Tag Archives: Atmel AVR

A closer look at Atmel’s picoPower technology

We briefly touched on Atmel’s picoPower technology this morning in the context of Samsung’s Galaxy S4 smartphone, which is equipped with Atmel’s sensor hub management MCU (microcontroller unit). The MCU collects and processes data from all connected sensors in real-time, optimizing multiple user experiences, such as gaming, navigation and virtual reality.

Atmel’s sensor hub MCU also lowers the overall system power consumption via picoPower technology to prevent drain and enable longer battery life. In a broader sense, it is important to note that all Atmel AVR picoPower devices are designed from the ground up for low power consumption utilizing the company’s proprietary low leakage processes and libraries to provide minimal power sipping in all sleep modes.

“An easy way to reduce power consumption in any design is to lower the operating voltage. But this would be mostly useless if analog performance was compromised,” an Atmel engineering rep told us. “Central to the AVR picoPower technology are carefully designed analog functions that continue to operate all the way down to 1.62V.”

To be sure, the various features of a microcontroller traditionally become unstable or even unusable at different voltage levels, as inaccuracies in analog peripherals, limited operation or an inability to write to non-volatile memory prevents designs from running at lower voltages. This leads to shorter battery life, larger and more expensive batteries, or a lot time spent trying to find workarounds for something that should be addressed by the microcontroller to begin with.

As such, Atmel AVR microcontrollers offer true 1.62 V operation, including all analog modules, oscillators, and flash and EEPROM programming. Meaning, various microcontroller features will not shut down one by one as the voltage drops.

“You can run the same application at different voltages without making comprises. All peripherals are available regardless of supply voltage,” the engineering rep continued. “The ADC, for example, can be used to measure the supply voltage as the cutoff voltage is approached, and when detected, it enables the application to store vital information and ensure a safe shutdown, enabling a glitch-free restart after changing batteries.”

Remember, power consumption is proportional to supply voltage, so running at as low a supply voltage as possible saves power. For battery operated devices, the Atmel AVR microcontroller can make use of the remaining power available at lower battery voltage levels as the battery depletes.

In addition to true 1.62 V operation, Atmel’s AVR peripherals with picoPower are capable of determining if incoming data requires use of the CPU or not. This feature is aptly dubbed SleepWalking, as it allows the CPU to sleep peacefully until an important event occurs, eliminating millions of false CPU wakeups. This means the CPU is no longer required to check whether or not a specific condition is present, such as an address match condition on the TWI (I2C) interface, or a sensor connected to an ADC that has exceeded a specific threshold.

Of course, entering sleep mode shuts down parts of the microcontroller to save power. Most oscillators and clocks consume a considerable amount of power when in use, and when waking up from sleep modes, these clocks need to be stable before they can be used. Waiting a long time for the clocks to be available and stable results in wasted power.

However, the Atmel AVR microcontroller is capable of waking up from sleep mode in 8 clock cycles when running from the internal RC oscillator. Moreover, a digital frequency locked loop (DFLL) replaces the traditional phase locked loop (PLL) to provide a programmable internal oscillator that is much faster and accurate.

It can also eliminate external components, which reduces the total system power consumption even more. When in sleep mode with the synchronous clocks turned off, the microcontroller can still wake up from asynchronous events such as a pin change, data received or even an I2C bus address match – enabling multiple wake-up sources from even the deepest sleep modes.

As noted above, the benefits of picoPower are clearly illustrated by Samsung’s decision to equip its flagship Galaxy S4 smartphone with Atmel’s sensor hub MCU which features picoPower tech.

“Atmel allows Galaxy S4 users the ability to enjoy applications requiring real-time motion sensing, without ever compromising battery life,” said Ingar Fredriksen, Senior Director of Flash-based Microcontrollers, Atmel Corporation. “ We look forward to teaming with Samsung on future designs.”

Bootloading 1,000 Atmel Atmega328P-PU chips

We knew that Atmel’s Atmega328P-PU chips were popular, but bootloading 1,000 of them? Yet that is what exactly what Annika “Skywalker” O’Brien did just a few days ago, as you can see in the picture below.

And you know what? There are 1,000 more in the box!

So why would anyone be bootloading 2,000+ Atmel Atmega328P-PU chips? Well, perhaps it has to do with Annika’s recently funded Kickstarter project, namely building an ultra-low cost development platform for micro-robotics which can be easily assembled with through-hole components and a soldering iron.

Specifically, the board features 6 easily accessible ADC ports for analog input, a single digital port for digital inputs, LED access for visual feedback of data throughput and power.


And last, but certainly not least, a socket for Atmel’s Atmega328 compatible with Arduino IDE. As Annika notes, the microprocessor can be easily swapped out with others for field upgrades or if the chip gets fried.

Annika’s Kickstarter project successfully met its Kickstarter goals back in March, raising a cool $24, 553 from 709 backers. Additional information about the initiative can be found here.

Delta Six is an open-source Arduino gaming gun

Inventor David Kotkin has launched a Kickstarter campaign for the revamped Delta Six, which he describes as an open-source Arduino (a microcontroller designed around Atmel AVR or Atmel ARM silicon) gaming gun for next-gen FPS titles like Call of Duty: Ghosts. 

“The Delta Six mirrors the look of a modern military combat rifle, including real time aiming as well as a kickback sensation. The Delta Six was developed using IR sensors, accelerometers and gyroscopes to provide unparalleled arcade experience,” explained Kotkin. “It is compatible with Xbox 360, Play Station 3, and PC systems. The Delta Six [is] upgradeable for next-gen systems like Playstation 4 with a downloadable patch.”

Kotkin also noted that coding for Delta is done via Arduino, allowing for easy software updates and customization.


“Our vision is to bridge the gap between motion control and hardcore FPS. For the first time a Call of Duty player will feel more immersed in game-play and have more control over the game than ever before. Unlike motion control of the past we do the work for you,” Kotko said.

“[For example], when you playing you will have real recoil. Taping the clip will engage a reload in your game. We have installed an IR proximity sensor so when you go to aim the game zooms for you. When you are zoomed in your game if you pull the stock into your shoulder slightly your aim will become steadier with the FPS breath hold feature. While playing if move the Delta stock towards the screen a melee or slash action will occur.”

The revamped Delta Six currently has 258 backers, raising $48, 052 of a $100,000 goal with 28 more days to go. Additional information about the open source Delta Six is available here.

How low is low voltage?

How about 1.8 volts +/- 10%. Yeah, I was reading a flyer about Atmel’s 32-bit AVR® UC3 chips with picoPower® technology. It points out selected devices will work off this low of a voltage. That means a couple of alkaline batteries that are almost dead at 0.9 volts will still power the chip. The flyer points out that the AVR UC3 will do 70 DSP functions, more proof that you don’t need those power-hogging DSP chips from our competitors to run your system. The UC3 chips also do peripheral DMA (direct memory access). This means you can hammer the SPI and USART at 33Mbit/s and the CPU will only be at a 15% load.

AVR_UC3L AVR_32-bit
There is so much more to evaluating micros than clock speeds and pin counts. Take the time to learn about all of Atmel’s offerings, and you may find the perfect chip to get your job done.

Atmel-powered Lumapad is an open-source LED project

The Lumapad can best be described as an open source, high intensity, 8000 lumen LED lighting system built around a user-programmable Arduino (Atmel) compatible micro-controller and an (optional) electric IMP.

According to project designer Richard Haberkern, 32 ultra-bright LEDs are positioned in a landscape array to provide bright, even and controllable lighting, drawing only 88 watts. Meanwhile, a built in electronic dimmer makes the light intensity adjustable to fit just about any environment.

“This is no ordinary bright light,” Haberkern explained. “With your own custom software, you can control the light intensity, flash effects and even the color temperature via your iPhone, Android device or any computer with an internet connection. An Arduino compatible controller along with the newly available Electric IMP WiFi SD card are both built in, [so you can] control the Lumapad any way you can imagine.”

As noted above, the Lumapad is powered by an Arduino compatible ATmega 328P micro- computer and is pin-for-pin compatible with most open source Arduino boards on the market. The ATmega328P – an 8-bit AVR RISC-based microcontroller – combines 32KB ISP flash memory with read-while-write capabilities, 1024B EEPROM, 2KB SRAM, 23 general purpose I/O lines, 32 general purpose working registers, three flexible timer/counters with compare modes, as well as internal and external interrupts.

Additional specs include a serial programmable USART, a byte-oriented 2-wire serial interface, SPI serial port, a 6-channel 10-bit A/D converter (8-channels in TQFP and QFN/MLF packages), programmable watchdog timer with internal oscillator, and five software selectable power saving modes. By executing powerful instructions in a single clock cycle, the ATmega achieves throughputs approaching 1 MIPS per MHz, balancing power consumption and processing speed.

On the software side, developing for the IMP is unlike your typical embedded development environment, as there are no SDKs to install, JTAG pods, or long download time. Rather, you develop your code in a browser-based IDE, compile it and run on the IMP in under a second. And, using the Arduino compatible micro-computer, you can write multiple programs to control a scene or room lighting.

The Arduino-powered Lumapad has already reached its funding goals on Kickstarter, with 225 backers and $94,482 pledged. Additional information can be found here on Kickstarter, or the official Lumapad website.

The Internet of Things, Arduino and Android, that’s Souliss

By: Dario Dimaio of Souliss and Tom Vu of Atmel

The Internet of Things, Arduino and Android, that’s Souliss

Network connectivity is shifting from people to objects, driving the revolution of the IoT (Internet of Things).

Souliss is an open-source framework, based on Atmel technologies. In 2011, Souliss founders began searching for cheap and effective devices capable of turning objects into interconnected devices. Back then, such technology was mature and inexpensive enough, although no one method had a lead. Simply put, this few people agreed upon how the objects should be interconnected, a rather typical problem of standards and architectures.

However, once there is a unified solution for device connectivity, like the conventional Internet of today, the Internet of Things will significantly increase, both in terms of scale and pervasiveness. Remember, in any new technical development there is always room to propose a bridge or contribution to the vision. That was the basis for Souliss.

Souliss is a distributed open-source framework designed to run on the Atmel Atmega328 and Atmega32U4. It can also run on other AVR microcontrollers, like the Atmega1280 and the Atmega2560. The Souliss standard offers offers working solutions, allowing users to build a network of interconnected devices within minutes.

Starting with open-source design

Open-source hardware and software represents an amazing revolution, as it gives people the power to design and build high-level software and hardware tools, even if they don’t have a large company behind them.

For example, there are dozens of people on the Souliss team that did not do any coding. Instead, they articulated the goals for the framework. This is the power of open-source to the community of emergent Makers at Souliss.

The Souliss team designed most of the code, prototyping a board based on an Atmel Atmega328 microcontroller and a AT86RF230 2.4 GHz wireless radio microcontroller manufactured by Freaklabs. The fact that the board is Arduino-compatible is not arbitrary, as openness helps drive this project as well as other hardware designs that you often see in the Arduino community. The open-source nature of the design offers wide accessibility and abundant documentation such as user guides, schemas, application notes, and ecosystem material. This provided Souliss with an early start in its design journey.

Open-source offered a quick design and development starting point. This made it easy to transition to the next steps, including new innovations, and higher-level functionality. The openness of the AVR compilers encouraged open-source prototyping boards like Arduino. The core of this spirit creates a chain of solutions that drive the next successive achievement. Souliss is the next link in that chain.

What Souliss does

Start controlling a light bulb from remote and local switches, report the state to the Android app

Souliss offers a simplified set of tools that allows users to build a network of interconnected devices. Potentially, you don’t have to write any code. You just choose what, which, and how many devices for your internet-connected things. Then you select the proper APIs and compile. The focal idea is that your IoT should be scalable and will not rest on a single architecture. In other words, it has to be robust. For instance, communication between nodes and users need not be cloud-based. This improves reliability in case of a missing connection. Yet an individual should be able to join the cloud for functionality that he or she cannot get easily in a local network, like acting based on the weather forecast. 

Devices that run the Souliss framework can communicate directly via peer-to-peer. There is no central node or cloud service that coordinates them.  The logic driving objects is executed locally. Meaning, networking is an opportunity, but it certainly isn’t mandatory.

A Souliss example

The simplest Souliss configuration includes just two nodes, a bridge node and a peer node. The illustration below is an example of controlling a garage door:

Souliss WirelessMyGarage - Open and Close the garage door from the wall switch or the Android app

Users and Souliss

The direct interaction between the nodes is a fundamental part of the Souliss framework. But all items in the Internet of Things has to eventually be able to be controlled by a person. The Souliss team provided for this by designing an Android application that behaves as a node.

The app gets data and interacts directly with other nodes, using the same data protocol without needing to request additional devices in the middle. There is one node, called a gateway, which in the course of performing control of its own devices, collects data from all other nodes in the network. The gateway makes data available to user interfaces, including Android, Modbus or JSON. You can move functionality over nodes as you like, shifting from distributed to centralized paradigms, all without having to configure anything other than node addresses and controlled appliances.

What you can expect

Without an open standard your disparate devices have no interaction. Souliss may drive a different solution. Consider an electric coffee machine. The coffee making is handled by a microcontroller. Now consider using a microcontroller with a built-in transceiver, like the Atmel Atmega128RFA1 or Atmega256RFR2. The PCB assembly cost and part count is the same. The incremental cost for the transceiver is not large. However, a microcontroller combined with a functional RF transceiver can have a disruptive effect.

The coffee machine’s closed firmware can now interact with an open ecosystem. This will turn it into an innovative node in the Internet of Things, giving it interaction and additional distributed intelligence. You can create an entire new layer of distributed access and event triggers that can be based on other devices designed to act on opportunities.  In such a scenario, every device can become a Souliss node. As a node, its methodology and connective state can be communicated with other devices or items.

Where Souliss is now

Souliss is a night-job, a Maker’s adventure, developed for the sheer joy of the technology. It is a harmonious way to propose an idea and a vision to the community and to contribute in the scope of the Internet of Things. We love, share, and enjoy Souliss with a community spirit infused with transparency. We invite others with this passion and spirit to help in its evolution. We continue to have passion for the Internet of Things, along with others whom we work and collaborate with. Evolve, crowd-source, and most importantly, keep it open. Souliss will never look completed to our eyes.  Instead, we see it as a digital connective sculpture. It communicates to existing electronic ecosystems such as home automation, home entertainment, industrial automation, medical, mobile to mobile, and others. Yet you can build it as a digital canvas of eventful nodes.

Stay tuned for our next blog piece…