Tag Archives: AT91SAM

Rolling MCUs, connectivity, security and software into one wearable package

This Android-based, Bluetooth-enabled wearable badge can act as a compass, watch, slideshow app, battery gauge and more.

Did you know that 45.7 million wearable devices are expected to ship this year, up 133.4% from the 19.6 million units shipped in 2014? And by 2019, reports are calling for shipment volumes to reach 126.1 million units, resulting in a five-year CAGR of 45.1. Given this emergence of body-adorned technology, the need for a hardware and software-based turnkey solution has never been so paramount. With this in mind, Atmel has unveiled the first-ever wearable solution that integrates its broad solutions offering all rolled into one.


Just in time for Computex 2015, the company has designed a 7cm x 9cm demonstrator around a smart badge concept, which combines low-power embedded processing, wireless, touch and sensor technologies to form an unparalleled turnkey system for virtually any type of wearable application.

This demonstrator converges hardware and software technologies, from Atmel and its partners, into a highly optimized and comprehensive out-of-the-box solution that addresses the complex requirements for the burgeoning wearable market, all while bringing their designs quickly to market. Users can wear it around their neck and display different applications (compass, watch, spirit level, slide show, battery gauge) specialized for the Andriod operating system (OS) and made by Adeneo Embedded.

“Adeneo Embedded has a long standing partnership with Atmel on Linux, Windows Embedded and more recently Android porting activities for AT91SAM ARM based MPUs,” said Yannick Chammings, Adeneo Embedded CEO. “With the collaboration on the Smart Badge concept, implementing Android-based wearable scenarios, Adeneo Embedded will scale OS and SW support to OEMs developing smart, connected, wearable devices.”

Based on Atmel’s embedded connectivity, the demonstrator can interact with other Android mobile phones. The badge uses a 3.5-inch display from Precision Design Associates and embeds MEMS and sensor technology from Bosch Sensortec, as well as memory multi-chip package from Micron combining 4Gb of LPDDR2 + 4GB of eMMC in a single package demonstrator running on the Android KitKat OS. Beyond that, Atmel is also developing a software framework that will allow various software partners to plug in their software and seamlessly work together.


With the anticipated growth of the wearable space, designers are continually seeking solutions that combine all the necessary and complex technologies into a simple, ready-to-use solution, enabling designers to focus on differentiating their products. The Smart Badge is the first demonstrator to bring together the company’s ultra-low power Atmel | SMART SAMA5D31 MPU, the Atmel | SMART SAM G54 sensor hub solution, a maXTouch mXT112S controller and a SmartConnect WILC3000 Wi-Fi/Bluetooth integrated solution.

“Atmel possesses the most complete, lowest power technology portfolio for wearable devices worldwide,” explains Vince Murdica, who is responsible for Atmel’s sensor-centric business unit. “Atmel’s Smart Badge is the first of many wearable reference designs and platforms to come as we want to ensure when customers think wearables, they think Atmel. We are very focused and excited to help accelerate the growth of the wearable market with turnkey, low power, complete hardware and software solutions.”

Watch the badge in action below!

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.


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.

Evaluating the SAM9N12 and SAMA5D3 MPUs

I was lucky enough to catch a presentation on our big-iron MPU (microprocessor unit) chips. Atmel is rightly famous for our MCUs, microcontroller units that have flash memory inside the chip. That includes our 8- and 32-bit AVRs and our ARM-core SAM D20 and SAM3 and SAM4. Indeed, one of the cool things Atmel did was license the ARM7 TDMI Thumb MPU core and make it into our SAM7 series MCUs. But Atmel makes MPUs as well, microprocessor units. These have external memory. These parts, such as the SAM9N series and the newer SAMA5D3 are much more powerful than the average microcontroller of any make.


The SAM9N12 eval board (left), and the SAMA5D3 eval board. These are complete computers that sip a few Watts of power.


The SAM9N12 eval board (left), and the SAMA5D3 eval board from the back.


You can tell Atmel has experienced hardware folks. We put the SAMA5D3-EX jumper settings right on the silkscreen. Nice.

You could use the parts to make a human-machine interface (HMI) for industrial control, or a kiosk, or one of those super-fancy thermostats. Bar code scanners or gateways and routers can be fashioned from the A5, since it has good on-board communication. The SAMA5D3x can run Linux just fine. It can even do Android, but there it is better for “headless” applications, since the Android interpreted language overhead makes it hard on the A5 to both run the code and do the LCD display plus touch interface at the same time.


The SAM9N12 block diagram. The eval board has even more functions, including a Zigbee module socket. There is also a pot or volume knob on the board not shown here.

And be sure to consider the older SAM9N12. It’s not as powerful, but as you would expect, uses even less power to do its thing. Right now (2013) the SAM9N12-EK eval kit is discounted and you can pick one up for $199 bucks from the Atmel store. I could not find a power spec on the eval kit, so I brought in my handy Kilowatt meter.


The Kilowatt never goes above 2W as the SAM9N12-EK boots and runs. Ignore that old Atmel logo—this was an old board laying around, although we still use this logo on our chips as a distinctive mark.

I was delighted to see the KiloWatt never got above 2 Watts. And that is 2W from the wall outlet, including the losses in the wall wart transformer. This just astonishes me. The pre-loaded app on the SAM9N12-EK runs Linux and boots into a slide show. You can select Qt display driver demos and several graphics displays to show off the capabilities of the chip. There is a resistive touch screen on the LCD. It does not work near as well Atmel’s capacitive touch screens, but it comes with the LCD module.

I fired up the SAM5AD3-EX as well, and was pleased to see the KiloWatt only showed 3W coming from the wall outlet. For as powerful as the SAM5 is, this is an amazing achievement.


The SAMA5D3 uses 3 Watts while providing a full operating system and Ethernet connectivity.

A quick check at the Atmel Store shows the SAMA5D3-EK to go for $595. That is not pocket change, but remember this thing has the power of the desktop computer you used a few years ago. And we give you the schematics, the design files and sample applications to get you started. One great thing about the SAMA5D3x board is that the CPU and memory is on its own module. When I talked to the head of the business unit, he explained that we thought that this was the best way to give customers a leg-up on their development. Now you don’t have to worry about touchy PCB layout of the CPU and memory system, you can buy it as a module, even in higher volumes, from Atmel’s 3rd party partners.

So I just wanted to give an overview of these powerful Atmel chips, this time. Next I will fire up and show each board in more detail. And stay tuned, Atmel has some more powerful chips and systems coming, and I will be sure to tell you all about that.

Designing PLC systems and I/O modules with Atmel

PLC systems are typically highly complex,  as they integrate numerous board modules required by current-gen automated industrial environments, including:

  • Programmable logic controllers (PLC) or programmable automated controllers (PAC)
  • Distributed Control Systems
  • Digital and analog IO-modules
  • Field bus communication modules
  • Industrial Ethernet interfaces
  • Wireless communication module

“Clearly, the diversity of board designs for industrial PLC applications is challenging for R&D departments. For optimal hardware and software development, designers require a broad, efficient product family where development can be re-used as much as possible,” an Atmel engineering rep told Bits & Pieces.

“To meet these needs, Atmel offers efficient AVR and ARM-based product lineups ranging from low pincount, low flash size microcontrollers to high-performing embedded MPUs running at 400MHz.”

Indeed, for main CPU applications, Atmel’s SAM9 series offers up to 400Mhz ARM926EJ core with up to 32KB instruction and data caches for fast execution times, while a unique dual EBI (External Bus interface) feature allows connecting dedicated circuits for field bus or real time industrial Ethernet communication without strongly impacting the bus load and the performance of the application.

“In addition, the implementation of the TCM (Tightly Coupled Memory) interface on selected products enables access to the internal SRAM with zero wait state at 400MHz. With this feature, time-critical code sections and interrupt routines can be executed fast and deterministically,” the Atmel engineering rep continued. “Plus, our microcontrollers support up to 37 DMA channels with double buffering feature to minimize CPU load and reduce real time constraints, while support for DDR2 external memory enables lower cost and longer availability for CPU devices.”

Additional key features? An integrated power-on-reset (eliminates the need for cost-intensive external power management IC), serial NVM for system boot (allows smaller PCB layout), industrial BGA package with 0.8mm pitch (eases PCB layout and reduces assembly costs) and system security solutions (peripheral components).

“In terms of I/O module solutions, Atmel offers high-speed serial peripherals for a fast communication with backplane bus interface or the connection to high resolution external ADC or DAC, with SPI data rates up to 48Mbps on the SAM3U. CAN modules are available on Atmel AVR UC3, megaAVR and AT91SAM microcontrollers,” the engineering rep explained.

“There are also numerous 16-bit timers with input capture function for time stamping, PWM channels support control and dim functions for LEDs. Of course, Atmel supports a rich set of analog functions such as 12-bit ADC and DAC, as well as analog comparator for monitoring the operation condition of the IO-module. And last, but certainly not least, we offer a high performance CPU up to 96MHz with integrated MAC unit supporting the growing demand for signal conditioning on the analog IO-module.”

Interested in learning more about designing PLC and I/O modules with Atmel tech? You can check out our complete device breakdown here.

Powering industrial communications with Atmel

Industrial communications are a critical aspect of current-gen automated systems – with defined standards that continue to evolve as new industrial Ethernet protocols emerge. Atmel’s versatile portfolio of microcontrollers (MCUs) provides engineers with the peripherals and internal system architecture required to efficiently interface new products with leading field busses, industrial Ethernet standards and wireless communications.

Field Bus

Atmel offers a dedicated RS485 mode for USART peripherals which is available on most ARM processor-based AT91SAM and AVR 32-bit microcontrollers. Meanwhile, a rich number of DMA channels on Atmel megaAVR, AVR XMEGA, AVR 32-bit and AT91SAM MCUs unload the CPU during industrial communication transfers, with multi-layer bus implementation on Atmel 32-bit microcontrollers enabling true parallel data transfers and effectively minimizing bus load limitation.

In addition, there is an (optional) external bus interface on several Atmel microcontrollers, with up to 32-bit data supports dedicated ASSP for protocols such as Profibus. Plus, up to 12Mbps USART on the SAM3U and SAM9 microcontrollers provides support for external transceivers. In terms of single or dual CAN controllers, select Atmel MCUs are V2.0A and V2.0B standard compliant, supporting independent message objects that are programmable on the fly and ideal for field bus such as CANopen and DeviceNet.

Industrial Ethernet

The vertical integration of management execution systems with factory floor equipment has resulted in the continued convergence of the Ethernet TCP/IP protocol with industrial field busses. As noted above, several industrial Ethernet protocols have emerged, including Profinet, Ethernet/IP, ModbusTCP/IP, EtherCat and Ethernet Powerlink.

“Most industrial Ethernet automated systems do not require compliance with a PLC cycle times lower than a few milliseconds. For these applications, the industrial Ethernet protocol can be cost-effectively implemented in software on a microcontroller with an integrated standard Ethernet MAC peripheral,” an Atmel engineering rep told Bits & Pieces.

“Due to their moderate flash size requirement, protocols like Modbus TCP can be implemented in a microcontroller. Atmel offers ARM-based and 32-bit AVR microcontrollers with up to 512KB of flash and an integrated Ethernet MAC unit.”

According to the rep, one of the most noteworthy features includes a 10/100 Ethernet Media Access Controller (EMAC) peripheral with chained buffer Direct Memory Access (DMA). This acts as a master on the internal multi layer bus with multiple internal SRAM blocks – enabling a true parallel data transfer between the Ethernet frames and the application data.

“Atmel’s  SAM9  MPUs are also price-competitive solutions for implementing industrial Ethernet protocols, such as the Ethernet/IP standard, which requires a higher flash size and faster execution time,” the engineering rep continued.

“Atmel’s  SAM9 MPU, like the SAM9G45, offers a variety of benefits, including a 400Mhz clocked ARM926EJ core with 32KB instruction and data caches speed execution time. There is also deterministic execution time with the use of the TCM (Tightly Coupled Memory) interface, enabling access to the internal SRAM with zero wait state at 400MHz. Indeed, by dynamically configuring the SRAM as TCM, Ethernet frames can be analyzed at full speed without any copy to the cache.”

For motion control applications, synchronism and short latency aspects are crucial. Protocols such as Profinet IRT or Ethercat address these requirements and are suited for systems with a sub-millisecond PLC times. In this case, specific ASSP or FPGA solutions must be used. The Atmel SAM9G45, with its dual EBI feature, lets designers integrate the industrial Ethernet communication module with minimal performance impact. Data transfers between the ASIC or FPGA can be handled by the DMA unit, in parallel with external RAM access.

Wireless Communication

Wireless communication in the industrial automation sector is increasingly popular, as it provides an easier way to install and connect mobile or inaccessible equipment. To be sure, industrial control equipment such as PLC and DCS IO modules primarily utilize IEEE802.11 WLAN and Bluetooth standards. And that is one of the reasons Atmel’s 32-bit microcontrollers and microprocessors feature an embedded multimedia card interface which supports connection to an SDIO WLAN or Bluetooth module. In fact, a full reference design based on the Atmel AVR 32-bit microcontroller and the industrial Wifi Module from H&D is available for evaluation and development here, while a Linux-based solution for Atmel SAM9 microcontrollers can be found here.

And last, but certainly not least, industrial sensors and actuators have demanding requirements for power consumption, board space and implementation cost. For these products, IEEE802.15.4 technology, such as Zigbee or Wireless-HART is most appropriate, with Atmel offering complete wireless solutions based on our low-power microcontrollers and RF transceivers. Benefits include excellent RF performance, which enables longer range and more robust RF link, optimized power consumption and lowest system cost.

Additional information about Atmel MCUs that can be used to power a wide range of industrial communication devices is available here.

A sure touch with buttons, sliders and wheels

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

And today we’re going to take a closer look at Atmel’s touch portfolio by focusing on said buttons, sliders and wheels. To be sure, Atmel offers versatile tech for the implementation of buttons, sliders and wheels on any touch-sensitive device.

As an Atmel engineering rep told Bits & Pieces, these integrated circuits (ICs) enhance the user experience with excellent precision and reliability.

“They also deliver superb low-power characteristics, a critical requirement for today’s battery-powered handheld and mobile devices,” the engineering rep explained.

“The technology supports simple 1–10 button configurations as well as more complex scanned-matrix configurations of up to 48 buttons — at very low cost per button.”

Atmel also offers the above-mentioned QTouch Suite for embedding buttons, sliders, and wheels into the the AT91SAM and AVR microcontrollers.

Additional key specs? Long-range proximity sensing (enables capacitive proximity range over 10-inches), cutting-edge interfaces, design flexibility, low power consumption and robust operation.

Interested in learning more about what Atmel can offer you in terms of buttons, sliders and wheels?  Additional information can be found 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.