Tag Archives: ARM Cortex-M4

Play GIFs and videos from your phone on this Bluetooth LED display


Magic Pixel is an innovative, small form-factor digital sign that can display animations, scrolling texts and video from your PC or Mac.


If you’re looking for a new way to display art or information, Magic Pixel may be the thing you’re looking for. Magic Pixel is a Bluetooth LED display that can stream animations, scrolling text and video from your smartphone and computer.

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Whether you’re in need of signage or want eye-popping wall art, Magic Pixel will definitely attract attention. This thin panel supports 16.7 million colors, showing any imagery of your choice at high luminosity. Magic Pixel was created by a UK-based team of electronics aficionados, led by founder Jozef Gubo. Magic Pixel is their solution to displaying effective and dynamic visualizations.

Magic Pixel has various supported functions. Videos and animations in .GIF format can be streamed over USB 2.0 using a PC or Mac, or by inserting a microSD card into the panel. The accompanying mobile app allows for editable scrolling text display via Bluetooth, making it a useful addition to any store front for displaying advertisements or information. Users can adjust the text position, scrolling type, speed and direction, text size, color and font from a mobile device. Magic Pixel can also be used for fun as statement art, or be used practically to illuminate a space. Its creators used the Magic Pixel as a backlight for an aquarium by loading an animation of the deep sea onto the microSD card and placing the panel behind the tank.

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At the core of Magic Pixel is an ARM Cortex-M4 MCU clocked at 120MHz, which enables the device to run a 64 x 48 pixel display at a refresh rate of 120Hz. Magic Pixel’s control card contains a module supporting Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy, USB 2.0 for computer connection, a microSD card slot, buttons for some of the functions as well as a 16-pin connector for the LED panels.

Magic Pixel is available in two sizes. The smaller model has a resolution of 64 x 32 pixels, and it measures 25.2” by 12.6”. The bigger model has a resolution of 64 x 48 pixels, and it measures 25.2” by 18.9″. Both versions feature a thin profile, and are only 1.2″ thick. Intrigued? Head over to Magic Pixel’s Kickstarter page, where Jozef and the team are currently seeking $21,450. Delivery is expected as early as May 2016.

Percepio Trace: Increasing response time


Discover how a developer used Tracealyzer to compare runtime behaviors and increase response time.


With time-to-market pressures constantly on the rise, advanced visualization support is a necessity nowadays. For those who may be unfamiliar with Percepio, the company has sought out to accelerate embedded software development through world-leading RTOS tracing tools. Tracealyzer provides Makers, engineers and developers alike a new level of insight into the run-time world, allowing for improved designs, faster troubleshooting and higher performance. What has made it such a popular choice among the community is that it works with a wide-range of operating systems and is available for Linux and FreeRTOS, among several others.

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When developing advanced multi-threaded software systems, a traditional debugger is often insufficient for understanding the behavior of the integrated system, especially regarding timing issues. Tracealyzer is able to visualize the run-time behavior through more than 20 innovative views that complement the debugger perspective. These views are interconnected in intuitive ways which makes the visualization system powerful and easy to navigate. Beyond that, it seamlessly integrates with Atmel Studio 6.2, providing optimized insight into the run-time of embedded software with advanced trace visualization.

Over the next couple of months, we will be sharing step-by-step tutorials from the Percepio team, collected directly from actual user experiences with Tracealyzer. In the latest segment, how a developer used Tracealyzer to solve an issue with a randomly occurring reset; today, we’re exploring how the tool can increase response time.


In this scenario, a user had developed a networked system containing a TCP/IP stack, a Flash file system and an RTOS running on an ARM Cortex-M4 microcontroller. The system was comprised of several RTOS tasks, including a server-style task that responds to network requests and a log file spooler task. The response time on network requests had often been an issue, and when testing their latest build, the system responded even slower than before. So, as one can imagine, they really wanted to figure this out!

But when comparing the code of the previous and new version, they could not find any obvious reason for the lower response time of the server task. There were some minor changes due to refactoring, but no significant functions had been added. However, since other tasks had higher scheduling priority than the server task, there could be many other causes for the increased response time. Therefore, they decided to use Tracealyzer to compare the runtime behaviors of the earlier version and the new version, in order to see the differences.

They recorded traces of both versions in similar conditions and began at the comparison at the highest level of abstraction, i.e., the statistics report (below). This report can display CPU usage, number of executions, scheduling priorities, but also metrics like execution time and response time calculated per each execution of each task and interrupt.

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As expected, the statistics report revealed that response times were, in fact, higher in the new version — about 50% higher on average. The execution times of the server task were quite similar, only about 7% higher in the latter. Reason for the greater response time, other tasks that interfere.

To determine out what was causing this disparity, one can simply click on the extreme values in the statistics report. This focuses the main trace view on the corresponding locations, enabling a user to see the details. By opening two parallel instances of Tracealyzer, one for each trace, you can now compare and see the differences — as illustrated below.

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Since the application server task performed several services, two user events have been added to mark the points where the specific request are received and answered, labeled “ServerLog.” The zoom levels are identical, so you can clearly see the higher response time in the new version. What’s more, this also shows that the logger task preempts the server task 11 times, compared to only 6 times in the earlier version — a pretty significant difference. Moreover, it appears that the logger task is running on higher priority than server task, meaning every logging call preempts the server task.

So, there seems to be new logging calls added in the new version causing the logger task to interfere more with the server task. In order to observe what is logged, add a user event in the logger task to show the messages in the trace view. Perhaps some can be removed to improve performance?

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Now, it’s evident that also other tasks generate logging messages that affect the server task response time. For instance, the ADC_0 task. To see all tasks sending messages to the logger task, one can use the communication flow view — as illustrated below.

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The communication flow view is a dependency graph showing a summary of all operations on message queues, semaphores and other kernel objects. Here, this view is for the entire trace, but can be generated for a selected interval (and likewise for the statistics report) as well. For example, a user can see how the server task interacts with the TCP/IP stack. Note the interrupt handler named “RX_ISR” that triggers the server task using a semaphore, such as when there is new data on the server socket, and the TX task for transmitting over the network.

But back to the logger task, the communication flow reveals five tasks that sends logging messages. By double-clicking on the “LoggerQueue” node in the graph, the Kernel Object History view is opened and shows all operations on this message queue.

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As expected, you can see that logger task receives messages frequently, one at a time, and is blocked after each message, as indicated by the “red light.”

Is this a really good design? It is probably not necessary to write the logging messages to file one-by-one. If increasing the scheduling priority of server task above that of the logger task, the server task would not be preempted as frequently, and thus, would be able to respond faster. The logging messages would be buffered in LoggerQueue until the server task (and other high priority tasks) has completed. Only then would the logger task be resumed and process all buffered messages in a batch.

By trying that, these screenshot below demonstrates the server task instance with highest response time, after increasing its scheduling priority above the logger task.

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The highest response time is now just 5.4 ms instead of 7.5 ms, which is even faster than in the earlier version (5.7 ms) despite more logging. This is because the logger task is no longer preempting the server task, but instead processes all pending messages in a batch after server is finished. Here, one can also see “event labels” for the message queue operations. As expected, there are several “xQueueSend” calls in sequence, without blocking (= red labels) or task preemptions. There are still preemptions by the ADC tasks, but this no longer cause extra activations of the logger task. Problem solved!

The screenshot below displays LoggerQueue after the priority change. In the right column, one see how the messages are buffered in the queue, enabling the server task to respond as fast as possible, and the logging messages are then processed in a batch.

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Atmel and MXCHIP develop Wi-Fi platform with secure cloud access for IoT apps


SAM G MCU + WILC1000 Wi-Fi SoC + MiCO IoT OS = Secure Cloud Access 


Atmel and MXCHIP, a top 10 China IoT start-up according to Techno, have announced that the two companies are coming together to develop an ultra-low power Internet of Things (IoT) platform with secure Wi-Fi access to the cloud, enabling designers to quickly bring their connected devices to market. This collaboration combines ultra-low power Atmel | SMART SAM G ARM Cortex-M4-based MCUs and the SmartConnect WILC1000 Wi-Fi solution with MXCHIP’s MiCO IoT operating system, servicing a full range of smart device developers for IoT applications.

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“We are excited to team with MXCHIP to bring secure cloud access to IoT developers with this ultra-low power and secure, connected platform,” said Reza Kazerounian, Atmel SVP and General Manager, Microcontroller Business Unit. “In an effort to accelerate the growth of IoT devices, such as wearables and consumer battery-operated devices worldwide, this platform enables embedded designers to focus on their differentiated smart devices without requiring expertise on lowering power consumption, security and wireless connectivity. Our joint efforts will enable more designers of all levels to bring their smart, connected designs quickly to market.”

With the rapid growth of the IoT market, these smart devices will require secure access to the cloud on what will likely be billions of battery-operated devices. The new platform will pair Atmel’s proven ultra-low power SAM G series of MCUs, designed for wearables and sensor hub management, and the secure ultra-low power SmartConnect WILC1000 Wi-Fi solution along with MXCHIP’s leading MiCO IoT OS for next-generation IoT applications. This integrated platform gives IoT designers the confidence that their battery-operated devices will have longer battery life and their data will be securely transferred to the cloud.

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The Atmel WILC1000 is an IEEE 802.11b/g/n IoT link controller leveraging its ultra-low power Wi-Fi transceiver with a fully-integrated power amplifier. This solution delivers the industry’s best communication range of up to +20.5dBm output, ideal for connected home devices. Embedded within packages as small as a 3.2mm x 3.2mm WLCSP, the WILC1000 link controller leverages in this platform Atmel’s SAM G MCU, an ideal solution for low-power IoT applications and optimized for lower power consumption, incorporating large SRAM, high performance and operating efficiency with floating-point unit in an industry-leading 2.84mm x 2.84mm package.

When combined with secure Wi-Fi technology, the joint IoT platform connects directly to each other or to a local area network (LAN), enabling remote system monitoring or control. For increased security, the platform comes with an optional Atmel ATECC508A — the industry’s first crypto device to integrate ECDH key agreement, making it easy to add confidentiality to digital systems including IoT nodes used in home automation, industrial networking, accessory and consumable authentication, medical, mobile and other applications.

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“This collaboration combines synergies from both companies to IoT designers including Atmel’s global presence with MXCHIP’s local resources enabling IoT designers to smoothly implement cloud services for their smart, connected devices in China and around the world,” said Wang Yong Hong, CEO, MXCHIP. “Our platform combines both ease-of-use and simplicity allowing IoT designers from all levels to access cloud services worldwide ranging from professional designers for smart, connected IoT devices to Makers, educators and hobbyists. We will also collaborate on a number of other fronts with Atmel including IoT research, promotions, and share our IoT knowledge on smart, secure and connected devices across multiple industries.”

Interested? To accelerate the IoT design process, the platform — which will be available in May 2015 — includes the MiCOKit-G55 development kit, technical documentation, application notes and a software development kit.

4 reasons why Atmel is ready to ride the IoT wave


The IoT recipe comprises of three key technology components: Sensing, computing and communications.


In 2014, a Goldman Sachs’ report took many people by surprise when it picked Atmel Corporation as the company best positioned to take advantage of the rising Internet of Things (IoT) tsunami. At the same time, the report omitted tech industry giants like Apple and Google from the list of companies that could make a significant impact on the rapidly expanding IoT business. So what makes Atmel so special in the IoT arena?

The San Jose, California–based chipmaker has been proactively building its ‘SMART’ brand of 32-bit ARM-based microcontrollers that boasts an end-to-end design platform for connected devices in the IoT realm. The company with two decades of experience in the MCU business was among the first to license ARM’s low-power processors for IoT chips that target smart home, industrial automation, wearable electronics and more.

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Goldman Sachs named Atmel a leader in the Internet of Things (IoT) market.

Goldman Sachs named Atmel a leader in the Internet of Things (IoT) market

A closer look at the IoT ingredients and Atmel’s product portfolio shows why Goldman Sachs called Atmel a leader in the IoT space. For starters, Atmel is among the handful of chipmakers that cover all the bases in IoT hardware value chain: MCUs, sensors and wireless connectivity.

1. A Complete IoT Recipe

The IoT recipe comprises of three key technology components: Sensing, computing and communications. Atmel offers sensor products and is a market leader in MCU-centric sensor fusion solutions than encompass context awareness, embedded vision, biometric recognition, etc.

For computation—handling tasks related to signal processing, bit manipulation, encryption, etc.—the chipmaker from Silicon Valley has been offering a diverse array of ARM-based microcontrollers for connected devices in the IoT space.

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Atmel has reaffirmed its IoT commitment through a number of acquisitions.

Finally, for wireless connectivity, Atmel has cobbled a broad portfolio made up of low-power Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Zigbee radio technologies. Atmel’s $140 million acquisition of Newport Media in 2014 was a bid to accelerate the development of low-power Wi-Fi and Bluetooth chips for IoT applications. Moreover, Atmel could use Newport’s product expertise in Wi-Fi communications for TV tuners to make TV an integral part of the smart home solutions.

Furthermore, communications across the Internet depends on the TCP/IP stack, which is a 32-bit protocol for transmitting packets on the Internet. Atmel’s microcontrollers are based on 32-bit ARM cores and are well suited for TCP/IP-centric Internet communications fabric.

2. Low Power Leadership

In February 2014, Atmel announced the entry-level ARM Cortex M0+-based microcontrollers for the IoT market. The SAM D series of low-power MCUs—comprising of D21, D10 and D11 versions—featured Atmel’s signature high-end features like peripheral touch controller, USB interface and SERCOM module. The connected peripherals work flawlessly with Cortex M0+ CPU through the Event System that allows system developers to chain events in software and use an event to trigger a peripheral without CPU involvement.

According to Andreas Eieland, Director of Product Marketing for Atmel’s MCU Business Unit, the IoT design is largely about three things: Battery life, cost and ease-of-use. The SAM D microcontrollers aim to bring the ease-of-use and price-to-performance ratio to the IoT products like smartwatches where energy efficiency is crucial. Atmel’s SAM D family of microcontrollers was steadily building a case for IoT market when the company’s SAM L21 microcontroller rocked the semiconductor industry in March 2015 by claiming the leadership in low-power Cortex-M IoT design.

Atmel’s SAM L21 became the lowest power ARM Cortex-M microcontroller when it topped the EEMBC benchmark measurements. It’s plausible that another MCU maker takes over the EEMBC benchmarks in the coming months. However, according to Atmel’s Eieland, what’s important is the range of power-saving options that an MCU can bring to product developers.

“There are many avenues to go down on the low path, but they are getting complex,” Eieland added. He quoted features like multiple clock domains, event management system and sleepwalking that provide additional levels of configurability for IoT product developers. Such a set of low-power technologies that evolves in successive MCU families can provide product developers with a common platform and a control on their initiatives to lower power consumption.

3. Coping with Digital Insecurity

In the IoT environment, multiple device types communicate with each other over a multitude of wireless interfaces like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy. And IoT product developers are largely on their own when it comes to securing the system. The IoT security is a new domain with few standards and IoT product developers heavily rely on the security expertise of chip suppliers.

Atmel offers embedded security solutions for IoT designs.

Atmel, with many years of experience in crypto hardware and Trusted Platform Modules, is among the first to offer specialized security hardware for the IoT market. It has recently shipped a crypto authentication device that has integrated the Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman (ECDH) security protocol. Atmel’s ATECC508A chip provides confidentiality, data integrity and authentication in systems with MCUs or MPUs running encryption/decryption algorithms like AES in software.

4. Power of the Platform

The popularity of 8-bit AVR microcontrollers is a testament to the power of the platform; once you learn to work on one MCU, you can work on any of the AVR family microcontrollers. And same goes for Atmel’s Smart family of microcontrollers aimed for the IoT market. While ARM shows a similarity among its processors, Atmel exhibits the same trait in the use of its peripherals.

Low-power SAM L21 builds on features of SAM D MCUs.

A design engineer can conveniently work on Cortex-M3 and Cortex -M0+ processor after having learned the instruction set for Cortex-M4. Likewise, Atmel’s set of peripherals for low-power IoT applications complements the ARM core benefits. Atmel’s standard features like sleep modes, sleepwalking and event system are optimized for ultra-low-power use, and they can extend IoT battery lifetime from years to decades.

Atmel, a semiconductor outfit once focused on memory and standard products, began its transformation toward becoming an MCU company about eight years ago. That’s when it also started to build a broad portfolio of wireless connectivity solutions. In retrospect, those were all the right moves. Fast forward to 2015, Atmel seems ready to ride on the market wave created by the IoT technology juggernaut.

Interested? You may also want to read:

Atmel’s L21 MCU for IoT Tops Low Power Benchmark

Atmel’s New Car MCU Tips Imminent SoC Journey

Atmel’s Sensor Hub Ready to Wear


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.

These sensors can monitor breathing and detect presence through walls


Novelda introduces a pair of new sensor modules for detecting human presence and monitoring respiration.


Norwegian sensor developer Novelda has launched a pair of adaptive smart sensor modules that are capable of monitoring human presence, respiration and other vital information. Based on the company’s proprietary XeThru technology, the unobtrusive sensors can detect presence from chest movement, as well as rate and depth of breathing, allowing patterns to be tracked in real-time.

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This is because XeThru technology uses radio waves rather than infrared, ultrasound or light, which enables the Atmel | SMART ATSAM4E16E based modules to ‘see through’ an assortment of objects, like lightweight building materials, duvets and blankets, to provide non-contact sensing at a range of up to nearly five meters. Impressively, each module consumes less than 400mW power and remains unaffected by dust, smoke, moisture, darkness or any other airborne debris it may encounter.

“A vast number of sensors and sensor technologies exist today, the most common being IR, capacitive, ultrasonic, and microwaves. Due to the strengths and weaknesses of different technologies, sensors are typically designed for only one task, such as detecting presence, motion, speed or distance. This is typically at one defined range or at very short range, or only on moving or static objects, and so forth,” the team explains. “In applications where you want to combine features from several sensor technologies and/or hide your sensor due to security or other design constraints, your options are limited. This is why we set out to develop our XeThru technology and gave it the abilities it has today.”

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First, the XeThru X2M300 module is intended for smart home automation where its capability for detecting human presence while being integrated into a building’s structure enables hidden, tamper-proof sensing. Aside from security and comfort applications, such as the convenient actuation of lighting and environmental controls, this SoC can enhance safety throughout the house — especially for the elderly or those living alone, using the absence of normal activity to raise an alarm. To get started, users simply affix the sensor with its main sensitivity direction pointing toward the area to monitor.

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Meanwhile, the X2M200 sensor module is designed for respiration monitoring of people of all ages for health and well-being purposes, especially for sleep improvement systems and spotting nighttime abnomralities. XeThru’s non-contact technology offers a reliable yet non-intrusive way to observe respiration and movement, capturing breathing patterns and frequency without being blocked by blankets or other obstacles during a slumber.

Novelda has also launched a XeThru Inspiration Kit — an easy-to-use, hardware and software platform that includes the pair of sensor modules and interface boards for PC connection. This provides developers with a simple way to devise working proof-of-concepts and carry out the prototyping process. The XTIK1 gives users all the necessary tools to evaluate the performance of the sensors using the supplied software that supports module configuration, visualization of sensor data and the ability to record data for further analysis.

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Beyond that, the kit comes with XeThru’s Explorer software and a programmer unit should the firmware need to be updated. In which case, a JTAG programming interface available on the USB communication board is used to upgrade the program running in the module along with an Atmel-ICE programming probe. The probe connects to the PC via USB, while a ribbon cable connects from the Atmel ICE SAM port to the 10-pin connector on the USB communication board. As Novelda notes, the procedure requires the download and installation of Atmel Studio.

Intrigued? You can head over to its official page to make more ‘sense’ of the topic.

Shot Tracker is a wearable basketball coach


Nothin’ but Net… of Things! 


Good news for those basketball players looking to hone their hoop skills, a new coach has officially arrived. Sure, professional, collegiate and other competitive leagues have their ways to tracking and analyzing shot stats and performance data; however, those playing pickup down in Rucker Park or in a rec league game at a nearby community center may not have access to such insight. That was until ShotTracker. The wearable system is able to monitor facets of your game, providing a better look into your strengths and weaknesses.

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ShotTracker is comprised of three components: an ARM Cortex-M4-powered wrist sensor, an ARM Cortex-M0-based net sensor and the ShotTracker app, supported by both Android and iOS devices. In addition, a baller can adorn the specially-designed (and stylish may we add) sleeve or wristband during their next game or training session.

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How it works is relatively simple. The wearable sensor, which easily slips into either the accompanied sleeve or wristband, monitors a player’s motion and tracks shot attempts using the device’s 6-axis motion processor. This is connected to ShotTracker’s companion app to collect and display statistics from the wearer. Additionally, the net sensor can be affixed to any net and will send a signal to the tracker after a shot, deciphering whether it was nothing-but-net, a brick or even worse, an air ball.

When a player shoots, the wrist sensor sends a signal that a shot was attempted and the net sensor sends a signal indicating if the ball made it into the basket. Both signals are sent to the mobile device via Bluetooth where the ShotTracker app keeps track of the user’s shooting stats.

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The entire kit is now available on the company’s website for $149.99. That’s one SMART coach if you ask us!

PSDR is a pocket-sized HF SDR transceiver with VNA and GPS


This outdoor-friendly radio can evolve and improve over time.


The PSDR, which some of you may remember was a Hackaday Prize finalist, is a standalone pocket-sized software defined radio ideal for those looking to stay connected while hiking or traveling abroad. Created by Michael Colton, the open-source device was originally designed for backpacking use by ham radio operators with complete coverage up to about 30MHz.

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The LiPo battery-powered device — which recently made its Kickstarter debut — packs a 168Mhz ARM Cortex-M4-based MCU, a color LCD for its waterfall display, a single knob for selecting items from the screen, dual DDS frequency synthesizers, a built-in microphone and speaker, a magnitude and phase measurement chip, digitally-controllable instrumentation amplifiers, vector network analysis and a GPS receiver — all housed in an aluminum case.

The self-contained radio boasts an innovative interface equipped with pair of AT42QT1010 capacitive touch sensors, in addition to a USB connector for uploading firmware, keyboards and possibly remote Internet use.

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“It’s built for rugged portable use. It is designed to be a flexible platform for development, a learning aid, and and a useful instrument for electronics enthusiasts,” Colton shares.

Pending all goes to plan, the Maker aspires that with the necessary crowdfunding, he will be able to enhance the PSDR’s design to include a media player, an e-reader and picture viewer, improved audio, GPS mapping, and serve as as an emergency location beacon. Currently seeking $60,000 on Kickstarter, you can learn all about the project here.