Tag Archives: Sensors

The power of the platform in IoT and wearable designs

What IoT developers want? A candid look at the wearable designs shows how platform approach is helping design engineers confront daunting challenges in the IoT arena.

“Providers become platforms” is the second most prominent finding of the Forbes story entitled “The Five Most Disruptive Innovations at CES 2016.” Interestingly, all the five disrupting forces outlined in the story relate to the Internet of Things blaze one way or the other. A coincidence? Not really.

CES 2016 was mostly about demonstrating how the advent of a connected world is possible with the creation of an array of smart and interconnected devices. However, the IoT juggernaut, while exploring the true value of connectivity, also requires new business models, which in turn, makes time-to-market even more critical.

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Take smart wearable devices, for instance, which were arguably the biggest story on the CES floor this year. A wearable design comprises of one or more sensors, connectivity solution like a radio controller, a processor to carry out system-level functions, storage to log information, display and battery. And what IoT and wearable developers want?

A platform that allows them to facilitate the finished products quickly and efficiently. The design engineers simply can’t afford experimentation with the basic blocks as they need a precedence of basic hardware and software functions working efficiently and smoothly.

Anatomy of Wearable Design

First and foremost, wearable designs confront power constraints even greater than mobile devices. Not surprisingly, ultra-low-power MCUs lie at the heart of wearable designs because they combine flash, on-chip RAM and multiple interface options while intelligently turning power on and off during activity and idle periods, respectively.

The next design conundrum relates to the form factor because these devices are being worn, so they have to be small and light. That, in turn, demands even smaller circuit boards with a greater level of integration. Enter the IoT platforms.

Amid power, performance and form factor considerations, the choice of a right IoT platform means that designers will most likely get the basic building blocks right. And that will allow IoT developers to focus on the application, differentiation and customer needs.

That’s what Atmel is aiming for with the launch of a reference platform for cost-optimized IoT and wearable applications. Atmel’s ultra-low-power platform, which was announced over the week of CES, is aimed at battery-operated wearable devices requiring activity and environment monitoring.

Power has a critical role in the key IoT building blocks

IoT Developer Platform

Below are the key highlights of Atmel’s platform offering for the IoT and wearable designs.

Processor: Microcontroller’s low-power requirements make it a likely choice in wearable designs; MCUs that communicate and process sensor inputs draw very little power from the battery while asleep. Remember the L21 microcontroller that made headlines back in 2015 after leading the low-power benchmarks conducted by EEMBC ULPBench.

Atmel’s SMART SAM L21 MCU — based on ARM’s lowest power Cortex-M0+ processing core — scored 185 in the benchmark and was able to bring the power consumption down to 35µA/MHz in active mode and 200nA in sleep mode.

Communications: The BTLC1000 is an ultra-low power Bluetooth Smart (BLE 4.1) system-on-chip (SoC) that comes integrated with ARM Cortex-M0 core, transceiver, modem, MAC, power amplifier, TR switch, and power management unit (PMU). It can be used as a BLE link controller or data pump with external host MCU or as a standalone applications processor with embedded BLE connectivity and external memory.

Atmel claims that its BTLC1000 Bluetooth solution — a 2.2mm x 2.1mm wafer level chip scale package — is 25 percent smaller than the nearest competitor solution. And Electronic Products magazine has corroborated that premise by calling it the lowest power BLE chipset that consumes less than 4mA in RX and less than 3mA in TX at 0dbm.

Security: Atmel is among the first chipmakers to offer specialized security hardware for the IoT market. Its microcontrollers come integrated with anti-cloning, authentication and encryption features.

Display: Wearable devices often show data such as time, measurements, maps and notifications on a display, and here, capacitive touch provides a very intuitive form of interfacing with the information. Atmel’s MCUs can directly manage capacitive buttons through software libraries that the firm provides.

Furthermore, Atmel offers standalone display controllers that support capacitive button, slider and wheel (BSW) implementations. These touch solutions can be tuned to moisture environments, a key requirement for many wearable applications. Atmel’s maXTouch capacitive touchscreen controller technology is a leading interface solution for its low-power consumption, precision and sensitivity.

Sensors: The development framework for the wearable designs features BHI160 6-axis SmartHub motion sensor and BME280 environment sensor from Bosch. It’s worth noting that Bosch is one of Atmel’s sensor partners. However, wearable product designers are free to pick sensors of their choice from Atmel’s other sensor partners.

Software support: The software package includes RTOS, Atmel’s Studio 7 IDE and Atmel START, which Atmel claims is the world’s first intuitive web-based tool for software configuration and code generation. Moreover, Atmel Software Framework (ASF) offers communication libraries for Bluetooth radios.

Atmel's developer platform for IoT and wearable designs

The truth is that the design game has moved from hardware and software functional blocks to complete developer ecosystems since the iPhone days. Now the ecosystem play is taking platforms to a whole new level in the design diversity that comes with the IoT products.

The choice of a right IoT platform means that designers will most likely get the basic building blocks right, and then, they can focus on the application and customer needs. It also provides design engineers space for differentiation, a critical factor in making wearable devices a consumer success.



GeoThings lets you bring your outdoor IoT ideas to life

GeoThings is an ATmega328P based, solar-powered platform for creating outdoor Internet-connected sensors and hardware.

Has an awesome outdoor IoT project ever come to mind yet you were left unsure how to bring that idea to life? Well, one Miami-based startup has developed a powerful platform that will alleviate all the hassle and allow you to seamlessly connect your gadget to the web in no time.


Meet GeoThingsan Arduino-compatible board that comes fully equipped with GPS, solar power and wireless connectivity, enabling you to monitor, control, automate and explore countless things outside all from the comfort of your home, office or even on the go.

Measuring only 1.5” x 1.7” x  0.4” in size and weighing less than an ounce, this super compact board boasts ultra-low power consumption. With an ATmega328P at its core, built-in 2G/3G and GPS with antenna, a USB port for programming and charging, a microSD socket and a 1000mAh battery, all housed inside a rainproof case.

Not only compatible with Arduino, GeoThings supports more than 200 different sensors. And thanks to its solar capabilities, you can run these sensors comfortably without ever worrying about recharging or batteries.


What’s more, you can easily integrate your device with the GeoThings API, as well as develop your own app either using of the platform’s open source libraries or its accompanying app, GeoApp. Simply connect any sensor to the web and observe your data in real-time.

“Our GeoThings Cloud Platform is our online tool that allows you to work with our REST API and mobile apps, interact with IFTTT, etc. It enables you to see your geo data over the web,” the startup notes.

Each GeoThings unit comes preloaded with a global SIM card as well as three months of their basic data plan (1MB/month). Those requiring more data can select an affordable package from one of the platform’s carrier partners.


As to what you can create with GeoThings, the sky is the limit. Some sample use cases already include tracking your pets and receiving a message if they wander off, monitoring your garden soil and turning on the irrigation system when dry, keeping tabs on your swimming pool and activating the filter, as well as securing your car and receiving an alert if tampered with.

“GeoThings works with all outdoor things. Small, almost invisible, solar powered, GPS-powered and mobile chip linked. It easily attaches to cars, trucks, gardens, boats, pets, wildlife, helium balloons, floating devices, waterproof,” the team explains. “Remote travel projects are thrilling and easy. Mountains, wind, pollution, stratosphere, birds, trees, trips, sea, travel… project kits are easy to assemble and launch.”

From analyzing air pollution and radiation to detecting water leaks and traffic congestion, GeoThings does it all. The question is: Are you ready to bring your outdoor IoT idea to life? If so, check out the platform on Kickstarter, where its team is currently seeking $190,000. Delivery is slated for April 2016.

Bikiros is a smart guardian for your child’s bike

Bikiros is a smart bicycle accessory and app that ensures children are safe while learning proper riding skills.

Learning to ride a bike is one of the biggest milestones and challenges in your child’s life. But the question is, how can you teach your kid to bike while having a peace of mind? With cycling attributed as the top cause of children’s injuries, parents need a device that helps with safety awareness and teaches their children how to maneuver their bikes without getting hurt. This is a problem that one Hong Kong startup is looking to solve. Bikiros monitors, evaluates and educates children on biking safety.


The accessory uses four key features to teach children to be better cyclists: keeping an eye on risky biking behaviors, predicting immediate threats in the area, warning when risks are detected, and incentivizing through rewards and games. Risky biking behaviors could include late braking, tailgating, handling obstacles, high-speed cornering and more. After sensing dangerous behavior, Bikiros will then warn the biker by alerting them. After evaluating the rider’s weaknesses, its accompanying app will educate through games, comics and cartoons to teach the child better skills and ways to respond to risks while riding.

There are three components to the safety riding accessory: a rear, wheel and front module. The rear module is packed with an ARM Cortex-M3 MCU, supersonic sensors, a six-axis accelerometer and gyroscope, a warning LED, GSM and Bluetooth connectivity, GPS and a 6000mAh battery. The wheel module is equipped with a six-axis accelerometer and gyroscope speedometer. Lastly, the front boasts another ARM-based MCU and three supersonic sensors, along with a horn and buzzer, a photoresistor, and a temperature and humidity sensor.


The sensor-laden device is able to perceive all kinds of behaviors and match them according to the current biking environment to best determine if there is a potential risk that requires looking into. Through a proprietary algorithm and the embedded supersonic sensors, Bikiros can accurately pinpoint objects that may pose threats to the biker and take the necessary actions. And should impact be detected, it will trigger followup procedures to ensure help is on its way.

Tomy Chan, CEO of Bikiros, founded the company to provide others with second chances. He stated, “Last year, I was paralyzed and hospitalized for 11 hours due to thyrotoxic periodic paralysis. I felt like I was given a second chance and inspired to do what I believe in, technology could help to protect lives. And safety awareness is most important as bad choices leads to accidents and regrets.”

Want to keep your children safe? Head over to Bikiros’ Indiegogo campaign, where the startup is raising $45,000. Their estimated delivery date is set for March 2016.

Density lets you keep track of foot traffic in real-time

Yelp tells you about the quality of a restaurant, Density tells you how long the wait will be.

When you’re in a hurry or you’re starving, a long line is the last thing you want to see when you arrive at a business or restaurant. Let’s face it, a device that would tell you how crowded a place is would save a lot of time and trouble. One Bay Area startup has developed a “people counter” that does just that in a surprising way.


Density sensors are installed at a customer’s network of locations, such as a college campus, a gym or a coffee shop. The device then detects anonymous activity and foot traffic when someone passes in front of its sensors, allowing data from visitors going through entryways to be collected, combined and made available to developers through the Density API. This enables generated real-time and historical information to be integrated anywhere.

Density is comprised of two components — a base and a sensor — and uses infrared light to measure movement. With its specific design, it can’t capture personally identifiable information (like surveillance cameras do) about people that it tracks. Not to mention, it’s much cheaper and more compact.


Once a business, museum or university has signed on to Density, it can create an app using the location data that best suits their customers’ needs to help drive business in their direction, at no cost to the consumer. In fact, it has already been deployed at Sacramento-based startup Requested to allow users to ask for discounts at food stops, Workfrom to keep tabs on seating capacity information at remote working spaces, and fitness centers on the campus of UC Berkeley to monitor equipment usage.

The possibilities are truly endless: a restaurant could detect and broadcast open tables, bars can distribute coupons when foot traffic is low or supermarkets can be better prepared for congested checkout counters.

Those wishing to purchase location data from Density can do so for $25 per month, per location while the hardware and installation are free. Interested? Check out Density’s official page here for more.

CMYK 4.0 is a smart, foldable electric bike for your morning commute

This smart electronic bike will let you know the fastest, easiest and safest way to work.

Are you among the millions of city dwellers that ride a bike to work in the morning? If you’re looking to make your commute from home to the office a bit more efficient, then CMYK 4.0 may be for you. Created by New York City-based startup Brooklyness, the foldable electronic bike will automatically reroute you should there be any construction, traffic jams or pothole-filled streets in your way.


The smart bike is packed with several features including advanced hardware and mobile integration. CYMK 4.0 is equipped with a gyroscope and an accelerometer to analyze the terrain and map the road, a cadence sensor to determine how fast you are pedaling and to adjust parameters for a smooth ride, a built-in heart rate monitor on its grips to track performance, and an Atmel MCU to process the information gathered by each of its sensors.

An accompanying app is tasked with crunching the collected data and displaying it on your smartphone over Bluetooth. What’s more, the e-bike boasts a phone charger directly on its handlebar so you can power your mobile device on-the-go, a 24V lithium battery, and a 250W motor that allows for 30 miles of assisted riding on a single charge.


Not only does the e-bike’s embedded sensors determine the condition of the road as you ride it, upon getting to their destination, the app will prompt you to answer a few questions about the traveled course. The more people riding, the more data that can be garnered to generate a map of the best routes to take. This can help you decide which way to go in order to avoid Greenwich Village’s cobblestones, for example.

Its app also enables you keep tabs on performance by measuring things like calories burned, average heart rate, and peaks and lows so you can target which areas of your daily commute to increase speed. Aside from your smartphone, a web-based dashboard lets you take a closer look at battery rate of discharge, charging time and how power consumption changes along your route. You can even plan your commute and socialize with other cyclists to organize a group ride or to receive helpful advice.


Designed with safety and security in mind, the CMYK 4.0 includes an electronic lock that will sound if the bike is ever moved, an RFID tag for easy locating, app-controlled headlights for visibility, and laser beams that project a virtual lane on the road. Beyond that, the two-wheeler is super portable, weighing just 25 pounds and can be folded up to make for easily carrying on public transit or stowing away at work.

Looking for a new means of transportation to work? Hurry over to CMYK’s Indiegogo page, where the Brooklyness team is currently seeking $30,000. However, you’ll have to wait until March 2016 for delivery.

This 3D-printed smart cap can sense spoiled milk

Researchers have 3D-printed a smart cap for a milk carton that detects signs of spoilage using embedded sensors.

3D printing has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, ranging from affordable prosthetics and medical implants to on-demand toys and cars. However, a group of UC Berkeley engineers have pointed out, one thing that was missing up until now was the ability to produce sensitive electronic components. So in collaboration with researchers at Taiwan’s National Chiao Tung University, the team has set out to expand the already impressive portfolio of 3D printing technology to include electrical components, like resistors, inductors, capacitors and integrated wireless electrical sensing systems. In order put this advancement to the test, they have printed a wireless smart milk carton cap capable of detecting signs of spoilage using embedded sensors.

(Source: Sung-Yueh Wu)

(Source: Sung-Yueh Wu)

“Our paper describes the first demonstration of 3D printing for working basic electrical components, as well as a working wireless sensor,” explained Liwei Lin, a professor of mechanical engineering and co-director of the Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center. These findings were published in a new open-access journal in the Nature Publishing Group entitled “Microsystems & Nanoengineering. “One day, people may simply download 3D-printing files from the Internet with customized shapes and colors and print out useful devices at home.”

While polymers are typically used in 3D printing given their ability to be flexed into a variety of shapes, they are poor conductors of electricity. To get around this, the researchers devised a system using both polymers and wax. They removed the wax, leaving hollow tubes into which liquid metal was injected and then cured. The team used silver in their latest experiments.

The shape and design of the metal determined the function of different electrical components. For instance, thin wires acted as resistors, and flat plates were made into capacitors. The electronic component was then embedded into a plastic cap to detect signs of spoilage in a milk carton. A capacitor and inductor were added to the smart cap to form a resonant circuit. The engineers flipped the carton to allow a bit of milk into the capacitor, and left the carton unopened for 36 hours at room temperature.

(Source: Sung-Yueh Wu)

(Source: Sung-Yueh Wu)

From there, the circuit sensed the changes in electrical signals that accompany increased levels of bacteria. These changes were monitored with a wireless radio-frequency probe at the start of the experiment and every 12 hours thereafter. Upon completion, the smart cap found that the peak vibration frequency of the room-temperature milk dropped by 4.3% after 36 hours. In comparison, a carton of milk kept at 4°C saw a relatively minor 0.12% shift in frequency over the same time period.

“This 3D-printing technology could eventually make electronic circuits cheap enough to be added to packaging to provide food safety alerts for consumers,” Lin added. “You could imagine a scenario where you can use your cellphone to check the freshness of food while it’s still on the store shelves.”

Looking ahead, the researchers are hoping to further develop this technology for use in health applications, such as implantable devices with embedded transducers that can monitor blood pressure, muscle strain and drug concentrations.

Interested? Read more about the study here.

These robotic swans could be the future of water testing

These sensor-laden, robotic swans could one day provide essential, real-time water testing in reservoirs around the world.

The next time you see a swan swimming around a nearby lake or pond, you may want to look again, especially if you live in Singapore. That’s because researchers are employing robotic swans as a way to conduct water testing in reservoirs around the country, and eventually, the world.

(Source: Jack Board / Channel NewsAsia)

(Source: Jack Board / Channel NewsAsia)

Though the idea was first conceived back in 2010 in collaboration with the country’s water agency PUB, the National University of Singapore team only began piloting the so-called NUSwan last year. Equipped with a series of sensors and actuators, the robotic bird moves about the water while monitoring conditions like pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity and chlorophyll to determine whether there are problems with the source.

Among the advanced technology embedded inside the lifelike animal is a fresh water phosphate sensor, which happens to be the brainchild of a separate NUS team. Phosphates are key nutrients in the development of blue-green algal blooms, which can be devastating for reservoirs. Fortunately, sensor-laden swans would be able to provide immediate alerts to such murky bodies of water, allowing officials to quickly respond to a contamination. As Channel NewsAsia points out, a proliferation of algal blooms caused thousands of fish to die earlier this year.

(Source: National University of Singapore)

(Source: National University of Singapore)

The swans are equipped with GPS for navigation, which its creators reveal is much more advanced than a Roomba, and will not duplicate an area unless otherwise programmed. For hours on end, the autonomous bird swims around, collecting and sending wireless data to researchers through the cloud in real-time. It can also be controlled both via online and a handheld RC device. And just like a robotic vacuum, NUSwan will return back to its docking station and recharge after a day’s work.

On top of all that, the NUSwan platform is entirely scalable.

This sensor network will keep you better informed of the air inside your office

Aclima’s network of over 500 devices monitors everything from particulate matter to temperature. 

If you work in an office, then you are well aware of how the buildings can feel like their own little bubbles isolated from the outside world, with air that is filtered and recirculated. As you take in nearly 20,000 breaths per day inside the walls of the stuffy cubicle, it’s difficult to keep tabs on what it is exactly that you’re inhaling. Whereas some things in the air can be seen, such as smog, smoke or pollen, others are so minute that they can go unnoticed. This is where environmental sensor startup Aclima wants to step in.

(Source: TechCrunch)

(Source: TechCrunch)

“On average, Americans spend 90% of their time indoors, where pollution levels can be up to 100 times higher than outdoor levels. Since we spend most of our time in buildings, we should understand what’s going on inside of them,” the company writes.

With this in mind, Aclima’s sensor networks enable a new level of awareness of one’s surrounding environment, which provides real-time information to architects, building managers and occupants to improve workplace health and productivity. In fact, the team announced that it has been working with Google over the last couple of years to help the Silicon Valley giant better understand the settings of its 21 buildings across the globe.

The startup deployed a global indoor network of 500 devices tasked with monitoring everything from temperature to emissions like carbon dioxide and particulate matter that affect Googlers’ lungs on a daily basis. Beyond that, Aclima also unveiled partnerships with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in an effort to find out how the air around us can impact our general well-being and lead to respiratory issues including asthma.

To do this, Aclima uses a network of strategically placed sensors throughout offices tasked with tracking and analyze the air. These sensors then relay information to cloud-based back-end software that can update air quality information instantaneously. What’s more, each device can be customized to do things, ranging from mapping greenhouse gasses across an entire city or measuring how much particulate matter is inside a commercial building.


“We strive to create the healthiest and best possible work environments for Googlers. Our vision is to create buildings that seamlessly support the people who inhabit them. Using Aclima’s science­driven sensor networks to map our indoor environmental quality is a big part of making that happen,” explains Anthony Ravitz from Google’s Real Estate and Workplace Services.

Admittedly, environmental sensors are nothing new. Whereas others like Smart Citizens’ ATmega32U4 based kit are geared towards the DIY community, Aclima is more suited for larger enterprises and government institutions.

“Understanding the link between planetary health and human health has never been more pressing,” says Davida Herzl, co-founder and CEO of Aclima. “Aclima is working to make this invisible connection visible, on a grand scale and across industries. Having bootstrapped the company with revenue, grounded in strong business fundamentals, we’re excited to start sharing our work with the world.”

Intrigued? Head over to its official page here.

This tiny sensor platform lets you build your own wearables

MetaWear Coin is a complete, low-power solution that enables both Makers and businesses to develop wearable sensor products.

Back in April, MbientLab unveiled a tiny BLE module that enabled Makers to build production-ready wearables right from their smartphones. MetaWear worked by connecting a product to a mobile device via Bluetooth, then logging or streaming six-axis of motion and environmental data. Following its success, the team has now launched a Kickstarter campaign for the MetaWear Coin a mini, coin-cell powered sensor that can be used to develop any number of smart designs.


The highly-integrated Bluetooth platform includes wireless, sensor-packed hardware housed inside a simple and functional case, along with easy-to-use SDK and open source codes to help get Makers started. The MetaWear Coin is equipped with a BOSCH accelerometer, a temperature sensor, a BLE radio, a programmable pushbutton, an LED, GPIOs/SPI/I2C for additional sensors, as well as ARM Cortex-M0 SoC with 256KB of Flash and 16KB of RAM. The board can run three to six months on a single, replaceable battery.


Beyond that, the MetaWear Coin packs a robust set of features all into a tiny form factor, which makes it ideal for “always-on” applications in nearly every setting, such as health and fitness, gaming, navigation and sports. As the popularity for embedded fabric continues to rise, the sensor platform will also enable developers to craft efficient and intelligent wearable solutions for smart clothing, bags and other garments. Projects already created include an intelligent pocketbook, a temperature logging grocery bag and a concussion band that can detect head trauma, just to name a few.


“You tell the board what to do: read temperature data, log motion data, download log data in memory, sound an alarm when a button is pressed, adjust the volume of your Bluetooth speaker when the MetaWear is shaken, or anything else you can think of,” the team writes.

MetaSense’s proprietary software provides users with powerful analysis tools to better process sensor data, log information, receive input, keep tabs on movements, recognize gestures, turn devices on/off and trigger events.


Looking to get started on your own wearable solution? Head over to MetaWear Coin’s Kickstarter campaign, where the MbientLab crew is currently seeking $50,000. Delivery is expected to kick off in November 2015.

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.


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.


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.


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?