Tag Archives: Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Energy chip

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.

Atmel and IoT (Internet of Things)

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.


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.

The Internet of Things and energy conservation

Humans are creative, and adaptive. We’ve done it all our lives, and all our existence. We needed more food, and so we created agriculture. We needed to live together, and so we created architecture. We needed to communicate, and so we created hundreds of ways to do just that; Internet, mobile telephone networks, computers. We are so fond of computers that we have them everywhere, often without noticing them. Yes, you might have a bulky desktop computer at home, or maybe even a flashy new laptop, but those are not the only computers. Your mobile telephone is a computer, but technically, so is your microwave, your car, your television set, and even your washing machine.

Our lives have changed greatly. We’ve all seen pictures and even films of medieval castles, and we know how we used to live. Today, our lives are made more comfortable by scores of machines; when was the last time you washed your clothes by hand? The clothes go in the washing machine, then in the dryer, and then in the cupboard. This all comes at a cost; financially, of course, but also in terms of energy.

Energy. The art of creating electrical power and delivering it to our homes and cities. For most people, this is as simple as having overhead power lines here and there, and paying a bill at the end of the month. Unfortunately, it is much more complicated than that. Power stations require scores of people to operate, and something surprising, data. In France, we have “too many” power stations, and most run at low capacity. When it gets hot, those who have air conditioning like to put it on, consuming electricity. Multiply that by a few thousand, and you get an idea of how much energy the power station needs to produce. When it gets cold, people like to heat their homes and businesses, and since everyone has radiators, electrical consumption soars. Imagine the amount of radiators an entire city can contain, and imagine even 50% of them turned on at the same time. Imagine.

Data is needed from other sources, not just from the weather. Imagine the amount of power required to let all the football fans watch the world cup. Our problem is that we can generate electricity, but we cannot store it (at least, not on this kind of scale). When everything gets turned on, the power station must be able to respond. If it can’t, bad things happen; the lights dim, or sometimes everything goes dark. We now know we cannot live without electricity.

SMART Energy Flow

We all know that we need to reduce our energy dependence, even if some of us don’t want to. To make more people aware, some cities turn off all the lights for an hour. It’s called Earth Hour. For one hour, people are encouraged to use as little electricity as possible; turning off the lights, for example. This does have an impact, but it is a double-edged sword. For one hour, the electricity usage drops considerably, while everyone thinks about the planet, and what we will leave behind for our children. At the end of the hour, everything goes back on, and this is where things get tricky. When electrical devices are first turned on, some can generate what is called an energy spike; a large consumption at first, before something more stable. It is visible just after Earth Hour, but it actually happens every day.

Building Appliances and Home Systems using Energy at Optimum Times

Peak hours. In my house, my electric water heater is connected to a peak-hour detection system. At 11:30 PM, my electricity provider starts “off-peak” hours, a time where electricity costs less. It costs less, an incentive to make me use power-hungry devices at a time when other devices are not needed. At this time of night, most businesses are closed, and so there is less demand. It is all about normalizing energy requirements, and to stop peaks during the day. At 7:30 AM, peak hours start, the water heater turns off, businesses start up, and my kettle turns on, the day is about to begin.


Energy is available, that isn’t the problem. Our problem is our use of energy. If only we had a way of using energy when it was available. Imagine, a certain amount of energy available. When I need light, I want my light to be usable immediately. I need a start time; now. However, when I put my clothes in the washing machine generally, I need them to be ready for the next day. I need and “end” time; I need the device to get the work done before a certain time. When will the washing machine start? Well, I don’t actually mind when it starts, and this is where I need help. This is where the IoT can help us, because we really need help.

The IoT will give us millions of connected sensors. This will also supply us with data, lots and lots of it. Why wouldn’t a small device in my house have direct control over my washing machine, or even better, actually be inside my washing machine? It could be programmed to start at a specific time, talking to other devices on the energy grid? Or even in my home; it could tell the water heater to wait until it has finished, and then the water heater gets its chance. The possibilities are endless.

Washing Machine is Connected - SMART HOME

IoT will give us an incredible amount of data, and data that can be used to help up control, and maybe even overcome our need to energy. But wait a minute, doesn’t the IoT itself need energy? It does, but the amount of energy that it will save outweighs the amount of energy it uses, and by a large factor. Take, for example, Atmel’s SAM D21 microcontroller. It uses less than 70µA per MHz, and that is when it is running at full speed. Of course, these devices have advanced power management, and with careful coding, they can last for months on cell batteries. Low power does not mean no power; it has enough flex to get the job done, and more. With built-in USB, ADCs, DACs and enough RAM and ROM for the most complex programs, it gets the job done. It also has the Atmel Event system, a powerful system that lets the microcontroller react to external events without the need to constantly look at inputs.

(Source CES 2014 - Samsung's Vision of the Now and Future of Connected Appliances)

We need a little help in our lives to make simple decisions; when should I turn the heating on? When is the best time to turn on the air conditioner? We think we know, but we don’t. IoT will allow us to know exactly when the cold weather is coming. IoT will know when to turn the lights off. In short, IoT will generate enough data that it will know better than us what to do, and when. What we have seen so far is only the beginning.

ATmega32u4 + Bluetooth = Blend Micro

RedBearLab has launched the Blend Micro, a mini development board targeted at the Internet of Things (IoT). Powered by Atmel’s popular ATmega32u4 microcontroller (MCU), the board is also equipped with a Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Energy chip.

Blend Micro is compatible with Nordic’s Bluetooth Smart SDK for Arduino, making software development easy via the official Arduino IDE.

So, how does the board work? 

According to the RedBearLab crew, the nRF8001 chip communicates with Atmel’s Atmega32u4 MCU via the ACI (Application Controller Interface). Although the ACI is similar to SPI, it does not actually function as SPI. Indeed, SPI consists of MOSI, MISO, SCK and SS, whereas ACI includes MOSI, MISO, SCK, REQN and RDYN.

“Since the nRF8001 chip may receive data anytime (even when not selected by SPI master) the SS line is not needed. For the ACI, data exchange [is routed] through MOSI and MISO, [while] SCK provides the clock generated by master,” a RedBearLab rep explained.

“When the master wants to request data from BLE Shield, it [shifts] the REQN to low until RDYN line is put to low by BLE Shield. The master then generates the clock to read out the data. After reading out the data, master will release the REQN and BLE Shield release the RDYN, putting them to high.”

The Blend Micro runs at 3.3V to reduce level shifting, since the nRF8001 chip only accepts 3.3V. As such, the onboard LDO converts 5V from the USB power source into 3.3V for the board.

“Normally, you should set Blend Micro to run at 8 MHz/3.3V. However, if you want to run faster and not concern about the reliability (we do not see any issue so far), you can run it as 16 MHz [for a] so-called ‘overclock,’ the rep added.

Interested in learning more? You can check out Blend Micro’s official page here.