in most applications

We can notice that host interfaces allow direct connection to device I/Os and sensors through SPI, UART, I2C and ADC interfaces and can also operate completely host-less. A costly device is then removed from the BOM which can enable economic feasibility for an IoT, or IIoT edge device.

The low-power Wi-Fi certified module is currently employed in industrial systems supporting applications, such as transportation, aviation, healthcare, energy or lighting, as well as in IoT areas like home appliances and consumer electronics. For all these use cases, certification is a must-have feature, but low-cost and ultra-low power are the economic and technical enablers.


This post has been republished with permission from SemiWiki.com, where Eric Esteve is a principle blogger and one of the four founding members of the site. This blog first appeared on SemiWiki on November 15, 2015.

mbed eval boards showcase focus on IoT software and connectivity


Chipmakers like Atmel are joining hands with ARM to bring the entire ecosystem under one roof and thus facilitate the creation of standards-based IoT products.


ARM’s mbed operating system is winning attention in the highly fragmented embedded software space by promising a solid software foundation for interoperable hardware and thus scale the Internet of Things designs by narrowing the development time.

Atmel has put its weight behind ARM’s mbed OS by launching the single-chip evaluation board for the IoT ecosystem in a bid to ensure low software dependence for the embedded developers. The leading microcontroller supplier unveiled the mbed evaluation platform at the recent ARM TechCon held in Santa Clara, California.

The mbed OS platform is focused on rapid development of connected devices with an aim to create a serious professional platform to prototype IoT applications. So IoT developers don’t have to look to software guys for help. The mbed stack features a strong focus on enhancing the IoT’s connectivity and software components.

Atmel mbed Xpro board

ARM is the lead maintainer for the mbed OS modules while it adds silicon partners, like Atmel, as platform-specific dependencies for the relevant mbed OS modules. Silicon partners are responsible for their platform-specific drivers.

Atmel’s mbed-enabled evaluation board is based on the low-power 2.4GHz wireless Cortex-M0+ SAM R21 MCU. Moreover, Atmel is expanding mbed OS support for its Wi-Fi modules and Bluetooth Low Energy products.

The fact that Atmel is adding mbed OS to its IoT ecosystem is an important nod for ARM’s mbed technology in its journey from merely a hardware abstraction layer to a full-fledged IoT platform. Atmel managers acknowledge that mbed technology adds diversity to embedded hardware devices and makes MCUs more capable.

Solid Software Foundation

There is a lot of code involved in the IoT applications and software is getting more complex. It encompasses, for instance, sensor library to acquire data, authentication at IoT gateways and SSL security. Here, the automatic software integration engine like mbed lets developers focus on their applications instead of worrying about integrating off-the-shelf software.

The mbed reference designs like the one showcased by Atmel during ARM TechCon are aimed at narrowing the development time with the availability of building blocks and design resources—components, code and infrastructure—needed to bootstrap a working IoT system. Atmel managers are confident that a quality software foundation like mbed could help bring IoT products to market faster.

thingsquare2

Atmel’s mbed-enabled IoT evaluation board promises harmony between hardware and software. Apparently, chipmakers like Atmel are joining hands with ARM to bring the entire ecosystem — OS software, cloud services and developer tools — under one roof, and thus facilitate the creation of standards-based IoT products. Atmel’s mbed evaluation board clearly mirrors that effort to deliver a complete hardware, software and developer tools ecosystem in order to bring IoT designs quicker to market.

The platform comprises of mbed OS software for IoT client devices like gateways and mbed Device Server for the cloud services. ARM launched the mbed software platform in 2014 and Atmel has been part of this initiative since then.

mbed in Communications Stack

Additionally, Atmel has tied the mbed association to its SmartConnect wireless solutions to make the best of mbed’s networking stack in the Internet of connected things. The IoT technology is built on layers, and here, interoperability of communications protocols is a key challenge.

For a start, Atmel’s SAM R21-Xpro evaluation board is embed-enabled and is built around the R21 microcontroller, which has been designed for industrial and consumer wireless applications running proprietary communication stacks or IEEE 802.15.4-compliant solutions.

Next up, the evaluation board includes SAM W25 Wi-Fi module that integrates IEEE 802.11 b/g/n IoT network controller with the existing MCU solution, SAM D21, which is also based on the Cortex-M0+ processor core.

XPLAIN
Furthermore, Atmel is offering an mbed-enabled Bluetooth starter kit that includes SAM L21 microcontroller-based evaluation board and ultra-low-power Bluetooth chip BTLC1000, which is compliant with Bluetooth Low Energy 4.1. Atmel demonstrated a home lighting system at the ARM TechCon show floor, which employed SAM R21-based Thread routers that passed light sensor information to an mbed-enabled home gateway. Subsequently, this information was processed and sent to the mbed Device Server using a web interface.


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’s new car MCU tips imminent SoC journey


The fact that these MCUs are targeting highly-sophisticated connected car applications like infotainment and ADAS means that the journey toward bigger and more powerful chips is now inevitable.


The automotive industry has reached a new era marked by giant initiatives like infotainment, connected car and semi-autonomous vehicles. And, no one seems more excited than the MCU guys who have been a part and parcel of in-car electronics for the past two decades. However, the humble microcontroller is going through a profound makeover in itself in order to come to terms with the demands of the connected car environment.

Take Atmel Corporation, one of the top MCU suppliers, who has launched its SAM DA1 family of microcontrollers at Embedded World 2015 in Nuremberg, Germany. The automotive-grade ARM Cortex-M0+-based MCUs come with capacitive touch hardware support for human-machine interface (HMI) and local interconnect network (LIN) applications. The SAM DA1 series integrates peripheral touch controller (PTC) for capacitive touch and eliminates the need for external components while minimizing CPU overhead. The feature is aimed at capacitive touch button, slider, wheel and proximity sensing applications.

Moreover, SAM DA1 microcontrollers offer up to 64KB of Flash, 8KB of SRAM and 2KB read-while-write Flash. The other key features of SAM DA1 series include 45 DMIPS and up to six serial communication interface (SERCOM), USB and I2S ports. SERCOM is configurable to operate as I2C, SPI or USART, which gives developers flexibility to mix serial interfaces and have greater freedom in PCB layout.

Atmel | SMART SAM DA1 ARM based Cortex-M0+  microcontrollers

Atmel | SMART SAM DA1 ARM based Cortex-M0+ microcontrollers

The automotive-grade MCUs — operating at a maximum frequency of 48MHz and reaching a 2.14 Coremark/MHz — are qualified to the AEC Q-100 Grade 2 (-40 to +105degreeC). According to Matthias Kaestner, VP of Automotive at Atmel, the company is targeting the SAM DA1 chips for in-vehicle networking, infotainment connectivity and body electronics.

Atmel-Automotive-Touc-Surface-Demo-PTC demo board

Automotive touch surface demo at Embedded World 2015

The fact that the SAM DA1 devices are based on powerful ARM cores clearly shows a trend toward more performance and the ability to run more tasks on the same MCU. The Cortex-M0+ processor design comes with a two-stage pipeline that improves the performance while maintaining maximum frequency. Moreover, it supports a new I/O interface that allows single cycle accesses and enables faster I/O port operations.

That’s no surprise because the number of electronic control units (ECUs) is on the rise amid growing momentum for connected car features like advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). However, a higher number of ECUs will make the communication among them more intense; so automotive OEMs want to reduce the number of ECUs while they want more value from the MCU.

Moreover, car vendors want to bring down the number of ECUs to avoid complexity within the larger car network. The outcome of this urge is the integration of more performance and functionality onto the MCU. Each ECU has at least one microcontroller.

Atmel and the Evolution of MCU

Atmel’s SAM DA1 device is another testament that the boundaries between MCU and SoC platforms are blurring. The fact that these MCUs are targeting highly sophisticated connected car applications like infotainment and ADAS means that the journey toward bigger and more powerful chips is now inevitable.

Atmel is an MCU company, and this product line has played a crucial role in its transformation that started in the late 2000s. At the same time, however, the San Jose, California–based chipmaker seems fully aware of the critical importance of the system-level solutions. Atmel calls the SAM DA1 family of chips MCUs; however, its support for more peripherals, larger memories and intelligent CPU features show just how much the MCU has changed over the course of a decade.

 Memory Protection Unit in Cortex-M0+

Memory Protection Unit in Cortex-M0+

Atmel has a major presence in the automotive market with its MCUs and touch controllers being part of the top-ten car vendors. It’s interesting to note that, beyond its MCU roots, Atmel has a lot of history in automotive electronics as well. Atmel was one of the first chipmakers to enter the automotive market.

Moreover, Atmel bought the IC division of Temic Telefunken Microelectronic GmbH for approximately $110 million back in 1998. Telefunken was an automotive electronics pioneer with an early success in electronic ignition chips that made way into Volkswagen cars back in 1980.

The release of SAM DA1 series marks a remarkable opportunity as well as a crafty challenge for Atmel in the twilight worlds of MCU and automotive electronics. Tom Hackenberg, a senior analyst at IHS, calls the phenomenon ‘SoC on wheels.’

Hackenberg says that the automotive industry consumed approximately a third of all MCUs shipped in 2013. However, now there is an SoC on the road, the brain behind the connected car, and it commands a deeper understanding of the AEC-Q100 standard for automotive quality and ISO 26262 certification for car’s functional safety.

Atmel’s AvantCar touchscreen demo at the CES 2015

Atmel’s AvantCar touchscreen demo at the CES 2015

The integration of touch controller into SAM DA1 chips can be an important value proposition for the car OEMs who are burning midnight oil to develop cool infotainment platforms for their newer models. Next, while AEC Q100 Grade 2 qualification is a prominent part of the SAM DA1, Atmel might have to consider augmenting the ISO 26262 certification for functional safety, a vital requirement in ADAS and other connected car features.


Majeed Ahmad is 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.

 

Ready to wear sensor hubs


Majeed Ahmad explores the latest sensor hub offerings for wearable devices.  


By Majeed Ahmad

Atmel has beefed up its sensor hub offerings for wearable devices with SAM D20 Cortex M0+ microcontroller core to add more functionality and further lower the power bar for battery-operated devices. The SAM D20 MCUs offer ultra-low power through a patented power-saving technique called “Event System” that allows peripherals to communicate directly with each other without involving the CPU.

Atmel is part of the group of chipmakers that use low-power MCUs for sensor management as opposed to incorporating low-power core within the application processor. According to market research firm IHS Technology, Atmel is the leading sensor hub device supplier with 32 percent market share.

Sensor hubs are semiconductor devices that carry out sensor processing tasks — like sensor fusion and sensor calibration — through an array of software algorithms and subsequently transform sensor data into app-ready information for smartphones, tablets and wearable devices. Sensor hubs combine inputs from multiple sensors and sensor types including motion sensors — such as accelerometers, magnetometers and gyroscopes — and environmental sensors that provide light level, color, temperature, pressure, humidity, and many other inputs.

Atmel has supplied MCU-centric sensor hub solutions for a number of smartphones. Take China’s fourth largest smartphone maker, Coolpad, which has been using Atmel’s low-power MCU to offload sensor management tasks from handset’s main processor. However, while still busy in supplying sensor hub chips for smartphones and tablets, Atmel is looking at the next sensor-laden frontier: wearable devices.

SAM D20 Evaluation Kit

SAM D20 Evaluation Kit

Wearable devices are becoming the epitome of always-on sensor systems as they mirror and enhance cool smartphone apps like location and transport, activity and gesture monitoring, and voice command operation in far more portable manner. At the same time, however, always-on sensor ecosystem within connected wearables requires sensor hubs to interpret and combine multiple types of sensing—motion, sound and face—to enable context, motion and gesture solutions for devices like smartwatch.

Sensor hubs within wearable environment should be able to manage robust context awareness, motion detection, and gesture recognition demands. Wearable application developers are going to write all kinds of apps such as tap-to-walk and optical gesture. And, for sensor hubs, that means a lot more processing work and a requirement for greater accuracy.

So, the low-power demand is crucial in wearable devices given that sensor hubs would have to process a lot more sensor data at a lot lower power budget compared to smartphones and tablets. That’s why Atmel is pushing the power envelope for connected wearables through SAM D20 Cortex M0+ cores that offload the application processor from sensor-related tasks.

LifeQ’s sensor module for connected wearables.

LifeQ’s sensor module for connected wearables

The SAM D20 devices have two software-selectable sleep modes: idle and standby. In idle mode, the CPU is stopped while all other functions can be kept running. In standby mode, all clocks and functions are stopped except those selected to continue running.

Moreover, SAM D20 microcontroller supports SleepWalking, a feature that allows the peripheral to wake up from sleep based on predefined conditions. It allows the CPU to wake up only when needed — for instance, when a threshold is crossed or a result is ready.

The SAM D20 Cortex M0+ core offers the peripheral flexibility through a serial communication module (SERCOM) that is fully software-configurable to handle I2C, USART/UART and SPI communications. Furthermore, it offers memory densities ranging from 16KB to 256KB to give designers the option to determine how much memory they will require in sleep mode to achieve better power efficiency.

Atmel’s sensor hub solutions support Android and Windows operating systems as well as real-time operating system (RTOS) software. The San Jose–based chipmaker has also partnered with sensor fusion software and application providers including Hillcrest Labs and Sensor Platforms. In fact, Hillcrest is providing sensor hub software for China’s Coolpad, which is using Atmel’s low-power MCU for sensor data management.

The company has also signed partnership deals with major sensor manufacturers — including Bosch, Intersil, Kionix, Memsic and Sensirion — to streamline and accelerate design process for OEMs and ensure quick and seamless product integration.

Atmel-Sensor-Hub-Software-from-Hillcrest-Labs-Block-Diagram

Atmel Sensor Hub Software from Hillcrest Labs


 

This post has been republished with permission from SemiWiki.com, where Majeed Ahmad is a featured blogger. It first appeared there on February 4, 2015.  Majeed Ahmad is 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. Majeed has a background in Engineering MS, former EE Times Editor in Chief (Asia), Writer for EC Magazine, Author of SmartPhone, Nokia’s SMART Phone.

 

Tektyte launches real-time circuit testers for USB and PoE-powered devices


Have you always wanted to diagnose your device while it was connected to a PC and transferring data? 


Thanks to the Melbourne-based team of Tektyte, you can. Their LogIT specialized circuit testers — which recently made their Kickstarter debut — provide a simple connection to the device being tested, while enabling data to pass through without interruption.

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The idea for the LogIT came about after observing that in many cases a modern MCU-based system, like a phone or an Arduino, are powered by USB while connected to a PC that is also relaying information. To rectify that issue, the LogIT devices are specifically designed to measure the low positive voltages of USB and Power over Ethernet (PoE) connected equipment with high accuracy. The time between individual measurement data samples, obtained inside the LogIT, can be measured at either standard or custom intervals ranging from a millisecond to hours.

The series of devices is comprised of two unique circuit measurement tools, both displaying accurate readings of voltage, current, and power while also simultaneously logging all measurement data to a MicroSD card and/or PC. At the heart of the LogIT is a 32-bit Atmel | SMART ARM Cortex M0+ microcontroller, which consumes tiny amounts of power while still managing to synchronize numerous simultaneous interactions between peripherals such as the SD card, display, serial data port, and sensing system. At the moment, the team has embedded a SAM D20 in the USB version, with plans of implementing the SAM D21 for DMA firmware features.

“Using a gutsy little processor has enabled the LogIT to support the writing of standard CSV formatted data to SD card with files sizes only limited by the SD card capacity. If you wish to log over 2GB of power, voltage, and current data in a single recording, potentially stretching for weeks, then a LogIT will help you achieve this.”

5yYoClSa

“We have worked diligently to create a device which not only connects to a PC, but can also be operated as a standalone logger with a battery life of up to a week for fast recording rates and continuous measurement display. This is achieved by incorporating a large lithium polymer battery and one of the latest high speed/low power display technologies called Memory LCD,” a company rep explains.

Equipped with a 96 x 96 pixel dot-matrix display, the LogIT allows for the measurements to be represented in both numerical and graphical format simultaneously. Meanwhile, each device is packed with a real-time clock, ensuring that all the collected data is accurately time stamped. The time can be synchronized to the connected PC, or manually set. According to the team, both devices sport a number of additional features including:

  • Full isolation between the measurement ports and the test data USB/Serial ports
  • An open protocol for serial data streaming in both event and continuous modes
  • Screw terminals so that you can wire the LogIT directly into a circuit and test a wider range of voltages
  • Visual and audible buzzer alarm capabilities for indication of events set as thresholds by the user for current, voltage, or power
  • A low voltage serial port connector for direct connection to a DIY embedded devices such as an Arduino or Raspberry Pi

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Additionally, users can download its free desktop application, which is coded in Java so that both Mac and PC users can connect, graph, and download data from the LogIT devices. Interested in learning more? Head on over to the project’s official Kickstarter page here, where the team has already exceeded its initial $7,500 pledge goal.

MQTT not IoT “god protocol,” but getting closer

One protocol, and its descendants, drove the success of the World Wide Web. IP, or Internet Protocol, is the basis of every browser connection and the backbone of IT data centers. Some assumed that the Internet of Things would follow suit, with the thought that having an IP address would be a sufficient condition to connect.

The problem on the IoT isn’t IP – the problem is all the stuff layered on top of it. Running protocols such as HTTP, SSL, and XML requires significant compute power and memory space. The average PC, smartphone, or tablet has enough horsepower today to do that, but the average sensor running on a smaller microcontroller does not. (ARM Cortex-M7 notwithstanding.)

To combat that, the industry has spawned a huge list of alternative, mostly non-interoperable IoT protocols. A partial list: 6LoWPAN, AllJoyn, AMQP, ANT+, Bluetooth, CoAP, DASH7, DDS, INSTEON, KNX, MQTT, NFC, RFID, STOMP, Thread, Weightless, XMPP, ZigBee, and Z-Wave. New consortia are popping up weekly with more ideas.

Searching for an IoT “god protocol”, one unifying end-to-end protocol serving all things, is silly. At one end, sensors have different requirements such as range, RF spectrum, security, topology, and power consumption. At the other, any successful IoT strategy will ultimately need to integrate with an IP-based cloud in some form. Greenfields of any scale rarely exist. IoT applications need to connect and exchange data.

The answer is building a multi-protocol bridge between sensors and actuators, mobile devices, and the cloud. Ideally, code would be open source, and would provide scalability to span a wide range of devices in large numbers. Additionally, transport would be reliable, surviving brief intermittency in wireless connections.

IBM Internet of Things Foundation

More and more organizations are embracing MQTT as part of the bridge. MQTT offers a full-up version running over TCP/IP, and a slimmed down version MQTT-SN for non-IP devices. Its publish/subscribe model allows topologies to scale while retaining real-time characteristics and configurable quality of service.

IBM started the whole MQTT movement as a message broker for mainframes and servers, with integration into WebSphere for web services. They then opened it up for embedded use in a release to OASIS and the Eclipse Foundation.

A big piece of IBM Bluemix is the IoT Foundation, a cloud-based instance of MQTT with predefined topic structures and message formats. Mobile apps are already using MQTT, with applications such as Facebook Messenger and Salesforce.com. IBM also has an e-book on MQTT in mobile.

Other recent developments to consider:

  • ARM’s mbed device server seeks to replace a generic web server with one tailored for the IoT. Built from technology in the Sensinode acquisition, ARM has brought HTTP, CoAP, and MQTT together in one platform.
  • 2lemetry has taken that a step further with ThingFabric, integrating protocol actors including MQTT, CoAP, and STOMP, along with extensibility.
  • PubNub has taken a websocket connections approach running over MQTT, focusing on low latency, reliable delivery from a cloud implementation. There is a good PubNub guest post on Atmel Bits & Pieces describing the approach.
  • Speaking of Atmel and Arduino, IBM has several recipes for leveraging Arduino with the IoT Foundation, such as an Arduino Uno connection example, and a series on implementing a cloud-ready temperature sensor.
  • Open source motivates many folks, and one of the more interesting individual projects out there is a bridge for AllJoyn to MQTT. If successful, the implications could be significant, such as controlling home entertainment devices directly from Facebook on a mobile device.

Again, I don’t think there is a “god protocol” that will take over the IoT once and for all, satisfying each and every use case. The winners are going to integrate multi-protocol bridges to serve as wide a range of use cases as possible. The ability of MQTT to connect sensors and mobile devices to big data systems in real time is drawing more participants in.

This post has been republished with permission from SemiWiki.com, where Don Dingee is a featured blogger. It first appeared there on November 5, 2014.

Exploring Atmel’s new microcontrollers, IoT and wearables

More and more companies, regardless of their vertical, are trying to get closer to their customers and see various aspects of the internet of things (IoT) as the way to do so. For a good example, here is Salesforce Wear Developer Pack which, as they say:

..is a collection of open-source starter apps that let you quickly design and build wearable apps that connect to the Salesforce1 Platform. Millions of wearable devices connected to the cloud will create amazing new application opportunities.

Since Salesforce.com cuts across all industries this has potential impact in many different market segments.

And, the wearable devices that they list are Google Glass, Android Wear, Samsung Gear Watch, Myo Armband, Nymi Bionym, Pebble Watch, Jawbone UP, Epson Moverio, Vuzix Smart Glasses, Oculus Rift, Meta Glasses.

This combination brings home that the internet of things isn’t just about the things, it is about connecting the things back to the cloud so that the data generated can be aggregated where it has much greater value.

I am sure that people will design SoCs for various aspects of IoT, but even if they do I think it will be in old processes, not even 28nm, so they can integrate sensors and analog and wireless on the same chip. But more likely a lot of these will be small boards with microcontrollers, wireless and sensors on different chips. For example, take a look at the iFixit teardown of the Fitbit, which in its current incarnation is about one inch by quarter of an inch.

atm1

An important aspect of doing this sort of design is having enough microcontrollers with the right combination of features. You can’t afford to have twice as much flash as you need or too many unused functions. The Atmel microcontroller product finder shows that at present they have 506 different ones to choose from.

The most recent two are SAMA5D4, and SAMD21 which are specifically targeted towards wearables and IoT projects. These are the latest two products in the Atmel SAM D family.

One area of especial concern in this market is security since it is too dangerous to simply try and do everything in software on the microcontroller. Keys can be stolen. Software can be compromised if it is in external RAM. An area of particular security concern is to make sure that any JTAG debug port is secure or it can be used to compromise almost anything on the chip.

So what are these chips?

The SAMA5D4 is an ARM Cortex-A5 device with a 720p hardware video decoder. It has high security with on-the-fly capability to run encrypted code straight out of external memory, tamper detection, secret key storage in hardware, hardware private and public key cryptography and ARM TrustZone. It supports both 16 and 32 bit memory interfaces for maximum flexibility. It is targeted at applications that require displays, such as home and industrial automation, vending machines, elevator displays with ads, or surveillance camera playback.

The SAMD21 is the latest Atmel microcontroller based on the ARM Cortex-M0+ but in addition to the features on earlier cores it also has:

  • Full speed USB device and embedded host
  • DMA
  • Enhanced timer/counters for high end PWM in Lighting and motor control – I2S
  • Increased I2C speed to 3.4Mbit/S
  • Fractional PLL for audio streaming

As you can deduce from the feature set it is target at medium end industrial and consumer applications, possibly involving audio and high power management.

And, to show that this sort of market is starting to become real, at the salesforce Dreamforce event earlier in the week a keynote was given by will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas (and a founder of Beats that Apple recently acquired). In a chat with Marc Benoiff, CEO of Salesforce.com, he has already leaked that he will introduced a wearable wrist computer that doesn’t require a phone to piggy-back on (unlike the Apple Watch).

Watch the chat:

Looking for more information on the SAMA5D4It can be found here.

This post has been republished with permission from SemiWiki.com, where Paul McLellan is a featured blogger. It first appeared there on October 17, 2014.