The new Atmel | SMART L21 is expanding battery life from years to decades.
This week, Atmel revealed the big news that the recently-unveiled Atmel | SMART SAM L family consumes just one-third the power of existing solutions already on the market. Having achieved a 185 EEMBC ULPBench score, the SAM L21 is now the world’s lowest power ARM Cortex-M based device.
Impressively, the series boasts power consumption down to 35µA/MHz in active mode and 200nA in sleep mode. The SAM L not only broadens the company’s current 32-bit ARM-based MCU lineup, but extends battery life from years to decades, reducing the number of times batteries need to be changed in devices such as fire alarms, wearables, medical gadgets and equipment placed in rural, agriculture, offshore and other remote areas. The SAM L21 combines ultra-low power with Flash and SRAM that are large enough to run both the application and wireless stacks — three features that are cornerstones of most Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Sampling now, the SAM L21 comes complete with a development platform including an Xplained Pro kit, code libraries and Atmel Studio support.
The SAM L21 MCUs will enable designers to solve their power challenges for battery-powered IoT devices — something that has caught the attention of mainstream media outlets including Ars Technica, Gizmodo, The Register, Network World and Daily Mail, as well as industry journals like Silicon Republic, New Electronics and EE Times.
“The number of things getting plugged into the Internet of Things has already reached the point of satire. But there’s a new, extremely low power technology that’s being prepared for market that could put computing power and network access into a whole new class of sensors, wearables, and practically disposable devices. That’s because it can run off a battery charge for over over 10 years.”
“The processor may not be enough to, say, run an Ubuntu desktop, but it’s certainly enough computing power and memory to run a real-time operating system with multiple programs, handle physical interfaces, stream media from a USB device or other external storage, and tweet you when your dishes are clean. It also can handle a lot of tasks that can reduce the power usage of other components in a device.”
“Battery life is consistently listed as a major flaw of smartphones, smartwatches and other wearables. But this problem could soon be solved thanks to technology that promises to extend battery life for ‘decades.’ Atmel has released its latest microcontrollers (MCUs) for a variety of gadgets that are so low power they can even harvest energy from a person’s body.”
“They use a third of the power of rival chips and tests have shown they are the lowest power microprocessor ever made. The microcontrollers run on the firm’s picoPower technology and Atmel’s Event System that makes different parts of the device work together to carry out tasks. By effectively ‘sharing’ energy, the whole device uses less power and, subsequently, less battery.”
“As everything around us, from phones and fridges to bicycles and trash cans, begins to connect to the Internet, there’s an increasing desire for low-power chips. Like this one, which can last for over ten years on a single battery charge. It has some other clever tricks up its sleeve. Usually in a chip like this, sleep mode sees everything but the clock function shut down, meaning it has to wake every time connected devices need to communicate; this new Atmel chip has different sleep states, allowing connected devices to communicate with each other while the chip continues to use very little power.”
“Of course, the chips don’t pack huge amounts of grunt. In fact, at best you’re looking at a 42 MHz Cortex M0+ CPU core, 256 kilobytes of Flash memory, 32 kilobytes of static RAM, and 8 kb of separate low-power static RAM. Not enough to run a desktop OS, then, but plenty to run small programs, power hardware interfaces, read and record data from sensors, tweet and the like.”
“Batteries, already the Achilles heel of mobile devices, present an even bigger challenge for even smaller devices, like wearables and the budding Internet of Things industry. These latter devices are not things that you would, or should, associate with the frequent charging and battery replacement we are used to on smartphones. How do you balance performance and battery life? Atmel, a micro-controller manufacturer based in San Jose, may have the answer. Its new ultra-low power SAM L21 32-bit ARM-based MCU (micro controller unit) is advertised to last more than a decade before needing a recharge or replacement.”
“That kind of battery life will be critical for a certain class of devices that include sensors, wearable, and smart home appliances. The SAM L21 advertises a power draw of only 35 microamps per MHz when awake and an even smaller 200 nanoamps when asleep. In comparison, current low-power MCUs already eat up to 120 to 160 microamps per MHz. The difference it definitely substantial.”
“The Internet of Things is about to reverse a lot of what we’ve wanted in a chip. Soon, we won’t need vast amounts of calculations per second — just how many instructions does it take for your fridge to send an order to your supermarket? Not that many when you compare it to something complicated that chip design has been working towards, like a Computer Aided Design drawing in 3D, for example.”
“Size is important. However, the real big issue, when it comes to a ubiquitous IoT where everything is connected, will be battery life. The reason is that we are not going to want to change the batteries within the base of a dozen bottles of water that we may have sitting around just to discover whether we’ve drank their contents or not. Even if your fridge orders fresh stock, it wouldn’t be worth it.”
“That battery has to last the life of the connected object in the IoT. And that could be 10 years away, possibly longer. Atmel reckons it has a solution. It says its new 32-bit ARM-based chips will last decades. Note the plural. Atmel says its new chips combine battery-saving low power with flash and SRAM that is big enough to run both the application and the IoT-needed wireless stacks.”
“Being a Cortex-M0+-powered chip, the SAM L21 is not particularly powerful: it tops out at 48MHz, and runs ARM Thumb (and some Thumb-2) code. But the family does pack a few features like USB interfacing, op-amps and comparators, DMA with peripherals, a random number generator, and AES cryptography in hardware, plus other bits and pieces. The idea is for each chip to sleep, wake up when something happens, make a decision on whether or not it needs to alert the wider world, and then go back to sleep.
“Constantly being in contact with its base over wired or wireless networking will drain its batteries; activating external electronics for power-hungry IP communications should only be done if its sensors detect something significant. Like an explosion or a fire.”
“Sensors and batteries – the two keys to unlocking the future of IoT. Can we make small enough sensors to garner and exchange the right data? Can we make small enough, powerful enough, batteries that don’t need recharging every few hours?These are the two questions posed for today’s inventors, and they are being answered every day. Now, Atmel’s latest creation may have brought significant IoT engagement closer to reality, with its new low-powered 32-bit SAM L controller able extend the battery life of small, low-powered intelligent devices by decades.”
“The result is a far more efficient, small controller that, if advanced upon in the right way, will open up a whole new swathe of devices for IoT innovation. It’s just a sample, prototype release so far, but once the right people get their hands on this it’s only a matter of time before it creeps into suites of low-powered devices.”
“This week TI surpassed its own earlier result by announcing the MSP-432 family based on the Cortex M4F. It achieved a ULPBench score of 167.4. While TI was briefing the media on this product, however, Atmel quietly published a ULPBench score of 185.8 for its SAM L21 MCU based on the Cortex M0+, a product announced last year that was scheduled to be released at about this time. It’s reasonable to expect that a formal announcement of the product’s score and availability will be made soon.”
“When it comes to applications including the Internet of Things (IoT), consumer, industrial, medical, and other battery-powered devices — e.g., fire alarms, healthcare, medical, wearable, and devices placed in rural, agriculture, offshore, and other remote areas — ultra-low-power consumption is the name of the game. MCU manufacturers are constantly competing with each other to offer the lowest power consumption possible. The latest ultra-low-power offering comes from the folks at Atmel, who have just announced their SMART SAM L21 — an ARM Cortex-M0+ based family of MCUs that boast power consumption down to 35µA/MHz in active mode and 200nA in sleep mode — which is said to ‘extend battery life from years to decades.’”
“The L21 goes much further than simply gating the clocks — it also gates the power, completely disconnecting the power rails from functions that are not currently in use. In the case of the smart peripherals, even when they are powered down, a small part of each peripheral keeps a ‘watchful eye’ on what’s happening in the outside world. If it sees something interesting, it can request clock and data services and — if the peripheral decides the situation justifies such an action — it can wake the main CPU… Also of interest is the CCL (custom configurable logic) block, which boasts four 3-input lookup tables (LUTs) that can implement a mix of combinatorial logic functions (AND, NAND, OR, NOR, XOR, XNOR, NOT) and sequential logic functions (gates D-type flip-flop, JK-type flip-flop, gated D-type latch, RS latch). These can be connected to the event system (including the peripherals), the interrupt system, and general-purpose input/outputs; also, they can be cascaded together. This makes it possible to implement sophisticated customized “wake-up” conditions for the various functional blocks.”