Tag Archives: SAM L21

Atmel launches ultra-low-power platform for IoT and wearable devices


This platform integrates the ultra-low-power SAM L21 with a BTLC1000 SoC and a software ecosystem into a small, flexible form factor.


Just in time for CES 2016, Atmel unveiled a complete, ultra-low-power connected platform for cost-optimized IoT and wearable applications. This new platform features the world’s lowest power ARM Cortex-M0+, the Atmel | SMART SAM L21, and award-winning BTLC1000 Bluetooth Smart SoC, making it the perfect solution for battery-operated devices requiring activity and environment monitoring.

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Key components for the low-power connected platform — the Atmel | SMART SAM L21 MCU and the BTLC1000 — achieve industry-leading standards. The SAM L21 boasts a staggering ULPBench score of 185, the highest recorded score for any Cortex-M0+ while running the EEMBC ULPBench, the industry marker for low power, with a power consumption down to 35µA/MHz in active mode and 200nA in sleep mode. Atmel’s Bluetooth Smart solution is 25% smaller than the closest competing solution packaged in a 2.2mm x 2.1mm Wafer Level Chipscale Package, enabling designers to build ultra-small industrial designs for next-generation connected IoT and wearable applications.

Atmel’s low-power platform is a design-ready unit showcasing the company’s broad portfolio of ultra-low-power smart, secure and connected products, and partner technologies. Embodied in a 30mm x 40mm form factor, the platform integrates the Atmel | SMART ultra-low power MCU, Bluetooth Smart low-energy connectivity, capacitive touch interface, security solution, complete software platform, real-time operating system (RTOS), a BHI160 6-axis SmartHub motion sensor and a BME280 environmental sensor from Bosch Sensortec. The platform can be powered by a simple coin cell utilizing extremely low power consumption, and manufacturers can also leverage Atmel’s extensive list of sensor partners.

To simplify the design process, the platform is compatible with Atmel’s flagship Studio 7 IDE, along with Atmel START, the world’s first intuitive web-based tool for software configuration and code generation.

“As a leading provider of ultra-low power IoT solutions, we know that out-of-the-box, easy to implement reference platforms are a necessity to help accelerate the adoption of wearable applications, and enable a rapid time-to-market for new product ideas,” says Andreas Eieland, Atmel Director of Product Marketing for the Microcontroller Business Unit. “Atmel’s new reference platform allows our customers to develop differentiated solutions for cost-optimized, yet competitive, markets including healthcare, fitness, wellness and much more. We continue to help drive the IoT and wearable market with simple, ultra-low power platforms with complete hardware and software solutions.”

Rewind: 50 boards you’ll want to know about from 2015


Here’s a look at a bunch of boards that caught our attention over the last 12 months. Feel free to share your favorites below! 


“Hardware becomes a piece of culture that anyone can build upon, like a poem or a song.” – Massimo Banzi

Arduino Zero

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A 32-bit Arduino powered by the Atmel | SMART SAM D21.

Arduino Wi-Fi Shield 101

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An IoT shield with CryptoAuthentication that enables you to wirelessly connect your Arduino or Genuino with ease.

Arduino MKR1000

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A powerful board that combines the functionality of the Zero and the connectivity of the Wi-Fi Shield.

Atmel | SMART SAM L21

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A game-changing family of Cortex-M0+ MCUs that deliver power consumption down to 35 µA/MHz in active mode and 200nA in sleep mode.

BTLC1000

BTL

An ultra-low power Bluetooth Smart SoC with an integrated ARM Cortex-M0 MCU and transceiver.

Atmel | SMART SAMA5D2

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An ARM Cortex-A5-based MPU that offers great features integrated into lower pin count packages, making it ideal for applications where security, power consumption and space constraints are key considerations.

Atmel | SMART SAM S70/E70

SAM

An ARM Cortex-M7-based MCU with a floating point unit (FPU) that’s ideal for connectivity and general purpose industrial applications.

ATmegaS128

ATme

A space-ready version of the popular ATmega128.

Adafruit Feather

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A new line of development boards that, like it’s namesake, are thin, light and let your ideas fly. Expect Feather to become a new standard for portable MCU cores.

Adafruit METRO 328

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An ATmega328-driven processor packed with plenty of GPIO, analog inputs, UART, SPI and I2C, timers, and PWM galore – just enough for most simple projects.

Arduino GEMMA

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A miniature wearable board based on the ATtiny85.

Adafruit Bluefruit LE Micro

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A board that rolls the versatility of the ATmega32U4 and the wireless connectivity of the SPI Bluefruit LE Friend all into one.

SparkFun Stepoko

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An Arduino-compatible, 3-axis control solution that runs grbl software.

SparkFun SAM D21 Breakout

SAM

An Arduino-sized breakout for the ATSAMD21G18.

Bosch Sensortec BMF055

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A compact 9-axis motion sensor, which incorporates an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a magnetometer along with an Atmel | SMART SAM D20 ARM Cortex M0+ core.

BNO055 Xplained Pro

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A new extension board, which features a BNO055 intelligent 9-axis absolute orientation sensor, that connects directly to Atmel’s Xplained board making it ideal for prototyping projects for IoT apps.

SmartEverything

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A prototyping platform that combines SIGFOX, BLE, NFC, GPS and a suite of sensors. Essentially, it’s the Swiss Army knife for the IoT.

Qduino Mini

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A tiny, Arduino-compatible board with a built-in battery connector and charger built-in, as well as a fuel gauge.

Tessel 2

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A dev board with a SAM D21 coprocessor, reliable Wi-Fi, an Ethernet jack, two USB ports and a system that runs real Node.js/io.js.

LattePanda

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A Windows 10 single-board computer equipped with an Intel Atom x5-Z8300 Cherry Trail processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and an ATmega32U4 coprocessor.

LightBlue Bean+

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An Arduino-compatible board that is programmed wirelessly using Bluetooth Low Energy.

Makey Makey GO

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A thumbdrive-shaped device that can transform ordinary objects into touch pads.

Hak8or

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An uber mini, DIY board based on an Atmel | SMART AT91SAM9N12 that runs Linux via a USB drive.

Modulo

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A set of tiny modular circuit boards that takes the hassle out of building electronics.

Microduino mCookie

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A collection of small, magnetically stackable modules that can bring your LEGO projects to life.

The AirBoard

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A compact, open source, wireless and power efficient dev board designed to learn, sketch and deploy prototypes out in the field.

Autonomo

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A matchbox-sized, Arduino-compatible MCU powered by a small solar panel.

Helium

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An integrated platform that brings the power of the cloud to the edge of the network, enabling you to observe, learn and capture actionable insights from existing physical ‘things’ in your environment.

Sense HAT

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An add-on for the Raspberry Pi equipped with a gyroscope, an accelerometer, a magnetometer, a temperature sensor, a barometric pressure sensor and a humidity sensor, as well as a five-button joystick and an 8×8 RGB LED matrix — all powered by an LED driver chip and an ATtiny88 running custom firmware.

Ardhat

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A HAT with an Arduino-compatible processor that responds quickly to real-time events, while letting the Raspberry Pi do all of the heavy lifting.

Wino

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A cost-effective, Arduino-compatible board with built-in Wi-Fi.

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A little board designed for wearable devices that features a BNO055, an ATmega328P and a CR2032 coin-cell battery.

 XeThru X2M200 and X2M300

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A pair of adaptive smart sensor modules that can monitor human presence, respiration and other vital information.

LinkIt Smart 7688 Duo

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An Arduino Yún-friendly platform powered by an ATmega32U4 and MediaTek MT7688 SoC.

Piccolino

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A small, inexpensive controller with an embedded OLED display and Wi-Fi connectivity that you can program using existing tools like the Arduino IDE.

ZeroPi

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A next-generation, Arduino and Raspberry Pi-compatible dev kit for robotic motion structure systems and 3D printers that boasts an Atmel | SMART SAM D21 at its core.

CryptoShield

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A dedicated security peripheral for the Arduino and was made in collaboration with SparkFun’s previous hacker-in-residence, Josh Datko. This shield adds specialized ICs that perform various cryptographic operations which will allow you to add a hardware security layer to your Arduino project.

ZYMKEY

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An add-on board that makes it easy to secure your Raspberry Pi and Linux applications.

Flip & Click

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A two-sided, Arduino-like board with an AT91SAM3X8E for its heart.

ChipWhisperer-Lite

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An open source toolchain for embedded hardware security research including side-channel power analysis and glitching. The board uses a Spartan 6 LX9, along with a 105 MS/s ADC, low-noise amplifier, an Atmel | SMART SAM3U chip for high-speed USB communication, MOSFETs for glitch generation and an XMEGA128 as a target device.

KeyDuino

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An Arduino Leonardo-like board with built-in NFC that lets you replace your keys with any smartphone, NFC ring or proximity card.

Neutrino

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An inexpensive, open source and shrunken-down version of the Arduino Zero that boasts a 32-bit ATSAMD21G18 running at 48MHz and packing 32K of RAM.

WIOT

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An open source, Arduino-compatible board with an ATmega32U4, ESP8266 Wi-Fi module and lithium-ion battery support.

Obscura

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An ATmega32U4-powered, 8-bit synthesizer that enables you to create NES, C64 and Amiga-style chiptune music by simply connecting a MIDI device.

Zodiac FX

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An OpenFlow switch that is powerful enough to develop world-changing SDN apps yet small enough to sit on your desk. Based on an Atmel | SMART SAM4E, the unit includes four 10/100 Fast Ethernet ports with integrated magnetics and indicator LEDs along with a command line interface accessible via USB virtual serial port.

Goldilocks Analogue

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A board that brings sophisticated analog and audio input, output and storage capabilities to the Arduino environment.

NodeIT

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A super small and expandable IoT system for Makers.

Pixel

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A smart display that features an Atmel | SMART SAM D21 MCU operating at 48MHz and packing 32K of RAM, along with a 1.5” 128×128 pixel OLED screen and a microSD slot.

SDuino

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An Arduino crammed inside an SD card.

… and how could we not mention this?

The WTFDuino!

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Do you feel like today’s MCUs are too simple and sensible? Well, one Maker decided to take a different approach by “undesigning” the Arduino into a banana-shaped processor whose form factor is impossible to breadboard and whose pins are incorrectly labelled.

 

Atmel’s second 2015 FAE training comes to an end


Taking a look back at the final FAE training of the year… 


We couldn’t have found a more appropriate, well-suited place to host our final internal three-day technical training of 2015 than Shenzhen, China. The city is constantly innovating, with IoT startups popping up on seemingly each street corner, throughout every tech shop, factory and Makerspace. This is a good context to present product updates, show off design tricks and run workshops from early morning to late night. We also network with old friends and make new ones, which further strengthens the teamwork, extends our knowledge base and builds confidence to help our customers bring their ideas to life.

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The buzz of the week was the highly-anticipated, full-day workshop on our uber mini Bluetooth Low Energy chipset (the BTLC1000) with overviews of the supported protocol stacks, silicon and software architecture, introduction from product marketing, as well as a hands-on session using Atmel’s standard Xplained development boards, the recently-launched Atmel Studio 7 and Atmel START.

At Atmel, we spread our love equally between wireless and low power. The world’s lowest power 32-bit MCU, the SAM L21, even saw the birth of a new sibling: the SAM L22. This particular board is feature-compatible with the SAM L21, but comes with an LCD controller and some nifty power-save features.

When it comes to IoT applications, performance plays an integral role so we spent time on the new low-power modes and security capabilities of the SAMA5D2. FAEs in a hurry could also complete the entire workshop and connect the SAMA5D2 to a cloud with the WILC1000 Wi-Fi module.

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To top off the event, we saw the debut of more wireless technologies with a complete 6LoWPAN stack emphasising security and authentication with Atmel’s wide range of CryptoAuthentication engines.

Still wondering if IoT is a big thing at Atmel? Well, duh! Between low-power MCUs, all major wireless connectivity protocols, security layers and a cloud ecosystem in place, we’ve got each of the necessary pillars covered.

Big thanks to Atmel’s training team, distributors, and of course, FAEs for making this event such a great success! Until next time!

Why should you care about securing your IoT devices?


In this blog, Zymbit’s Scott Miller reviews some of the security features of Zymbit.Orange, how they work, and more importantly, why they matter.


Internet of Things (IoT) devices are, by nature, light on resources, diverse, widely proliferated and often at the ‘edge’ of the network beyond the control of any network administration; perfect ingredients for digital chaos and anarchy!

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Cloud and big data applications depend on the quality of the data they ingest and key factors in quality are the authenticity, integrity and privacy of data they collect from the edge for the network. For the IoT to get real sustainable traction, the data coming from such edge devices must be “trusted” — from the core silicon all the way to the data services.

Fortunately, the Zymbit platform addresses many of the common security threats found in real world applications, whether using embedded ARM CPUs or Maker development boards. For Raspberry Pi and Arduino developers, Zymbit.Orange IoT motherboard makes it easy for developers to implement applications with secure access to communications interfaces as well as cryptographic services. What’s more, Zymbit.Orange can also be used standalone.

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In this blog, Zymbit VP of Embedded Scott Miller reviews some of the key security features of Zymbit.Orange, how they work, and more importantly, why they matter.

Who Should Read This Blog?

  • Anyone building IoT devices who is not a security expert, and doesn’t have the time or budget to become one;
  • Anyone who has deployed a connected embedded design;
  • Any Maker using Raspberry Pi or Arduino at the edge of the network… and now needs to add security.

Security Considerations for IoT Edge Devices

Securing IoT devices requires a system architecture that addresses some fundamental needs. Let’s take a look at them:

Data Privacy

Generally speaking, data should be kept private if it is integral to a proprietary process or if it is personal in nature. In each case, the data must be protected from prying eyes using encryption techniques that extend from the publishing source — the IoT edge device — to the cloud and onwards to subscribers. Additionally, the administrator of the data should be able to select who or what is able to subscribe to the data stream.

Data Authentication

Most data transactions/interactions are based upon the assumption that you know that the data really came from the presumed edge device. But how can you be sure? And, how can you be sure that your subscribers are receiving that authentic data?

In order for data to be trusted, it must be proven that it originated from a given edge device at the time that it was reported to have been recorded. Data authentication can be accomplished in many ways, but a digital signature is generally regarded as one of the most secure. One application of a digital signature applied to a timestamped block of data involves computing a one-way hash (e.g. SHA-256) of the timestamped data block and then asymmetrically encrypting the hash using a private key. When the data is received at the cloud, the hash of the data is computed and is compared to the hash that accompanied the data block after it is decrypted using the public key. If the hashes are the same, the data is optionally stored on the Zymbit cloud server along with the signature and transferred to the subscribers in a manner similar to the way the edge device transferred it to the cloud.

IP Protection & Threats from Counterfeits

Counterfeit products have an adverse economic impact on businesses and they also introduce serious vulnerability into enterprise systems. In the industrial sectors there have been numerous examples of ‘black market’ spares and generic devices that have introduced back doors into large scale enterprise systems, so much so that the U.S. Government has its own hotline for reporting such breaches.

Zymbit.Orange employs a number of architectural strategies with the goal of protecting software IP:

  • Isolate embedded services in special purpose hardware (e.g. dedicated embedded CPUs) so that it becomes harder to “hack & crack” an application running on an app CPU:

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  • Some of these embedded services include:
    • Securely transacting data through otherwise unsecured channels:
      • Ethernet
      • Wi-Fi
      • Cellphone modem
      • Low-power radio
    • Interacting with and controlling attached user interfaces
    • Collecting physical data from sensors that are serviced by the embedded services hardware cluster
    • Generic encryption/decryption and data authentication/validation
    • Application image update and application health monitoring
  • These isolated embedded services require valid credentials in order to authenticate the users (e.g. applications running on Arduino or Raspberry Pi) of those services.
  • The special purpose CPUs must have their hard programming paths (e.g. JTAG or SWD) disabled so that the firmware that runs on them cannot be hijacked, replaced or corrupted.
  • Tamper event detection (e.g. attempts to open the case or manipulate the real time clock) — when a tamper event is detected various actions can be taken. Some of these actions might include:
    • Recording the tamper event
    • Deliberately “bricking” the system by erasing critical firmware
    • Erasing critical data which would take the system offline
    • The above actions can be configured by the system administrator
  • Application designers must have the means to encrypt and attach digital signatures for the application images they produce. Image decryption and signature validation are accomplished using the embedded services mentioned above.
  • Software updates can be exclusively disseminated via a secure cloud network utilizing encryption and image authentication.

Malicious Attack Defense

Although we aren’t hearing too much about it yet in the press, malicious attacks will soon be launched on IoT devices in a manner similar to PC viruses and cell phones today. Motivations will range from ‘hackers because they can’ to corporate espionage to cyber terrorism. And the the consequences of such attacks can be much more serious than data loss; many IoT devices interact with the physical world and that can cause bodily harm even loss of life. If you think this is sensationalist then wait until the first examples begin to surface.

The good news is that the serious innovators amongst us are thinking about this and looking for solid and practical solutions. Malicious attacks can be prevented or made very difficult to achieve using the same countermeasures we reviewed earlier in IP protection.

Securing Your Edge Devices – Raspberry Pi and Arduino, Too

We love the accessibility and affordability of open source devices and support the communities that are building amazing applications using Arduino and Raspberry Pi. Yet neither was designed with core security in mind and consequently, before applications can be scaled, their vulnerabilities need to be addressed. So let’s first explain their security shortcomings:

Security Vulnerabilities – Raspberry Pi:

  • No built in cryptographic engine
    • While the Pi can perform encryption in software, overall performance suffers as a result.
  • Removable SD card – no physical security
    • This means that an attacker with direct access to a Raspberry Pi based device can steal and clone the software and data on the card or deliberately corrupt the contents of the card.
  • No secure key store
    • Because the SD card is removable and the SD card is the only means of storing anything on the Pi, shared static keys and private certificates are now completely viewable and modifiable. Even if one chooses to encrypt a data volume for key and certificate storage, the key for decrypting the data volume must be exposed at some point. This fact makes data authentication on the Pi infeasible.
  • Susceptibility to power cycling exploits
    • Because there is frequently no intrusion detection or monitoring, simple repeated power cycling of the device may lead to failure and thus denial of service.
  • Lack of real-time clock
    • Prevents the system from responding properly in case of communications outage.

Security Vulnerabilities – Arduino:

  • No built in cryptographic engine
    • Crypto shields are available for purchase, but packaging Arduino shields tends to be very clumsy and difficult to deploy, not just due to the physical size issues associated with stacking shields but also because the Arduino shield framework suffers from resource bus (SPI/I2C) and GPIO pin allocation issues, so simply stacking a new shield on an Arduino may prove to be impossible when other shields are stacked.
  • No way to validate or secure the Arduino executable image if the debugging/programming interface is available. Even if an Arduino based “thing” had a crypto shield attached, an attacker with direct access could potentially:
    • Corrupt or erase the executable image.
    • Gain access to shared keys stored in RAM or flash.
    • “Patch” in their own code which would allow them to take control of the system.
  • Many Arduinos have very limited amounts of RAM and flash, making it extremely difficult to implement robust, secure communications solutions.

Zymbit has solved these problems for Raspberry Pi and Arduino developers by implementing an isolated security framework on the Zymbit.Orange IoT motherboard.

Adding Security With the Zymbit.Orange IoT Motherboard

At the heart for the Zymbit.Orange architecture is a Secure Services Cluster that isolates edge facing application CPUs from each other and from the outbound network connection. Isolation is achieved using a combination of data security (authenticate and encrypt), power security (turn off the CPU) and physical security (tamper proof and enclosure intrusion detection).

Security Orange Mother Board

We use Atmel silicon for all three aspects of security because their solutions are well thought out, affordable and have good performance characteristics.

Secure Silicon Review

The security services cluster within Zymbit.Orange is comprised of three blocks:

Secure Communications Hub

  • Atmel | SMART SAM E70 – high performance advanced connectivity CPU
  • Primary purpose:
    • Provides secure access to communications and UI interfaces
    • Performs tamper detection
    • Provides secure software updates for applications processors via the Zymbit cloud
  • CPU features:
    • 300MHz Cortex-M7
    • AES encryption engine
    • Low latency TRNG (True Random Number Generator)
    • Integrity Check Monitor (ICM) for generating and comparing digests of certain memory areas

Supervisory MPU

  • Atmel | SMART SAML21J17A – ultra low-power microcontroller unit
  • Primary purpose:
    • Power supervision and monitoring
    • Real-time clock
    • Secure programming and debugging interface for the on-board Arduino Zero application CPU
  • CPU features:
    • 48MHz Cortex-M0+
    • AES encryption engine
    • Low latency True Random Number Generator (TRNG)

Secure Key Generation and Storage

  • Atmel ATECC508
  • Primary purpose:
    • Asymmetric (public key) crypto
    • Digital signature generation/validation
    • Password validation
  • Features:
    • Secure key storage
    • Asymmetric encryption
    • Ephemeral key generation

Using these components, Zymbit.Orange provides a secure interface to all essential services for user applications running on the on-board Arduino Zero and/or Raspberry Pi. The dedicated on-board hardware significantly increases the overall security of these platforms without interfering with user applications. It is just as easy to develop an Arduino or Linux project on Zymbit.Orange from scratch or to adapt an existing application to take advantage of the on-board services because they do not interfere with the application CPU programmability.

Zymbit unveils its pre-configured hardware and software IoT platform


Zymbit launches the first pre-configured hardware software platform for building, connecting and publishing IoT projects.


To kick off Maker Week, Zymbit has unveiled the first three products within its integrated Internet of Things (IoT) suite: the Zymbit Orange edge device, the Zymbit Iris interactive display and Zymbit Connect software. As previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, the platform is the first pre-configured hardware and software solution that is a finished, secure, out-of-the-box-ready product allowing seriously creative Makers and developers to get their connected prototypes off their desk and into the market in just days, not months.

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“Like the motherboard was to personal computing, Zymbit Orange is to the IoT market,” said Phil Strong, CEO of Zymbit.  “We’re giving Makers the first pre-packaged hardware and software platform built upon open components, so they can skip the painful prototype stage and start acquiring real world data and publishing it securely in a day. Zymbit takes care of the tough technology problems freeing seriously creative people to focus on bringing their IoT ideas to market quickly.”

The newly-revealed platform is comprised of three components:

  • Connectivity software simplifies the connection and sharing of secured data and the management of remote devices. Its service enables users to SSH to their gadgets, whether they are on a desk or across the country. Publishing through Zymbit’s Pub/Sub Engine lets Makers collect and share data one-to-one or one-to-many, with or without subscriber authentication.

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  • Orange hardware makes it super easy to customize and interact at the edge of the network for data acquisition and new user interfaces by integrating all essential functions onto a single, Atmel packed motherboard. This includes an Atmel | SMART SAM L21 CPU for device authentication, power and communications, a SAM D21 MCU for I/O applications, an ATECC508 crypto engine for enhanced security and an ATWINC1500 Wi-Fi controller. Ideal for those creating next-gen projects, the modular board is compatible with Atmel Xplained Pro wingboards, Arduino shields, Raspberry Pi B+, as well as ZigBee, cellular and POE options.

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  • Iris offers a new way to interact with the Internet and physical world through color, touch and scale. This unit features one 128×64 OLED display, four 96×48 OLED soft keys and a 9×9 LED matrix with a fully-equipped RGB perimeter to indicate high-level conditions.

What’s nice is that Zymbit eases the complexity of getting an idea to market by leveraging open technology (such as the incredibly popular Arduino, Raspberry Pi and Linux), open developer communities (GitHub), and open application communities to encourage the quick expansion of smart ideas and products.

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At the moment, the Santa Barbara-based startup is devising an open architecture product with enough flexibility to be suitable for most applications, from a single installation to a global deployment. Meanwhile, with the emergence of more connected gizmos and gadgets, security remains a less visible but very real barrier to mass IoT adoption. In an effort to combat these worries, Zymbit addresses privacy with a multi-level security architecture that includes silicon, hardware and software.

In line with their announcement, the company has also launched a contest to find the top five most inspiring and impactful IoT projects. Makers are encouraged to post their concepts to the Zymbit website, while the selected winners will each receive the first five Zymbit Orange devices to scale their projects.

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Interested? Head over to Zymbit’s official site to learn more, and don’t forget to come swing by our Maker Faire Bay Area booth for a hands-on demo of the platform.

4 reasons why Atmel is ready to ride the IoT wave


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


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

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

Atmel and IoT (Internet of Things)

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

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

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

1. A Complete IoT Recipe

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

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

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

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

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

2. Low Power Leadership

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

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

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

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

3. Coping with Digital Insecurity

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

Atmel offers embedded security solutions for IoT designs.

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

4. Power of the Platform

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

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

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

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

Interested? You may also want to read:

Atmel’s L21 MCU for IoT Tops Low Power Benchmark

Atmel’s New Car MCU Tips Imminent SoC Journey

Atmel’s Sensor Hub Ready to Wear


Majeed Ahmad is author of books Smartphone: Mobile Revolution at the Crossroads of Communications, Computing and Consumer Electronics and The Next Web of 50 Billion Devices: Mobile Internet’s Past, Present and Future.

Atmel’s SAM L21 MCU for IoT tops low power benchmark


SAM L21 MCUs consume less than 940nA with full 40kB SRAM retention, real-time clock and calendar, and 200nA in the deepest sleep mode.


The Internet of Things (IoT) juggernaut has unleashed a flurry of low-power microcontrollers, and in that array of energy-efficient MCUs, one product has earned the crown jewel of being the lowest-power Cortex M-based solution with power consumption down to 35µA/MHz in active mode and 200nA in sleep mode.

How do we know if Atmel’s SAM L21 microcontroller can actually claim the leadership in ultra-low-power processing movement? The answer lies in the EEMBC ULPBench power benchmark that was introduced last year. It ensures a level playing field in executing the benchmark by having the MCU perform 20,000 clock cycles of active work once a second and sleep the remainder of the second.

 

 ULPBench shows SAM L21 is lower power than any of its competitor's M0+ class chips

ULPBench shows SAM L21 is lower power than any of its competitor’s M0+ class chips.

Atmel has released the ultra-low-power SAM L21 MCU it demonstrated at Electronica in Munich, Germany back in November 2014. Architectural innovations in the SAM L21 MCU family enable low-power peripherals — including timers, serial communications and capacitive touch sensing — to remain powered and running while the rest of the system is in a reduced power mode. That further reduces power consumption for always-on applications such as fire alarms, healthcare, medical and connected wearables.

Next, the 32-bit ARM-based MCU portfolio combines ultra-low-power with Flash and SRAM that are large enough to run both the application and wireless stacks. Collectively, these three features make up the basic recipe for battery-powered mobile and IoT devices for extending their battery life from years to decades. Moreover, they reduce the number of times batteries need to be changed in a plethora of IoT applications.

Low Power Leap of Faith

Atmel’s SAM L21 microcontrollers have achieved a staggering 185.8 ULPBench score, which is way ahead of runner-up TI’s SimpleLink C26xx microcontroller family that scored 143.6. The SAM L21 microcontrollers consume less than 940nA with full 40kB SRAM retention, real-time clock and calendar, and 200nA in the deepest sleep mode. According to Atmel spokesperson, it comes down to one-third the power of competing solutions.

Markus Levy, President and Founder of EEMBC, credits Atmel’s low-power feat to its proprietary picoPower technology and the company’s low-power expertise in utilizing DC-DC conversion for voltage monitoring. Atmel’s picoPower technology employs flexible clocking options and short wake-up time with multiple wake-up sources from even the deepest sleep modes.

ULPBench aims to provide developers with a reliable methodology to test MCUs

ULPBench aims to provide developers with a reliable methodology to test MCUs.

In other words, Atmel has taken the low-power game beyond architectural improvements to the CPU while optimizing nearly every peripheral to operate in standalone mode and then use a minimum number of transistors to complete the given task. Most lower-power ARM chips simply disable the clock to various parts of the device. The SAM L21 microcontroller, on the other hand, turns off power to those chip parts; hence, there is no leakage current in thousands of transistors in that part.

Here is a brief highlight of Atmel’s low-power development efforts that now encompass almost every peripheral in an MCU device:

Sleep Modes

Sleep modes not only gate away the clock signal to stop switching consumption, but also remove the power from sub-domains to fully eliminate leakage. Atmel also employs SRAM back-biasing to reduce leakage in sleep modes.

Consider a simple application where the temperature in a room is monitored using a temperature sensor with the analog-to-digital converter (ADC). In order to reduce the power consumption, the CPU would be put to sleep and wake up periodically on interrupts from a real-time counter (RTC). The measured sensor data is checked against a predefined threshold to decide on further action. If the data does not exceed the threshold, the CPU will be put back to sleep waiting for the next RTC interrupt.

SleepWalking

SleepWalking is a technology that enables peripherals to request a clock when needed to wake-up from sleep modes and perform tasks without having to power up the CPU Flash and other support systems. For instance, Atmel’s ultra-low-power capacitive touch-sensing peripheral can run in all operating modes and supports wake-up on a touch.

For the temperature monitoring application, as mentioned above, this means that the ADC’s peripheral clock will only be running when the ADC is converting. When the ADC receives the overflow event from the RTC, it will request its generic clock from the generic clock controller and peripheral clock will stop as soon as the ADC conversion is completed.

Event System

The Event System allows peripherals to communicate directly without involving the CPU and thus enables peripherals to work together to solve complex tasks using minimal gates. It allows system developers to chain events in software and use an event to trigger a peripheral without CPU involvement.

Again, taking temperature monitor as a use case, the RTC must be set to generate an overflow event, which is routed to the ADC by configuring the Event System. The ADC must be configured to start a conversion when it receives an event. By using the Event System, an RTC overflow can trigger an ADC conversion without waking up the CPU. Moreover, the ADC can be configured to generate an interrupt if the threshold is exceeded, and the interrupt will wake up the CPU.

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Low Power MCU Use Case

Paul Rako has mentioned a sensor monitor in his recent post in Atmel’s Bits & Pieces blog. Rako writes in his post titled “The SAM L21 pushes the boundaries of low power MCUs” about this sensor monitor being asleep 99.99 percent of the time, waking up once a day to take a measurement and send it wirelessly to a host. Such tasks can be conveniently handled by an 8-bit device.

However, moving to IoT applications, which constitute protocol stacks, there is number crunching involved and that requires a faster ARM-class 32-bit chip. So, for battery-powered IoT applications, Rako makes the case for 32-bit ARM-based chip that can wake up, do its thing, and go back to sleep. If a high-current chip wakes up 10 times faster but uses twice the power, it will still use less energy and less charge than the slower chip.

Next, Rako presents sensor fusion hub as a case study in which the device saves power by skipping the radio chip to send the data from each sensor and instead uses the ARM-based microcontroller that does the math and pre-processing to combine the raw data from all sensors and then assembles the result as a simple chunk of data.

Atmel has scored an important design victory in the ongoing low-power game that is now prevalent in the rapidly expanding IoT market. Atmel already boasts credentials in the connectivity and security domains — the other two key IoT building blocks. Its connectivity solutions cover multiple wireless arenas — Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Zigbee and 6LoWPan — to enable IoT communications.

Likewise, Atmel’s CryptoAuthentication devices come with protected hardware key storage and are available with SHA256, AES128 or ECC256/283 cryptography. The IoT triumvirate of low power consumption, broad connectivity portfolio and crypto engineering puts Atmel in a strong position in the promising new market of IoT that is increasingly demanding low power portfolio of MCUs to be matched with high performance.


Majeed Ahmad is author of books Smartphone: Mobile Revolution at the Crossroads of Communications, Computing and Consumer Electronics and The Next Web of 50 Billion Devices: Mobile Internet’s Past, Present and Future.