Tag Archives: microprocessor

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.


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.


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.


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.

Introducing the all-new Atmel | SMART SAMA5D2 series

The latest Atmel | SMART ARM Cortex-A5-based MPU is pushing the boundaries of performance and power for industrial IoT and wearable applications.

Exciting news — a new family of Atmel | SMART ARM Cortex-A5-based microprocessors have arrived! These MPUs deliver sub 200µA in retention mode with context preserved, 30µs ultra-fast wake-up and a new backup mode with DDR in self-refresh at only 50µA. The Atmel | SMART SAMA5D2 series provides great system integration with the addition of a complete audio subsystem, lower pin-count and ultra-small package for space constraints applications, and built-in PCI-level security targeting industrial Internet of Things, wearables and point of sale applications.


Expanding the Atmel SAMA5 family, the SAMA5D2 offers just the right price-to-performance ratio for applications requiring an entry-level MPU and extended industrial temperature range (-40 to 105°C ambient temperature). These MPUs are also a great migration path for designers using ARM926-based MPUs looking for higher performance and additional features including low power, higher security, DDR3 support, smaller footprint, audio, USB HSIC and Atmel’s patented SleepWalking technology.

“As a leader in ultra-low power MCU and MPU IoT solutions, we are excited to launch the new Atmel | SMART SAMA5D2 series for designers requiring a general, entry-level MPU,” explained Jacko Wilbrink, Atmel Senior Director of MPUs. “Designers for industrial IoT, wearables and POS applications are demanding more performance, lower power, smaller form factors and additional security for their next-generation applications. The Atmel SAMA5D2 is well positioned for these demanding requirements, delivering the world’s lowest power MPU, along with low-system cost and PCI level security.”


Featuring an ARM NEON engine, the new SAMA5D2 boasts 500MHz and 166MHz of system clocking. The memory system includes a configurable 16- or 32-bit DDR interface controller, 16-bit external bus interface (EBI), QSPI Flash interface, ROM with secure and non-secure boot solution, 128kB of SRAM plus 128kB of L2Cache configurable as SRAM extension. The user interface system for the SAMA5D2 is comprised of a 24-bit TFT LCD controller, an audio subsystem with fractional PLL, multiple I2S and SSC/TDM channels, a stereo class D amplifier, as well as digital microphone support.

The robust security system in the new SAMA5D2 is even equipped with the ARM TrustZone technology, along with secure boot, hardware cryptography, RSA/ECC, on-the-fly encryption/decryption on DDR and QSPI memories, tamper resistance, memory scrambling, independent watchdog, temperature, voltage and frequency monitoring and a unique ID in each device.


To support the SAMA5D2 MPUs, a free Linux distribution has been developed and published in the mainline kernel. For non-operating system users, Atmel delivers more than 40 peripheral drivers in C. Moreover, the company also collaborates with a global network of partners, including IAR, ARM, Free Electrons, Active-Semi, Micron, ISSI, Winbond, Segger, Lauterbach, FreeRTOS, Express Logic, NuttX and Sequitur Labs, that provide development tools, PMIC, memories and software solutions.

Interested? The SAMA5 Xplained Ultra kit is currently available for just $79. The board packs an embedded debugger and programmer and a wide range of compatible extensions boards. Standalone programmer debugger solutions supporting the SAMA5 family are available, too. Early samples of the SAMA5D2 are now ready, while those wishing for an ATSAMA5D2-XULT Xplained Ultra boards will have to wait until October. First production quantities of the SAMA5D2 series will ship in December 2015.

SKULLY AR-1 is the world’s smartest motorcycle helmet

Well, if hoverbikes are going to be hitting the streets in the near future, riders are going to need a space-age headgear to go with their new vehicle. In comes the SKULLY AR-1, the world’s smartest motorcycle helmet. In a show of support, riders across the globe have responded with unprecedented funding. In fact, the Indiegogo campaign skyrocketed past its original goal of $250,000 in just eight minutes on August 11th, and by midday had nearly tripled that goal with 340 preorders. The Skully AR-1 is the fastest IndieGoGo hardware campaign to reach $1 million to date.


What more could a motorcycle helmet do than protect your precious brain? The AR-1 boasts enough technology to make even most savvy engineer look twice… even our very own Paul Rako! The one-of-a-kind helmet combines a 180-degree rear-view camera, heads-up display, a rear-facing camera, turn-by-turn GPS, electro-chromic face shield, voice control, Bluetooth connectivity and smartphone pairing — all while DOT and ECE-certified for safety!

Just last month, SKULLY Founder and CEO Marcus Weller announced, “We are beyond excited to begin production on what has become the most anticipated motorcycle helmet in history. We are doing something so few companies have the opportunity to do… we are changing an industry and forcing the world to adapt.”


The lightweight polycarbonate helmet features all the regular expectations of a top-of-the-line helmet, such as an anti-fog and anti-scratch visor and a customizable (albeit 3D laser cutting!) fit. To go with these high-end features, the AR-1 does utilize technology in a way never before imagined in this field.

The rear-facing camera provides a 180-degree view on the HUD, along with select vehicle telemetry statistics. The helmet will also come equipped with onboard GPS technology, so even if a rider finds himself or herself outside of cell coverage, they can find their way back home. An embedded high-speed microprocessor aids the device in analyzing and displaying all of the collected data. In the spirit of the open source movement, the company will be releasing an SDK in the coming months so that the riding community can help improve the onboard software applications.

“The AR-1 is our little dent in the universe. The AR-1 will introduce a new era in intelligent transportation by combining optics, intelligent vehicle systems and connectivity to deliver unprecedented levels of safety,” its founder adds.

The AR-1 currently costs $1,399 when pre-ordered with an international price of $1,499, or $25,000 for one of four original prototypes. Interested? More details can be found on SKULLY’s official page here.

SKULLY’s dynamic helmet is just one of many of the latest wearable innovations making an impact. Smart helmets call for smarter designs which call for the smartest MCUs.

Atmel | SMART powered Narrative Clip raises $8 million in funding

The future, for anyone who wants to tell their own story, has never looked brighter. That is because of the Atmel | SMART SAM9G25 powered Narrative Clip — a tiny, automatic 5-megapixel camera paired with an app that offers users access to a “photographic memory” which is both searchable and shareable. Clip it onto your shirt and let it snap away, recording all your daily activities in 30-second increments. Kind of like a GoPro but less obtrusive, always on, and of course, interconnected.


The Narrative Clip began shipping in January 2014. In just eight months, users have uploaded somewhere north of 100 million photos to the Narrative service. The photo sharing trend is only going up year by year, with around 1.4 billion photos shared daily in 2014. Currently, Narrative says that it sees approximately 700,000 photos uploaded daily by users from all over the world, as illustrated in their recent infographic.

Now, Narrative has announced that they have received $8 million in a funding round that was led by Khosla Ventures and followed by existing investors True Ventures and Passion Capital.

“We’ve experienced significant growth over the past year. With the opportunity to work with Khosla Ventures, we can continue to build on this growth and improve the Narrative Clip and our services,” said Martin Källström, Co-Founder and CEO of Narrative.

According to its blog announcement, the new funding will help spur development of the Narrative Clip and service, as well as support an accelerated growth of the team. “We are building Narrative to offer more features and an even better experience. Opening a U.S. office helps us better serve our North American users and partners. The new office also allows our fantastic support team to offer 18 hours of available support throughout the week and creates a base for maintaining and developing partnerships that will keep Narrative on top.”

This is not the first round of funding for Narrative but certainly the biggest to date. If you recall, the device had a highly-successful Kickstarter campaign during the earlier days of crowdfunding back in 2012. Launched by then Stockholm-based startup, Memoto, the life-logging camera garnered well over half a milllion dollars, surpassing its original goal of a mere $50K. As you can see in the photo below, even original prototype during the campaign was powered by the ARM-based Atmel | SMART SAM9G25.


Weighing in at 20 grams (0.7 oz) and measuring 36 x 36 x 9 mm (1.42 × 1.42 × 0.35 inches), Narrative boasts a storage capacity of 4,000 pictures and a two-day battery life. This makes it rather easy to tag along and log your experience in real-time. The device also features a double-tap function to more easily capture images, automatic sleep upon being placed face down, a specially coded companion smartphone app (iOS/Android) and cloud storage options.

A couple months ago, the Adafruit crew conducted a detailed teardown of the device – confirming it is indeed embedded with the Atmel | SMART SAM9G25 ARM-based MPU.


If you have come across an Atmel booth at any industry events (e.g. CES, Embedded World, Computex and ESC Brazil) or hop aboard our decked-out Tech on Trailer over the past year or so, there’s a good chance you’ve had the opportunity to demo the incredibly convenient device. For those who haven’t, head on over to Narrative’s official website now.

Just one of many next-gen devices powered by the recently-unveiled Atmel | SMART family, the Clip will be using the funds to dominate the world of wearable cameras – plus they opened up an office right down the street in San Francisco! Just in time for the holidays, this life-logging device should surely top your list!

SAMA5D3 Xplained gets unboxed

Atmel’s recently launched SAMA5D3 Xplained board is a low-cost, fast prototyping and evaluation platform for microprocessor-based design.

The $79 board, which made its debut at Embedded World 2014, is built around Atmel’s SAMA5D3 ARM Cortex-A5 processor-based MPU and packed with a rich set of ready-to-use connectivity and storage peripherals, along with Arduino shield-compatible expansion headers for easy customization. The platform is also a perfect target for headless Android projects, with a Linux distribution and software package facilitating rapid software development.

Earlier this week, CNXSoft of CNX Software unboxed the $79 board and documented the experience with pictures and detailed observations.

So, let’s get started. CNXSoft kicks off the unboxing by describing the items accompanying the board, including a micro USB to USB cable for power and programming, along with a small card titled “Overview and Compliance Information” which details EU compliance information regarding RoHS2 and EMC (the board is compliant with both CE and FCC standards).

“On the top of the board, we’ll find the 2 USB host connectors, and 2 Ethernet connectors (GMAC and EMAC). On the right, the micro USB port, as well as pads to solder an external power supply and a micro SD slot on the left, reset, wake up and user buttons, as well as JTAG, LCD, and debug (serial) connectors at the bottom, and around the MPU and memories, the Arduino UNO R3 compatible headers with the names of the different pins,” he writes.

“On the back we’ll find the SD card slot, and again, the markings for the Arduino compatible connectors.”

As CNXSoft notes, the board arrrives pre-loaded with a Linux distribution (poky) built with the Yocto Project, comprising bootloaders (AT91Bootstrap and U-boot), the Linux kernel and a custom lightweight rootfs. To get started, simply connect the micro USB to USB cable to a PC to boot the system.

“You should see a blue LED lit up and blink. There’s no display, but there are three ways to access the board from Linux or Windows computers: PC USB, USB to serial and SSH,” he writes.

“You can login with the board using the root account without password. The USB and SSH methods are the most convenient since you don’t need to connect extra hardware, but you won’t be able to access the bootloader that way, debugging the Linux kernel, if needed, will be difficult, and each time, the board is rebooted, the connection will be lost. So for development, you should really get a serial to USB debug board.”

Next, CNXSoft takes a quick look at the kernel version and memory usage, noting 136M free on the rootfs and 21MB used out of 246 MB RAM. He then follows the build procedure found on GitHub, initializing the build directory, adding meta-atmel layers conf/bblayer config files, editing conf/local.conf to specify the SAMA5D3 Xplained board, building and finally, installing the demo image.

 Subsequently, CNXSoft describes the flash procedure, which comprises the following steps:

  • Making sure the board is connected to a PC via the micro USB port
  • Removing JP5 (NAND CS, upper left of Atmel MPU) jumper to disable NAND Flash memory access
  • Pressing BP2 reset button (bottom left) to boot from on-chip Boot ROM
  • Closing JP5 to enable NAND Flash memory access
  • Changing the name of copy the device tree blob file
  • Running the flash script: chmod +x demo_linux_nandflash.sh

“It will take a little while, and once completed you can login to the board and verify you’ve got a brand new kernel and rootfs. You can also check the flashing log in logfile.log in case something went wrong,” he added.

Interested in learning more? You can check out the CNX Software’s full unoboxing write up here or buy the SAMA5D3 Xplained from Atmel’s official store here.

Video: AVR raves modded Prophet synth

Atmel microcontrollers (MCUs) have tipped up in a number of synthesizer projects over the past few months including the ATmega328 synth kit and the Atmegatron (8-bit mono).

Today, we’re going to be taking a close look at a recent AVR hack by “Gligli” that skillfully recreates the Prophet 600 – which also just happens to be the world’s very first MIDI synthesizer.

Indeed, at the January, 1983 NAMM convention, the 600 was successfully linked with a Roland Jupiter-6 synthesizer in the first public demonstration of the MIDI protocol. According to Wikipedia, the link was facilitated by a MidiMate hardware interface and MidiTrack program, both developed by Moore and his partner, Paul Rother.

Image Credit: Wikipedia

As the original 600 was powered by a Zilog Z80 microprocessor that controlled modular analog voice chips, Gligli soon discovered that most of the synthesizer’s limitations in the 600 were due to the processor. After creating a PC-based emulator to better acquaint himself with the circuits, Gligli bought a used Prophet and started hacking.

“The [AVR-based] Teensy++ 2.0 (AT90USB1286) required a few hardware mods to fill the Z80’s shoes, including cutting off a pin and adding a few jumper wires. We really like the fact that no changes to the Prophet 600 itself were required,” explained HackADay’s Adam Fabio.

“Pull out the Teensy++, drop in the Z80, and you’re ready to party like it’s 1982 again,. The new processor interfaces directly with the Z80’s 8-bit bus. Since the AVR on the Teensy has built-in RAM and ROM, it simply ignores the ROM and RAM address spaces of the original system.”

Of course, interfacing a fast micro with older parts like an 8253 timer and a 68B50 UART does require some tweaking. More specifically, the system bus has to run slow enough not to violate timing requirements of various peripheral chips. As such, Gligli added wait statements to the upgraded firmware.

“Once the system was working, Gligli was free to start adding new features. He began by smoothing out the stepped envelope and filter generators, as well as adding new exponential modes,” said Fabio.

“From there he added new keyboard polyphony modes as well as pitch and mod wheel changes. Since this is an open source project, adding a feature is as simple as cracking open your favorite editor and writing it up.”

Interested in learning more? You can check out all the relevant project files on GitHub here.

A closer look at Atmel’s new SAMA5D3 Xplained board

Earlier this week, Bits & Pieces got up close and personal with Atmel’s SAM R21 Xplained Pro, an evaluation kit that allows developers to more easily design connected lighting, smart metering and wireless sensor network systems based on true Internet-connectivity and open standards such as IPv6 and 6lowpan.

Today, we’re going to take a closer look at Atmel’s new SAMA5D3 Xplained board – a low-cost, fast prototyping and evaluation platform for microprocessor-based design.

The board, which recently debuted at Embedded World 2014, is built around Atmel’s SAMA5D3 ARM Cortex-A5 processor-based MPU and packed with a rich set of ready-to-use connectivity and storage peripherals, along with Arduino shield-compatible expansion headers for easy customization. 

The platform is also a perfect target for headless Android projects, while a Linux distribution and software package facilitates rapid software development.

Aside from Atmel’s ARM-based SAMA5D36 Cortex-A5 microprocessor (MPU), key specs include:

  • 2GBit DDR2 – Micron
  • 2GBit Flash – Micron
  • 1- Ethernet 10/100/1000 (- Phy + connector)
  • 1- Ethernet 10/100 (-Phy + connector)
1- USB Device connector, 2- USB Host connectors
  • Active Semi PMIC
  • Power measurement straps
  • SD/MMCPlus 8-bit Card slot
  • 1- Micro SDCard 4-bit slot footprint
  • 1- 6-lead 3V3-level serial port
  • 10-pin J-TAG connector
  • 2- push buttons, reset and startup
  • 1- general purpose push button
  • 2- general purpose LEDs
  • Arduino R3-compatible header plus LCD connectors mounted
  • Linux distribution
  • Bare Metal C code example
  • Headless Android support

Simply put, the new board offers features such as mid-range graphical user interfaces, capacitive touch capability, wired and wireless communication, free of charge Linux distribution and a QT developer’s kit.

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, the ARM-based SAMA5D3 series is ideal for wearable computing and mobile applications where low power and a small footprint are critical. Key SAMA5D3 Xplained features include:

  • Fully documented and readily available Cortex-A5 based MPU solution
  • Rich set of peripherals, specifically on connectivity
  • USB power (no need for power adaptor)
  • Flexibility – Arduino-compatible connectors, enabling the user to leverage the extensive Arduino shields ecosystem
  • Open Source hardware – All design files available; easy to reuse in customer projects
  • Software package with drivers and examples for bare metal developers
  • Qt developers kit and Linux distribution free of charge

The new SAMA5D3 Xplained board is available from Newark element 14 at a $79 price point.