Tag Archives: Industrial Automation

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?

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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.

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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.

Why connect to the cloud with the Atmel | SMART SAM W25?


The “thing” of IoT does not have to necessarily be tiny. 


The Atmel | SMART SAM W25 is, in fact, a module — a “SmartConnect Module.” As far as I am concerned, I like SmartConnect designation and I think it could be used to describe any IoT edge device. The device is “smart” as it includes a processing unit, which in this case is an ARM Cortex-M0-based SAMD21G, and “connect” reminds the Internet part of the IoT definition. Meanwhile, the ATWINC1500 SoC supports Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n allowing seamless connection to the cloud.

What should we expect from an IoT edge device? It should be characterized by both low cost and power! This IoT system is probably implemented multiple times, either in a factory (industrial) or in a house (home automation), and the cost should be as low as possible to enable large dissemination. I don’t know the SAMD21G ASP, but I notice that it’s based on the smallest MCU core of the ARM Cortex-M family, so the cost should be minimal (my guess). Atmel claims the W25 module to be “fully-integrated single-source MCU + IEEE 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi solution providing battery powered endpoints lasting years”… sounds like ultra low-power, doesn’t it?

Atmel claims the W25 module to be “Fully-integrated single-source MCU + IEEE 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi solution providing battery powered endpoints lasting years”…sounds like being ultra low-power, isn’t it

The “thing” of IoT does not necessarily have to be tiny. We can see in the above example that interconnected things within the industrial world can be as large as these wind turbines (courtesy of GE). To maximize efficiency in power generation and distribution, the company has connected these edge devices to the cloud where the software analytics allow wind farm operators to optimize the performance of the turbines, based on environmental conditions. According with GE, “Raising the turbines’ efficiency can increase the wind farm’s annual energy output by up to 5%, which translates in a 20% increase in profitability.” Wind turbines are good for the planet as they allow avoiding burning fossil energy. IoT devices implementation allows wind farm operators to increase their profitability and to build sustainable business. In the end, thanks to Industrial Internet of Thing (IIoT), we all benefit from less air pollution and more affordable power!

ATSAMW25 Block-DiagramThe ATWINC1500 is a low-power Systems-on-Chip (SoC) that brings Wi-Fi connectivity to any embedded design. In the example above, this SoC is part of a certified module, the ATSAMW25, for embedded designers seeking to integrate Wi-Fi into their system. If we look at the key features list:

  • IEEE 802.11 b/g/n (1×1) for up to 72 Mbps
  • Integrated PA and T/R switch
  • Superior sensitivity and range via advanced PHY signal processing
  • Wi-Fi Direct, station mode and Soft-AP support
  • Supports IEEE 802.11 WEP, WPA
  • On-chip memory management engine to reduce host load
  • 4MB internal Flash memory with OTA firmware upgrade
  • SPI, UART and I2C as host interfaces
  • TCP/IP protocol stack (client/server) sockets applications
  • Network protocols (DHCP/DNS), including secure TLS stack
  • WSC (wireless simple configuration WPS)
  • Can operate completely host-less in most applications

We can notice that host interfaces allow direct connection to device I/Os and sensors through SPI, UART, I2C and ADC interfaces and can also operate completely host-less. A costly device is then removed from the BOM which can enable economic feasibility for an IoT, or IIoT edge device.

The low-power Wi-Fi certified module is currently employed in industrial systems supporting applications, such as transportation, aviation, healthcare, energy or lighting, as well as in IoT areas like home appliances and consumer electronics. For all these use cases, certification is a must-have feature, but low-cost and ultra-low power are the economic and technical enablers.


This post has been republished with permission from SemiWiki.com, where Eric Esteve is a principle blogger and one of the four founding members of the site. This blog first appeared on SemiWiki on November 15, 2015.

Are you designing for the latest automotive embedded system?


Eventually, self-driving cars will arrive. But until then, here’s a look at what will drive that progression.


The next arrow of development is set for automotive

We all have seen it. We all have read about it in your front-center technology news outlets. The next forefront for technology will take place in the vehicle. The growing market fitted with the feature deviation trend does not appeal to the vision of customizing more traditional un-connected, oiled and commonly leveraged chassis vehicles of today. Instead, ubiquity in smartphones have curved a design trend, now mature while making way for the connected car platform. The awaiting junction is here for more integration of the automotive software stack.  Opportunities for the connected car market are huge, but multiple challenges still exist. Life-cycles in the development of automotive and the mobile industry are a serious barrier for the future of connected cars. Simply, vehicles take much longer to develop than smartphones other portable gadgetry. More integration from vendors and suppliers are involved with the expertise to seamlessly fit the intended blueprint of the design. In fact, new features such as the operating system are becoming more prevalent, while the demand for sophisticated and centrally operated embedded systems are taking the height of the evolution. This means more dependence on integration of data from various channels, actuators, and sensors — the faculty to operate all the new uses cases such as automatic emergency response systems are functionality requiring more SoC embedded system requirements.

A step toward the connected car - ecall and how it works

What is happening now?

People. Process. Governance. Adoption. Let’s look at the similarities stemmed from change. We are going to witness new safety laws and revised regulations coming through the industry. These new laws will dictate the demand for connectivity. Indeed, drawing importance this 2015 year with the requirement set by 2018, European Parliament voted in favor of eCall regulation. Cars in Europe must be equipped with eCall, a system that automatically contacts emergency services directing them to the vehicle location in the event of an emergency. The automotive and mobile industries have different regional and market objectives. Together, all the participants in both market segments will need to find ways to collaborate in order to satisfy consumer connectivity needs. Case in point, Chrysler has partnered with Nextel to successfully connect cars like their Dodge Viper, while General Motors uses AT&T as its mobile development partner.

General Motors selected AT&T as its mobile partner

What is resonating from the sales floor and customer perspective?

The demand is increasing for more sophistication and integration of software in the cabin of cars. This is happening from the manufacturer to the supplier network then to the integration partners — all are becoming more engaged to achieve the single outcome, pacing toward the movement to the connected car. Stretched as far as the actual retail outlets, auto dealers are shifting their practice to be more tech savvy, too. The advent of the smart  vehicle has already dramatically changed the dealership model, while more transformation awaits the consumer.

On the sales floor as well as the on-boarding experience, sales reps must plan to spend an hour or more teaching customers how to use their car’s advanced technology. But still, these are only a few mentioned scenarios where things have changed in relation to cars and how they are sold and even to the point of how they are distributed, owned, and serviced. One thing for certain, though, is that the design and user trend are intersecting to help shape the demand and experience a driver wants in the connected car. This is further bolstered by the fast paced evolution of smartphones and the marketing experiences now brought forth by the rapid adoption and prolific expansion of the mobile industry tethered by their very seamless and highly evolved experiences drawn from their preferred apps.

Today, customer experiences are becoming more tailored while users, albeit on the screen or engaged with their mobile devices are getting highly acquainted with the expectation of “picking up from where I left off” regardless of what channel, medium, device, or platform.  Seamless experiences are breaking through the market.  We witness Uber, where users initialize their click on their smartphone then follows by telemetry promoted from Uber drivers and back to the users smart phone.  In fact, this happens vis versa, Uber driver’s have information on their console showing customer location and order of priority.  Real life interactions are being further enhanced by real-time data, connecting one device to draw forth another platform to continue the journey.  Transportation is one of the areas where we can see real-time solutions changing our day-to-day engagement.  Some of these are being brought forth by Atmel’s IoT cloud partners such as PubNub where they leverage their stack in devices to offer dispatch, vehicle state, and geo fencing for many vehicle platforms.  Companies like Lixar, LoadSmart, GetTaxi, Sidecar, Uber, Lyft are using real-time technologies as integral workings to their integrated vehicle platforms.

The design trajectory for connected cars continues to follow this arrow forward

Cars are becoming more of a software platform where value chain add-ons tied to an ecosystem are enabled within the software tethered by the cloud where data will continue to enhance the experience. The design trajectory for connected cars follow this software integration arrow.  Today, the demand emphasizes mobility along with required connectivity to customer services and advanced functions like power management for electric vehicles, where firmware/software updates further produce refined outcomes in the driver experience (range of car, battery management, other driver assisted functionalities).

Carmakers and mobile operators are debating the best way to connect the car to the web. Built-in options could provide stronger connections, but some consumers prefer tethering their existing smartphone to the car via Bluetooth or USB cable so they can have full access to their personal contacts and playlists. Connected car services will eventually make its way to the broader car market where embedded connections and embedded systems supporting these connections will begin to leverage various needs to integrate traditional desperate signals into a more centrally managed console.

Proliferation of the stack

The arrow of design for connected cars will demand more development, bolstering the concept that software and embedded systems factored with newly-introduced actuators and sensors will become more prevalent. We’re talking about “software on wheels,” “SoC on wheels,” and “secured mobility.”

Design wise, the cost-effective trend will still remain with performance embedded systems. Many new cars may have extremely broad range of sensor and actuator‑based IoT designs which can be implemented on a single compact certified wireless module.

The arrow for connected cars will demand more development bolstering the concept that software and embedded systems factored with newly introduced actuators & sensors will become more prevalent; “software on wheels”, “SoC on wheels” and “secured mobility”.

Similarly, having fastest startup times by performing the task with a high-performance MCU vs MPU, is economic for a designer. It can not only reduce significant bill of materials cost, development resources, sculpted form factor, custom wireless design capabilities, but also minimize the board footprint. Aside from that, ARM has various IoT device development options, offering partner ecosystems with modules that have open standards. This ensures ease of IoT or connected car connectivity by having type approval certification through restrictive access to the communications stacks.

Drivers will be prompted with new end user applications — demand more deterministic code and processing with chips that support the secure memory capacity to build and house the software stack in these connected car applications.

Feature upon feature, layer upon layer of software combined with characteristics drawn from the events committed by drivers, tires, wheels, steering, location, telemetry, etc. Adapted speed and braking technologies are emerging now into various connected car makes, taking the traditional ABS concept to even higher levels combined with intelligence, along with controlled steering and better GPS systems, which will soon enable interim or cruise hands-free driving and parking.

Connected Car Evolution

Longer term, the technological advances behind the connected car will eventually lead to self-driving vehicles, but that very disruptive concept is still far out.

Where lies innovation and change is disruption

Like every eventual market disruption, there will be the in-between development of this connected car evolution. Innovative apps are everywhere, especially the paradigm where consumers have adopted to the seamless transitional experiences offered by apps and smartphones. Our need for ubiquitous connectivity and mobility, no matter where we are physically, is changing our vehicles into mobile platforms that want us users to seamlessly be connected to the world. This said demand for connectivity increases with the cost and devices involved will become more available. Cars as well as other mobility platforms are increasingly becoming connected packages with intelligent embedded systems. Cars are offering more than just entertainment — beyond providing richer multimedia features and in-car Internet access.  Further integration of secure and trusted vital data and connectivity points (hardware security/processing, crypto memory, and crypto authentication) can enable innovative navigation, safety and predictive maintenance capabilities.

Carmakers are worried about recent hacks,  especially with issues of security and reliability, making it unlikely that they will be open to every kind of app.  They’ll want to maintain some manufactured control framework and secure intrusion thwarting with developers, while also limiting the number of apps available in the car managing what goes or conflicts with the experience and safety measures.  Importantly, we are taking notice even now. Disruption comes fast, and Apple and others have been mentioned to enter this connected car market. This is the new frontier for technological equity scaling and technology brand appeal. Much like what we seen in the earlier models of Blackberry to smartphones, those late in the developmental evolution of their platforms may be forced adrift or implode by the market.

No one is arguing it will happen. Eventually, self-driving cars will arrive.  But for now, it remains a futuristic concept.

What can we do now in the invention, design and development process?

The broader output of manufactured cars will need to continue in leveraging new designs that take in more integration of traditional siloed integration vendors so that the emergence of more unified and centrally managed embedded controls can make its way. Hence, the importance now exists in the DNA of a holistically designed platform fitted with portfolio of processors and security to take on new service models and applications.

This year, we have compiled an interesting mixture of technical articles to support the development and engineering of car access systems, CAN and LIN networks, Ethernet in the car, capacitive interfaces and capacitive proximity measurement.

In parallel to the support of helping map toward the progress and evolution of the connected car, a new era of design exists. One in which the  platform demands embedded controls to evenly match their design characteristics and application use cases. We want to also highlight the highest performing ARM Cortex-M7 based MCU in the market, combining exceptional memory and connectivity options for leading design flexibility. The Atmel | SMART ARM Cortex-M7 family is ideal for automotive, IoT and industrial connectivity markets. These SAM V/E/S family of microcontrollers are the industry’s highest performing Cortex-M microcontrollers enhancing performance, while keeping cost and power consumption in check.

So are you designing for the latest automotive, IoT, or industrial product? Here’s a few things to keep in mind:

  • Optimized for real-time deterministic code execution and low latency peripheral data access
  • Six-stage dual-issue pipeline delivering 1500 CoreMarks at 300MHz
  • Automotive-qualified ARM Cortex-M7 MCUs with Audio Video Bridging (AVB) over Ethernet and Media LB peripheral support (only device in the market today)
  • M7 provides 32-bit floating point DSP capability as well as faster execution times with greater clock speed, floating point and twice the DSP power of the M4

We are taking the connected car design to the next performance level — having high-speed connectivity, high-density on-chip memory, and a solid ecosystem of design engineering tools. Recently, Atmel’s Timothy Grai added a unveiling point to the DSP story in Cortex-M7 processor fabric. True DSPs don’t do control and logical functions well; they generally lack the breadth of peripherals available on MCUs. “The attraction of the M7 is that it does both — DSP functions and control functions — hence it can be classified as a digital signal controller (DSC).” Grai quoted the example of Atmel’s SAM V70 and SAM V71 microcontrollers are used to connect end-nodes like infotainment audio amplifiers to the emerging Ethernet AVB network. In an audio amplifier, you receive a specific audio format that has to be converted, filtered, and modulated to match the requirement for each specific speaker in the car. Ethernet and DSP capabilities are required at the same time.

“The the audio amplifier in infotainment applications is a good example of DSC; a mix of MCU capabilities and peripherals plus DSP capability for audio processing. Most of the time, the main processor does not integrate Ethernet AVB, as the infotainment connectivity is based on Ethernet standard,” Grai said. “Large SoCs, which usually don’t have Ethernet interface, have slow start-up time and high power requirements. Atmel’s SAM V7x MCUs allow fast network start-up and facilitate power moding.”

Atmel has innovative memory technology in its DNA — critical to help fuel connected car and IoT product designers. It allows them to run the multiple communication stacks for applications using the same MCU without adding external memory. Avoiding external memories reduces the PCB footprint, lowers the BOM cost and eliminates the complexity of high-speed PCB design when pushing the performance to a maximum.

Importantly, the Atmel | SMART ARM Cortex-M7 family achieves a 1500 CoreMark Score, delivering superior connectivity options and unique memory architecture that can accommodate the said evolve of the eventual “SoC on wheels” design path for the connected car.

How to get started

  1. Download this white paper detailing how to run more complex algorithms at higher speeds.
  2. Check out the Atmel Automotive Compilation.
  3. Attend hands-on training onboard the Atmel Tech on Tour trailer. Following these sessions, you will walk away with the Atmel | SMART SAM V71 Xplained Ultra Evaluation Kit.
  4. Design the newest wave of embedded systems using SAM E70, SAM S70, or SAM V70 (ideal for automotive, IoT, smart gateways, industrial automation and drone applications, while the auto-grade SAM V70 and SAM V71 are ideal for telematics, audio amplifiers and advanced media connectivity).

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[Images: European Commission, GSMA]

Profile of an IoT processor for the industrial and consumer markets


 If there’s a single major stumbling block that is hindering the IoT take-off at the larger industrial scale, it’s security.


The intersection of data with intelligent machines is creating new possibilities in industrial automation, and this new frontier is now being increasingly known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). However, if there is a single major stumbling block that is hindering the IoT take-off at the larger industrial scale, it’s security.

It’s imperative to have reliable data in the industrial automation environment, and here, the additional security layers in the IoT hardware often lead to compromises in performance. Then, there is counterfeiting of products and application software, which is becoming a growing concern in the rapidly expanding IoT market.

sama5d2_google_1160x805_090215

Atmel’s answer to security concerns in the IIoT infrastructure: a microprocessor (MPU) that can deliver the security while maintaining the level of performance that Internet-connected systems require. The company’s Cortex A5 chip — the Atmel | SMART SAMA5D4 — securely stores and transfers data, as well as safeguards software assets to prevent cloning of IoT applications.

The SAMA5D4 series of MPUs enables on-the-fly encryption and decryption of software code from the external DRAM. Moreover, it boasts security features such as secure boot, tamper detection pins and safe erasure of security-critical data. The A5D4 processor also incorporates ARM’s system-wide security approach, TrustZone, which is used to secure peripherals such as memory and crypto blocks. TrustZone —comprising of security extensions that can be implemented in a number of ARM cores — is tightly integrated into ARM’s Cortex-A processors. It runs the processor in two different modes: First, a secure environment executes critical security and safety software, and secondly, a normal environment runs the rich OS software applications such as Linux. This lets embedded designers isolate critical software from OS software.

The system approach allows control access to CPU, memories, DMA and peripherals with programmable secure regions. That, in turn, ensures that on-chip parts like CPU and off-chip parts like peripherals are protected from software attacks.

Trust

Performance Uplift

The Atmel SMART | SAMA5D4 processor is based on the Cortex-A5, the smallest and simplest of the Cortex-A series cores that support the 32-bit ARMv7 instruction set. It’s targeted at applications requiring high-precision computing and fast signal processing — that includes industrial and consumer applications such as control panels, communication gateways and imaging terminals.

The use cases for SAMA5D4 span from kiosks, vending machines and barcode scanners, to smart grid, communications gateways and control panels for security, home automation, thermostats, etc. Atmel’s MPU features peripherals for connectivity and user interface applications. For instance, it offers a TFT LCD controller for human-machine interface (HMI) and control panel applications and a dual Ethernet MAC for networking and gateway solutions.

Apart from providing high-grade security, SAMA5D4 adds two other crucial features to address the limitations of its predecessor, SAMA5D3 processor. First, it uplifts performance through ARM’s NEON DSP engine and 128kB L2 cache. The NEON DSP with 128-bit single instruction, multiple data (SIMD) architecture accelerates signal processing for more effective handling of multimedia and graphics. Likewise, L2 cache enhances data processing capability for imaging applications.

The second prominent feature of the SAMA5D4 is video playback that boasts 720p resolution hardware video decoder with post-image processing capability. Atmel’s embedded processor offers video playback for H.264, VP8 and MPEG4 formats at 30fps.

A Quick Overview of the SAMA5D4

The SAMA5D4 processor, which got a 14 percent performance boost from its predecessor MPU, increasing operating speed to 528 MHz, is a testament of the changing microprocessor market in the IoT arena. Atmel’s microprocessor for IoT markets delivers 840 DMIPS that can facilitate imaging-centric applications hungry for processing power. Aside from that, the SAMA5D4 is equipped with a 32-bit wide DDR controller running up to 176 MHz, which can deliver up to 1408MB/s of bandwidth. That’s a critical element for high-speed peripherals common in the industrial environments where microprocessors are required to process large amounts of data.

sama5d4-block-diagram_734x612_large

Finally, the SAMA5D4 is configurable in either a 16- or 32-bit bus interface allowing developers a trade-off between performance and memory cost. There are four distinct chips in the SAMA5D4 family: SAMA5D41 (16-bit DDR), SAMA5D42 (32-bit DDR), SAMA5D43 (16-bit DDR along with H.264 video decoder)and SAMA5D44 (32-bit DDR along with H.264 video decoder).

The SoC-specific hardware security and embedded vision capabilities are a stark reminder of specific requirements of different facets of IoT, in this case, industrial and consumers markets. And Atmel’s specific focus on security and rich media just shows how the semiconductor industry is getting around the key IoT stumbling blocks.


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.

Atmel launches new family of wireless transceivers for smart energy applications

With European Utility Week 2014 in full swing, Atmel has unveiled a new family of wireless transceivers including the AT86RF215, AT86RF215M, and AT86RF215IQ. Expanding upon the Atmel | SMART metering portfolio, the new solutions address the industry’s low-cost, multi-protocol connectivity requirements for smart metering, smart lighting, home energy gateways and other industrial and automation equipment.

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The first sampling device, AT86RF215, is the industry’s first dual-band sub-1GHz / 2.4GHz transceiver compliant to IEEE 802.15.4g-2012 and ETSI TS 102 887-1. Additionally, AT86RF215M is asingle band sub-1GHz transceiver, while the AT86RF215IQ is a dual-band I/Q radio. All three deliver an output power of up to 14dBm. With receiver sensitivities down to -123dBm, an outstanding link budget of 137dB can be achieved.

The AT86RF215 offers superior flexibility by supporting a variety of data rates with three modulation schemes: multi-rate and multi-regional frequency shift keying (MR-FSK), orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (MR-OFDM), as well as offset quadrature phase-shift keying (MR-O-QPSK). This entails the physical layer used for ZigBee PRO and ZigBee IP. Simultaneous operation at sub-1GHz and 2.4GHz enables new capabilities and the right cost structure in smart metering, smart lighting, home energy gateways and other industrial and automation equipment.

AT86RF215_Block_Diagram_lg_929x516_101614

Some of the family’s key features include:

  • Fully integrated radio transceiver covering 389.5-510 MHz, 779-1020 MHz, and 2400-2483.5 MHz
    • European bands at 863-870 MHz, 870-876 MHz, and 915-921 MHz
    • Chinese bands at 470-510 MHz and 779-787 MHz
    • North American band at 902-928 MHz
    • Korean band at 917-923.5 MHz
    • Japanese band at 920-928 MHz
    • Worldwide ISM band at 2400-2483.5 MHz
  • Supported PHYs (IEEE 802.15.4g-2012, IEEE 802.15.4- 2011, and proprietary modes)
    • MR-FSK: 50…400 kbit/s with optional forward error correction and interleaving
    • MR-OFDM: 50…2400 kbit/s
    • MR-O-QPSK: 6.25…1000 kbit/s, 100…2000 kchip/s
    • O-QPSK: 250…1000 kbit/s, 1000 and 2000 kchip/s
  • Simultaneous operation at sub-1 GHz and 2.4 GHz
  • Bi-directional differential RF signal ports, one for sub-1 GHz and one for 2.4 GHz
  • SPI interface to access registers and frame buffers
    • LVDS interface to access 13-bit I/Q data
    • IEEE 802.15.4 MAC support • Frame filter
    • FCS handling
    • Automatic acknowledgement
    • CCA with automatic transmit
  • Industry-leading link budget
    • Programmable TX output power up to +14 dBm
    • Receiver sensitivity down to -123 dBm
  • Low power supply voltage from 1.8V to 3.6V
  • Low current consumption
    • 30 nA in SLEEP mode
    • 28 mA in RX mode
    • 65 mA in TX mode @ 14 dBm output power
  • Industrial temperature range from -40°C to +85°C
  • 48-pin low-profile lead-free plastic QFN package

“We are excited to see the widespread adoption of standards-based connectivity solutions for the utility industry worldwide,” said Kourosh Boutorabi, Atmel Senior Director of Smart Energy Products. “Expanding our portfolio of smart metering solutions to include new wireless transceivers reinforces our commitment to serve this growing market. We are continuing to deliver new platform solutions for the smart energy market, including powerline carrier connectivity and industry’s most comprehensive portfolio of metering system-on-chip solutions.”

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While initial samples and evaluation kits for the AT86RF215 are available now to lead customers, mass sampling is planned for Q1 2015 and volume production for Q3 2015.

A manual milling machine with an Arduino digital readout

A recent Design News magazine featured a neat article about a fellow that built a wood frame for milling machine. It uses a Dremel-type router for the spindle motor. It’s a hand-cranker, as my machinist buddies say, the only motor is for the spindle.

Manual-mill-overall

This manual milling machine uses a hand-cranked X- and Y-axis with a Dremel-type spindle.

Cool thing is, the builder, John Duffy used an Atmel-based Arduino board to make a digital readout. This makes the mill much more useful.

Manual-mill-Arduino

This Arduino is used to create a digital read out (DRO).

You can check out Duffy’s detailed instructions in this PDF file here.

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.

Atmel-Tech-on-Tour-Trailer

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_Colorado-School-of-Mines_Atmel-SAM4

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

 

Clark-McCune_Colorado-School-of-Mines_Atmel-SAM4_close

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.

SAM4L-EK_for-clark

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.

SAM4L-EK_unboxed

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

SAM4L-EK_displays

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

SAM4L-EK_slider

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.

SAM4L-EK_jumpers

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.

SAM4L-EK_with-RF

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.

SAM4L-EK_full-power

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.

SAM4L-EK_backup-power

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.

SAM4L-EK_into-backup-power

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.

SAM4L-EK_outof-backup-power

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:

SAM4L-EK_backside

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.