Tag Archives: applications

Solar-powered batteries woven into fabric for wearables

A new generation of solar-powered wearable electronics could soon be hitting the streets, with batteries inconspicuously woven into clothing fibers or incorporated into watchbands.

Image Credit: Adafruit

As a recent article published in Nano Letters notes, electronic textiles have the potential to integrate smartphone functions into clothes, eyeglasses, watches and materials worn on the skin. Possibilities range from the practical – for example, allowing athletes to monitor vital signs – to the aesthetic, such as lighting up patterns on clothing.

However, the article identified current battery technology as the primary “bottleneck,” responsible for slowing progress toward the development of a wider range of flexible e-fabrics and materials. Indeed, a number of wearable electronic items, such as smartwatches and Google Glass, still require a charger with a cord.

To unlink smart technology from the wall socket, a research team headed by Taek-Soo Kim, Jung-Yong Lee and Jang Wook Choi had to rethink what materials are best suited for use in a flexible, rechargeable battery that’s also inexpensive.

Image Credit: Adafruit

Ultimately, the team decided to test unconventional materials, discovering that they could coat polyester yarn with nickel and carbon – using polyurethane as a binder and separator to produce a flexible battery that kept working even after being folded and unfolded many times. The researchers also managed to integrate lightweight solar cells to recharge the battery without disassembling it from clothing or requiring the wearer to plug in.

As we’ve previously reported on Bits & Pieces, analysts at ABI Research have determined that wearable wireless device revenues will grow to exceed $6 billion in 2018. Of the four segments tracked, sports, fitness and wellness are the largest, never dropping below 50% share of all device shipments over the forecast period.

Amulet Pendant: Powered by Atmel’s ARM-based SAM4L MCU.

“Fitness activity trackers are quickly gaining popularity in the market,” confirmed ABI Research senior analyst Adarsh Krishnan. “Different from other more single-use or event-centric devices, activity trackers monitor multiple characteristics of the human body including movement, calories burned, body temperature and sleep tracking.”

Understanding the state of 3D printing

The folks at MAKE recently conducted a survey on the current state of desktop 3D printing – offering readers access to a quick snapshot of the rapidly growing industry.

According to MAKE’s Anna Kaziunas France, the majority of respondents classified themselves as hobbyists (65%) who used their printers for personal projects (61%).

However, “mixed” or dual-use of desktop 3D printers, which included some business activity combined with personal use, weighed in at 39 percent. Meanwhile, almost half of those surveyed (46%) already own or have access to a 3D printer.

“Detractors of consumer 3D printing often describe desktop machines as tchotchke factories, but we found that the vast majority of respondents were printing useful, working items,” wrote France. “76 percent were using additive machines to create prototypes for projects, 75 percent were making functional models and parts and 64 percent were whipping up fixes for broken things.”

France also noted that two of the most important factors for consumers thinking about buying a 3D printer were value for the money (85%) and durability/integrity of the product (83%). Other high ranking features included output quality (82%), ease-of-use (67%) and the ability to just hit print and confidently walk away from the printer (64%).

These lights are activated by longitude and latitude

The activation of garden lights are typically regulated by on/off timers or photosensitive elements. However, as HackADay’s John Marsh notes, each method is somewhat limited by various factors.

“One misplaced leaf obscuring your light-dependent resistor can turn things on unnecessarily,” Marsh explained. “Considering the actual time of sunset fluctuates over the year, mechanical switches require constant adjustment.”

And that is why a Maker by the name of Paulo recently decided to design an automated system that relies on an Atmel-based Arduino Uno board (ATmega328) and algorithms to calculate both sunrise and sunset.

More specifically, the platform features four 7-segment displays that cycle through indicating the current time, time of sunset and sunrise. The system is also equipped with an RTC (real time clock) and battery backup for timekeeping, as well as an Omron 5V relay tasked with driving the garden lamps themselves. Oh, and yes, the relay is packed with a switch that can be used to manually switch the lights on, just in case.

Interested in learning more about Paulo’s innovative garden lights? You can check out his official project page here for a full write-up, sketches and diagrams.

A closer look at Atmel’s LED drivers

Yesterday, we talked about Atmel microcontrollers (MCUs) being used to produce warm and inviting light without flickering or humming (fluorescent ballast). Today, we’re going to be taking a closer look at Atmel’s family of general illumination LED drivers which are designed to facilitate intelligent system control for multiple LED parallel arrays.

Atmel’s general illumination LED drivers are ideal for a number of applications, including street lighting, tunnel lights, parking garage lights, fluorescent tube replacements, solar/off-grid lighting, mood and architectural lighting, as well as other general lighting applications.


“With an adaptive power scheme and correlated color temperature (CCT) compensation circuitry, engineers will be well equipped to meet their requirements for power-efficient, high-performance lighting products,” an Atmel engineering rep told Bits & Pieces.

“Lighting OEMs can use white, RGB and white with red LEDs to achieve the desired white gamut and color control, while Atmel LED drivers are capable of setting an LED current to the desired peak and white point. Devices such as Atmel’s MSL2100 can also be used to individually program each string current to its targeted peak.”

Dimming is achieved by PWM or decreasing the LED constant current. Depending on the desired lighting requirements, one to 16 LED strings are employed in solid-state lighting (SSL) applications. Plus, external NFETs enables an application to sink from 350mA to 1A per string, all while supporting high-voltage LED supplies such as 260VDC.

“Atmel’s Adaptive Power Scaling technology results in significant power savings by automatically adjusting the LED supply to the lowest voltage to maintain regulation across all LED strings,” the engineering rep added.

“Atmel LED drivers offer two or three efficiency optimizers for each color power supply. These optimizers minimize power use while maintaining LED current accuracy, allowing up to 16 interconnected devices to automatically negotiate the optimum power supply voltages.”

Lastly, Atmel’s newest LED drivers feature correlated color temperature (CCT) compensation circuitry, making it easier for engineers to precisely maintain a desired CCT over an entire LED lamp temperature range.

Interested in learning more? A detailed list of Atmel’s LED drivers is available here.

Embedding touch tech in MCU firmware

Atmel’s comprehensive QTouch Library makes it simple for developers to embed capacitive-touch button, slider and wheel functionality into general-purpose AT91SAM and AVR microcontroller (MCU) applications.

To be sure, Atmel’s royalty-free QTouch Library offers several library files for each device, while supporting various numbers of touch channels – thereby enabling both flexibility and efficiency in touch apps. And by selecting the library file supporting the exact number of channels needed, devs can achieve a more compact and efficient code using less RAM.

Simply put, Atmel’s QTouch Library can be used to develop single-chip solutions for many control applications, or to reduce chip count in more complex applications. Meanwhile, the library offers devs the latitude to implement buttons sliders and wheels in a variety of combinations on a single interface.

There is also broad controller support for Atmel MCUs: AT91SAM, tinyAVR, megaAVR, XMEGA, UC3A and UC3B. Up to 64 sense channels are supported for maximum interface sensitivity ( 256-level sliders and wheels require only three channels), while the QTouch Library supports three patented capacitive touch acquisition methods: QTouch, QTouchADC and QMatrix.

In addition, Atmel Adjacent Key Suppression (AKS) technology enables unambiguous detection of button touches for maximum precision, with full debouncing reports for touch buttons helping to ensure single, clean contacts. And last, but certainly not least, a common API across all library versions simplifies development.

Interested in learning more? Additional information about Atmel’s QTouch library can be found here.

Atmel’s maXTouch powers Galaxy S4 Mini’s touchscreen

Samsung has selected Atmel’s maXTouch mXT336S controller to power the touchscreen of its recently launched Galaxy S4 Mini.

Powered by a 1.7GHz dual-core processor and running Google’s Android 4.2.2 operating system, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini also boasts a 4.3-inch high-definition super AMOLED display.

“The mXT336S controller delivers the ultimate human touch interface with its feature-rich solution by enabling thinner stylus and thicker glove support,” an Atmel spokesperson told Bits & Pieces. “It also facilitates more touch precision and fewer unintended touches, along with lower power consumption for longer battery life, brighter displays and faster response times.”

Additional key Galaxy S4 Mini features include:

  • 4G LTE in addition to 3G and 3G dual-SIM versions
  • 8-megapixel rear camera and recording
  • 1.9-megapixel front-facing camera
  • 1.7GHz dual-core processor
  • 1,900 mAh battery

It should be noted that Atmel technology can be found in a number of Samsung mobile devices, including the full-sized Galaxy S4. As previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, the Galaxy S4 is fitted with Atmel’s sensor hub management MCU (microcontroller unit) which collects and processes data from all connected sensors in real-time, optimizing multiple user experiences, such as gaming, navigation and virtual reality. In addition, the sensor hub MCU lowers the overall system power consumption via picoPower technology to prevent drain and enable longer battery life.

Wireless solutions for the Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a future world where all types of electronic devices link to each other via the Internet. Today, it’s estimated that there are nearly 10 billion devices in the world connected to the Internet, a figure expected to triple to nearly 30 billion by 2020.

And as Maker Afroditi Psarra recently noted, wearable computing is on track to ultimately connect our physical bodies (wearable tech) with the Internet of Things (IoT).

Clearly, wireless connectivity is more important than ever, as as wireless extends from PC peripherals and home entertainment applications to the smart grid and beyond. To support these sophisticated applications, Atmel offers a complete line of IEEE 802.15.4-compliant, IPv6/6LoWPAN based, ZigBee certified wireless solutions.

They are based on Atmel’s family of RF transceivers, 8-bit and 32-bit AVR and ARM microcontrollers. To facilitate rapid development and speed time to market, Atmel offers a variety of free software stacks, reference designs, wireless modules and development kits. Simply put, the provide everything engineers need to meet the unique needs of low-cost, low-power, wireless control and sensor network applications.

Key features include:

  • Single-Chip Solutions — The Atmel IEEE 802.15.4-compliant single-chip solution combines an AVR microcontroller and best-in-class 2.4GHz RF transceiver. This particular combo is ideal for applications requiring minimal board space and cost – without compromising on MCU and RF performance.
  • Transceivers – Atmel’s wide range of high performance, low-power IEEE 802.15.4-compliant transceivers support regional 700/800/900MHz frequency bands available in China, Europe, Japan and North America, as well as the 2.4GHz band available worldwide. For maximum flexibility, these unique RF transceivers can be combined with Atmel’s microcontrollers over the SPI Interface.
  • Bundles – Flexible IEEE 802.15.4-compliant bundles make it easy to create a solution that is appropriately aligned to your application needs.
  • Modules – ZigBits are compact 802.15.4/ZigBee modules featuring record-breaking range performance and exceptional ease of integration. ZigBits also pack a complete FCC/CE/ARIB certified RF design that eliminates costly and time-consuming RF development and gets your product to market on-time and on-budget.

Additional information about Atmel’s MCU Wireless controllers can be found here.