Tag Archives: High Performance

Ground, earth ground, common, shield, and power supply return

A recent edition of Design News had a nice story about ground bounce causing problems in LCD panels. Poor or incorrect grounding causes all kinds of horrible problems in electronic systems. The first thing you need to understand is that silly little symbol on your schematic does not magically create an ocean of zero impedance. The ground symbols are just a convention so we don’t have to draw all the separate return paths in our electronic circuits. Many days I think it would be better if we did draw all the grounds as separate wires on our schematics.

The article above bemoans that LCD panel suppliers are connecting their power supply returns to the chassis of the display. The author seems to think this is bad, and I tend to agree, if I understand the problem correctly. He says the LCD panel people do this to lower EMI radiation out of the panel. I have to assume what is going on is that the ITO (indium tin oxide) transparent electrodes on the panel need to be at least ac referenced to earth ground, so they can serve as a shield for the EMI caused by the digital signals inside the panel. But he points out that these fast digital signals can cause the ground to bounce up and that causes memory erasure and all kinds of other problems.

Now a Ham radio person would know the difference between a ground, a shield, and a power supply return. Those RF folks really understand EMI and radiation and low-impedance, even if they are not engineers. Ideally you would have an ITO layer on the display that was continuous and connected to the chassis of the product. That would serve as an EMI shield for all the fast edges inside the LCD panel.

To reduce EMI you want the tightest shortest loops between current carrying conductors. So if there is a ribbon cable to the display, you would want a return line next to each and every signal line. If the ribbon is that twisted pair type that is even better. In addition to putting in power supply returns for the signals, what you folks love to call “ground,” you could also shield the cable by running it a conduit or wrapping it with copper tape. But you have to be very careful where you connect that shield to the power supply returns (aka ground) and also to earth ground, which is that third round pin on your wall plug.


The three grounds in your electronic system.

If you connect that shield in multiple places, it will start sharing current with the power supply returns. Now you have changing currents in space, and EMI. I am starting to film a whole YouTube series on schematics, and the first 6 shows are all on the humble ground. So remember, that upside-down Christmas tree that everyone calls ground—that is earth ground. Linear Tech has routinely used it as a signal ground on their datasheets and app notes for 30 years. It is absolutely wrong and sloppy to do this. They are chip guys, maybe brilliant chip guys, but they don’t do system design. If you try to take a product through UL or CE they would like you using earth ground symbols all over the place.

The middle symbol above is chassis ground. That is what you use for a chassis of a car or radio. Unfortunately car makers do use the chassis to return electrical signals, but they are getting smarter and putting in copper wires to make sure the return currents really do return. What we should be using for most all our circuits is the little triangle symbol. And yeah, the power supply common does connect to the chassis common, and you should show that on your schematic. And if your product plugs into a wall, you have to connect the metal chassis to earth ground, unless it is a double insulated product, in which case the plug need not carry the earth ground.

Stay tuned, I will start filming these shows in our new studio here at Atmel and will back-post to them on this blog once I start getting them up.

Bend your mind with Atmel’s XSense contest

We all know that bendable, flexible touchscreens are the future, and here at Atmel, we consider ourselves to be riding the crest of that curve with XSense, our high-performance, ultra-flexible touch sensor which allows for some crazy shaped, touch-able devices.

Go to any tech website today, and you’ll see the same ol’, same ol’ curved touchscreen phones and tablets. Cool stuff, but we can’t help feeling there’s got to be something more creative out there.

That’s why we’re inviting you to push past previous touch boundaries and create curved, pliable surfaces for anything you could imagine.


Sure, we have some ideas about how WE would use curved, flexible touchscreens. We want to hear what YOU would build with touch unleashed.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to creativity on this one, folks, so go crazy!

The top 10 creative ideas get automatically entered to become finalists and eligible for a grand prize of $1500!

But, better yet, if you reckon you could actually build whatever it is you’ve just thought up, there’s extra prize money on the line.

While you don’t need technical expertise to win our creative contest, if your design is built firmly around our Atmel Design Contest Sensor Specifications, you could win our XSense technical design contest for an additional $1500.

Or, if you’re feeling lazy, you can just browse other people’s designs and vote for your favorite. Easy!

3D printing to take center stage at CES 2014

Bre Pettis, CEO and co-founder of the Atmel-powered MakerBot, will be delivering a keynote address at the 2014 International CES Leaders in Technology (LIT) Dinner on January 8 at Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas. The invitation-only event gathers and honors the top technologists, entrepreneurs and policymakers instrumental in furthering technology innovation.

The Atmel-powered MakerBot will also be be taking center stage in the 3D printing TechZone at CES 2014. New to the show floor, the 3D TZ was established to showcase the latest advancements in 3D printing technology from top companies in the category. Indeed, following its initial launch, the 3D Printing TechZone sold out more than 3,000 net square feet of exhibit space and has since expanded to 6,900 square feet to meet exhibitor demand.

Pettis has led MakerBot as CEO since its inception in 2009. Prior to co-founding MakerBot, he co-founded the Brooklyn hacker collective NYC Resistor, where Atmel-powered Makerbot technology was first created, tested and proven. Pettis was also instrumental in building the first prototypes of MakerBot’s 3D printers – and is known worldwide as a leading evangelist for personal manufacturing.

In other MakerBot news, the company recently announced a new educational mission to put an Atmel-powered MakerBot Desktop 3D Printer in every American school. As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, the first MakerBot Academy initiative includes 3D printing bundles for classrooms, an awesome Thingiverse Challenge along with generous support from both individuals and organizations.

“[You can help] get the word out. Tell the teachers you know to register at DonorsChoose.org. Support a school [and] contribute to the effort by choosing a teacher; help get them set for the Next Industrial Revolution,” MakerBot’s Ben Millstein, wrote in an official blog post detailing the initiative. “[You can also] participate in the Thingiverse Challenge, develop models that teachers can use to improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.”

Unsurprisingly, the first MakerBot Academy initiative is off to an excellent start, with a number of teachers jumping into action to promote the project.

“They’re rapidly registering their requests on DonorsChoose.org and are making great progress on crowdfunding MakerBot Academy Bundles for their classrooms,” said Millstein. “[Plus], Bre Pettis has personally pledged to put an [Atmel-powered] MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer in public high schools in Brooklyn, NY, home of MakerBot HQ where we manufacture all our desktop 3D printers and scanners.”

Interested in learning more about putting an Atmel-powered MakerBot in every American school? You can check out the official MakerBot Academy page here.

Understanding the state of 3D printing

The folks at MAKE recently conducted a survey on the current state of desktop 3D printing – offering readers access to a quick snapshot of the rapidly growing industry.

According to MAKE’s Anna Kaziunas France, the majority of respondents classified themselves as hobbyists (65%) who used their printers for personal projects (61%).

However, “mixed” or dual-use of desktop 3D printers, which included some business activity combined with personal use, weighed in at 39 percent. Meanwhile, almost half of those surveyed (46%) already own or have access to a 3D printer.

“Detractors of consumer 3D printing often describe desktop machines as tchotchke factories, but we found that the vast majority of respondents were printing useful, working items,” wrote France. “76 percent were using additive machines to create prototypes for projects, 75 percent were making functional models and parts and 64 percent were whipping up fixes for broken things.”

France also noted that two of the most important factors for consumers thinking about buying a 3D printer were value for the money (85%) and durability/integrity of the product (83%). Other high ranking features included output quality (82%), ease-of-use (67%) and the ability to just hit print and confidently walk away from the printer (64%).

The Smithsonian is going 3D

The Smithsonian has unveiled its X 3D Collection along with a new 3-D explorer in an effort to make museum collections and scientific specimens easier for the public to access and study. 

According to Günter Waibel, director of the Institution’s Digitization Program Office, the Smithsonian X 3D explorer and initial collection of scanned objects are the first step in showcasing how 3D technology is capable of transforming the work of the Smithsonian, as well as other museums and research institutions.

More specifically, the above-mentioned X 3D Collection features objects from the Smithsonian that highlight different applications of 3D capture and printing, along with digital delivery methods for 3D data in research, education and conservation including:

  • The Wright Flyer (National Air and Space Museum): The 3D scan of the Wright Flyer allows users to explore the fine details of the artifact, providing a window into the Wright’s inventive genius and understanding of the principles of flight.
  • Cassiopeia A Supernova Remnant (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory): This multi-wavelength 3D reconstruction of Cassiopeia A uses X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and optical data from NOAO’s 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak and the Michigan-Dartmouth-MIT 2.4-meter telescope.
  • Fossil Whale (National Museum of Natural History): Smithsonian paleontologists and 3D staff conducted a time-sensitive documentation of the skeletons from the site (Chile) and captured essential data about the arrangement and condition of the skeletons before they were removed and the site was paved over.
  • Cosmic Buddha (Freer and Sackler galleries): To study such low-relief compositions, scholars have traditionally made rubbings with black ink on white paper, which give stronger contrast to the outlines. 3D scanning, used with a wide variety of imaging techniques, can give even more clarity to the designs.

To view these and other objects scanned using 3D technology, the Smithsonian and San Francisco-based Autodesk created the Smithsonian X 3D explorer which allows users to easily rotate models, take accurate measurements between points and adjust color and lighting. The explorer is also equipped with a storytelling feature, enabling Smithsonian curators and educators to create guided tours of the models.

In addition to viewing objects using the explorer, the raw 3D data itself will be made available for downloading and printing, both for personal and noncommercial use. Teachers and other educators can use the data to create realistic 3D models of these objects for use in the classroom.

It should be noted that additional support for the Smithsonian’s 3D efforts was provided by 3D Systems, which helped scan, design and print objects from several Smithsonian museums, including one of the large fossilized whales found in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

An Atmel-powered MakerBot in every school

The MakerBot crew has announced a new educational mission to put an Atmel-powered MakerBot Desktop 3D Printer in every American school.

According to Ben Millstein, the first MakerBot Academy initiative includes 3D printing bundles for classrooms, an awesome Thingiverse Challenge along with generous support from both individuals and organizations.

“[You can help] get the word out. Tell the teachers you know to register at DonorsChoose.org. Support a school [and] contribute to the effort by choosing a teacher; help get them set for the Next Industrial Revolution,” Millstein wrote in an official MakerBot blog post detailing the initiative. “[You can also] participate in the Thingiverse Challenge, develop models that teachers can use to improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.”

Millstein also pointed out that the rapidly growing 3D market had caught the attention of US President Barack Obama who stated during a recent State of the Union Address that 3D printing “has the potential to revolutionize” the way we make almost everything – with America ready to host “the next industrial revolution in manufacturing.”

“We’re inspired by the President’s commitment to keep America at the forefront of the Next Industrial Revolution and we’re eager to do our part to educate the next generation of innovative makers who will keep our economy strong,” Millstein noted. “[We want to] get thousands of [Atmel-powered] MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printers into K-12 public school classrooms across the country — by December 31, 2013!”

Interested in learning more about putting an Atmel-powered MakerBot in every American school? You can check out the official MakerBot Academy page here.

3D printing market worth $8.41 billion by 2020

Analysts at MarketsandMarkets have confirmed that the lucrative 3D printing market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 23% from 2013 to 2020, ultimately reaching $8.41 billion in 2020. The rapid growth is attributed to a wide range of diverse factors including innovative and advanced technologies, customized products, government funding, a wide unexploited app space and rapid development of products.

Currently, the major companies operating in this market are 3D Systems (U.S.), Stratasys (U.S.), Arcam AB (Sweden) and Exone (U.S.). As of 2013, the United States holds the largest revenue share, followed closely by Europe in 3D printers materials and related services. However, Europe is expected to surpass America in terms of 3D printing market revenue by 2020.

“The foremost factors accountable for the expansion of 3D printing market include new and improved 3D printing technologies, a wide range of materials government funding, broad application scope and increased awareness regarding the benefits of 3D printing over traditional techniques (injection molding and CNC machining),” a MarketsandMarkets rep explained. “However, APAC is the fastest growing and most promising market for 3D printing due to high industrial growth, technological awareness, supportive government policies and financial investment by the governments in R&D.”

Image Credit: RepRap.org

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, the DIY Maker Movement has been using Atmel-powered 3D printers like MakerBot and RepRap for some time now. However, 3D printing recently entered a new and important stage in a number of spaces including the medical spherearchitectural arenascience lab and even on the battlefield.

Indeed, the meteoric rise of 3D printing has paved the way for a new generation of Internet entrepreneurs, Makers and do-it-yourself (DIY) manufacturers. So it comes as little surprise that the lucrative 3D printing industry is on track to be worth a staggering $3 billion by 2016 – and $8.41 billion by 2020. 

Video: Designing a trainable robotic arm

A YouTube user by the name of navic209 has designed a trainable robotic arm built around Adafruit’s Analog Feedback Micro Servo and an Atmel-powered Arduino board that can be easily “taught” to move in a specific pattern.

Once the “train” button is pressed, users simply move the arm and gripper in a specific pattern, while an Atmel-powered Arduino board stores the relevant positions in EEPROM. The arm is then fully capable of precisely replaying the various motions.

According to navic209, the trainable robotic arm was inspired by Baxter, an entirely new robot targeted at manufacturing environments. Indeed, Baxter performs a variety of repetitive production tasks – all while safely and intelligently working next to people.

Interested in learning more about the Atmel-powered trainable robotic arm? The Arduino sketch is available on Github, while Adafruit’s Analog Feedback Micro Servo can be purchased here. The micro servo robotic arm is available on Thingiverse, along with the micro servo gripper (also on Thingiverse).

Gartner: IoT will create new economy and markets

Analysts at Gartner say the rapidly evolving Internet of Things (IoT) will create a new economy along with fresh markets. According to Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president at Gartner and global head of Research, the incremental revenue generated by the IoT’s suppliers is estimated to reach $309 billion per year by 2020.

“Half of this activity will be new start-ups and 80 percent will be in services rather than in products,” he confirmed. “[Clearly], the Internet of Things is a strategically important market. It will accelerate fast and drive both revenue and cost efficiencies.”

In 2009, there were 2.5 billion connected devices; most of these were mobile phones, PCs and tablets. In 2020, there will be over 30 billion devices connected, of far greater variety. Simply put, the IoT is projected to create greater economic value for all organizations and the global economy at large.

Indeed, Gartner predicts the total economic value add for the Internet of Things will hit $1.9 trillion dollars in 2020. Verticals leading IoT adoption include manufacturing (15 percent), healthcare (15 percent) and insurance (11 percent).

More specifically, the manufacturing sector will benefit from producing billions of devices and from more efficient tracking of materials and components. In terms of healthcare, smart slippers and other wearable devices for elderly people are expected to contain a growing number of sensors capable of detecting falls and various medical conditions. Another example includes installing sensors in cars to facilitate a “pay as you drive” insurance model – effectively linking a premium to the individual’s risk profile in real-time.

“The Internet of Things enables solutions that are optimized for the customer and enables new innovative business models. This will allow companies to move away from blanket pricing to more tailored solutions which benefit both company and customers,” Sondergaard explained. “The Internet of Everything and the Nexus of Forces, which combine the physical world and the virtual, will drive organizations and their CIOs toward an all-embracing digital future. No matter what business or service organizations deliver today, digitalization is changing it and becoming pervasive inside organizations.”

Nick Jones, research vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, expressed similar sentiments, noting that the IoT will create tens of millions of new objects and sensors, all generating real-time data.

“Data is money. Businesses will need big data and storage technologies to collect, analyze and store the sheer volume of information. Furthermore, to turn data into money business and IT leaders will need decisions,” he explained. “As they won’t have the time or the capacity to make all the decisions themselves they will need processing power. Computers can make sophisticated decisions based on data and knowledge, and they can communicate those decisions in our native language. To succeed at the pace of a digital world, you’ll have to allow them to do so.”

Meanwhile, Dave Aron, research vice president and Gartner Fellow, noted that every business will require its own flavor of digital strategy as digital is embedded in everything we do.

“Vanilla is off the menu. Digital is not an option, not an add-on, and not an afterthought; it is the new reality that requires a comprehensive digital leadership,” he said.

To be sure, business requires digital leadership capable of recognizing the huge opportunities in shifting business models; leadership that can create the freedom and agility to capture business moments, and leadership that extends itself beyond company boundaries to guide and shape the ecosystem.

“Just like with the strategy, the flavor of digital leadership is not vanilla. CIOs must explore, adapt and embrace the new digital realities. They must be fearless digital leaders,” Aron added.

Theater of Lost Species with the Makerbot Replicator 2

To many, the exterior of the Lost Species prototype resembles a hybrid spaceship-sea urchin. However, the unique mixture of organism and machine goes far beyond the surface, thanks to advanced design techniques and an Atmel-powered MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer.

While the Lost Species prototype may look like a spaceship, it’s actually a time machine of sorts. Created by the Future Cities Lab, the Theater of Lost Species is a virtual aquarium populated by marine species that have been extinct for millions of years.

“The idea is to create a real-time digital archive of every instance of every species that has ever lived,” Jason Kelly Johnson told MakerBot’s Ben Millstein. Indeed, Jason and his fabrication team initially planned to create the curved modules that covered the Theater of Lost Species out of thin plastic shells.

“[However], they realized the panels could be strengthened with the hexagonal infill automatically generated in MakerBot MakerWare,” Millstein explained in a recent company blog post.


“So the team thickened the modules’ cavities, creating a strong, lightweight structure that leaves space for electronics and wiring. They then fitted the modules like puzzle pieces into a complex structural chassis constructed out of 3D printed connectors and small laser-cut cross beams.”

The small-scale prototype of the Theater of Lost Species will be on exhibit at the YBCA in San Francisco until February 2nd, 2014 in an effort to raise awareness and funding for a full-scale prototype.