Tag Archives: FPGA

The smart router is ready for IoT play

The evolution of router has reached the IoT’s doorsteps, and it raises some interesting prospects for industrial and smart home markets.

The router used to be largely a dumb device. Not anymore in the Internet of Things arena where node intelligence is imperative to make a play of the sheer amount of data acquired from sensors, machines and other ‘things.’ The IoT router marks a new era of network intelligence — but what makes a router smart?


For starters, it employs embedded hardware platforms with DIY capabilities while balancing the performance and power consumption requirements. Next, an IoT router provides the operational status on an LCD screen while manipulating the data from different interfaces. In human machine interface (HMI) applications, for example, a smart router offers LCD and touch screen interfaces on expansion I/Os.

Take the case of the DAB-OWRT-53 smart router, which is developed by the Belgian design house DAB-Embedded. The sub-100 euro device — based on Atmel’s SAMA5D36 processor and OpenWRT router hardware platform — is mainly targeted at smart home and industrial IoT applications.

The smart router of DAB-Embedded

The IoT router supports popular wireless interfaces such as Wi-Fi, ZigBee and Z-Wave, as well as a diverse number of wired interfaces including Ethernet, USB, CAN 2.0A/B, KNX and RS-232. And all the data from these interfaces can be stored in either microSD card or NAND flash.

Anatomy of Smart Router

The Atmel | SMART SAMA5D36 is at the heart of the smart router design. First and foremost, it optimizes power consumption in the battery-operated router that features 3.7V lithium polymer battery support with charging capability over a microUSB connector. The router boasts eight hours of battery lifetime while being in full ON mode with Wi-Fi communications.

Second, the ARM Cortex-A5 processor shows a robust performance in the communications domain. For instance, the SAMA5D36 implements routing functionality to transfer data from one Ethernet port to another in a way that router designers don’t require an external hardware hub or switch. Moreover, Atmel’s MPU offers greater flexibility to run a lot of embedded software packages such as OpenZWave and LinuxMCE.

Third, the SAMA5D36-based IoT router offers users the ability to manipulate firewall settings, Disable PING, Telnet, SSH and UPnP features. Furthermore, the hardware security block in SAMA5D3 processor allows the use of CryptoDev Linux drivers to speed up the OpenSSL implementation. The Wi-Fi module — powered by Atmel’s WILC3000 single-chip solution — also supports the IEEE 802.11 WEP, WPA and WPA2 security mechanisms.

The smart router of DAB-Embedded employs Active-Semi’s ACT8945AQJ305-T power management IC, but the real surprise is Altera’s MAX 10 FPGA with an integrated analog-to-digital converter (ADC). That brings the additional flexibility for the main CPU: Atmel’s SAMA5D36.

The FPGA is connected to the 16-bit external bus interface (EBI) so that IoT developers can put any IP core in FPGA for communication with external sensors. All data is converted inside the FPGA to a specific format by using NIOS II’s soft CPU in FPGA. Next, the SAMA5D36 processor reads this data by employing DMA channel over the high-speed mezzanine card (HSMC) bus.

An FPGA has enough cells to start even two soft cores for data preprocessing. Case in point: A weather station with 8-channel external ADC managing light sensors, temperature sensors, pressure sensors and more. It’s connected to the FPGA together with PPS signal from GPS for correct time synchronization of each measurement.


OpenWRT Framework

The SAMA5D36 embedded processor enables DAB’s smart router design to customize free OpenWRT Linux firmware according to the specific IoT application needs. The OpenWRT framework facilitates an easy way to set up router-like devices equipped with communications interfaces such as dual-port Ethernet and Wi-Fi connection.

What’s more, by using the OpenWRT framework, an IoT developer can add now his or her own application (C/C++) to exchange data with a KNX or Z-Wave transceiver. OpenWRT even supports the Lua embedded interpreter.

Next, while DAB-Embedded has built its smart router using the embedded Linux with OpenWRT framework, Belgium’s design house also offers a board support package (BSP) based on the Windows Embedded Compact 2013 software. That’s for IoT developers who have invested in Windows applications and want to use them on the new hardware: the DAB-OWRT-53 smart router.

Later, the embedded design firm plans to release smart router hardware based on the Windows 10 IoT software and Atmel’s SAMA5D family of embedded processors. The Belgian developer of IoT products has vowed to release the second version of its router board based on Atmel’s SAMA5D4 embedded processor and WILC3000 chipset that comes integrated with power amplifier, LNA, switch and power management. Atmel’s WILC3000 single-chip solution boasts IEEE 802.11 b/g/n RF/baseband/MAC link controller and Bluetooth 4.0 connection.

Majeed Ahmad is the 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.

Drawing circuits with the Papilio Duo

The Papilio DUO – which recently made its Kickstarter debut – is equipped with both an FPGA and Atmel’s ATmega32U4 microcontroller (MCU).

According to Papilio rep Jack Gassett, the board allows Makers and devs to easily draw circuits, move pins, connect extra serial ports and even link a Bitcoin miner to the ATmega32U4.

“The Papilio DUO is much more than just a hardware project. In fact, the software is the secret sauce that sets the DUO apart from other FPGA boards. It lets you draw up circuits without investing time and energy in learning VHDL/Verilog,” Gassett explained.

“We start with the Arduino IDE (Integrated Development Environment) and supercharge it by adding circuits into the mix. We bring all of the pieces needed to draw and debug your very own circuits in one place. It’s an easy and seamless user experience that we call Papilio DesignLab for use with both Windows and Linux.”

Aside from Atmel’s ATmega32U4 microcontroller, key hardware specs include:

  • Spartan 6 LX9 FPGA
  • High efficiency LTC3419 switching voltage regulator
  • Dual channel FTDI FT2232H USB 2.0 interface
  • 512KB or 2MB ISSI IS61WV5128 SRAM
  • 64Mbit Macronix MX25L6445 SPI Flash
  • 4 I/O pins arranged in an Arduino-compatible mega form factor
  • Digital pins 0-16 connected to FPGA and ATmega32U4

It should be noted that the Papilio team is also offering a classic computing shield that provides the necessary hardware to recreate classic computing systems on the board, such as:

  • socz80: Z80 Retro MicroComputer
  • ZX Spectrum
  • Commodore VIC20
  • LadyBug Hardware
  • Jet Set Willy on ZPUino
  • Bomb Jack
  • Sega Master System
  • All Classic Arcade Games at Papilio Arcade

Interested in learning more? You can check out Papilio DUO’s official Kickstarter page here.

Retro gaming DuinoCube goes live on Kickstarter

Developed by Simon Que, DuinoCube is described as a portable platform that allows Makers and gamers to develop their own retro titles using the popular open-source Arduino environment.

Essentially, DuinoCube comprises two shields: GFX (audio and graphics) and the Atmel-based UI (file system, extra memory, on-board controller chip). Currently, DuinoCube is compatible with the Arduino Uno, Mega and Esplora.

“When you combine a GFX shield and UI shield with an Arduino board, you get a DuinoCube. The UI Shield goes on top of the Arduino and the GFX Shield goes on top of the UI Shield,” Que explained in a recent Kickstarter post.

“With DuinoCube, your Arduino becomes a retro gaming system with the capabilities of classic game systems like the SNES and Gameboy Advance. DuinoCube is highly portable so you can show your friends the games you’ve made.”

Key platform technical specs include:


320×240 VGA graphics (higher resolutions expected soon).
  • 256 independent objects (sprites).
  • 4 independent tiled layers.
  • 18-bit color in four palettes, each with 256 colors.
  • Hardware scrolling.
  • Hardware collision detection.
  • Stereo audio output.
  • MicroSD card file system.
  • USB gamepad support.

Powered by Atmel’s ATmega328P microcontroller, the UI shield for the Uno/Mega is equipped with an SD card, extra RAM, USB host and controller chip.

Similarly, the UI shield for the Esplora features Atmel’s ATmega328P, SD card, extra RAM, controller chip and Uno-style headers.

“The UI Shields can [also] be used as a generic file system, or as a USB host controller for the Arduino Uno/Mega version,” Que confirmed. “[Plus], the GFX Shield can be used as a generic FPGA shield [by] reprogramming the FPGA with an Altera USB Blaster cable.”

Interested in learning more? You can check out DuinoCube’s official Kickstarter page here.

Atmel+ARM SoC = Crystal Board

The Crystal Board is an integrated development platform for DIY Makers and engineers. The open source board, powered by a quad-core 1.8 GHz ARM Cortex A9 processor (RK3188), is also equipped with Atmel’s Atmega328 MCU to facilitate Arduino compatibility.

Additional platform specs include a MALI 400 GPU (ARM), SD card, 1-2GB RAM, Bluetooth, WiFi, Ethernet, GPS an FPGA (Field-Programmable Gate Array), along with multiple connections and sensors. The board only requires a single power supply and can be powered via an external battery or laptop USB port.

“With Atmel’s Atmega328 and Arduino UNO compatible pins, you can use any Arduino shields on the market [with] ease,” a Red Crystal rep explained in a recent Kickstarter post. “In addition, Atmel’s MCU communicates with [the] ARM SoC via UART.”

On the software side, the Red Crystal crew has developed a web server app with a slick GUI and is currently working on coding cloud-based software that will allow users to more effectively manage and control multiple boards.

Interested in learning more about Crystal Board? You can check out the project’s official Kickstarter page here.

Rad-Hard Microprocessor an EDN Hot 100 Product

The Atmel ATF697FF rad-hard microprocessor has been selected by EDN editors and readers as one of the 100 Hot Products of 2012. The 2012 EDN Hot 100 highlights the electronics industry’s most significant products based on innovation, significance, usefulness and popularity. The listing has been an annual EDN tradition since 1993.

A multi-chip module, the ATF697FF combines the Atmel AT697F SPARC V8 rad-hard processor, the Atmel ATF280F SRAM-based FPGA and an internal PCI link. The microprocessor runs at up to 100MHz with low power consumption, down to 0.7W for space applications today. The ATF697FF also executes instructions in a single clock cycle, with throughputs around 1 MIPS per MHz. Learn more.