Tag Archives: IoT Applications

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.

Certified safety software libraries now available for Atmel | SMART MCUs


Atmel is collaborating with HiTex and Pervasive Displays to release software libraries including the IEC 60730 Class B safety standard and e-paper drivers.


Atmel has just unveiled additional ease-of-use capabilities for the ultra-low power Atmel | SMART ARM Cortex-M0+ based MCUs for household appliances, industrial and human interface device applications. In an effort to continue delivering rich features to its growing portfolio, Atmel is collaborating with HiTex and Pervasive Displays to release software libraries including the IEC 60730 Class B safety standard and e-paper drivers, respectively, to support Atmel | SMART MCUs.

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The Cortex-M0+ based family featuring a peripheral touch controller is currently designed into a wide variety of applications in tier 1 white goods manufacturer, and is ideal for a number of household appliances for touch-enabled button, wheel and slider capabilities. As a safety requirement for household appliances, the IEC 60730 safely standard—a requirement in Europe since 2007—was recently mandated in the US. Hitex has developed an IEC 60730 Class B library for Atmel | SMART MCUs. The library comes with excellent documentation, a formal certificate from VDE and can be downloaded from the Hitex website.

“Safety and time-to-market are two critical elements for appliance developers,” explains Andreas Eieland, Atmel Director of MCU Marketing. “The implementation of capacitive touch sensing for the user interface and MCUs in next-generation appliances, along with the availability of VDE certified Class B software libraries, allows manufacturers to get their products quickly to market with all the safely requirements.”

With power consumption being a primary driver for battery-powered retail and commercial markets, manufacturers are turning to e-paper for displaying pricing and information for their products. When paired with an ultra-low-power Atmel | SMART MCU and wireless transceiver, e-paper is the perfect interface for IoT apps running on coin cells or energy harvesting. To enable manufacturers to easily implement e-paper displays, Pervasive Displays has developed e-paper software drivers to support the Atmel | SMART SAM D and SAM L product families.

“Manufacturers of next generation battery-powered application are demanding lower power consumption and improved performance. E-paper addresses those needs with the lowest power display in the industry,” adds Charming Su, Pervasive Displays Technical Director. “With the combination of the Atmel | SMART MCUs and our free software drivers, e-paper manufacturers can be confident that their implementation is straight forward and power efficient. Our collaboration with Atmel enables manufacturers to deliver ultra-low power, next-generation e-paper displays.”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Secured SAMA5D4 for industrial, fitness or IoT display


To target applications like home automation, surveillance camera, control panels for security, or industrial and residential gateways, high DMIPS computing is not enough.


The new SAMA5D4 expands the Atmel | SMART Cortex-A5-based family, adding a 720p resolution hardware video decoder to target Human Machine Interface (HMI), control panel and IoT applications when high performance display capability is required. Cortex-A5 offers raw performance of 945 DMIPS (@ 600 MHz) completed by ARM NEON 128-bit SIMD (single instruction, multiple data) DSP architecture extension. To target applications like home automation, surveillance camera, control panels for security, or industrial and residential gateways, high DMIPS computing is not enough. In order to really make a difference, on top of the hardware’s dedicated video decoder (H264, VP8, MPEG4), you need the most complete set of security features.

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Whether for home automation purpose or industrial HMI, you want your system to be safeguarded from hackers, and protect your investment against counterfeiting. You have the option to select 16-b DDR2 interface, or 32-b if you need better performance, but security is no longer just an option. Designing with Atmel | SMART SAMA5D4 will guarantee secure boot, including ARM Trust Zone, encrypted DDR bus, tamper detection pins and secure data storage. This MPU also integrates hardware encryption engines supporting AES (Advanced Encryption Standard)/3DES (Triple Data Encryption Standard), RSA (Rivest-Shamir-Adleman), ECC (Elliptic Curves Cryptography), as well as SHA (Secure Hash Algorithm) and TRNG (True Random Number Generator).

If you design fitness equipment, such as treadmills and exercise machines, you may be more sensitive to connectivity and user interface functions than to security elements — even if it’s important to feel safe in respect with counterfeiting. Connectivity includes gigabit and 10/100 Ethernet and up to two High-Speed USB ports (configurable as two hosts or one host and one device port) and one High Speed Inter-Chip Interface (HSIC) port, several SDIO/SD/MMC, dual CAN, etc. Because the SAMA5D4 is intended to support industrial, consumer or IoT applications requiring efficient display capabilities, it integrates LCD controllers with a graphics accelerator, resistive touchscreen controller, camera interface and the aforementioned 720p 30fps video decoder.

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The MCU market is highly competitive, especially when you consider that most of the products are developed around the same ARM-based family of cores (from the Cortex-M to Cortex-A5 series). Performance is an important differentiation factor, and the SAMA5D4 is the highest performing MPUs in the Atmel ARM Cortex-A5 based MPU family, offering up to 945 DMIPS (@ 600 MHz) completed by DSP extension ARM NEON 128-bit SIMD (single instruction, multiple data). Using safety and security on top of performance to augment differentiation is certainly an efficient architecture choice. As you can see in the block diagram below, the part features the ARM TrustZone system-wide approach to security, completed by advanced security features to protect the application software from counterfeiting, like encrypted DDR bus, tamper detection pins and secure data storage. But that’s not enough. Fortunately, this microprocessor integrates hardware encryption engines supporting AES/3DES, RSA, ECC, as well as SHA and TRNG.

The SAMA5 series targets industrial or fitness applications where safety is a key differentiating factor. If security helps protecting the software asset and makes the system robust against hacking, safety directly protects the user. The user can be the woman on the treadmill, or the various machines connected to the display that SAMA5 MCU pilots. This series is equipped with functions that ease the implementation of safety standards like IEC61508, including a main crystal oscillator clock with failure detector, POR (power-on reset), independent watchdog timers, write protection register, etc.

Atmel-SMART-SAMA5D4-ARM-Cortex-MPU-AtmelThe SAMA5D4 is a medium-heavier processor and well suited for IoT, control panels, HMI, and the like, differentiating from other Atmel MCUs by the means of performance and security (not to mention, safety). The ARM Cortex-A5 based device delivers up to 945 DMIPS when running at 600 MHz, completed by DSP architecture extension ARM NEON 128-bit SIMD. The most important factor that sets the SAMA5D4 apart from the rest is probably its implemented security capabilities. These will protect OEM software investments from counterfeiting, user privacy against hacking, and its safety features make the SAMA5D4 ideal for industrial, fitness or IoT applications.


This post has been republished with permission from SemiWiki.com, where Eric Esteve is a principle blogger as well as one of the four founding members of the site. This blog first appeared on SemiWiki on October 6, 2015.

Atmel and MXCHIP develop Wi-Fi platform with secure cloud access for IoT apps


SAM G MCU + WILC1000 Wi-Fi SoC + MiCO IoT OS = Secure Cloud Access 


Atmel and MXCHIP, a top 10 China IoT start-up according to Techno, have announced that the two companies are coming together to develop an ultra-low power Internet of Things (IoT) platform with secure Wi-Fi access to the cloud, enabling designers to quickly bring their connected devices to market. This collaboration combines ultra-low power Atmel | SMART SAM G ARM Cortex-M4-based MCUs and the SmartConnect WILC1000 Wi-Fi solution with MXCHIP’s MiCO IoT operating system, servicing a full range of smart device developers for IoT applications.

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“We are excited to team with MXCHIP to bring secure cloud access to IoT developers with this ultra-low power and secure, connected platform,” said Reza Kazerounian, Atmel SVP and General Manager, Microcontroller Business Unit. “In an effort to accelerate the growth of IoT devices, such as wearables and consumer battery-operated devices worldwide, this platform enables embedded designers to focus on their differentiated smart devices without requiring expertise on lowering power consumption, security and wireless connectivity. Our joint efforts will enable more designers of all levels to bring their smart, connected designs quickly to market.”

With the rapid growth of the IoT market, these smart devices will require secure access to the cloud on what will likely be billions of battery-operated devices. The new platform will pair Atmel’s proven ultra-low power SAM G series of MCUs, designed for wearables and sensor hub management, and the secure ultra-low power SmartConnect WILC1000 Wi-Fi solution along with MXCHIP’s leading MiCO IoT OS for next-generation IoT applications. This integrated platform gives IoT designers the confidence that their battery-operated devices will have longer battery life and their data will be securely transferred to the cloud.

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The Atmel WILC1000 is an IEEE 802.11b/g/n IoT link controller leveraging its ultra-low power Wi-Fi transceiver with a fully-integrated power amplifier. This solution delivers the industry’s best communication range of up to +20.5dBm output, ideal for connected home devices. Embedded within packages as small as a 3.2mm x 3.2mm WLCSP, the WILC1000 link controller leverages in this platform Atmel’s SAM G MCU, an ideal solution for low-power IoT applications and optimized for lower power consumption, incorporating large SRAM, high performance and operating efficiency with floating-point unit in an industry-leading 2.84mm x 2.84mm package.

When combined with secure Wi-Fi technology, the joint IoT platform connects directly to each other or to a local area network (LAN), enabling remote system monitoring or control. For increased security, the platform comes with an optional Atmel ATECC508A — the industry’s first crypto device to integrate ECDH key agreement, making it easy to add confidentiality to digital systems including IoT nodes used in home automation, industrial networking, accessory and consumable authentication, medical, mobile and other applications.

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“This collaboration combines synergies from both companies to IoT designers including Atmel’s global presence with MXCHIP’s local resources enabling IoT designers to smoothly implement cloud services for their smart, connected devices in China and around the world,” said Wang Yong Hong, CEO, MXCHIP. “Our platform combines both ease-of-use and simplicity allowing IoT designers from all levels to access cloud services worldwide ranging from professional designers for smart, connected IoT devices to Makers, educators and hobbyists. We will also collaborate on a number of other fronts with Atmel including IoT research, promotions, and share our IoT knowledge on smart, secure and connected devices across multiple industries.”

Interested? To accelerate the IoT design process, the platform — which will be available in May 2015 — includes the MiCOKit-G55 development kit, technical documentation, application notes and a software development kit.

4 reasons why Atmel is ready to ride the IoT wave


The IoT recipe comprises of three key technology components: Sensing, computing and communications.


In 2014, a Goldman Sachs’ report took many people by surprise when it picked Atmel Corporation as the company best positioned to take advantage of the rising Internet of Things (IoT) tsunami. At the same time, the report omitted tech industry giants like Apple and Google from the list of companies that could make a significant impact on the rapidly expanding IoT business. So what makes Atmel so special in the IoT arena?

The San Jose, California–based chipmaker has been proactively building its ‘SMART’ brand of 32-bit ARM-based microcontrollers that boasts an end-to-end design platform for connected devices in the IoT realm. The company with two decades of experience in the MCU business was among the first to license ARM’s low-power processors for IoT chips that target smart home, industrial automation, wearable electronics and more.

Atmel and IoT (Internet of Things)

Goldman Sachs named Atmel a leader in the Internet of Things (IoT) market.

Goldman Sachs named Atmel a leader in the Internet of Things (IoT) market

A closer look at the IoT ingredients and Atmel’s product portfolio shows why Goldman Sachs called Atmel a leader in the IoT space. For starters, Atmel is among the handful of chipmakers that cover all the bases in IoT hardware value chain: MCUs, sensors and wireless connectivity.

1. A Complete IoT Recipe

The IoT recipe comprises of three key technology components: Sensing, computing and communications. Atmel offers sensor products and is a market leader in MCU-centric sensor fusion solutions than encompass context awareness, embedded vision, biometric recognition, etc.

For computation—handling tasks related to signal processing, bit manipulation, encryption, etc.—the chipmaker from Silicon Valley has been offering a diverse array of ARM-based microcontrollers for connected devices in the IoT space.

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Atmel has reaffirmed its IoT commitment through a number of acquisitions.

Finally, for wireless connectivity, Atmel has cobbled a broad portfolio made up of low-power Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Zigbee radio technologies. Atmel’s $140 million acquisition of Newport Media in 2014 was a bid to accelerate the development of low-power Wi-Fi and Bluetooth chips for IoT applications. Moreover, Atmel could use Newport’s product expertise in Wi-Fi communications for TV tuners to make TV an integral part of the smart home solutions.

Furthermore, communications across the Internet depends on the TCP/IP stack, which is a 32-bit protocol for transmitting packets on the Internet. Atmel’s microcontrollers are based on 32-bit ARM cores and are well suited for TCP/IP-centric Internet communications fabric.

2. Low Power Leadership

In February 2014, Atmel announced the entry-level ARM Cortex M0+-based microcontrollers for the IoT market. The SAM D series of low-power MCUs—comprising of D21, D10 and D11 versions—featured Atmel’s signature high-end features like peripheral touch controller, USB interface and SERCOM module. The connected peripherals work flawlessly with Cortex M0+ CPU through the Event System that allows system developers to chain events in software and use an event to trigger a peripheral without CPU involvement.

According to Andreas Eieland, Director of Product Marketing for Atmel’s MCU Business Unit, the IoT design is largely about three things: Battery life, cost and ease-of-use. The SAM D microcontrollers aim to bring the ease-of-use and price-to-performance ratio to the IoT products like smartwatches where energy efficiency is crucial. Atmel’s SAM D family of microcontrollers was steadily building a case for IoT market when the company’s SAM L21 microcontroller rocked the semiconductor industry in March 2015 by claiming the leadership in low-power Cortex-M IoT design.

Atmel’s SAM L21 became the lowest power ARM Cortex-M microcontroller when it topped the EEMBC benchmark measurements. It’s plausible that another MCU maker takes over the EEMBC benchmarks in the coming months. However, according to Atmel’s Eieland, what’s important is the range of power-saving options that an MCU can bring to product developers.

“There are many avenues to go down on the low path, but they are getting complex,” Eieland added. He quoted features like multiple clock domains, event management system and sleepwalking that provide additional levels of configurability for IoT product developers. Such a set of low-power technologies that evolves in successive MCU families can provide product developers with a common platform and a control on their initiatives to lower power consumption.

3. Coping with Digital Insecurity

In the IoT environment, multiple device types communicate with each other over a multitude of wireless interfaces like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy. And IoT product developers are largely on their own when it comes to securing the system. The IoT security is a new domain with few standards and IoT product developers heavily rely on the security expertise of chip suppliers.

Atmel offers embedded security solutions for IoT designs.

Atmel, with many years of experience in crypto hardware and Trusted Platform Modules, is among the first to offer specialized security hardware for the IoT market. It has recently shipped a crypto authentication device that has integrated the Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman (ECDH) security protocol. Atmel’s ATECC508A chip provides confidentiality, data integrity and authentication in systems with MCUs or MPUs running encryption/decryption algorithms like AES in software.

4. Power of the Platform

The popularity of 8-bit AVR microcontrollers is a testament to the power of the platform; once you learn to work on one MCU, you can work on any of the AVR family microcontrollers. And same goes for Atmel’s Smart family of microcontrollers aimed for the IoT market. While ARM shows a similarity among its processors, Atmel exhibits the same trait in the use of its peripherals.

Low-power SAM L21 builds on features of SAM D MCUs.

A design engineer can conveniently work on Cortex-M3 and Cortex -M0+ processor after having learned the instruction set for Cortex-M4. Likewise, Atmel’s set of peripherals for low-power IoT applications complements the ARM core benefits. Atmel’s standard features like sleep modes, sleepwalking and event system are optimized for ultra-low-power use, and they can extend IoT battery lifetime from years to decades.

Atmel, a semiconductor outfit once focused on memory and standard products, began its transformation toward becoming an MCU company about eight years ago. That’s when it also started to build a broad portfolio of wireless connectivity solutions. In retrospect, those were all the right moves. Fast forward to 2015, Atmel seems ready to ride on the market wave created by the IoT technology juggernaut.

Interested? You may also want to read:

Atmel’s L21 MCU for IoT Tops Low Power Benchmark

Atmel’s New Car MCU Tips Imminent SoC Journey

Atmel’s Sensor Hub Ready to Wear


Majeed Ahmad is 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.

Building an Arduino-powered smart home model


PubNub Evangelist Ian Jennings walks through the process of building a smart home from scratch using Arduino.


Down the road we may build a full-sized smart home, but for now we figured a model home laser cut out of Eucaboard would do just fine for now.

We wanted to showcase how home automation, [Atmel AVR microcontroller based] Arduino, and PubNub go hand-in-hand-(in-hand). More importantly, we wanted to show how important reliable, realtime connectivity is for building a fully-featured home automation solution.

As a result, our Arduino connected home was born. In the story below, the home’s architect/PubNub Evangelist Ian Jennings walks through the process of building the home from scratch (with .gifs!). In the future, we’ll roll out a technical tutorial so you can build one yourself.


Back in September, our founder Stephen and I were talking about ways to make it easier to demonstrate where PubNub sits with the Internet of Things. Attendees at conferences often ask if we’re a “hub,” a bluetooth device, etc.

In reality, we’re a data stream network; a service similar to a CDN that provides a simple and reliable way for IoT devices to talk to each other.

I decided instead of telling people people what PubNub is, we should show them. If I handed you a mobile phone and told you to press a button and then a garage door opened, you would understand that the phone sent a message to the garage door (via Arduino remote configuration).

How did it send the message? That’s PubNub.

So I built the garage door, and a front door, and some lights, and a house, and a mobile app, and I recorded every minute of it. You can check out that video below:

The PubNub IoT Model House from PubNub on Vimeo.

Why a house?

When I think IoT, my mind goes to home automation. It’s a great use case of a number of different connected devices where reliability and security are paramount. In this case, the house is a single IoT device that represents any number of devices.

I started by looking for a suitable “house.” Originally the idea was the have the house fold down so it could be packed and shipped around to conferences. This lead me to believe laser cutting was the best option, because the “snap fit” ability is not only sturdy, but portable.

I eventually stumbled upon this CAD file of a house from “The Simpsons.” It was extremely well designed and only $15. I took a 2 hour lesson here at ATX Hackerspace and learned how to use the laser cutter. A couple days later my roommate came home with some extra Eucaboard.

I wasted half of the board because Corel Draw determines scaling settings when each file is opened. Apparently I cut all 4 laser files at different scales, so none of the pieces fit together! Once I figured this out I had a clean cut.

From there I needed to glue the smaller parts like the windows and chimney. No need to set these up on the road.

It turns out gorilla glue is extremely messy because it expands over time. This created a bunch of huge solid glue globs that completely ruined the aesthetics of the house. I used a dremel to cut away at the excess glue. It took me a while but I definitely leveled up my dremel skills.

Then I started prototyping. I used an Arduino Uno Rev 3 and an ethernet shield to get up and running fast. I started with a breadboard, LEDs, and used electrical tape to test mounting the servos.

Hooking Up PubNub

Everything checked out so I started to hook it up to PubNub. We have drivers for Arduino which made it really easy.

I used a Seed Studio Ethernet Shield v2 to provide an internet connection to the IoT house. I didn’t have an Ethernet port around, so I was using my Macbook’s Internet Sharing setting to share the WiFi network connection to the Arduino. There were some slight modifications I needed to make for the SS v2 drivers to work with our v1 library (a full post about this fix coming later).

I opted to use a key value syntax to process messages. As you can see in the video, it was as simple as “garage:0” or “lightLeft:1” to close the garage and turn the left light on.

When I verified that this worked correctly, I soldered everything into a separate board that could be mounted inside the house.

Looking back now, this board should have been a “prototype shield” for Arduino but at the time I thought it would be so simple that it wouldn’t require an entire shield. This was a mistake, and there are now 7 extra wires that would have been unnecessary with a shield.

I built a simple UI in a CodePen to publish PubNub messages on the same channel the house was listening to. I then mounted the LEDs in the house, drilled mounts for the servos and connected them to doors, and mounted the circuit board and the Arduino + Ethernet shield to the house.

It worked!…

About half of the time.

There was something really strange about the behavior. I would have a great connection to PubNub and everything would work… then suddenly it was completely broken. I noticed that something was amuck, and I suspected it was the internet connection.

I dug down into the network, spending many hours looking at WireShark for hints and configuring the WiFi network.

I tried things like assigning an IP address to the Arduino, making sure the MAC address was correct, and even ordering a second Ethernet shield from a different manufacturer and switching from driver-supported USB to native Thunderbolt sharing. Eventually I was able to isolate the problem.

Whenever I opened the garage door, the ethernet shield would reset. I laughed, in what other situation could opening your garage door possibly destroy your internet connection?

Arduino Board Limiters

Arduino board has limiters in place that prevent you from drawing too much power through the board (and frying it). Every time the garage door opened, the servos were drawing all the current, not leaving enough for the Arduino and Ethernet shield to properly function.

I tested my theory with a few external power supplies. When I verified it fixed the problem, I wired in the battery pack you can see in the video.

That was it! I had the working prototype.

Assembling the IoT House

I showed it to my team at PubNub over video chat. They loved it, but seemed a little concerned about how to assemble it. After all, there were about 20 wooden pieces that fit like a puzzle, and then another 20 wires.

There was also a new plan. Now we had a deadline; an upcoming IoT conference in San Francisco. In addition, I wouldn’t be going with the house. It was going right to our CEO Todd who was attending the show.

I started to second guess my original plan of shipping the house to be assembled on spot.

My co-worker at ATX Hackerspace picked up an awesome Pelican case to carry his function generator and other crazy electronic gizmos safely to his clients this same day. He gave me quick demo and ensured that this was the way to go. I plopped the assembled house on top of the case and verified it would fit inside. Later that day I drove over to Fry’s and got one myself.

I glued the house together and decided I was going to ship it in as few pieces as possible. I glued the house walls together, cut out the styrofoam, and fit the house snugly inside the Pelican case.

Then I threw it off a table, kicked it, and tossed it down stairs.

I figured that I would subject the house to the worse torture possible while I could still fix it. Who knows what kind of abuse it will need to endure in shipping?

The house survived with minor injury.

I decided it was time to show this thing off. Test it in a live environment.

Showcasing the IoT House

I took it to HackTX, a hackathon hosted at the University of Texas here in Austin and run by my new pal Taylor. My other good pals Swift and Jon happened to be in town too.

I found a seat next to the students and set up the house. I repeatability assured the other contestants that I wasn’t going to be competing for any of the prizes.

There was a problem. I was connected to the UT campus internet, but their security settings prevented the network from being rebroadcast. I couldn’t share the WiFi from my Macbook to the Arduino. I learned after the fact that there is some way around this, but didn’t look to far into it.

Instead, I decided it was time to make this thing wireless. I did 30 minutes of research and decided I was going to replace the Arduino Uno and the WiFi chip with the newer Arduino Yún board. In addition to the WiFi chip, Yún has a second processor that runs Linux.

What better time to get this thing set up then at a hackathon? My roommate Nick showed up to the hackathon, so we both jumped in my hatchback, rolled down the windows, and cruised to a Radio Shack in South Austin. I called to confirm they had the chip, it wasn’t available at every Radioshack.

We didn’t support Yún at the time so I used our REST API documentation to write my own client. I really wanted JSON support and getting it to work with Arduino was difficult.  It took me the entire hackathon, but by the end…

It was complete.

I bought an external battery pack and a WiFi hotspot. I chiseled little spots out of the Pelican case to fit them in, and configured the Arduino to automatically connect to the hotspot.

The I went to Harbor Freight and bought a toolkit, extra tools, a soldering iron, etc. I rounded up extra servos, LEDs, wires, and wrote a debugging guide in case something went wrong with the house. I also recorded a video about how to take the house out of the case and set it up.

Then I dropped it off at FedEx. Overnight shipping to California.

The worst wasn’t over. Now it was time to wait for the call from our CEO Todd so I could walk him through setting it up.

I didn’t get a call, but instead a couple emails.  One at 6:43am said:

“Awake?”

I wasn’t.

“If so, call me. Starting set up now.”

Another arrive at 8:20am. I was awake for this one. It read:

“All works!”

I fell back asleep.

Wrapping Up

Working on this project was incredibly difficult yet also very fulfilling. I don’t have any formal electrical engineering experience, I’m a web developer by trade. I haven’t learned this much this fast since graduating college.

I was working extremely long days to meet the deadline. I would spend the entire morning just shopping for the right components, screws, glue, or paper. Then I would work, sometimes until 3 or 4am, getting everything together.

Thankfully Arduino makes things simple and I had a great network of people who helped me each step along the way. Alex, in particular was extremely helpful with electronics and another member of the space, Riley, spent on late Friday supplying me with every tool and component I needed during assembly like a surgeon’s assistant.

The IoT house is on display at the ground level office at 725 Folsom in San Francisco. It will also be displayed at upcoming IoT conferences which will be announced on our blog. If you would like me to give a talk about building IoT house at your conference, you can reach me at ian@pubnub.com.

Now to convince PubNub to get me a drone…