Tag Archives: Embedded Wearables

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-IoT-Low-Power-wearable

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.

1:1 interview with Jean Anne Booth of UnaliWear


“What really makes the Kanega Watch different is that it goes where you go, both inside your home and away. It is discreetly styled, so there’s no stigma from wearing an assistive device, and it speaks to you in words.” 


In this interview, we feature Jean Anne Booth, a serial entrepreneur with a successful track record in hardware innovation, having previously launched and sold two large and notable companies. Her current project is UnaliWear, a wearable health technology startup that has recently made its Kickstarter debut. She comes with a wealth of experience, and her timing could’t be better as the wearable digital health market continues to unfold. What’s more, Kanega Watch — which we recently featured on Bits & Pieces — is looking to bring a much-needed vision for practical usage to that space.

UnaliWear-Wearable-Tech-Kanega-Watch-Kickstarter

Tom Vu: What’s the main driver to going about this once again? Well, considering you did this before as the first person to launch the ARM Cortex-M3 at Luminary Micro?

Jean Anne Booth: Great question! I actually retired for a couple of years after I sold my last company to Texas Instruments. During this period, my mom turned 80, and she had a couple of incidents that made me start looking for a personal emergency response system for her. Many of the assistive devices available are flawed in one aspect of another. Most importantly, there are three reasons, which make them quite hard for seniors to desire to integrate into their lives. First, they are ugly. Secondly, if they have connectivity, the devices usually require some complicated installation of a tethered smart phone or access point. And one of the most overlooked objections, there is a big “HELP” button. This big button is quite visually disturbing. When you see the big “HELP” button made large for usability and functionality, it is so socially stigmatizing. I wanted my mom to live safely while being independent and not being socially stigmatized.

TV: How is the UnaliWear Kanega Watch different from other wearable tech?

JAB: Focus groups have called Kanega Watch a ‘wearable OnStar for seniors’ because we provide discreet support for falls, medication reminders, and a guard against wandering in a classically styled watch that uses an easy speech interface rather than buttons. What really makes the Kanega Watch different is that it goes where you go, both inside your home and away. It is discreetly styled, so there is no stigma from wearing an assistive device, and it speaks to you in words. The watch brand name “Kanega” is from Cherokee for “speak”.

Unaliwear-Reminders-Alerts-Kanega

TV: Is what you’re creating really going to make our lives better?

JAB: Yes, it’s about being there when it counts. You can wear Kanega Watch on 24×7 basis, so you don’t forget to put it back on, and therefore you’re wearing when you need it. There is a very long battery life, unlike an Apple Watch, Android, or Samsung smartwatch. There is no need for an additional device, either an access point or a smartphone. For seniors, or those who are independent but vulnerable, it can help with issues at night like trips to the bathroom. It’s waterproof, not just water resistant, so you can wear it in the shower/bath (this is where a majority of falls happen), and also in your pool exercises. It works anywhere you go, and those who are vulnerable are not trapped at home. Importantly, there is a convenience to this as you’re wearing everything you need to stay safe.

For instance, here is one of the fundamental characteristics of how the watch works, and why our tagline is “Extending Independence with Dignity.” If the Kanega Watch wants to speak, it will ask permission first. It requests permission to speak by buzzing on the wearer’s wrist like a cellphone on silent, so there’s no visual or audible stigma of wearing an assistive device when socially inappropriate — like at church.

If it detects a potential fall, it will ask if you will need help, because two out of three falls do not require help. In fact, Kanega Watch will continuously monitor you – a kind of continuous welfare check. In a suspected fall, if you don’t respond to the request for permission to speak (for example, if you’re unconscious, unable to move, or unable to speak), then it will begin to escalate and then notify emergency and your contacts for help. There’s practical and smart logic built into the wearable.

Meds

TV: How has your experience in this industry going to help in fulfilling the practical/adoptable use of moving wearable tech toward broader acceptance/use?

JAB: To me, it’s not about advancing a category of technology. It’s about harnessing technology to solve real problems, and in this case, about allowing people to live independently, safely, for as long as possible. It’s been an interesting experience transitioning from semiconductors to healthcare, and has proven to be very rewarding building products that directly make people’s lives better. It’s a fantastic feeling!

TV: What hardware startups do you think are actually doing some really interesting things right now?

JAB: That’s a hard question for me because I’m biased toward products that make a difference and are directly useful. Often what is the most cool and interesting is not at all useful! One thing that our Kickstarter campaign has taught us is that the average person buying things that are cool is not quite in the same category as the people who would buy our wearable for seniors.

TV: How would you describe your team?

JAB: Today, our team consists of a cadre of three founders. Our CTO Marc DeVinney does all the hardware. Brian Kircher, who I’ve worked with for 14 years, does all the software for the Kanega Watch. I do everything else.

TV: Who do you look up to as a mentor now?

JAB: Jimmy Treybig, founder of Tandem Computers, has been a close friend for years and has always been helpful. Jimmy has been a source of a lot of wisdom. For this particular company, another extremely important mentor is my mother, Joan, who is also our Senior User Experience Advisor. She’s put together a number of focus groups, and has also been a lot of help in detailing the use cases.

ffe50af6d67d1f769143c162b16724fc_original

TV: What improvements will your product provide society? Perhaps even help the movement of IoT, connected things and wearables?

JAB: The Internet of Things promises to transform daily life, making it easier to work, shop, merchandise, exercise, travel and stay healthy. Really, thanks to billions of connected devices — from smart toothbrushes and thermostats to commercial drones and robotic companions for the elderly. It also will end up gathering vast amounts of data that could provide insights about our habits, religious beliefs, political leanings, sentiments, consumer interest, sports, and even as far as go to other highly personal aspects of our lives. I think the maturation of IoT and wearables is intertwined together. In some respects, what we are building at UnaliWear is also helping cement together the more meaningful adoption of wearables. In our particular case with the Kanega Watch, we couldn’t solve our user problem unless we could provide a better wearable device that is constantly connected all the time. Ultra-low power is very challenging fundamental backstop for every wearable device, and for most IoT devices as well. Our wearable includes cellular, GPS, and Wi-Fi built into one seamlessly integrated non-obtrusive wearable.

Our design goal for the Kanega Watch is that it must be wearable 24×7. It cannot be in a pocket or have requirements of being tucked into a purse. It also must have enough communications capability so that a senior is not stuck in their home all the time. To meet this goal, we have a unique patent-pending quick swap battery system enabling a user to not have to take the watch off to charge. The wearable can last 2 days for most users, and it comes with four batteries. It’s designed to have two batteries available on the charger and two batteries on the watch at all times. The device eliminates the need to be near a base station or smartphone.

Today, simply using built-in smartphone or app presents a couple of problems. Most seniors today don’t have nor operate a smart phone. Less than 5% of seniors over 80 years in age have a smart phone today. For the few seniors who do have smart phones, there are still problems using a smart phone for falls and reminders, because today’s smart phones still have only about 10 hours of real usage time per day.

TV: By 2050, what are some of your predictions for consumers or users interacting with technology on a day-to-day basis?

JAB: I do think that speech will definitely play a larger part in our interaction paradigm. Remember that popular Star Trek movie scene where they come back in time to save the whales and Scotty goes with Checkov to analyze the strength of the materials being used to make a housing for the whales, and the computer he is given is the original Macintosh. Scotty speaks to the Mac, Checkov reminds him that’s not the interface, and then Scotty picks up the mouse and speaks to the mouse. This seems to show a natural interface into the future as Scotty mistakes the old computer for one he can easily and naturally talk to. Now looking at where we are today – the senior population is the fastest growing population segment in the US, and by 2030 will be 20% of our total population. Today, there are 17 million seniors above the age of 75 who are living independently, yet only 2.2 million of those independent seniors have any kind of monitoring system to get help. Today’s 17 million seniors will burgeon to 27 million seniors by 2030. Natural speech interfaces and connectivity will be control what we’re able to build in the future.

TV: What question might you pose to someone in the middle of making a choice to purchase or carry something that is connected and electronically enabling for a senior in their lives?

JAB: I think the message is simple. We show over and over again that if you want to extend the time and quality of someone’s life, then extend their independence. That means you need products that a senior is willing to wear, and that fits into their active lifestyle. At its core, the wearable is based on an Atmel | SMART SAM4L Cortex-M4 MCU running FreeRTOS as the real time operating system and also includes the ATWINC1500 SmartConnect device for Wi-Fi. The Kanega Watch includes both Wi-Fi and cellular communications; when you’re at home, it uses your Wi-Fi. When you’re away, it transitions seamlessly to cellular.

unaliwear-prototype-progression

TV: Does the Kanega Watch have initial roots from the Maker Movement?

JAB: Yes, the roots are definitely Maker Movement – and also a lot of rapid prototyping (hardware’s version of the Lean Startup). We built our first industrial design prototypes at the TechShop in Austin, and our very first alpha design used a 3D-printed “box” as the “watch”. We make a lot of prototypes with rapid turn 3D-printing and CNC-machined aluminum. Before we built our own first prototypes, we created a software prototype on the Omate TrueSmart smart watch, which has dual 1.3 GHz ARM Cortex-A8’s running Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich.” Our only challenge with this prototype is that the battery life was an unsatisfying 5 hours – which meant that I had a battery pocket in my pocket and kept the watch plugged in with a cord hidden under my shirt when I needed to demonstrate over a long period, such as at a conference like SxSW. I like our current prototypes better!


Interested in learning more or have an elderly family member who could benefit from the Kanega Watch? Head over to UnaliWear’s current Kickstarter campaign here.

Simply the highest performing Cortex-M MCU


Why develop a new MCU instead of using a high-performance MPU? Eric Esteve says “simplicity.”


By Eric Esteve

If you target high growth markets like wearable (sport watches, fitness bands, medical), industrial (mPOS, telematics, etc.) or smart appliances, you expect using a power efficient MCU delivering high DMIPs count. We are talking about systems requiring a low bill of material (BoM) both in terms of cost and devices count. Using a MCU (microController) and not a MPU (microProcessor) allows for the minimizing of power consumption as such device like the SAM S70 runs at the 300 MHz range, not the GigaHertz, while delivering 1500 CoreMark. In fact, it’s the industry’s highest performing Cortex-M MCUs, but the device is still a microcontroller, offering multiple interface peripherals and the related control capabilities, like 10/100 Ethernet MAC, HS USB port (including PHY), up to 8 UARTs, two SPI, three I2C, SDIOs and even interfaces with Atmel Wi-Fi and ZigBee companion IC.

Atmel has a wide MCU offering from the lower end 8-bit MCU to the higher end Cortex-A5 MPU.

The Cortex-M7 family fits within the SAM4 Cortex-M4 and the SAM9 ARM9 products.
The Cortex-M7 family offers high performance up to 645 Dhrystone MIPS but as there is no Memory Management Unit, we can not run Operating System such as Linux. This family targets applications with high performance requirements and running RTOS or bare metal solution.

This brand new SAM S/E/V 70 32-bit MCU is just filling the gap between the 32-bit MPU families based on Cortex-A5 ARM processor core delivering up to 850 DMIPS and the other 32-bit MCU based on ARM Cortex-M. Why develop a new MCU instead of using one of this high performance MPU? Simplicity is the first reason, as the MCU does not require using an operating system (OS) like Linux or else. Using a simple RTOS or even a scheduler will be enough. A powerful MCU will help to match increasing application requirements, like:

  • Network Layers processing (gateway IoT)
  • Higher Data Transfer Rates
  • Better Audio and Image Processing to support standard evolution
  • Graphical User Interface
  • Last but not least: Security with AES-256, Integrity Check Monitor (SHA), TRNG and Memory Scrambling

Building MCU architecture probably requires more human intelligence to fulfill all these needs in a smaller and cheaper piece of silicon than for a MPU! Just look at the SAM S70 block diagram below, for instance.

SAM S70 Block diagram

SAM S70 Block diagram

The memory configuration is a good example. Close to the CPU, implementing 16k Bytes Instruction and 16k Bytes Data caches is a well-known practice. On top of the cache, the MCU can access Tightly Coupled Memories (TCM) through a controller running at MPU speed, or 300 MHz. These TCM are part of (up to) 384 Kbytes of SRAM, implemented by 16 Kbytes blocks and this SRAM can also be accessed through a 150 MHz bus matrix by most of the peripheral functions, either directly through a DMA (HS USB or Camera interface), either through a peripheral bridge. The best MCU architecture should provide the maximum flexibility: a MCU is not an ASSP but a general purpose device, targeting a wide range of applications. The customer benefits from flexibility when partitioning the SRAM into System RAM, Instruction TCM and Data TCM.

SRAM Partition Atmel Cortex M7
As you can see, the raw CPU performance efficiency can be increased by smart memory architecture. However, in terms of embedded Flash memory, we come back to a basic rule: the most eFlash is available on-chip, the easier and the safer will be the programming. The SAM S70 (or E70) family offers 512 Kbytes, 1 MB or 2 MB of eFlash… and this is a strong differentiator with the direct competitor offering only up to 1 MB of eFlash. Nothing magical here as the SAM S70 is processed on 65nm when the competition is lagging on 90nm. Targeting a most advanced node is not only good for embedding more Flash, it’s also good for CPU performance (300 MHz delivering 1500 DMIPS, obviously better than 200 MHz) — and it’s finally very positive in power consumption.

Indeed, Atmel has built a four mode strategy to minimize overall power consumption:

  • Backup mode (VDDIO only) with low power regulators for SRAM retention
  • Wait mode: all clocks and functions are stopped except some peripherals can be configured to wake up the system and Flash can be put in deep power down mode
  • Sleep mode: the processor is stopped while all other functions can be kept running
  • Active mode
Atmel's SMART | ARM Cortex M7 SAM S Series Target Applications

Target Applications depicted above for Atmel’s SMART | ARM based Cortex M7 SAM S Series. The SAM S series are general-purpose Flash MCUs based on the high-performance 32-bit ARM based Cortex-M7 RISC processors with floating point unit (FPU).

If you think about IoT, the SAM S70 is suited to support gateway applications, among many other potential uses, ranging from wearable (medical or sport), industrial or automotive (in this case it will be the SAM V70 MCU, offering EMAC and dual CAN capability on top of S70).


This post has been republished with permission from SemiWiki.com, where Eric Esteve is a principle blogger as well as one of the four founding members of SemiWiki.com. This blog first appeared on SemiWiki on February 22, 2015.

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-Block-Diagram

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.

 

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.

atm1

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.

Wearables shipments to reach 22 million in 2014

According to CCS Insight, 22 million wearable devices will be shipped in 2014 — more than double last year’s 9.7 million total. The latest report projects that over 250 million smart wearables will be in use by 2018, nearly 14 times more than in 2013.

“The wearables market is in its Stone Age right now. There needs to be huge improvements to broaden their appeal,” explains Marina Koytcheva, Director of Forecasting at CCS Insight.

The forecast predicts that wrist-worn devices will account for 87% of wearables to be shipped in 2018 — comprising 68 million smartwatches and 50 million smart bands with no screen or with a minimal, one-line display. Fitness and well-being trackers remain the fastest-growing category, given that they have a clearly defined purpose, user benefits and are relatively affordable. CSS Insight believes fitness trackers will account for over half of the 35 million wearables in use at the end of this year.

“Wearables are poised to be the perfect gift for the person who has everything this Christmas. We believe this will fuel strong growth in the final quarter of 2014 for smart bands, particularly fitness trackers, which will account for more than half of the 35 million wearables in use at end of 2014,” Koytcheva adds.

According to the report, CCS Insight also foresees strong future growth in smartwatches. The company expects many smart band manufacturers to extend their product ranges by adding devices with screens. As smartwatches broaden their appeal, capabilities are refined, new functions are added and prices fall, CCS Insight expects smartwatches to displace fitness bands and become the most used form of wearables.

A smart wearable category that will become much more prominent in the second half of 2014, CSS reveals, is stand-alone cellular wearables. “We expect a number of high-profile devices with their own SIM cards will be announced in the coming months. However, these devices will face significant challenges as people are reluctant to take out another contract with their mobile operator.”

North America currently leads the way in terms of adoption of wearables with 5.2 million wearables sold in  2013, and over 40% of all wearable devices currently in use are there. Reason being that a majority of companies are based in North America, while the region possesses a proven eager to adopt new technology. Western Europe is catching up and from 2016 is expected to buy more wearables than North America, the analysts predicted. Adoption will be slower in emerging markets and primarily driven by tech-savvy, affluent users.

“The market is still in a chaotic stage of development, and there’s still a huge amount of uncertainty. Every category faces different risks: the way people use wearables is still changing, one type of device could kill sales in another category, people are unsure whether some wearables are socially acceptable, and intellectual property rights are a minefield for the dozens of start-ups entering the wearables market,” Koytcheva points out.

To learn more, you can access the entire report here or view the detailed infographic from the research firm below.

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