Tag Archives: Paul Rako

Will cyborg plants monitor our world?

Writing for Wired, Klint Finley says the world could soon see cyborg plants that tell us when they need more water, what chemicals they’ve been exposed to and what parasites are chomping away at their roots.

“These half-organic, half-electronic creations may even tell us how much pollution is in the air,” writes Finley. “And yes, they’ll plug into the network. That’s right: We’re on our way to the Internet of Plants.”

Indeed, Andrea Vitaletti, who heads a research group on Italy, is working on a project known as PLEASED, an acronym for “Plants Employed as Sensing Devices.” Although the initiative is still in a nascent stage, Vitaletti believes plants could ultimately serve as sophisticated sensors tasked with monitoring our environment.

“Plants have millions of years of evolution. They are robust. They want to survive,” Vitaletti told Wired. “There’s evidence that plants react to damages, parasites, pollutants, chemicals, acids, and high temperature. But what’s not known is whether it’s possible to look into the signal and see what generated the event.”

To be sure, Vitaletti acknowledges that it may be somewhat difficult to definitively analyze and interpret the signals.

“In some ways, this is easier than doing research on humans, because the signals are simpler,” he concludes.

Nevertheless, Vitaletti and other scientists already are working to connect various species with Atmel-based Arduino boards capable of recording and transmitting information. Ultimately, cyborg plants could detect parasites and pollutants in crops, or play a critical role in precision agriculture by automatically requesting water and nutrients.

Interested in learning more? You can check out the full Wired article here and “The Internet of Things, Stalk by Stalk,” written by Atmel’s very own Paul Rako here.

Video: Sprinkler 101 with Atmel’s Paul Rako



In the latest Atmel Edge episode, Analog Aficionado Paul Rako explains how digital buttons, sliders and wheels can be used to make popular sprinkler timers easier to use.

“We’re going to do a system-level redesign, going through this from block diagrams. Then come up with an alternate and then apply some technology that Atmel can help you with. Things like button, wheels and sliders, where you don’t need physical, discrete switches anymore,” said Rako

“I’m going start going through the programming. And that’s where I think, with a redesign and rethinking, and using some modern cool-person things like button sliders and wheels. There’s no physical button. It’s not expensive. You can put a thousand of these buttons on the same circuit board.”

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, Atmel offers market-proven technology for implementing nonmechanical buttons, sliders and wheels on any touch-sensitive device.

These integrated circuits (ICs) enhance the user experience with precision and reliability, while delivering optimized low-power characteristics, a critical requirement for today’s battery-powered handheld and mobile devices. 

The technology supports simple 1–10 button configurations as well as more complex scanned-matrix configurations of up to 48 buttons – at very low cost per button.

In addition to the application specific chips, Atmel offers the QTouch Suite for embedding buttons, sliders and wheels into AT91SAM and AVR micro controllers (MCUs).

Interested in leaning more about Atmel’s buttons, sliders and wheels? You can check out a full product breakdown here.

Video: PCB 201 with Atmel’s Paul Rako




In this Atmel Edge episode, Analog Aficionado Paul Rako demonstrates how to place a switching power supply on the same circuit board with analog and digital circuits.

“It’s a fairly high-level clever trick to lay out a switching power supply on a board that has analog and digital and some delicate circuits,” Rako explains.

“What did my two friends – Jon Dutra and Alan Martin – come up with? You use a top-side copper pour on your circuit board to make a local ground for your switching regulator. And then you just connect it at one place, at the bottom, at the ground reference of the output capacitor.”

To illustrate his point, Rako highlights a four-layer circuit board.

“So this is top, signal, then there’s ground, then there’s power plane, then there’s bottom signal. Design it four-layer. When you get that figured out, then you can spin it down to a two layer. A buck regulator, has an input voltage. Got an input capacitor. Then you’ve got a switch,” he continues.

“Usually it a FET transistor, or sometimes it’s inside the control IC. Here’s that control IC. Then you’ve got a catch diode, which causes a lot of problems. It gets hot. Sometimes it’s inside the IC. Sometimes it’s a synchronous. The basic thing with a switching regulator is this inductor. Then you’ve got an output capacitor. And always put those arrows and feathers on your circuit so people understand what’s coming in and what’s going out.”

As Rako notes, the inherent problem with a switching regulator is its fast-changing currents, di/dt.

“Those fast-changing create electromagnetic noise. If you let them run in the ground plane they’ll go out and affect other circuits on your PCB. So the trick is you pour a top-side copper pour,” he added.

Interested in learning more? Be sure to watch the video above for a full PCB 201 run-down.

Video: Schematic 101 with Atmel’s Paul Rako

In this episode of Atmel Edge, Analog Aficionado Paul Rako discusses the importance of understanding ground symbols for electronic schematics. As Rako notes, Earth ground, chassis ground, power supply return and shield are all different. This video explains why.

“Earth ground has a very precise meaning and a very precise name, and it’s earth ground. My professor, James T. McLaughlin, at Kettering University previously General Motors Institute, pointed out [that] earth ground is a ten foot copper-clad steel rod,” says Rako.

“And you hammer it into the dirt. And you make sure there’s moisture so it has conductivity. The minute you hook a wire to it, well now you got some inductance. And 12-gauge wire all the way to get to where earth ground has to get, which is this third pin on your wall socket, well now it’s got a little resistance, as well.”

Rako also points out that a car isn’t grounded.

“What you want to use is this symbol, which is chassis common. And chassis common, it’s not just cars, but television, radios, PCs with metal things. Anywhere there’s a metal case or a metal mounting point, that’s chassis common. In America, if a human being can touch that metal, you have to connect earth ground at chassis common,” he notes.

“Underwriter’s Laboratory requires a ring terminal so it doesn’t get pulled off. And that way, if there’s a short of high voltage on to the chassis — a wire or something falls down — then it can seek a ground through this earth ground and trip a circuit breaker instead of electrocuting your customers.”

As Rako emphasizes, semiconductor companies who make chips should be using this symbol, the triangle.

“That is power supply return. You may connect your circuit board in the corners, it may connect to chassis, and maybe you want that,” he adds.

“Maybe you want it to connect at 100 places to get a really good RF connection between the circuit board and the metal chassis. But this symbol would be improper on a circuit board, and certainly earth ground is wrong.”

You can watch the video above for more information about schematics. Readers may also want to check out Rako’s previous Debug 101 episode here.

Video: Debug 101 with Atmel’s Paul Rako

In the first installment of this series, analog aficionado Paul Rako offers viewers an overview of Atmel debuggers such as the $49 AVR Dragon, JTAGICE3 and AVR ONE.

“For $49, you can get a debugger that’ll let you watch the chip execute, let you single-step through your program, let you see the effect of interrupts, and can really speed up how fast you’re bringing your program or your product, and the program in it, into market,” said Rako.

“Next up is [the $100] JTAGICE3. In addition to doing all the AVR chips and the AVR 32-bit chips, this product will also do the SAM D20 ARM Cortex M0+ chip. [There is also] the JTAGICE2. We used to sell this for $400. I’m kinda proud that we reduced the price by one fourth for the subsequent product.”

Meanwhile, Atmel’s AVR One! offers trace capability.

“With trace, you let your program execute. The trace just records. It’s like a log file and it tells you what’s going on. So, it’s $600. It’s hard to do trace real-time at the kind of speeds our microcontrollers (MCUs) run.”

As you can see in the video above, Paul also gets up close and personal with Atmel’s ARM-based SAM D20 Xplained Pro.

“What’s cool about the SAM D20, it’s an eval board with the chip, but it’s also got the debugger chip. You can come off of this board – when you get along with your design, you design your own PCB you can jump off of this board,” Rako explained.“And instead of debugging the SAM D20 that’s on this board, it’ll debug the SAM D20 that’s on your printed circuit board for your system.”

Last up is Atmel’s Cortex 4 Xplained.

“This isn’t an Xplained Pro- but because it’s the 4S, it just happens to have a debugger on it as well. You can use our STK600 and one of these debuggers to program and debug the things. You can use an Xplained Pro card,” Rako added. You can use some of the Xplained boards that have a debugger on them. It’s going to be so much faster than trying to write – printf – do a little flag, and write some thing off the serial port, to try to figure out where your program’s going, why it’s not doing what you expect.”

Analysts see 152 million connected cars by 2020

A recent study conducted by IHS Automotive has confirmed that there will be 152 million actively connected cars on global roads by 2020 – representing a mere fraction of the estimated 18 billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices on the planet.

The car-to-x system warns of road works, congestion, obstacles and dangerous weather (courtesy Daimler).

In addition, the study estimates $14.5 billion of value (generated) from the OEM connected car landscape across a variety of Big Data assets found in the connected car. These include diagnostics, location, user experience (UX) /feature tracking and adaptive driver assistance systems (ADAS)/autonomy. Significantly, the technology growth is expected to drive sales, value-added services and customer experience in the already lucrative sector for years to come.

“Traditionally Big Data has focused on the ‘4 V’s’ – volume, velocity, variety and veracity,” Mark Boyadjis, senior analyst of infotainment and Human-Machine Interface (HMI) at IHS Automotive, explained. “But without understanding the fifth ’V,’ value and the value proposition, the collection of data from the connected car is literally a waste of time. It is important to understand how data from intelligently designed systems will drive billions of dollars of annual revenue between data assets, analytics and end-user services.”

According to Boyadjis, IHS Automotive estimates (conservatively) that more than 480 terabytes of data will be collected from the OEM connected car landscape in 2013 via millions of small data transmissions sent via more than 26 million connected cars. Meanwhile, a combination of increased connected car sales and a growing scale of information coming from connected cars will result in the collection of some 11.1 petabytes of connected car data by 2020.

In addition, the rate at which the data is flowing from the connected car landscape continues to dramatically increase, with approximately 30 terabytes of data projected to be collected each day from the 152 million connected cars on the road in 2020, or about 350 megabytes per second, compared to about 15 megabytes per second in 2013.

In the Daimler Car-to-X system, obstacles are shown on the vehicle’s display (courtesy Daimler).

Currently, the majority of connected car data is used internally for diagnostics, location, speed and vehicle status. However, by 2020, industry analysts expect four core categories of data to be most the critical: diagnostics, location, user experience/features and adaptive driver assistance systems/autonomy data. Because they will require so much more volume and variety, ADAS/Autonomy is expected to be the largest and most expensive data category in the future.

“The most important challenge this industry has in front of it is organizing systems and defining roles in Big Data from the connected car. Who owns the data, the pipe, and the analytics is still yet to be determined, [yet] will have to be before connected car data can be put to work efficiently,” Boyadjis added.

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, there are quite a number of IoT opportunities on the automotive horizon for MCU makers like Atmel.

“The Internet of Things is going to be a huge boon for companies like us that make both microcontrollers and radio chips,” Atmel’s Paul Rako explained in a Bits & Pieces blog post back in October. “[Recently], I read that you can consider an automobile just another ‘thing’ in the IoT, [with the] American National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) encouraging manufacturers to design cars that communicate with each other to make them safer. When the auto industry is ready, Atmel will be there to enable the technology.”

Autonomous EVs for the IoT

The connected autonomous EV is ultimately expected to form an intrinsic part of the Internet of Things (IoT). As analysts at ABI Research note, such vehicles will rely on (and contribute) to the emergence of intelligent road infrastructure including wireless charging, smart grids, digital homes and remote healthcare – all while realizing the promise of safe, convenient, efficient, affordable and sustainable transportation.

The car-to-x system warns of road works, congestion, obstacles and dangerous weather (courtesy Daimler).

According to ABI, the number of full electric vehicles (EV) shipping yearly will increase from 150,000 in 2013 to 2.36 million in 2020 – representing a CAGR of 48%. Asia-Pacific will exhibit the strongest growth, driven by mounting pollution issues in its many megacities; however, true mass-market uptake is projected to kick off in earnest during the next decade.

“With many car OEMs recently dropping prices and offering more choice and improved performance, full electric vehicles are on the verge of leaving their eco niche of environmentally aware and socially responsible buyers, illustrated by car OEMs such as BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen investing heavily in electrification,” commented ABI VP and practice director, Dominique Bonte.

“Importantly, a range of emerging automotive technologies such as carbon-fiber materials, wireless in-car networking technologies, active safety including pedestrian detection and autonomous driving, connectivity, car sharing, and smart grid demand response features will support the electric automotive revolution as all new paradigms are mutually reinforcing each other.”

However, Bonte emphasized that the role of governments in supporting EVs via tax rebates and subsidies, stimulating the roll out of public charging infrastructure, exempting EVs from toll in congestion zones, allowing EVs on High Occupancy lanes, providing free parking and mandating very aggressive emission standards will remain critical during the remainder of the current decade.

As previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, there are quite a number of of opportunities on the automotive horizon for MCU makers like Atmel.

“The Internet of Things is going to be a huge boon for companies like us that make both microcontrollers and radio chips,” Atmel’s Paul Rako explained in a Bits & Pieces blog post published earlier this year.

In the Daimler Car-to-X system, obstacles are shown on the vehicle’s display (courtesy Daimler).

“[Recently], I read that you can consider an automobile just another ‘thing’ in the IoT, [with the] American National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) encouraging manufacturers to design cars that communicate with each other to make them safer.”

To be sure, said Rako, European automakers are “out ahead” with the above-mentioned technology, as a consortium of Mercedes Benz/ Daimler, BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, Ford and Opel are already testing real world systems.

“They call it Sim TD (Safe intelligent mobility Testfield). Volkswagen and BMW independently came up with smart intersection technology back in 2011,” Rako explained. “It won’t take many instances of showing we can save the lives of innocent passengers, or children on school buses, before the public will demand car-to-X communication. An added benefit will be the fuel economy and convenience benefits. So when the auto industry is ready, Atmel will be there to enable the technology.”

Rako starts at Atmel

Some of you might recognize me from my previous job at EDN magazine. I covered the analog beat. So many of my friends were surprised to hear I was joining Atmel. What they did not realize is that being an analog expert is only part of what I love. I ran a consultation business for 20 years. My specialty was designing, prototyping and delivering working hardware. One of my favorite jobs was in 2001, at a startup where I designed a complete point-of-sale terminal in only 2 months. I knew I would need help doing the software, so I called my friend Dave Mathis. He agreed to write the code, but only if I used a modern micro. Not knowing any better, I suggested a well-known micro. He said he would quit if I used that hardware. He refused to program one, after more than a few bad experiences. Then I figured we could use an 8051 clone. He said that he really did not want to deal with special function registers. OK, this was going nowhere fast, so I asked him what he thought would be a good embedded processor. Dave had written Forth compliers for Samsung micros, so I didn’t know what to expect. He said I should check out Atmel. I did. I was impressed. I had been exposed to Atmel micros when I was consulting to HP. They ran wicked fast and did not need 8 clocks to execute an instruction. The other thing I loved is that I could get a Butterfly prototyping board for $49.95, and a real in-circuit emulator for $200. When you are in a startup in angel-investment mode, that low barrier to entry really means a lot.

So I picked a nice little AVR micro that did everything we needed and more. I wrote the assembly language firmware for the point-of-sale terminal as well as some other products we developed. I hired two buddies to write some C code. I see why Dave recommended Atmel. Wags have joked: “The best programming language is the programming language your best programmer likes best.” I really like the Atmel development system and the chips worked great. Both buddies have gone on to love and use Atmel micros in their projects as well.

So I am really looking forward to document how Atmel can make your design work go better. I will be getting up to speed on Atmel’s touch technology and will share with you what I learn. I am also looking forwarded to getting into the ARM controllers. That is some heavy iron to an 8- and 16-bit guy like me, but my buddy Dave will point me in the right direction and I am sure my co-workers here will put up with my questions.

When Sander Arts asked me to join him at Atmel, the first thing I did was call my pal Dave. We thought Atmel was cool and we knew it 13 years ago. But I was not sure of how Atmel was doing in the eyes of the world. Dave said “Atmel’s star has really risen in the last 5 years.” The Arduino was part of that. But he said people were also seeing how cool the Atmel ARM stuff was. And the whole world was seeing what Dave saw in 2000, how Atmel can get you into 8-bit development cheaply, and how nice the code works. When I was at the Design West conference this year (2013) I saw my buddy Windell Oskay, the co-founder of Evil Mad Science. When I told him I was starting with Atmel he was really jazzed. He said that he loved the Arduino and the whole development ecosystem that has sprung up around it.

In addition to telling you about all the cool things Atmel is up to, I will be sure to keep you informed of all the fun things my pals are doing. This includes lifestyle things like the electronic flea market here in Silicon Valley and career things like how my crack protégé has figured out a LinkedIn profile that gets him 3 headhunter calls a week. Stay tuned and look for all the system design scuttlebutt that will help you be a better engineer and programmer.