Tag Archives: 8-bit AVR MCUs

Atmel and the Maker Revolution

I was part of the “original” Maker revolution. This was years ago, in the late 1980’s, and I was a latecomer. We used to make our own circuit boards, but slightly different from the ones today.

There was a 386 computer on my desk. My trusty 386 had ISA ports, extension card space, that most of us used as a basis for our designs. The ISA bus was easy to use, and the connector was large, meaning we could use simple, basic, cheap equipment to make our boards. What did we make? Everything! Digital IO, radio, remote control systems, everything. When I was a student, my flat was controlled entirely by one of these cards. Of course, the brain of my invention was the computer itself, it wasn’t easy to create a computer system.

A computer system requires several components. It requires a processor, and there were quite a few on the market at the time. It also requires memory, but two kinds; random access memory, RAM for short, is where variables are stored, and is the memory that a program uses to copy, calculate and modify data. A computer also requires read-only memory, ROM for short, and this is where the program is placed. Even that was tricky. You see, at the time, in order to “flash” a new program, we had to remove the EPROM device (short for Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory) and place it in ultraviolet light for up to 30 minutes. That was only the beginning. In order to flash a new program, you had to put it into a programmer, a device attached to the computer that wrote data into the device. Once that was done (it took a few minutes), then you could put the chip back onto the circuit board, and away you went. If you made a mistake, or if your program didn’t work, then you had to redo everything, which took over half an hour.

All of this was complicated, and required multiple components. The processor was one component. The RAM was another. So was the ROM. Interrupt controllers? Digital IO? PWM? They were all external components too. There was a reason why computers used to be that big. So we simplified things. The processor was the PC, and we just made extension boards. Of course, this made making things like robots difficult, but we had lots of fun.

The ISA bus was slow, and users wanted PCs to become faster and faster. The ISA bus was soon replaced by VLB, short for VESA Local Bus. It added an extension to the ISA bus, allowing for faster memory transfers. We had faster computers, better graphics, and we could still use our boards. However, it also sent a clear message; we were soon to find a new way of doing things. VLB was replaced by PCI, which was replaced by PCI Express. This bus is lightning fast, but requires complex electronics, and very good equipment to make boards with connectors that fine. Our trusty ISA cards soon ended up in the dustbin. We could still use the serial port or the parallel port, but it wasn’t the same. Most of us stopped.

It was depressing. We tried making our own computers, but they were complicated. External components, long flash times, prohibitive prices… One company was listening.

Atmel's ATMEGA328P-PU an AVR 8-bit processor

Atmel’s ATMEGA328P-PU an AVR 8-bit processor

In 1996, Atmel shipped the AVR processor. It was an 8-bit processor, with a twist. It had internal RAM, and internal flash. No more external components. It could be flashed within seconds, and reflashed. You didn’t even need to take it off the breadboard to reflash it. Founded in 1984, Atmel had already made semiconductor devices for the professional market, but was also very close to Makers. They heard our cry for help, and they delivered. The AVR changed everything.

AVR-XMEGA

The AVR chip was an 8-bit device (32-bit devices also exist), but the computer we used to control our ISA cards was 32-bit. The thing is, we didn’t need 32-bits, and an 8-bit microcontroller was perfect for our needs. The AVR was small, cheap, reliable, and really, really easy to use. We flooded back, we redesigned our boards, and we made. We made everything. How good were the AVR chips? By 2003, Atmel had shipped 500 million devices.

Fast forward a few years, and here we are today. Makers are everywhere. We are back. We are making more than ever. And with awesome sponsors like Atmel, we are here to stay. 2013 was the year of 100 Maker Faires, and they were full of Arduinos.

New Breed of Maker Movement Engineers Blooming from Garages, Maker Faire, Hackerspaces, and Makerspaces

New Breed of Maker Movement Engineers Blooming from Garages, Maker Faire, Hackerspaces, and Makerspaces

What is on the Arduino? Well, most of them have an AVR. The Arduino Due isn’t an AVR-based device, it is an ARM device, but even that is made by Atmel too, and is just as easy to use. 2014 promises to be even more exciting!

New Breed of Engineers - Some Images from Maker Faire Bay Area, there were over 100 Maker Faires in 2013 budding in cities all across the globe

New Breed of Engineers – Some Images from Maker Faire Bay Area 2014. There were over 100 Maker Faires in 2013 budding in cities all across the globe

Arduino Due

Here’s the Arduino Due – with an Atmel ARM Based Processor

With Atmel as a sponsor, Makers are here to stay. If you haven’t tried to make your own device yet, try it! It doesn’t cost a lot, and you don’t need all the complicated hardware we used to have. You will be up and running in mere minutes, and believe me, it is fun! If you have any questions, go and see Atmel at one of the Maker Faires. If you come by the Maker Faire Rome, come say hello, I’ll be there with Atmel to show you just how much this technology has changed my life, and show you how to start.

Atmel debuts new low-power 8-bit tinyAVR MCUs

Atmel has expanded its low-power 8-bit tinyAVR family with the addition of the ATtiny441 and ATtiny841. As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, the 8-bit AVR MCUs are ideal for cost-effective consumer applications such as computer accessories, thermostats, personal health accessories and a wide range of Maker projects.

atmelnewattiny

According to Atmel’s Director of Flash-based MCUs Ingar Fredriksen, the new ATtiny 441/841 MCUs boast higher system integration with intuitive tools and peripherals to help facilitate optimized performance with lower power consumption. Indeed, the ultra-low power 14-pin tinyAVR MCUs deliver enhanced analog and communication capabilities for an overall lower system cost in a smaller package.

“Atmel has been the 8-bit MCU leader for more than a decade and continues to think beyond the core, enabling our customers to differentiate their end products,” said Fredriksen. “Our AVRs have been popular since its inception and continue to be the MCU of choice both for professional engineers in consumer and industrial applications and among our 300,000 members in the AVR Freaks community consisting of engineers, hobbyists and Makers.”

As Fredriksen notes, the ATtiny441/841 devices are powerful MCUs packaged in a small form factor. More specifically, the new ATtiny441 and ATtiny841 MCUs feature an uber-mini 3×3 QFN package and 4 and 8KB of Flash memory, respectively.

“The new devices offer enhanced analog performance, including an ADC with calibrated multilevel internal analog reference, with 12 ADC channels on a 14-pin device, two independent USARTs with wake-up from power down without data loss, SPI interface and an I2C slave interface for enhanced communication capabilities,” Fredriksen continued. “In addition, the devices feature flexible clocking options, including a ± 2% internal oscillator with fast wake-up, which allows the UARTs to communicate without the need of an external crystal and wake-up from sleep without data loss.”

As expected, the ATtiny441/841 devices are fully supported by Atmel Studio 6, the integrated development platform (IDP) for developing and debugging Atmel ARM Cortex-M and Atmel AVR MCU-based applications. Simply put, Atmel Studio 6 IDP offers devs a seamless, easy-to-use environment to write, build, simulate, program and debug applications written in C/C++ or assembly code using the integrated GCC compiler and AVR assembler. AS6 also provides easy access to the online Atmel Gallery apps store and Atmel Spaces, a cloud-based collaborative development workspace allowing the designer to host software and hardware projects targeting Atmel MCUs.

To help accelerate devs and Makers accelerate ATtiny441/841 AVR MCU designs, the new devices are supported by Atmel’s AVR Dragon Board which can be snapped up at the Atmel Online Store for USD $49. The ATtiny841 and ATtiny441 are also supported by the STK600, AVRONE, JTAGICE mkII, JTAGICE3 and AVRISPmkII development tools.

The ATtiny441/841 is currently available in mass production, with samples that can be ordered here. Readers who are Maker interested in testing their creativity with AVR MCUs (including the new ATtiny441/841 AVR MCUs) may want to check out Atmel’s very own Master Maker Design Contest here.