The “thing” of IoT does not have to necessarily be tiny.
The Atmel | SMART SAM W25 is, in fact, a module — a “SmartConnect Module.” As far as I am concerned, I like SmartConnect designation and I think it could be used to describe any IoT edge device. The device is “smart” as it includes a processing unit, which in this case is an ARM Cortex-M0-based SAMD21G, and “connect” reminds the Internet part of the IoT definition. Meanwhile, the ATWINC1500 SoC supports Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n allowing seamless connection to the cloud.
What should we expect from an IoT edge device? It should be characterized by both low cost and power! This IoT system is probably implemented multiple times, either in a factory (industrial) or in a house (home automation), and the cost should be as low as possible to enable large dissemination. I don’t know the SAMD21G ASP, but I notice that it’s based on the smallest MCU core of the ARM Cortex-M family, so the cost should be minimal (my guess). Atmel claims the W25 module to be “fully-integrated single-source MCU + IEEE 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi solution providing battery powered endpoints lasting years”… sounds like ultra low-power, doesn’t it?
The “thing” of IoT does not necessarily have to be tiny. We can see in the above example that interconnected things within the industrial world can be as large as these wind turbines (courtesy of GE). To maximize efficiency in power generation and distribution, the company has connected these edge devices to the cloud where the software analytics allow wind farm operators to optimize the performance of the turbines, based on environmental conditions. According with GE, “Raising the turbines’ efficiency can increase the wind farm’s annual energy output by up to 5%, which translates in a 20% increase in profitability.” Wind turbines are good for the planet as they allow avoiding burning fossil energy. IoT devices implementation allows wind farm operators to increase their profitability and to build sustainable business. In the end, thanks to Industrial Internet of Thing (IIoT), we all benefit from less air pollution and more affordable power!
The ATWINC1500 is a low-power Systems-on-Chip (SoC) that brings Wi-Fi connectivity to any embedded design. In the example above, this SoC is part of a certified module, the ATSAMW25, for embedded designers seeking to integrate Wi-Fi into their system. If we look at the key features list:
IEEE 802.11 b/g/n (1×1) for up to 72 Mbps
Integrated PA and T/R switch
Superior sensitivity and range via advanced PHY signal processing
Wi-Fi Direct, station mode and Soft-AP support
Supports IEEE 802.11 WEP, WPA
On-chip memory management engine to reduce host load
4MB internal Flash memory with OTA firmware upgrade
Network protocols (DHCP/DNS), including secure TLS stack
WSC (wireless simple configuration WPS)
Can operate completely host-less in most applications
We can notice that host interfaces allow direct connection to device I/Os and sensors through SPI, UART, I2C and ADC interfaces and can also operate completely host-less. A costly device is then removed from the BOM which can enable economic feasibility for an IoT, or IIoT edge device.
The low-power Wi-Fi certified module is currently employed in industrial systems supporting applications, such as transportation, aviation, healthcare, energy or lighting, as well as in IoT areas like home appliances and consumer electronics. For all these use cases, certification is a must-have feature, but low-cost and ultra-low power are the economic and technical enablers.
Jean-Noël says projected capacity is the primary principle behind his Atmel-powered Ootsidebox, with an electric field projected in front of the existing touch surface affected by movements of the hand. Simply put, it is possible to calculate 3D coordinates and recognize certain gestures by measuring the perturbations of an oscillator caused by the movement of the user’s fingers (or an object) at several centimeters from the control surface.
Recently, Atmel’s Tom Vu had the opportunity to discuss the Ootsidebox with product inventor Jean Noel Lefebvre.
Jean Noel: I kicked off this project 6 years ago and have worked on it full time since March 2013. Most of the parts used to construct Ootsidebox are actually off-the-shelf electronics.
More specifically, I used the Atmel AT90USB1286 microcontroller (MCU) to power the device. Currently, I am exploring the possibility of meshing the popular Unity 3D gaming Engine with Ootsidebox. Combining a well known gaming engine will help us tease out more latent, long-term potential for the project, while simultaneously expanding the boundaries of game play with touchless or hybrid touch/touchless technology.
TV: How does Ootsidebox differ from other touchless and gesture sensor solutions?
JN: First of all, there is nothing at the center. For the microchip solution, you need a center electrode with two layers integrated within the body. In contrast, Ootsidebox is designed to be platform and device agnostic. In fact, the incasing can be modeled to fit around existing technologies and devices. Take, for example, example, the Android or iPad. The idea that you can simply wrap this touchless interface around existing devices and products opens new possibilities while enhancing use-cases for existing devices.
With this external fitting, much like an accessory, one can quickly enable their devices to be touchless, with gestures executed from within 10cm (set to double very soon) at maximum in front of a small screen. The device can be used in many different scenarios. For example, say you are in the kitchen cooking with greasy hands filled with sauce. The Ootsidebox can be set to seamlessly interact with various kitchen appliances – without the user ever having to touch knobs, buttons, glass, dials or sliders. Instead, activating/adjusting appliances can be performed via simple gestures (left to right or circular motions). Of course, there are many additional applications that can benefit from a touchless interface, ranging from home consumer device, gaming, health or even industrial uses.
TV: Can you tell me more about the product design? Is there any particular reason you chose Atmel AVR?
JN: The design is very simple, using only well known “stock components” found on any distributor or reseller site. The more complex part may be found in the 14bits DAC in SPI. Most of the components are “old school” logical chips such as 4000 family (my best friends for a long time in electronics). As for the microcontroller, I didn’t need high performance uC, so 8 bits were enough. The idea is to prepare Ootsideboxfor mainstream adoption via a strategy of simplicity, a philosophy which fits well with Makers and the open source community. In terms of selecting the appropriate uC, I was careful to precisely balance price and performance. I also took into consideration various factors such as the large AVR community, availability of open source libs and the quality of the support and tools from the chip manufacturer. The mindset, reputation and philosophy of the brand (Atmel and Arduino) helped steer my uC choice. In fact, startups today are very closely tied to Maker Movement, reflecting Arduino and Atmel. That’s why I’m very confident when choosing Atmel, because Atmel and the Arduino community really support the Maker Movement today.
TV: How does Ootsidebox differ from other platforms on the market?
JN: It’s really a control device that computes touchless gestures versus touching and manipulating. Most of us are quite familiar with the ongoing touch revolution, as we use the very same interface interacting with smartphones and tablets on a daily basis. In addition, there are already commercially viable products such as Android devices equipped with sensor hubs that are designed to process gestural movement of the hand.
Ootsidebox differs on many levels, as the device is meant to be an add-on or fitting to an already existing device. Easy modification will encourage HMI enhancements for existing products or emerging devices. Remember, a consumer/user does not have to be married to just one product line from a major manufacturer. With Ootsidebox, you can control the devices without touching; move up, down, side-to-side, rotational, and even emulating the click of a button. Perhaps most importantly, the touchless interface will undoubtedly inspire future design roadmaps. For example, the touchless form factor is perfect for industrial and medical use. Just imagine a dentist needing to activate or handle various devices during treatment when messy hands are not necessarily ideal.
TV: What is the future of Ootsidebox? Do you plan on making it open source?
JN: Yes, there are plans to launch a campaign on Kickstarter or Indiegogo to attract more involvement in the development and use of this touchless sensor solution. The platform and innovative slope for additional development is limitless. We plan on releasing Ootsidebox as open source / open hardware, complete with specs for mechanical design. Crowdsourcing will help spur additional innovation, while allowing the platform to accommodate a wider degree of functionality.
JN: Afew years ago, disruptive products and ideas were conceived in garages. Today, the very same process takes place in Hackerspaces, where creativity thrives and technical skills abound. By designing projects in Hackerspaces, Makers and engineers are fully connected with a worldwide network of creative people boasting different backgrounds. This synergy significantly accelerates the innovation process.
TV: What is your personal experience with AVR microcontrollers (MCUs) and Arduino boards?
JN: I was using other brands before I discovered the benefits of AVR uC during my discussions about Ootsidebox with my friends at Elektor Labs.
Also during my stay at Noisebridge Hackerspace, Mitch Altman was using AVR Arduino to teach electronics for newbies (I really love what’s happening there). My first experience with the Arduino environment was with Teensy++ 2.0, based on the AT90USB1286 MCU. This Atmel AVR microcontroller is the one I used for my last prototype of the Ootsidebox tablet accessory, which will be launched soon on Kickstarter or Indiegogo. We are also working on a smaller project with Elektor Labs. Essentially, it’s a “3D Pad” built in the form of a shield for Arduino.
TV: Are touchless gestures the future of user interfaces?
JN: Touchless gestures are a part of the natural evolution of the more traditional user interface. It’s a way to provide a more natural and intuitive user experience, which is somewhat of a growing requirement due to the proliferation of complex equipment in our everyday life. Of course, touchless gesture interaction is also more natural. In the future, with the help of Ootsidebox technology, product designers and Makers will not create electronic platforms to “manipulate” or “interact” with devices, but rather, for individuals to directly “communicate” with them instead.
Really, people expect them to be as smart as living entities. I learned that during various discussions with scientists about the project. In the brain, “communicating” vs. “manipulating” simply does not invoke the same connections pathways. Clearly, touchless and gesture UI are paving the way to a very fascinating evolution of consumer electronics in the near future. That being said, I see touchless user interfaces complimenting, rather than replacing, multi-touch, much the same way the mouse didn’t replace a keyboard.
Clearly, this kind of technology can help save lives, while reducing nosocomial risk in healthcare environments. It may also allows drivers to stay more attentive to the road when navigating with gesture-based infotainment. Personally, I’m dreaming of disruptive aesthetic designs in the field of high-tech consumer electronics. I can’t wait to see what a guy like Philippe Starck will be able to create. As I noted earlier, this project is 100% open and we invite everyone to participate on Twitter. Just post your questions and suggestions here: @OOTSIDEBOX, while including the hashtag #AtmelBlog. I’ll answer you personally. You can also check us out here on Facebook.
Now that the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is in our rear-view mirror, at least one take-away rings clear–consumer electronics represents a growing opportunity for embedded design.
According to Embedded.com’s Bernard Cole, “…the ability of embedded systems developers to continue to improve the hidden and invisible infrastructure upon which the consumer electronics systems and devices depend will determine the success or failure of consumer electronics as a market that drives the world economy.”
Indeed, embedded designers seem to be on the path of innovation when it comes to the consumer electronics infrastructure. Embedded systems and devices are playing critical roles in products from smartphones and tablets to wired and wireless home networks and beyond. More of our devices are Web-enabled and able to “talk” to each other, without our intervention. This is why The Internet of Things is more than a trendy term, and why some are calling this the “age of the microcontroller”.
What kinds of technologies should embedded designers continue to explore, in order to create the systems that will power tomorrow’s consumer electronics?
Atmel has entered into an agreement to acquire Ozmo, Inc., a leading developer of ultra-low power Wi-Fi Direct certified technologies. This acquisition expands Atmel’s wireless portfolio to further enable design engineers to create smart, connected devices, including those targeted to The Internet of Things.
Ozmo’s Wi-Fi Direct certified technologies will mesh well with Atmel’s low-power solutions, such as its microcontrollers and touch devices. Designers who develop battery-powered consumer electronics–think gaming peripherals, digital thermostats and home appliances–will benefit from highly integrated, ultra-low power solutions that meet the requirements for intelligent, connected products.