(Part 2 – continued)
TV: Why AVR as the microcontroller? What did you especially like in the development, prototype, production use-cases for AVR 8-Bit Microcontrollers?
EK: The best thing about AVRs is that they have a huge community and it makes sense why – as for microcontroller use, they are pretty easy to use, thanks to all of the tools for them – of course Arduino is a big part of that – but even before that, probably the key component was avr-gcc – being able to write C/C++ code and easily compile it for AVRs with a completely free unrestricted compiler is a huge incentive to develop with it, especially for makers who don’t have the big bucks or the desire to use proprietary compilers. PIC took a long time to catch on to that, and still isn’t nearly as easy to get started with, and the community is not as open and beginner friendly either, in my opinion – and I started with PICs back in the late 90s.
The other great thing about AVRs is that they are pretty robust and there is nothing quite like a device that can source up to 40ma on a pin and survive – that makes it much more beginner friendly!
TV: Are there any particular microcontrollers or microprocessors you would like to get your hands on more easily in design and prototyping?
EK: There are lots of them – lots of the new silicon MCUs being developed in China would be fun to play with and see what they can do – like the Allwinner ARM SoCs but we have lots of trouble getting them – we find ways though. Lots of MCUs have a ton of potential for use in startups and IoT but we don’t even think about using them because of all the non-competes, minimum orders, binary blob drivers, etc – it doesn’t make sense to develop open source software with a very closed company.
TV: How do ARM and AVR microcontrollers differ to you, why do you design your first project in AVR?
EK: Our first project was using an AVR 8-bit Microcontroller because that is what we knew best and that is what our target audience was used to – because of Arduino.
TV: Why did you choose Atmel ARM for DigiX? Development, IDE options, Design, Production, Quality, Supply or any other reasons?
EK: We chose the ARM chip for the DigiX because we do see it as the future of IoT products – the AVR is being pushed to its limits when you stack Wifi, LCD touch solutions, sensors, and more all on top of it – the ARM still has plenty of room to handle more – so it is a natural progression for power users to move towards more powerful hardware.
TV: Our goal was then to make it as easy to use as possible – we chose the same chip as the Arduino Due because we wanted to add to their support for that chip in Arduino rather than compete with it – we wanted to help make both the DigiX and Due easier to use.
From a design, supply, and production standpoint it has been far more difficult, expensive, and harder to work with – but it is worth it to enable people to access that kind of power in an easy to use format.
TV: Is it more about low power and smarter hardware design or beyond the core development with Restful cloud based architectures to empower the Smart Connected Thing? What do you find more important, if you had to choose?
EK: Low power and ease of use – many of the best ideas come from people who are in no way experts at the hardware or software involved – the more people are able to use the tech, the more likely a breakthrough will come about. Low power is also important because the more we can move to small and battery powered, the more we’ll see these ideas break free of the home and desk and move into everyday on person use.
TV: Do you see the Maker Movement and Enterprise coming together in matrimony someday? What are some of the challenges?
EK: I don’t see them at odds – as I mentioned before – I think the enterprises who embrace the maker culture will be met with more success and the rest will be left behind, at least by those embracing the maker culture.
TV: For a designer or developer, are we at the hour of product creation or the hour of connectivity?
EK: Both – we need people doing both to fuel this cultural change!
TV: If you had to build the perfect smart city integrated with personal networks, take me through your choice of network topologies and protocols most considerably ideal to optimize the connectivity for people and customers. What would your design look like in terms of ideal integrated connectivity (802.11.x, 802.15.14, ZigBee, 6LoWPAN, IPv6, CoAp, MQTT, etc)?
EK: Whether or not it is ideal – I think that it would be met with the most success if it is 802.11.x based for long range, and 802.15.4 for personal area and shorter range links – the short range 802.15.4 protocol would be ideal for devices communicating with other devices around them and wifi is already so ubiquitous that it makes sense to use it for longer distance and high bandwidth connections. Its range and prevalence also allows it to be very successful without worrying nearly as much about infrastructure.
I don’t see IoT world being built on closed protocols – industry is trying to do that, but they are ending up with expensive devices that people actively resist while we openly welcome more open devices like WiFi into our lives. WiFi is extremely prevalent and the (finally) emerging widespread us of IPv6 opens up many new doors. Technologies like 6LoWPAN, or simply put IP over low power radios has the potential to increase standards between low power 802.15.4 devices. Additionally, by essentially moving the internet into the realm of low power wireless devices the transition between personal area networks and WiFi/standard IP networks becomes far more seamless, and therefore much more user friendly. These technologies will reduce complexity, barrier to entry, and part count – which should allow for IoT to spread freely and at a much lower cost. These technologies are still working there way into the Maker culture, and the more open they are the more quickly they will be adopted.
TV: How can Internet of Things and Internet of Everything come to more realization when it comes to design choices and connectivity designs? What design aspects would like to share with the community or similar-minded engineers, makers, hackers, and designers of tomorrow?
EK: As creators we all need to focus on removing the barriers to other makers and consumers using the technology – this means price and ease of use. Maker culture remains rather elitist, mostly due to price – a simple, elegant, and affordable design will take us farther towards mainstream culture then all the features that can be possibly packed into it.
We also need to keep those designs accessible, and our communities friendly – to all, all people, all types, all skills, nationalities, sexes, etc – the open source hardware community has a long way to go to shed the elitist mens club image – it is getting there, but we can always work to be more welcoming.
TV: How can designs that you bring to the community help change the product landscape? Any last thoughts you would love to share with the Embedded Design and Makers community?
EK: I hope the products we bring to the community change the landscape – and I think in general products made by makers can do that by accessibility (a common theme with me) and doing new things with old tech, or old things with new tech – basically looking at things a different way. Since the Digispark came out we’ve seen many clones/derivatives taking advantage of using V-USB and the ATtiny – which has been awesome! We like to see when makers share their methods and inspire new applications through taking a different approach.
Last thoughts: Keep making, I am firm believer that the more of us make, and the more things we make, the better idea will come around – so lets all make our ideas reality, regardless of whether or not other people think it is possible! My other thought would be, open up your process – the more open we’ve become as a company the better we’ve done – I love the popular quote that goes something like “Don’t be afraid someone will steal your idea, you’re not that important, and if it is that good of an idea you’ll make money off it anyway” – we’ve found that to be very true and will keep pursuing that strategy.
(This concludes the interview, part one can be found here).