Tag Archives: Home Appliances

Atmel expands QTouch Safety Platform for home appliance user interfaces

Just in time for Electronica 2014, we’re excited to announce our new QTouch Safety Platform for capacitive touch-enabled user interfaces in the home appliance market. Not only does the new platform add mandatory safety, it also supports Atmel | SMART ARM Cortex-M0+ based MCUs for safety critical home electronics applications.


The most recent QTouch capacitive touch platform is based on the Atmel | SMART SAM D20 integrating an on-chip peripheral touch controller (PTC) to deliver excellent EMC robustness, short response times and combines self- and mutual capacitance sensors for up to 256 channels. Today, the QTouch platform is already widely adopted by some of the world’s leading manufacturers.

When it comes to next-gen home appliances, designers are not only facing stringent certification requirements for safety and EMC robustness, but are seeking a platform that supports all the applicable safety standards required to pass end product qualification with minimal design time. Fortunately, Atmel’s QTouch Safety Platform is pre-qualified for the VDE/UL 60730 Class B and UL 1998 certifications, reducing a designer’s overall development time by as much as 12 months.

What this means is that household appliance designers can now harness their energy on more innovative, easy-to-use interfaces that support capacitive touch buttons, sliders and wheels on an Atmel | SMART ARM Cortex M0+-based MCU, rather than focusing on safety certification features. The SAM D20 ARM-based Cortex M0+-based MCU is the first device to support the QTouch safety library, with support for future home appliance devices to be added as they become available.

In the meantime, designers can go ahead and download the QTouch Safety Library Firmware, FMEA library and QTouch Composer Development Software on an Atmel ARM Cortex M0+-based MCU. The QTouch Safety Library ensures excellent noise tolerance through dynamic hardware and firmware noise filtering through the IEC 61000-4-6 10V conducted immunity with minimal design effort. Additionally, QTouch Safety Platform provides FMEA support and moisture tolerance.

“With the increased regulations in Europe and the US for safer home appliance products, designers are looking for pre-qualified solutions that accelerate this part of the development cycle,” said Geir Kjosavik, Atmel Director of QTouch Product Marketing. “Atmel’s latest QTouch Safety Platform gives designers the pre-qualified features for their home appliances while enabling them to differentiate their products with capacitive touch interfaces in the form of buttons, wheels or sliders. We are excited to help bring more safety critical home appliances to market and are continuing to broaden our portfolio of devices to support the home appliance market.”

To help accelerate a designer’s development, the QTouch Safety Platform offers easy-to-use software and hardware tools, each of which are available free of charge in the Atmel Gallery. Wait, there’s more good news! The SAM D20 — offered in 16KB to 256KB of Flash in 32-, 48- and 64-pin packages — is now shipping in volume.

Furthermore, the SAM D20 QTouch robustness demo — which provides an evaluation and demo highlighting the superior performance Atmel’s QTouch Safety Platform — is available in the Atmel Store for USD $149. The kit comes pre-loaded with a pre-qualified 60730 Class B software that can be easily re-programmed and debugged using the embedded debugger, not to mention passes all standard home appliance EMC tests.

In addition to the SAM D20 QTouch robustness demo, the QTouch Safety Platform can be explored using the Xplained Pro evaluation platform. The SAM D20 Xplained Pro evaluation board is available for USD $39, while the QT1 Xplained Pro adding QTouch support is available for USD $25. Both of these kits are also available in the Atmel Store.

Heading to Munich for Electronica 2014? Stop by Atmel booth — located in Hall A5, #542 — to discover how we’re bringing more intelligent, connected devices together. In the Atmel SMART HOME ZONE, you will have the chance to experience a live demonstration of the QTouch Safety Library with SAM D20, displaying the superior capacitive touch performance of the peripheral touch controller while achieving best-in-class noise immunity and moisture tolerance required in home appliances.

ATmega328P inside the Nexus Q

Talking to one of my Google buddies at the eFlea, he mentioned that there is an ATmega328P inside the Google Nexus Q media streaming device. I asked what it did and he explained there is a row of LEDs around the device and Google wanted those LEDs to light and flash in sequence the second you applied power. A perfect application for a Flash microcontroller that boots in microseconds.

I was concerned that this was a Google secret until a quick check on the Internet showed a post over at the great folks from iFixit. It verifies that there is an ATmega328P inside the Nexus Q, and you can even see the Atmel logo in the picture.


The Atmel ATmega328P is used to flash the LEDs around the periphery of the Google Nexus Q. It’s the bigger chip at the top right (courtesy iFixit).

Atmel’s SAM4L at the Colorado School of Mines

Analog aficionado and Linear Systems marketing maven Tim McCune saw some of our cool ARM Cortex M4-based SAM4L-EK demo kits at the last Analog Aficionados party. Turns out his son Clark just entered the Colorado School of Mines and Tim thought his son could learn a lot from the kit. This is the same kit that Atmel is featuring in its 2014 Tech on Tour training, where we drive a giant 18-wheeler truck onto your campus or company and then do training or product demos.


The Atmel Tech on Tour mobile trailer is available to drive to your location and conduct training for employees or students.

So I wangle a couple kits from Atmel events director Donna Castillo and sent them off to Clark. In addition to the ARM Cortex M4-based SAM4-EK, the training bundle had an AT86RF233 Xplained Pro wireless board and an 10-pin XPRO adapter PCB. This allows the SAM4 Xplained pro to take the RF board.

Tim reported the kits were a big hit:

“The kits arrived last Friday, before the three-day weekend, which was a great morale-booster for Clark. He was stuck there with not much to do, most of his friends were at home or skiing. Figuring out how to fire up the kits and start working in C was pretty fun. And when his classmates started drifting back he had the coolest new toys on the hall.”


Clark McCune and pal fires up the Atmel SAM4-EK at the Colorado School of Mines.



Here Clark McCune has both SAM4-EK kits at the ready, with the one hooked to the computer also sporting the AT86RF233 wireless board that comes with the Tech on Tour training.


Here are the kits I sent Clark McCune. The Tech on Tour training will get you up to speed on ARM Cortex M4 programming as well as wireless connectivity.


The SAM4L-EK has a board and a ton of cables including the micro-USB ones you will need to power the board.


Both displays have a protective film over them, so be sure to peel them off to get the best appearance.


Right out of the box the board is programmed to read the slider on the bottom right side. The number “104” changes in proportion to your finger posing. Note the smaller power consumption display above the main one. The L in SAM4L stands for low power, so Atmel includes a power monitor right on the board.


We also include the jumpers, just set off to the side, so you don’t have to hunt any down from your old Windows 95 add-in cards.


Here is the SAM4L set up with the AT86RF233 Xplained Pro wireless board and an 10-pin XPRO adapter PCB. I hope Clark had them in the right way because I just copied what he had in his picture.


Here is a close-up of the power monitor display. With the programs running full-bore, you can see the board is using 1.92 mA, but the firmware is nice enough to tell you it is using 159μA/MHz.


Press pushbutton PB0 and the board kicks into standby, where the PCB only draws 66μA. Sorry for the shaky camera, the display is sharp as a tack.


Speaking of shaky camera work, I tried to press the PB0 pushbutton and snap a pic at the same time, so you can see the little display on the SAM4L-EL work like a tiny oscilloscope, showing the power consumption dropping from 2mA to 69μA.


And finally, another shaky camera shot of the SAM4L-EK returning to full power mode.

What is really cool about the little power monitor is that it does show transient events, like when the code services an interrupt and returns to low-power mode. Oh, I forgot to show the back of the PCB, here is a shot:


The back of the SAM4L-EK has more chips, I assume to run the debugger and such. Note the nice clear rubber feet to keep the pins from scratching your desk.

This is such a well-done kit, and if you want to get on the ARM bandwagon, it is a perfect way to learn. Better yet, with the RF board it gets you familiar with the Internet of Things (IoT) applications the whole world is hungering for. So check out the Tech on Tour training and feel free to badger you local Atmel rep or FAE to bring the ToT mobile trailer to your school or company.

SAMA5 and SAM9: Atmel’s big iron microprocessors

Atmel is rightly famous for its AVR line of 8-bit Flash microcontrollers. But we also have “big iron” chips like the SAMA5 and SAM9 ARM-core microprocessors. A microcontroller has its own internal Flash memory. A microprocessor uses external memory, as much or as little as your application might need.

Hardware engineers have two big worries with any “big iron” microprocessor. First, they are in big packages, hundreds of pins in a ball-grid array. That can be hard to prototype with, since it needs a fine-line PCB that costs a lot to spin. The other big concern is laying out the DDR memory interface. These are wickedly fast and require best layout practices and some register tweaking to get them up to full speed.


The SAMA5D3 Xplained kit has connectors for Arduino Shields and dual Ethernet ports.

Thankfully, Atmel has solved both problems with a series of evaluation systems. For the SAMA5, you can start with a 79-dollar SAMA5D3 Xplained Kit. It has solved your DDR memory problem since it’s got 256MB on-board. One of the coolest things is that it has connectors where you can plug in any Arduino Shield. Now you can’t use the Arduino libraries, those are based on Atmel’s 8-bit AVR, but it’s not hard to re-write the open source code libraries into something that will run on ARM, if someone hasn’t done it already. The eval board has Atmel’s SAMA5D36 Cortex-A5 Microprocessor, 256Mbytes of NAND Flash, LCD connectors, dual Ethernet (GMAC + EMAC) with PHY and connectors, three USB connectors (2 Host + 1 Device), one SD/eMMC and one MicroSD slots, expansions headers, and power measurement straps.


Atmel makes eval kits for the SAM9N12 (left) and SAM5D3x ARM-based microprocessors.

For those that are doing higher-level applications, the fact that you can run Linux brings all the advantages of open-source development to the SAMA5 and SAM9 microprocessors. And best yet, you get a powerful CPU that uses very little power thanks to Atmel’s architecture. The SAMA5 uses 150mW when running at full speed. It has a DDR controller that give you 1328MB/s of bandwidth. It comes with for gigabit Ethernet, 3 USB ports, dual CAN, UARTs, SPI, and an LCD controller with a graphics accelerator. There is a camera interface, a 12-bit analog to digital converter (ADC) and 32-bit timers.

A SAMA5 chip can run Linux and even has the power to run Android in a “headless” application, that is, where there is not a high-resolution display to eat up your CPU cycles. With an ARM core it’s ideal if you want to do “bare metal” development, where you are writing native ARM code.


The SAM9N12 architecture gives you low power and a great peripheral set.

Looking at the SAM9, the SAM9CN runs at 400MHz. They have security built in with a cryptographic engine and a secure boot. There is an LCD controller with touchscreen interface, USB, MLC NAND memory support, along with multiple UARTs and I2C. It sips 103mW at 400MHz.

You can get separate LCD panels made to work with the SAMA5 Xplained kit. But if you want to get a SAMA5 kit with the LCD already included, look at the 595-dollar SAMA5D31, SAMA5D33, SAMA5D34 and SAMA5D36 kits. There is also the 445-dollar SAMA5D35 kit, which is cheaper since it does not have an LCD system. These kits cost more but they come ready to go. These are a small working computer that you can immediately start programming in high-level languages or Linux scripts. The kits come with installed applications for its Qt-based GUI.


The SAM5A5Dx-EK demo kit comes with Linux and some demo applications pre-installed.

And if you dread laying out a PCB with a working DDR memory interface, but don’t need the whole $595 kit, you can get help there as well. You will notice that the microprocessor and memory are on a little mezzanine PCB in the SAMA5D3 demo kits. This PCB will be available from Embest and other partners. The SAM9 is also available as a tiny SBC (single-board computer).


The SAMA5D3-EK series are designed with a mezzanine card holding the CPU and DDR memory. You can use this card in your high-volume designs.

So now you can develop your custom hardware starting with the SAMA5D3 kit, and then make your own custom hardware that still uses the same exact CPU+memory mezzanine card. While you are perfecting and troubleshooting that hardware, your software team can be working on the Atmel eval kit. This paralleled development will substantially speed up your time to market. And best yet, you won’t be bogged down trying to troubleshoot the DDR memory interface, since it is already working on the mezzanine card.

So don’t just think of 8-bit AVRs when you consider Atmel. We make some really high-power MPU products for everything from IoT (Internet of Things) servers to routers and industrial automation. With Atmel’s kits and our extensive partner network, we can get you up and running in no time, for very little cost, and you can have confidence you designs will work on that final hardware spin.

Passing CE immunity testing

When I was working on semiconductor machinery, we used TUV to get CE certification so we could sell the machines in Europe. We got through emissions alright, it’s similar to the FCC testing we already did, but immunity testing was brutal. When we broadcast RF at a machine, the wafer elevators went nuts and started breaking wafers. We had managed to convince the TUV guy that the speckles and snow on the monitor were not technically a failure, since you could still read it. But robots going open-loop? No, nobody could talk that past TUV. Turns out the cabling was the culprit. There was shielded twisted pair to the Banner sensors that located the elevator stops. In fact, I think they even used braid+foil shielded wire. But the semiconductor machinery company connected the cables with those red-brick AMP connectors, the MR series.


MR These MR (miniature rectangular) connectors work great for appliance wiring, but they provide no continuous shielded path for radio frequency interference (RFI).

Now designing cabling is often thought of as a mechanical engineering function. But mechanical engineers often don’t understand the principles of RF shielding. Get this— they cut the cable shielding about 2 inches back, connected the power, ground, and signal to pins, and yeah, they connected the braid to a pin, and sent it into the connector, to mate with another cable that had 2 inches pulled back. The cables were all dressed beautifully and shrink tubing everywhere. But like my buddy says—“4 inches of untwisted unshielded wire is a nice antenna.”


D-sub The D-sub connector was developed for military applications and then picked up by PC makers for serial, parallel and video ports. One reason is its good RF performance. Make sure your cable braid contacts the metal shell.

I switched them to D-subs using 9 pins with a metal shell, and we finally passed. So remember, RF energy is like light—it can leak into the smallest spaces and screw things up. Make sure the EE department revises the detailed design of the cable, or your machine might get held up in certification too.

Video: The Gingerbread Arduino


My pal Andreas over in the microcontroller business group sent me this great video showing the kind of fun non-technical folks can have with Arduino.

He writes:

My cousin who is a math/physics geek wanted to learn embedded  programming and decided to make an fancy gingerbread santa for Christmas using an Arduino. Turns out not only kids but also grownups play with Arduino. ☺

OK, so a math physics guy is not exactly non-technical, but it is safe to say he is not an engineer. That is the great thing about Arduino, it can get you started with some results the same day you start to play with it.

Arc explosions illustrate the dangers of electricity

I wrote a blog post a while back about the difficulty or having cars with 42V instead of 12V batteries. I also pointed out the difficulties of distributing dc inside your house and to your house. It got picked up by EDN, and the comments were interesting. Someone challenged my assertion that 24V relays switches are less reliable. Sorry, I worked for GMC Truck and Coach as an auto engineer in the electrical group. Heck, just read any switch or relay datasheet and you can see you have to de-rate for dc and de-rate even more for higher-voltage dc. Someone pointed out the phone company uses 48V dc, and I had to explain that the 48V the POTS (plain-old telephone system) sends to your house is also high impedance, 600 ohms, so that make is much less arc-prone and easier to switch.


Others challenged my observation that it is hard to distribute dc in your house due to the fire hazard from the arcs and the same problems with switches and relays. Well, even ac has arcs that are hard to quench. Bigger dc circuit breakers have magnets in them to pull the arc one side and make it longer so it can break. Really big breakers, both ac and dc, have compressed air that blows the arc out just like your kid with a birthday candle.


So here is a nice video of an ac arc flash that should give you some idea of the difficulty of quenching an arc. Palo Verde had a horrible arc flash in 2008 that thankfully had no injuries. And here is a training video of an arc flash form the fine folks at e-Hazard.com

Here is another training video from Westex flameproof clothing:

And if you wondered if there was any glory left in the American worker, check out this high-voltage lineman working from a helicopter.

So that’s the trouble with dc. Since the voltage is not going through zero 120 times a second it is much harder to quench the arc. The operative word is “plasma”. That is what Fran Hoffart from Linear Tech taught me about li-ion batteries. He said that the burning lithium is certainly a problem. But the real mess is that a plasma ball forms, and that shorts out any other battery cells in the vicinity. An arc is plasma, and that is some nasty stuff. I mentioned to Fran that the iron phosphate chemistry lithium cells are supposed to be burn-proof. Fran looked at me with an expression that said “you can’t be that stupid” and replied “they all burn”. It is remarkable the difference you hear when talking to people who are making and selling the battery cells versus the people like Fran, that are making the chips to reliably charge the cells.


I guess that is why that outlaw biker told me that the only thing that he was really scared of was electricity. I asked why and he said “Because it can kill you and you can’t see it.”

Cure RF squegging with a Neutrodyne circuit

Some headlines write themselves, huh? Squegging is when an RF amplifier or MHz-class switching regulator starts cycling on and off. In an audio amp it is called “motorboating” since that is the sound it makes. FET amplifiers are subject to this, like old tube amplifiers. Both have a high-impedance input, the tube grid or the FET gate. A FET gate is capacitive, so any charge that gets put on it will be stored by the gate, moving the bias point of the FET too high, and causing squegging. The Neutrodyne circuit comes from 1920 vacuum tube amplifiers. It is one of the ways you can tame squegging. High Frequency Electronics magazine has a nice article about squegging (pdf). The best way to show it is a figure in the article, who I hope the fine legal team at Summit Technical Media will let me show you.


Squegging is when the input of a FET or vacuum tube floats up momentarily and shuts down oscillations. This make the output cycle on and off, called motorboating (courtesy High Frequency Electronics).

Trust me; you really want to click over to the article since it has the schematics of a FET amplifier that will start to motor boat, as well as several ways to fix it. The whole magazine is pretty good. While you are at it, think of signing up for a print copy of the magazine. You need to be an engineer or tech worker, since the magazine is audited by BPA, so the advertisers know they are reaching tech people and not random idiots.

Remember that these tips apply to high frequency switching converters. And regulators are getting up into RF ranges. I remember seeing an 8-MHz switching regulator from Micrel years ago when I worked at EDN magazine. You might be using one of these fast regulators for some extreme size problems. These high speeds do cause less efficiency, as the gate charge is getting shunted to ground, but the inductor you need with these fast converters is miniscule. That Micrel part still manages 90% max efficiency, but you can use a 0.47µH inductor. That is one tiny inductor.

So I assume the Micrel folks have solved any squegging problems in their part, but it is still a good principle to understand should you run across it. It’s like sub-harmonic oscillations in switchers with a duty cycle greater than 50% (pdf page 10, pdf page 5, pdf page 72. It might befuddle you if you have never heard of it and don’t know the steps you need to take to solve it.

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!

FizzJelly with Atmel and the IoT

The Mobile Minds crew has debuted an Atmel-powered cellular connected platform designed to track and monitor a wide range of sensors. FizzJelly works straight out of the box, allowing users to effortlessly monitor and control their IoT devices.

“From motion to temperature and from water leaks to GPS tracking, [FizzJelly] will let you know by sending an alert,” a Mobile Minds rep explained in a recent Kickstarter post.

“It makes it easy to check to see if anyone has been in your house, find out where your car is, if your rooms have got too hot or cold or even turn on and off the lights.”

Indeed, users can command and query FizzJelly simply by sending and receiving text messages with a cell phone. To be sure, configuring and using FizzJelly is extremely simple, requiring a regular SIM card, a connected sensor and a text message. As expected, each unit can be configured with a unique PIN code to secure it against unauthorized access.

Additional key specs and features include:

  • Atmel ATmega32U4 MCU (microcontroller)
  • One internal temperature sensor
  • 8 I/O ports
  • One expansion port
  • GPS module (optional)
  • Programmable over Micro-USB
  • GSM Quad Band – 850/900/1800/1900MHz
  • Open Source development kit
  • Power range 6v – 16v (Motion Detector requires 9v – 16v)
  • Either Battery or AC adapter
  • CE & FCC approved
  • GCF (Worldwide approved module)
  • PTCRB (North America approved module)

Interested in learning more about the Atmel-powered FizzJelly? You can check out the project’s official Kickstarter page here.