Tag Archives: RF

These smart potholes tweet complaints directly to city officials


Potholes in Panama City are sending tweets to city workers every time they are run over.


Did you know pothole damage can cost motorists in the U.S. alone nearly $6.4 billion annually? At one point or another, you’ve probably learned the hard way that hitting a crater in the road not only could damage your tires, but wheels, shocks and struts as well. And making matters worse, those repairs can be expensive. According to AAA, these can range from $50 for a simple realignment to thousands for replacing a tricked-out rim. Over the lifespan of a car, insurance agents claim that a driver can shell out upwards of $2,000 due to damage from poor road conditions.

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And it’s safe to assume that when driving over a pothole, it’s fairly common for someone to let out their anger with those inside, and sometimes outside, the car. In Panama City, people aren’t the only ones complaining. In fact, the potholes themselves are as well — and taking their strife to Twitter.

The aptly named Tweeting Pothole is a recent initiative launched by one of the city’s popular TV stations Telemetro Reporta in collaboration with ad agency P4 Ogilvy & Mather to raise more awareness around the poorly maintained streets.

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The project is comprised of two parts: a durable, hockey puck-like device equipped with motion and pressure sensors that is placed inside a pothole and a small RF transmitter that is located somewhere nearby. When a vehicle goes over the pothole, it triggers the sensor to relay a signal to the wireless module, which in turn, automatically sends out a disgruntled message to the Twitter account of the Ministry of Public Works requesting repair.

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Telemetro Reporta had put the devices into a number of potholes throughout some of the city’s busiest roads. And to no surprise, the municipality’s Twitter feed was immediately inundated with a flood of automated tweets. Since then, the @ElHuecoTwitero account has already garnered over 3,500 followers and has received mainstream media attention. It appears that after this stunt, many potholes have already begun to vanish. In other words, it seems to be working!

Pretty smart idea, right?

ArduRF eases wireless links for the Arduino platform

Developed by Daniel deBeer, ArduRF is an ATmega328 based electronics development platform that aspires to make wireless links easier for Arduinos, while maintaining full compatibility and long range AES-128 radio link encryption.

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The platform is equipped with an ATmega328 MCU, a HopeRF RFM69 radio, on-board battery charging, as well as the ability to operate from a solar panel for independence. As its creator notes, the ArduRF family is comprised of three designs: ArduRF1, ArduRF1s and PC2ArduRF1. Each of the boards are optimized for a different application environment.

The ArduRF1 is a completely Arduino-compatible board, which features the same shape, connectors and CPU as an Arduino Uno (ATmega328) and operates at 5V even when battery powered. In addition, it packs a LiPo charger and connector directly on-board, while its integrated boost converter provides 5V when operating off the battery to sustain shield compatibility.

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“The ArduRF1 and its CPU operates at 5V and 16MHz — even when running from the battery. The ArduRF1 has the Arduino Uno form factor and uses the FTDI FT231 chip for the USB interface. The form factor, pinout, CPU, and 5V operation ensures that the vast majority of shields will just work. All the experience and working knowledge of Arduino’s are directly applicable. The standard IDE and examples continue to work without modification,” deBeer writes.

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Meanwhile, the smaller (2.25” x 0.9”) ArduRF1s boasts the same design as its bigger sibling except for that it operates at 3.3V.

“All the pins available on an Arduino Uno are brought to connectors on the board edge. The pin pitch is 0.1″ and the width is 0.8″ making it possible to mount the board on a solderless breadboard and still have two breadboard holes on each side available for connection to other devices.”

The third is the PC2ArduRF1, the family’s smallest and lowest cost member. This board is specifically designed to wirelessly connect a PC to one or more of the other ArduRF1 units.

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Each of the boards possess an off-the-shelf transceiver — which is available in three different frequency bands — to minimize risk to the project.

“It has been tested on the first and second prototype (915MHz version only to stay legal) and found to have exceptional range more than 500 meters in an open field. The data rate is adjustable up to 300kbps and the transceiver supports hardware AES encryption making the transmissions secure,” deBeer adds.

Currently seeking $9,500 on Kickstarter, the Maker says that his platform is different from previous Arduino RF crowdfunding projects. Reason being, the pick-and-place programs and reflow oven profiles have all been developed and tested, the boards work flawlessly, and most importantly, they are ready for production today.

Interested in learning more about or backing the project? Head on over to its official Kickstarter page here. If all goes to plan, shipment is expected to begin within weeks.

Building real-time monitoring for IoT device state

You may have a couple Arduinos, or billions of IoT devices connected in a single instance. A common need today is the requirement to detect when devices are turned on and turned off, also known as device state. And, monitoring the device state of connected devices and machines in real-time is called presence.

In this blog post, we’ll walk you through how to use presence to monitor IoT devices and hardware connected with PubNub (for both Java and JavaScript).

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Why You Need to Monitor Your IoT Devices in Real-Time

IoT hardware comes in all shapes, sizes, and prices. But despite their differences, monitoring device state is essential, and we need to know exactly when they’re online and offline. Say you have an (Atmel based) Arduino hooked up to your apartment doorbell for whatever reason. Your Arduino goes offline, the pizza man is standing outside, and you’re not eating. Or maybe the situation is more dramatic. You may have hundreds of IoT devices hooked up to manage your farm. Keeping tabs on those devices is vital for the health of your farm, and you need to know when they go offline.

Device Monitoring Using Presence

We’ll first walk you through using Presence for IoT devices with Java, then move onto JavaScript. With both, you’ll first need to sign up for a PubNub account. Once you sign up, you can get your unique PubNub keys in the PubNub Developer Portal. In the developer’s portal, click to enable Presence. Feel free to play around as much as you want in our free Sandbox tier.

Check out our simulated Presence demo to get a better idea of how Presence can be used for real-time monitoring of Internet of Things devices.

Java

Step 1: Presence and here_Now() are two features of PubNub that update device or user state in real-time. Whether you choose to use JavaScript or the PubNub Java Presence SDK, the output for Presence is the same. You will get an output in this format:

{"message":"OK","status":200,"uuids":["uuid1"],"service":"Presence",
"occupancy":1}

where “uuids” contains a list of the uuids online and occupancy gives the number of online users.

I will be using the code feature to see ‘who’s there?’. All you need to provide is the channel name, and then check if there is anyone on that channel. The code sample below is basic usage.

pubnub.hereNow("my_channel", new Callback() {
     public void successCallback(String channel, Object response) {
         System.out.println(response);
     }
     public void errorCallback(String channel, PubnubError error) {
         System.out.println(error);
     }
 });

This will output the devices that are online which is identified by the UUIDs. In order to consume this information, all you need is to modify the callback function a little. The following code shows you how:

Step 2:

Callback callback = new Callback() {
	public void successCallback(String channel, Object response) {
	    String temp = response.toString();
	    int start = temp.indexOf('[');
	    int end = temp.indexOf(']');
	    for(int index = start+1;index<end;index++){
		    if(temp.charAt(index)!=','){	
		    	uuid1 = uuid1 + temp.charAt(index);
		    }
		    else{
		    	System.out.println();
		    }
	    }
    	String replaced = uuid1.replace("\""," ");
    	String[] uuidlist = replaced.split("\\s+");
    	for (String tempstring : uuidlist){
    		System.out.println(tempstring);
    	}	
	}
		
	public void errorCallback(String channel, PubnubError error){
		System.out.println(error.toString());
	}
};
	
	public void herenow(){
		Pubnub pubnub = new Pubnub("demo", "demo");
		pubnub.hereNow("my_channel", callback);
	}

This code, modifies the information received by the hereNow function, and stores and prints it in an array called ‘uuidlist’. In this manner, you can now use this information according to your requirements.

JavaScript

Step 1: The PubNub JavaScript Presence feature is an optional parameter used along with the subscribe call in JavaScript. The code sample below is basic usage:

pubnub.subscribe({
     channel: "my_channel",
     presence: function(m){console.log(m)},
     callback: function(m){console.log(m)}
 });

The presence feature will output the devices that are online as identified by their UUIDs, along with their timestamp, an action that indicates join/leave/timeout and the occupancy of the channel. This information will be displayed in the console.

But what if you want to consume this information by publishing it to a screen or store it somewhere? The following code lets you do just that.

Step 2: Now we’ll bring the presence to life with JavaScript

var deviceList[],
devices =[];

pubnub.subscribe({

    channel: 'my_channel',
    presence: function(message,channel){
        if(message.action == "join"){
        	devices.push(message.uuid);
    		deviceList.append("<li text-align:
    		center>" + message.uuid + "</li>");
      		}
        else{
          devices.splice(devices.indexOf(message.uuid), 1);
          deviceList.find(message.uuid).remove();
	}
 }
});

Here, we define a custom function for presence which basically uses the different actions of a presence event that could occur, such as join, timeout and leave.

  • If a ‘join’ occurs, we append the UUID to the list of devices that are online.
  • If a ‘leave or a timeout’ occurs, we remove that UUID from the list of list of devices that are online.

You now have the online users, both in an array called ‘devices’ and also as list printed on a page.

This way, you can now be updated on the different devices joining and leaving your network in real-time.

You can check out the PubNub JavaScript Presence documentation here.

Additional PubNub Presence Resources

DesignCon 2014, even the badges are cool

So I got to pop into DesignCon 2014, the signal integrity, test, and high-speed schematic and PCB design show here in Silicon Valley. In addition to seeing some great panels and vendor displays, I got to see industry favorites like Dave Bursky, Martin Rowe, and Patrick Mannion. Sure EDN has lots of nice coverage, here, here, here, and here. Most of my analog pals love DesignCon. It’s not just a show with hundreds of exhibitors; it is a conference with keynotes, classes, and panel discussions.

But the thing I love about these UBM shows is that even the badges can teach you something. I noticed the printed part of my badge was paper.

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This badge from DesignCon 2014 is printed on paper.

Thing is, when I looked on the backside of the paper there was a thin plastic disk covering up something with a small bump.

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In the backside, you can see a small disk in the center. What caught my eye was the small bump at the bottom of the disk.

So what is an analog guy to do but peel back the disk?

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Peeling back the plastic cover reveals a spiral antenna and an RFID chip.

The RFID chip spans the end of the loop antenna, while the other side of the circle has the underside connection with 9 vias to complete the loop.

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The white cover disk is applied over a clear disk that has a spiral antenna and an RFID chip. The clear disk is printed on both sides so the spiral can form a loop with a back-side connection with 9 vias on each end.

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Here you can see that the RFID system is itself printed on a clear disk.

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Here is a close-up of the underside trace and the vias on each end. This is all made from conductive ink that is printed on fast and cheap.

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A close-up of the chip. It’s made by a competitor to Atmel, so I have covered up the logo or cropped it out from the previous pics. It’s not just a competitor; it is where my boss worked previously.

The RFID chip may not have encryption like Atmel’s RFID chips, not sure if show badges are a secure application. But it still astounds me we can afford to print antennas and chips on paper badges meant to be thrown away after the event.

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Here is a side-shot of the RFID chip. It is powered by an RF field you apply to the spiral, and then modulates the energy received to communicate with the transmitter. There is no battery in the badge.

So there you have it. A show so cool even the badges can teach you electronics. The next big UMB Tech show  here in the Valley is EE|Live! which is a super-show that has the Embedded Systems Conference along with some other major attractions. Atmel is a sponsor of the IoT (Internet of Things) track and we are submitting at least one paper. I will be sure to attend as will the hundreds of embedded engineering pals I know in the Valley. And my own Analog Aficionados party is Sunday, February 9th2014. Steve Taranovich is signed up, as is EDN VP/Brand Director Patrick Mannion.

Cure RF squegging with a Neutrodyne circuit

Some headlines write themselves, huh? Squegging is when an RF amplifier or MHz-class switching regulator starts cycling on and off. In an audio amp it is called “motorboating” since that is the sound it makes. FET amplifiers are subject to this, like old tube amplifiers. Both have a high-impedance input, the tube grid or the FET gate. A FET gate is capacitive, so any charge that gets put on it will be stored by the gate, moving the bias point of the FET too high, and causing squegging. The Neutrodyne circuit comes from 1920 vacuum tube amplifiers. It is one of the ways you can tame squegging. High Frequency Electronics magazine has a nice article about squegging (pdf). The best way to show it is a figure in the article, who I hope the fine legal team at Summit Technical Media will let me show you.

Squegging-amplifier

Squegging is when the input of a FET or vacuum tube floats up momentarily and shuts down oscillations. This make the output cycle on and off, called motorboating (courtesy High Frequency Electronics).

Trust me; you really want to click over to the article since it has the schematics of a FET amplifier that will start to motor boat, as well as several ways to fix it. The whole magazine is pretty good. While you are at it, think of signing up for a print copy of the magazine. You need to be an engineer or tech worker, since the magazine is audited by BPA, so the advertisers know they are reaching tech people and not random idiots.

Remember that these tips apply to high frequency switching converters. And regulators are getting up into RF ranges. I remember seeing an 8-MHz switching regulator from Micrel years ago when I worked at EDN magazine. You might be using one of these fast regulators for some extreme size problems. These high speeds do cause less efficiency, as the gate charge is getting shunted to ground, but the inductor you need with these fast converters is miniscule. That Micrel part still manages 90% max efficiency, but you can use a 0.47µH inductor. That is one tiny inductor.

So I assume the Micrel folks have solved any squegging problems in their part, but it is still a good principle to understand should you run across it. It’s like sub-harmonic oscillations in switchers with a duty cycle greater than 50% (pdf page 10, pdf page 5, pdf page 72. It might befuddle you if you have never heard of it and don’t know the steps you need to take to solve it.

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1:1 Interview with Magnus Pedersen of Atmel

TV: What do you do? How are you contributing to the realization and maturation of the Internet of Things (IoT)?

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Magnus Pedersen with the Philips Hue (a connected IoT enabled smart device). The Philips Hue Wireless Light Bulb promises full control of its functions over Wi-Fi, including per-light brightness and color settings, remote operation and geofencing capabilities. In addition, Philips includes a powerful GUI-driven app to custom tune lighting in nearly any environment.

MP:  I am currently working on new ultra low power wireless devices and systems compliant with the IEEE 802.15.4 standard, which supports wireless applications such as ZigBee and IPv6/6LoWPAN. Providing standards based reference designs and implementation helps our customers bring IoT devices quickly to the market.

TV: What products do you see becoming the potential glue for Internet of Things embedded designs?

MP: IoT in my mind is all about connectivity and there is a major trend towards wireless. There are many standards competing for designs in the IoT space, but I believe low power solutions like ZigBee, Bluetooth Smart and Wi-Fi will grab the lion share of the market for IoT devices.

TV: What are some of the challenges in building out MCU Wireless and Wireless/RF enabled devices to support enterprise initiatives?

MP: The primary challenge is the lack of standards for the upper layers, and to some extent, lack of infrastructure and gateways to gather data from the IoT devices – bringing the data back into the enterprise servers for analysis.

TV: What’s your favorite MCU wireless device and why?

MP: My current favorite is Atmel’s ultra low power family of wireless microcontrollers. It’s single die design, offering a high level of integration. Plus, it is designed with ultra low power consumption in mind. The ATmegaRFR2 family is quickly grabbing market share in some relatively new markets like wireless lighting control. Major players are putting a lot of efforts into ZigBee Light Link compliant systems these days.

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AT256RFR2-EK

TV: Can you think of a reference design and various other solution sets that have helped a customer realize his or her vision of embedded architecture and design? Specifically, one that meets all design and BOM requirements – while also exceeding quality and maximizing in B2B as well as customer end to end satisfaction?

MP: Atmel has been active in the ZigBee community for many years. We have certified ZigBee Stacks and referenced implementations for firmware and hardware that we are sharing with our customers. We have a very open policy to share source code, and we are even sharing our hardware design files for our customers to use, either as is, or modified to customer needs. This way, customers can leverage years of R&D that have already been invested in the reference designs – all while moving efficiently through evaluation, prototyping and actual products ready for mass-production.

TV: Is there any advice you can offer to our readers who are forced to make tough decisions when it comes to schedule and embedded projects? For designers, architects and manufacturing managers?

MP: Learn from the mistakes of others. You do not have time to make them all yourself! Make sure you engage with suppliers that have been in the game for a while and are willing to share past experiences in terms of hardware, communication stacks and reference designs. Relying on and working with an experienced supplier will save you from some of the traditional pitfalls and challenges in wireless designs.

TV: There are so many standards related to connectivity. I can imagine the early web and many early technology paradigms in similar nascent scenarios. Which protocol and stack do you endorse as the communicator for IoT embedded designs? Does it matter?

MP: I think you’re right – the IoT is still in it’s infancy and there are still quite a few standards competing for the same applications. In the ultra low power domain IPv6/6LoWPAN is promoted by the IPSO Alliance and the ZigBee solutions promoted by the ZigBee Alliance is now fairly mature and ready for prime time. A couple of years ago the smart energy domain was very interesting, but the fastest growth today is within wireless lighting control and home automation. Do a search for “Philips Hue” and you can see some of my favorite applications right now.

TV: IoT refers to connecting literally everything to the Internet. Do you agree with this sentiment? How soon do you think this will become a reality?

MP: Yes – I do agree. And that means we are talking about a set of solutions ranging from handsets and tablets to even smaller embedded and highly specialized devices with years of battery lifetime. We’re even seeing battery-less devices being driven by energy harvesting techniques.

TV: Is the Internet of Things going to be the biggest leverage point for IT as well as valued added chain to many industries? If so, what are some of the business challenges?

MP: IoT represents huge opportunities for existing industries and it will also represent great opportunities for startups to create new business. The latest forecast provided by Gartner indicates that there will be up to 30 billion connected devices by 2020, resulting in  $1.9 trillion in global economic value-add through sales into diverse end markets. Those are big numbers!

TV: Will competing communication standards get into the way of IoT emergence? Does lack of agreement equate to limited economies of scale? Is there a risk associated to choosing the wrong MCU Wireless device?

MP:  I do not think competing standards will create any issues. Some standards will fit better than others, and especially in consumer applications growth will be driven primarily by consumer demand, rather than standardization bodies or organizations. There is an obvious risk for the product vendors tied to this – selecting the wrong standard might prohibit growth and represent a fatal decision for both startups and even established companies.

TV: IoT is obviously about more than just connecting your toaster. What are some some examples for big industries and markets where IoT can bring added value and revenue? Explain at least to a B2B customer point of view for a Fortune 500?

MP: IoT is about making everyday life easier for everyone. It’s about the introduction of the smart home, HVAC and lighting solutions coming online. It’s about alarm systems and doorlocks and cameras – everything coming online. It is also a story about a generation of people being always online, almost to the point of being addicted to internet-access. I recently saw an update to the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs indicating that WiFi access is now becoming the most important requirement, perhaps even more important than food and water. I thought it was funny, but yes, there is probably some sense of truth in this as well – at least for some people.

Figure: Maslow 2.0

Figure: Maslow 2.0

 

It might not fair to give one example of products or companies, but if you look at communities like Kickstarter and search for IoT projects, there are an overwhelming number of ideas and projects.

TV: Is the IoT hype going to mature and actually become mainstream with an unfolding of emergent products that redefine the shape for products and services offered to a company? If so, tell me about some of the challenges and what can be done to make this transition easier?

MP: The IoT hype is going to mature and there will be new businesses in data collection, data transfer and data storage. New businesses will also be build around data analysis of  smartphones and tablet applications.

TV: Have you heard of Amara’s law?  We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run. What are the potentials in the short/long term for Internet of Things as we move forward?

MP: Devices that communicate with each other enable new opportunities. This can be a device(s) within a limited geography or area, while in the longer term these devices will be connected to the cloud and can then be accessed from anywhere.

TV: Describe some of the technology partnerships and reference designs that can act as mentors and education models for engineering teams seeking to revamp/evolve their products into the world of connectivity.

MP: Atmel is involved with numerous partners in the IoT domain. We’ve enjoyed long-term partnerships with standardization bodies such as IETF and IEEE, as well as the ZigBee Alliance. Atmel is also teaming up with marketing organizations such as the IPSO Alliance and The Connected Lighting Alliance. As a silicon vendor, there is also a need for additional resources at the application level and even hardware reference designs. Over the past few years, we’ve teamed with companies like MeshNetics in the ZigBee domain (their IP was acquired by Atmel in 2008), and Seninode for their embedded IPv6/6LoWPAN solutions. (Sensinode was recently acquired by ARM). A general goal is to provide complete reference designs for both hardware and firmware in order speed the design process on the customer side, and it is also the general idea that these designs should be available as open source.

TV: What are some of the challenges associated with extending the typical product to a connected product? What are the design constraints and challenges that can be learned from one another?

MP: Atmel recently conducted an IoT survey with our key customers, revealing few technical challenges. The evolving standards enable new businesses, but it also broadens the competition.

TV: What sort of recommendations and technical advice do you offer to help core engineering teams and architects build highly connective products that can be designed and produced in the  highest quality and lowest BOM available?


MP:
Being responsible for the low power wireless product line in Atmel, we’re bringing out standard compliant wireless solutions including RF transceivers, wireless microcontrollers, communication stack and profiles, and even certified hardware reference designs to kickstart customer projects and bring them quickly to market.

TV: What are you currently working on and most excited about?


MP:
As a marketeer for a large microcontroller and touch company, I have the opportunity to engage with products and solutions that are going to be introduced in the near future. Products that don’t exist yet – I find that part very exciting

TV: Are there any people or books that have inspired you lately?

MP: Steve Jobs. It is really amazing how he created killer products and applications, even thought we didn’t know that we wanted or needed them. The iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, and the Apps-store… Steve changed the world of handsets from Nokia/Blackberry dominance to the handsets as we know them today. I have also watched the speech he gave for Stanford University graduates back in 2005 many times. Steve Jobs urged the students to pursue their dreams and see the opportunities in life’s setbacks — including death itself. I think this was a really great speech in the sense that he asks us to think about what we really want to achieve in life, knowing that death is the only destiny we all share – no one has ever escaped it.

TV: How can we establish and negotiate technological priorities? In a world of limited bandwidth, the growth in connectivity will challenge our current network capacity to cope with data. We need a better way of understanding which services should be prioritized. For example, how can we make sure vital medical data or pluggable Internet of Things devices aren’t slowed by streaming and IoT enabled loose end points?

MP: I wouldn’t be too worried about this. Network capacity will continue to scale and various security mechanisms will deal with priorities and separate the vital networks and applications from the less critical ones.

TV: How can we take a long-term perspective on services and objects? We currently design for beginnings – getting people connected and tied into a system. How can we make sure people end relationships with service providers as easily? As more big-ticket items become connected (cars, fridges etc) and are sold on to new owners and users, this becomes increasingly important.

MP: As “things” becomes connected more and more consumers will make use of the new applications and systems. Ease of use and the willingness to change will be the keys. The consumers are a challenging set of customers as they will not accept systems and application not stable enough or easy to use. Companies offering such products will simply fail.

TV: How can we balance aspirations for the IoT with the reality of what it will be able to deliver? There are strong tensions between the aspirations and our vision of a technological future and the pragmatics of our everyday lives.

MP: I do not agree to the statement that there are strong tensions. We see enormous activity from entrepreneurs in the IoT space these days, and yet I think that this is just the very early beginning of a new mega-trend in the industry, as well as applications and services being provided to the consumers. Some of these ideas will fly and become great products, others will fail. And again, I think the consumers will be the judges when it becomes to the decision of what will be a success story and what will fail.

TV: Who represents who? Who stands up for, educates, represents and lobbies for people using the IoT or connected products? Is this the role of people centered designers? As a product extraordinaire, how can you help companies bring Internet of Things devices or connected smart products to life?

MP: That’s a really good question! With the indications I already mentioned from the analysts, (predicting a $1.9 trillion market in 2020), there are many groups and communities scratching their heads trying to figure out how to get their piece of this big pie. Some of the drive will come from the industry promoting their technology, but there will also be IoT solutions being demanded and pushed for by the consumers themselves.

TV: Who are the people using it? How do we define the communities and circles that use each product and their relationship to each other?

MP: As with most new products and solutions, quite a number of initiatives will be rolled out in high end products first. Some solutions are maybe more the limited audience of tech-freaks, but IoT is rapidly becoming a reality in everyones lives.

TV: What can we learn about IoT in everyday business communication, product design and product emergence?

MP: IoT opens up a huge space of new solutions, systems and products. We will move into a world of smarter devices, where the devices themselves are capable of communicating with other IoT devices. Some of these devices will even make decisions to interact with and control other devices without any input from human beings. Just look at the car-industry. High end cars are now able to park without a driver, they can position themselves in the lane, keep distance from the vehicle in front, and we’re about to get a fleet of cars that are able to communicate with each other, making decisions on our behalf. Some cars are also equipped with systems for automated emergency calls and even report the exact position it is calling from. These are examples of systems already available. Given the fact that the devices are connected they can also be reprogrammed to change behavior without any need for major hardware updates. This offers flexibility in design and helps keeps the platform up to date before a new hardware product design cycle needs to be kicked-off.

TV: How does rapid prototyping help drive new product developments and how does it fit with a people-centric or customer-centric methodology? How can government nurture efficiencies or disruption? Is it their role to help adopt innovation for the end customer?

MP: Rapid prototyping enables shorter development cycles, but it can also be used to spin multiple prototypes quickly to test various options and product configurations. This way you can execute modifications and changes early in the development stage and avoid costly redesigns at a later stage. This might represent the difference between a project failure and a successful product. Personally, I think governments should play an active role in innovation, making sure startups and even established companies have an environment where they can achieve sustainable growth. In the past we’ve even seen governments actively funding IoT projects during economic downturns, like what US government did back in 2009 – feeding hundreds of billion of dollars to the industry in order to create new jobs. Some of these funds went into smart energy projects rolling out smart meters as we have already seen in California.

TV: How can we track “Things” and what will this tell us about their use?

MP: There are a number of ways to track “things,” ranging from traditional GPS technology to various methods of range measurements and triangulation algorithms. This provides useful information about the device, or its owner, and can be used in many ways. I already mentioned automated emergency calls reporting a vehicle’s position, but the number of applications benefiting from location (positioning) services is really unlimited. From the retail industry for example, we see an increased demand for such services in connection to targeted commercials for each and every customer, as well as monitoring customer behavior in a shopping mall to maximize sales.

TV: What are the new interfaces and dashboards that will help people to interact with the IoT? How important will the distinction be between devices equipped with a screen (touch, etc) and those without? How does this play a role in the latest features of Atmel’s microcontrollers and microprocessors?

MP: User interfaces are extremely important. These interfaces have quickly evolved from traditional button and screens, to the touchscreen technology as we know it today. Touch screens and their related applications and user interfaces has proven very easy and intuitive to use, so it is quickly becoming the de-facto standard. This is obviously also the reason why Atmel as a company has invested heavily in touch technology over the last few years, ranging from capacitive buttons, sliders and wheels, to small and large touch screens. As more and more products utilize this technology, capacitive touch technology is rapidly becoming a standard building block in all Atmel microcontrollers.

TV: Who should ask where potential pain is in the business innovation belt? Is it the designer or business manager, or both?  Do we create value and value chains that reward creators or just end user customers? How can the designer and product creativity map to microcontroller functionality and capabilities?

MP: I think this needs to be reviewed by all parties involved. Innovation is an interactive process involving everyone from the designer to the consumer. Good products will also create value for everyone involved in the process – from the design kickoff until there is a finished product in the hands of the consumer. Selecting Atmel as a design partner ensures access to a family of microcontrollers capable of scaling in terms of resources and peripherals such as wireless connectivity and touch enabled user interfaces. It is a very important strategy for Atmel to be positively aligned with the customer when defining roadmaps and the next generation of microcontrollers. The only way we can make sure we have the right technology available at the right time is to define our future roadmaps in close cooperation with our customers.

Atmel introduces next-gen ZigBit wireless modules

Atmel has introduced its second-gen lineup of ZigBit wireless modules. Based on the company’s latest wireless transceivers and wireless microcontrollers (MCUs), the new ZigBits offer a wider range of features and reduced power consumption.

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According to an Atmel engineering rep, the ZigBit modules – equipped with an integrated chip antenna – can be easily installed in a variety of devices without the need for any RF design or RF layout expertise.

“Simply put, the wireless modules offer customers a complete out of the box wireless system, pretested and certified for FCC (North America), ETSI (Europe) and IC (Canada),” the engineering rep explained. “This is because the second-gen ZigBits facilitate an optimized design path from evaluation to development, testing and certification, up to the final wireless end-product.”

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As noted above, Atmel’s ZigBit modules can be easily integrated in a wide variety of devices including wireless sensor and control applications; lighting control; home automation; thermostats; occupancy sensors and home displays; environmental monitoring and proprietary wireless systems up to 2000kb/s.

In addition, support for the second-gen ZigBit wireless modules has been added to the Wireless Composer, which is available via Atmel’s Gallery. Essentially, the Wireless Composer provides devs with a performance analyzer application – complete with intuitive displays to configure, command and monitor test data originating from the target device.

“The GUI is used to configure and execute packet error rate testing, perform energy density scans on the available channels and perform FCC testing for setting the device in continuous transmission mode,” the Atmel engineering rep continued. “The Wireless Composer supports all Atmel RF devices and can be easily adapted to execute performance measurements on the customer’s board.”

ZigBit wireless modules are available at Atmel’s official store and via local distributors, while samples can be ordered using the “Free Atmel Tools” service.The modules ship in single quantities and tape & reel of 200.

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, Atmel also offers developers a lineup of ZigBit Xplained PRO extensions and USB sticks for evaluation and application development using ZigBit wireless modules.

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Basically, the ZigBit Xplained PRO extensions are designed to interface with any Atmel Xplained PRO series of evaluation boards using the standard 20pin connector. Of course, the boards can also act as a standalone wireless node using an external battery case.

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It should be noted that ZigBit Xplained PRO extensions ship preprogrammed with a bootloader and Atmel’s Radio Performance Analyzer application for easy evaluation of key features and RF performance. The same goes for ZigBit USB sticks, which are ideal for use with the Wireshark packet sniffer available in Atmel Studio 6.

The ZigBit Xplained PRO extensions and ZigBit USB sticks are available at Atmel’s official store and via local distributors.