Tag Archives: apple

This ‘ICONIC’ coffee table book is powered by AVR

Just in time for the holiday season, Jonathan Zufi’s coffee table book entitled “ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation” recounts the past 30 years of Apple design, exploring some of the most visually appealing and significant products ever created by the Cupertino-based company. The book — which features a number of new photos paying special attention to original prototypes — dons an updated look and comes in a few special editions.


Most notably, the Ultimate Edition includes a special white clamshell case along with a custom PCB designed to pulse embedded LEDs like that of a sleeping older generation Apple notebook when moved.

According to its description, “The circuit is powered by the high-performance, low-power Atmel 8-bit AVR RISC-based microcontroller which combines 1KB ISP flash memory, 32B SRAM, 4 general purpose I/O lines, 16 general purpose working registers, a 16-bit timer/counter with two PWM channels, internal and external interrupts, programmable watchdog timer with internal oscillator, an internal calibrated oscillator, and 4 software selectable power saving modes.”


“The board and clamshell were designed to make removal of the board easy for the purpose of enabling and replacing the battery. The battery is a standard watch cell CR2032. Based on our calculations, the LED should pulse approximately 9,000 times during the life of an average CR2032. Since the LED pulses three times on each movement cycle, that means that it unless you plan on picking up the book more than 3000 times, the battery should last a long time. But because it’s so cool, we think that you might actually reach that number — so we made it very easy to swap out the battery.”

An ideal gift for any Apple buff, those interested in learning more or buying the AVR powered book for a loved one can do so here.

Exploring smart meters in the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) isn’t a single homogenous market but splits up into different segments with very different requirements. A lot of IoT markets are still in our future: next generation wearable medical devices, autonomous cars and more. One area where IoT has been going strong, long enough that it probably pre-dates the catchy buzzword IoT, is smart power meters.

Atmel recent announced their latest power line communications SoC specifically designed for this market. The SAM4CP16B is an extension of Atmel’s SAM4Cx smart energy platform built on a dual-core 32-bit ARM Cortex-M4 architecture. It is fully compatible with Atmel’s ATPL230A OFDM physical layer device compliant with PRIME standard specification. The flexible solution addresses OEM’s requirements for various system partitioning, BOM reduction and time-to-market requirements by incorporating independent application, protocol stack and physical layer processing functions within the same device. Key features of the SoC include integrated low-power driver, advanced cryptography, 1MB of embedded Flash, 152KB of SRAM, low-power real-time clock, and an LCD display controller.

I think that as various submarkets of the Internet of Things develop, we will see a lot of devices like this; SoCs that integrate everything that is required for a particular application, leaving the system company to customize the hardware, add their own software and so on. IoT will not be a market like mobile, with huge chips being done in the latest process generation. Many IoT designs will include analog, RF and sensors, all of which are best designed in older processes like 65nm or even 130nm.

The system volumes for many designs will be relatively low and so designing a specific chip for each application will be unattractive. Even in mobile where the volumes are much higher, only Apple and Samsung design their own application processors, as far as I know. Everyone else licenses one from Qualcomm, Mediatek or others… Even Apple gets the modem (radio) from Qualcomm. The aggregate volumes will end up being large (there will be a lot of things) so the prize goes to the semiconductor companies that do the best job of designing chips that match what the system companies require.

Interested in learning more? The data sheet for the part can be found here. (Warning: It’s 1,000 pages!)

This post has been republished with permission from SemiWiki.com, where Paul McLellan is a featured blogger. It first appeared there on August 13, 2014.

Batteries with potential 40-year life

I just saw an ad for a Tadiran battery that claims a 40-year life. This is for a primary battery, not a rechargeable. That is based on the 1% per year self-discharge rate. So the math is pretty basic— 40 years at 1% per year and that is more than 50% charge remaining to do your bidding. Now the ad, being marketing and all, does not say if its 1% of rated capacity per year, or 1% of remaining capacity per year. You should have plenty of charge left if you figure your power budget with a factor of two over rating to allow for that self-discharge.


Tadiran’s previous lifetime champ was also (Li/SOCl2 ) cells. They would claim 15-year lifespans for those. SAFT makes lithium thionyl chloride cells too. I assume Tadiran have made further improvements to get to such a low self-discharge rate for this line, which they call lithium inorganic. But I note the Tadiran ad has the words “…in certain applications.”  You see, they can’t tell where or how you use the batteries. If you leave flux all over the board so that there are leakage paths, you won’t get the 40 year life. If you run them at hot or cold temperatures, you won’t get the 40 year life. If you take out the current in high pulses instead of a gentle steady current, you won’t get the 40-year life. It is not Tadiran’s fault. They have to give you the optimum spec— that is for a battery with no leakage paths other than its own case. And measured in a comfortable temperature in a dry environment.

When I was at EDN I wrote about the 15-year batteries. An alert reader notified me of a scandal in Houston Texas since the gas meters needed new batteries much sooner than expected. Once again, it was not the battery maker’s fault. Houston Texas is extremely humid, almost tropical. The batteries in the meters were exposed to this humidly and high temperature and their life was much shorter.

I designed the power system for an automotive diagnostic tool when I consulted at HP. I thought I had all the battery quiescent currents figured out in a neat little spreadsheet. Then I prototyped the design. The leakage current was much higher than my spreadsheet showed. Turns out that battery voltage was flowing through the body diode of a back-to-back FET and then into a gate pull-down resistor. I used a 1meg resistor, but 12 volts into 1 MΩ resistor is still 12μA. That is way more than the 200nA memory retention current of an AVR XMEGA in shutdown, so don’t let some power supply leakage path screw up your battery life calculations like I did.

In 2007 I did a follow-on post about smart meter batteries. The broken first link in it is the EDN article I linked above. So just remember, it is your job, not Tadiran’s, to insure that the battery life is what you expect in a smart meter. Tadiran can give you the battery, and Atmel can give you the MCU and smart meter ICs, but you have to verify the leakage and current consumption in your exact application, running your exact code, with your exact manufacturing methods. My buddy Eric Schlaepfer, now at Google, was over at Maxim when some customer contacted him and called Maxim liars since the customer was getting much greater power consumption on one of Maxim’s micro-amp supervisor chips. It turns out the customer was letting the PCB get contaminated with sweaty conductive fingerprints in assembly. The leakage current through those fingerprints on the PCB was passing way more current than the integrated circuit.

So brush up on the Keithley low-level measurement handbook (pdf), so you can measure those nanoamperes. And be sure to test your system in temperature and humidity chambers that simulate the real world. And then take measurements in the field to validate all your assumptions. Then and only then will you get 40-year battery life in your products.

The RK-1 is an Arduino-based mobile robot for iOS and Android

The RK-1 – designed by Evangelos Georgiou – is a WiFi-enabled robot that can be easily controlled on iOS and Android mobile devices using swipe gestures.

“I love building and programming mobile robots. Because of my love of mobile robots, mobile phones/tablets and the Arduino, I combined them to make a prototype called the ‘RK-1.’ [So] thank you to Arduino for an amazing open source microcontroller platform!” Georgiou wrote in a recent Kickstarter post.

“[Basically], the idea is to give the [open source] community the ability to make Arduino projects mobile. There is no end to what you can do – [adding] sensors and actuators to this fun little device and [controlling] it remotely.”

A full hardware breakdown for the RK-1 is as follows:

  • Programmable Arduino microcontroller
  • Wireless control over wifi
  • Dual H-bridge motor controller
  • LIPO battery (chargeable via a mini USB cable)
  • Acrylic base
  • Tank tracks and DC motors

“The free software to control the robot is available via Apple’s iTunes app store or Google play,” Georgiou noted. “It is [also] possible to read analog signals from devices (sensors) connected to the Arduino micro controller. [Plus], you can change the state of digital ports from high to low.”

Additional information about the RK-1 can be found on the robot’s official Kickstarter page.

Counterfeited accessories are everywhere. Prevent Hacking with Authentication.

Battery packs, printer cartridges and refrigerator water filters are just a few examples of critical consumable accessories that make appliances and devices function properly.  With their limited lifespan, hundreds of millions of these consumable accessories are manufactured and sold every year. This makes these items a lucrative target for unsavory companies that want to get in on the action with their cheap knockoffs.  “According to The World Health Organization (WHO), 6% to 8% of the total medical device market is comprised of counterfeit goods.” As a result, billions of dollars can be lost by their rightful owners, the OEMs, and, sometimes, consumers can be impacted by subpar quality and incompatibility with their appliances or devices.  When a consumer’s experience is soured due to the use of unauthorized accessories, fingers are often wrongfully pointed at the OEMs, accusing them of building shoddy products when, in fact, the problem is caused by the knockoffs.  At this point, brand equities along with the valuable trust forged between the company and its customers have already been damaged.  As an OEM, one easy way that you can protect your consumable accessories is by designing into them a low-cost security chip, which protects against cloning, counterfeiting and other security breaches.