Tag Archives: Atmel ARM-based Microcontrollers

FemtoUSB is an open-source Cortex-M0+ board

The latest board from Femtoduino is designed to help those looking to migrate from AVR to ARM-based designs.

You may recall Femtoduino from their recent campaign around the highly-popular IMUduino BTLE. Now, the crew is back with their latest device, an uber-mini Cortex-M0+ MCU that they call FemtoUSB. The board was designed as a basic starting point for those interested in ARM-based projects, particularly for those transitioning from 8-bit AVR.

“Before the release of the FemtoUSB, learning to design for ARM chips was very difficult,” the team writes. “Compiling a toolchain? What does the most basic schematic for an ARM chip even look like? What in the world is JTAG?”


Recently launched on Tindie, FemtoUSB is built around an Atmel | SMART ATSAMD21E18A, featuring 256KB of Flash and up to a 48MHz operating frequency. Its creators note that its schematic follows the suggested design found in the SAM D21 data sheet. The device features 3.3V on-board regulator (VIN line), a supply up to 10V, and a regulated down to 3.3V on the 3V3 line. The FemtoUSB comes with a standard 0.1″ (2.54mm) pin spacing design for breadboards, and a smaller 0.05″ (1.27mm) pin spacing design for tinier projects.

“Atmel has some of the best support for the open-source hardware community. They offer proper documentation, excellent chip performance, and a great foundation via the Atmel Software Framework,” Alex Albino, Femtoduino Senior Engineer, explains. “Did we mention how easy it is to get started with ARM using Atmel?”


Migrating from 8- to 32-bit is much easier today than it was in years prior. As the Femtoduino team points out, most microcontrollers have a similar set of requirements, which range from adding some resistors and a reset circuit to hooking up a USB port and burning a bootloader.

“You can of course, add in a reverse current protection circuit, a crystal clock source for chips that don’t have an internal one (or if you want a faster clock source), some fancy peripheral additions, etc. However, here’s where we will draw an imaginary line, and now distinguish between 8-bit AVRs and 16/32-bit ARM chips.”

When working with ARM chips, Albino advises that you will need a programmer dongle to initially burn a bootloader. Serial Wire Debug seems to be the most basic form of the JTAG interface — something provided by all ARM chips. This is akin to the “Ardiuno ISP” mode of programming. Keep in mind, though, not all chips “talk the same” between the chip and a dongle.


“It’s kind of like how two people can have the same interface (vocal chords), but speak different languages. Fortunately, it seems Atmel’s SAM D21 chips talk Cortex Microcontroller Software Interface Standard (CMSIS), which is a vendor-independent hardware abstraction layer for the Cortex-M processor series. This is another great reason to use Atmel’s line of ARM chips, for what it’s worth.”

The pins used to provide a JTAG connection vary depending on the ARM chip selected, and offer more debugging features when more pins are added. For the most part, JTAG Serial Wire Debug establishes the five necessary connections: Ground, Voltage Reference, Reset, Serial Wire Clock (SWCLK), and Serial Wire Debug Input/Output (SWDIO).


Albino shares that your programming dongle should have a datasheet informing you of the pinout provided, which will enable you to wire it to your board accordingly. Another key difference — and a very important one for that matter — is the voltage. You may be used to 5V logic levels working with AVR 8-bit chips, but 5V can be utterly destructive to an ARM chip as they are meant to work with less power. The usual voltage range for Atmel’s line of ARM chips is somewhere between 1.8V to 3.3V.

“As with all ARM chips, you will benefit greatly from having a programmer dongle. Some vendors lock their chips behind really expensive software tools, and even more expensive programmer dongles ($200+). Oh, and have fun trying to get their proprietary stuff working with your open source setup. Thankfully, Atmel offers their ATMEL-ICE programmer at a reasonable price of about $85. I hear you can get them much cheaper without the case, though don’t expect it to come with ribbon cables if you go the cheap route.”


Bringing the FemtoUSB to life required the following components:

Additionally, the project calls for some low-temp lead-free solder paste, a couple PCBs and SMD components. On the software side, the team suggests using Atmel Studio with Windows or Terry Guo’s GNU ARM Embedded Toolchain for those running Mac OS X or Linux.


Regardless the operating machine, Albino stresses that Atmel Software Framework and Atmel SAM-BA In-System Programmer are required. The board also comes pre-loaded with the AT07175: SAM-BA Bootloader for SAM D21, “which is what actually gets programmed on to the chip so we can load stuff via USB instead, thanks to the open-source BOSSA utility.” (Hence, the name FemtoUSB.)

Femtoduino does reveal that they are working on getting an Arduino integration working, along with other non-Arduino tools to load things via USB. Interested? Femtoduino is now available on Tindie for $24.99. Those wishing to learn more can also head over to the project’s Github page here.

Ready to wear sensor hubs

Majeed Ahmad explores the latest sensor hub offerings for wearable devices.  

By Majeed Ahmad

Atmel has beefed up its sensor hub offerings for wearable devices with SAM D20 Cortex M0+ microcontroller core to add more functionality and further lower the power bar for battery-operated devices. The SAM D20 MCUs offer ultra-low power through a patented power-saving technique called “Event System” that allows peripherals to communicate directly with each other without involving the CPU.

Atmel is part of the group of chipmakers that use low-power MCUs for sensor management as opposed to incorporating low-power core within the application processor. According to market research firm IHS Technology, Atmel is the leading sensor hub device supplier with 32 percent market share.

Sensor hubs are semiconductor devices that carry out sensor processing tasks — like sensor fusion and sensor calibration — through an array of software algorithms and subsequently transform sensor data into app-ready information for smartphones, tablets and wearable devices. Sensor hubs combine inputs from multiple sensors and sensor types including motion sensors — such as accelerometers, magnetometers and gyroscopes — and environmental sensors that provide light level, color, temperature, pressure, humidity, and many other inputs.

Atmel has supplied MCU-centric sensor hub solutions for a number of smartphones. Take China’s fourth largest smartphone maker, Coolpad, which has been using Atmel’s low-power MCU to offload sensor management tasks from handset’s main processor. However, while still busy in supplying sensor hub chips for smartphones and tablets, Atmel is looking at the next sensor-laden frontier: wearable devices.

SAM D20 Evaluation Kit

SAM D20 Evaluation Kit

Wearable devices are becoming the epitome of always-on sensor systems as they mirror and enhance cool smartphone apps like location and transport, activity and gesture monitoring, and voice command operation in far more portable manner. At the same time, however, always-on sensor ecosystem within connected wearables requires sensor hubs to interpret and combine multiple types of sensing—motion, sound and face—to enable context, motion and gesture solutions for devices like smartwatch.

Sensor hubs within wearable environment should be able to manage robust context awareness, motion detection, and gesture recognition demands. Wearable application developers are going to write all kinds of apps such as tap-to-walk and optical gesture. And, for sensor hubs, that means a lot more processing work and a requirement for greater accuracy.

So, the low-power demand is crucial in wearable devices given that sensor hubs would have to process a lot more sensor data at a lot lower power budget compared to smartphones and tablets. That’s why Atmel is pushing the power envelope for connected wearables through SAM D20 Cortex M0+ cores that offload the application processor from sensor-related tasks.

LifeQ’s sensor module for connected wearables.

LifeQ’s sensor module for connected wearables

The SAM D20 devices have two software-selectable sleep modes: idle and standby. In idle mode, the CPU is stopped while all other functions can be kept running. In standby mode, all clocks and functions are stopped except those selected to continue running.

Moreover, SAM D20 microcontroller supports SleepWalking, a feature that allows the peripheral to wake up from sleep based on predefined conditions. It allows the CPU to wake up only when needed — for instance, when a threshold is crossed or a result is ready.

The SAM D20 Cortex M0+ core offers the peripheral flexibility through a serial communication module (SERCOM) that is fully software-configurable to handle I2C, USART/UART and SPI communications. Furthermore, it offers memory densities ranging from 16KB to 256KB to give designers the option to determine how much memory they will require in sleep mode to achieve better power efficiency.

Atmel’s sensor hub solutions support Android and Windows operating systems as well as real-time operating system (RTOS) software. The San Jose–based chipmaker has also partnered with sensor fusion software and application providers including Hillcrest Labs and Sensor Platforms. In fact, Hillcrest is providing sensor hub software for China’s Coolpad, which is using Atmel’s low-power MCU for sensor data management.

The company has also signed partnership deals with major sensor manufacturers — including Bosch, Intersil, Kionix, Memsic and Sensirion — to streamline and accelerate design process for OEMs and ensure quick and seamless product integration.


Atmel Sensor Hub Software from Hillcrest Labs


This post has been republished with permission from SemiWiki.com, where Majeed Ahmad is a featured blogger. It first appeared there on February 4, 2015.  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. Majeed has a background in Engineering MS, former EE Times Editor in Chief (Asia), Writer for EC Magazine, Author of SmartPhone, Nokia’s SMART Phone.


Atmel launches new series of Atmel | SMART ARM Cortex-M7 based MCUs

Atmel has expanded upon its Atmel | SMART ARM-based microcontroller family with the launch of four new series of Cortex-M7 based devices.


The new series deliver the highest performing Cortex-M7 based MCUs to the market with exceptional memory and connectivity options for design flexibility making them ideal for the automotive, Internet of Things (IoT) and industrial connectivity markets.

“As one of the first ARM licensees, we are excited to be among the first suppliers to introduce a portfolio of ARM Cortex-M7 based MCUs,” said Jacko Wilbrink, Atmel Senior Marketing Director. “Our family of Cortex-M7 based devices broaden the Atmel | SMART Cortex-M based MCUs and provide a robust feature set tailored for the automotive, industrial, consumer and IoT markets giving designers the next level of performance, along with advanced high-speed connectivity, high density on-chip memory and a solid ecosystem to meet every designers needs. We look forward to seeing more applications in the market adopt our Cortex-M7 based devices.”

All devices enable customers to scale-up performance and deliver SRAM and system functionality, while keeping the Cortex-M processor family ease-of-use and maximizing software reuse. The devices contain advanced memory architectures with up to 384KB of multi-port SRAM memory out of which 256KB can be configured as tightly coupled memory delivering zero wait state access at 300MHz. With over four times the performance of current Atmel ARM Cortex-M based MCUs running up to 300MHz, larger configurable SRAM up to 384kB and higher bandwidth peripherals, the new devices give designers the right connectivity, SRAM and performance mix for their industrial, connectivity and automotive designs. All devices come with high-speed USB On-the-Go (OTG) and on-chip high-speed USB PHY and Flash memory densities of 512kB, 1MB and 2MB.

Broadening the Atmel | SMART ARM Cortex-M based MCU portfolio, the new SAM E70 and the SAM S70 are ideal for connectivity and general purpose industrial applications, while the auto-grade SAM V70 and SAM V71 are perfectly suited for in-vehicle infotainment, audio amplifiers, telematics and head unit control.

Atmel | SMART SAM E and SAM S Series

Atmel’s SAM S70 series is based on the ARM Cortex-M7 core plus a floating point unit (FPU) extending the general purpose product portfolio with maximum operating speeds up to 300MHz, up to 2MB of Flash, dual 16KB of cache memory and up to 384KB of SRAM with an extensive peripheral set including high-speed USB host and device plus high-speed PHY, up to 8 UARTs, I2S, SD/MMC interface, a CMOS camera interface, system control and analog interfaces.

In addition to the SAM S70 series features, Atmel’s SAM E70 series include a 10/100 Ethernet MAC and Dual Bosch CAN-FD interfaces with advanced analog features making them ideal for connectivity applications. The SAM E70 is upwards compatible with Atmel’s SAM4E series.

Atmel | SMART SAM V Series

The automotive-qualified SAM V70 and V71 series offer unique Ethernet AVB support, high-speed USB with integrated PHY and Media LB, which, when combined with the Cortex-M7 DSP extensions, make the series ideal for infotainment connectivity and audio applications. The series also offers the latest CAN 2.0 and CAN flexible data rate controller for higher bandwidth requirements.

“Atmel was a lead partner for the ARM Cortex-M7 processor launch in October 2014 and the milestone of shipping automotive-qualified SoCs demonstrates significant progress,” shared Richard York, ARM Vice President of Embedded Marketing. “Atmel’s broad family of Cortex-M7 based MPUs provide high performance, advanced connectivity, flexible memory options and a solid ecosystem tailored for the automotive, industrial and general connectivity markets.”

Interested in learning more? You can check out the entire Atmel | SMART family here.

Preview: ARM TechCon 2014

Fresh on the heels of World Maker Faire, the Atmel team is headed down the road to the city of Santa Clara for the 10th Annual ARM TechCon 2014. Held October 1-3 inside the Santa Clara Convention Center, the Atmel team will showcase the latest Atmel | SMART ARM-based microcontrollers driving smart, secure and connected devices for the Internet of Things.


At the Atmel booth (#205), visitors will have a chance to explore a number of hands-on demos including:

…. and, we will also be making announcement around the Atmel | SMART MCU family which you will surely not want to miss. Stay tuned!


Anyone who’s previously attended ARM TechCon — or any event where Atmel was present for that matter– knows one of the highlights is the free giveaways! On Wednesday, we will be distributing several Atmel | SMART SAM4L Evaluation Kits from our booth (#205). Whereas on Thursday, Atmel | SMART SAM D20 Xplained Pro Evaluation Kit will be given away during the ARM Connected Community demo at 1:30pm and 5:00pm PT inside the ARM booth (#300).


Meanwhile, Andreas Eieland, Atmel Senior Product Marketing Manager, will educating attendees on why ARM’s Cortex-M0+ was the ideal architecture to use as a foundation for the highly-flexible and easy-to-use SAM D MCU and its potential use cases in home automation, consumer devices, smart metering and industrial applications. Don’t this this session, aptly entitled “Think Beyond the Core,” which is slated to take place on Wednesday at 2:00pm PT.

Other notable key moments in and around the show include an infrastructure panel with Dell and Oracle moderated by ARM’s Ian Ferguson, discussions around the new Cortex-M7 processor, IoT and wearable tech-focused developer workshops, as well as Thursday’s keynote with ARM CEO Simon Segars.

Be prepared to be blown away by not one, but two keynote speakers: Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics, and Erica Kochi, Chief Innovator for UNICEF. Anderson will be discussing the latest developments in the drone community along with new opportunities in robotics for ARM, while Kochi will explore the ways in which UNICEF and ARM are working together on power and efficiency improvements for mobile devices.

Thinking of visiting the show? Receive a free ARM Expo Pass using the code: ARMExp100. Hurry, this promotion expires on September 30th.

Unable to attend? As a leading member of the ARM Connected Community, rest assured we will be tweeting away and dishing out up-to-the-minute happenings from the show floor. Follow along using the hashtags #ARMTechCon and #AtmelLive throughout the week.