Tag Archives: wearable electronics

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.

Smart badge brings efficiency in enterprise, hospitality and healthcare

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.

 

 

Transforming fashion with tech



17-year-old Ella DiGregorio recently introduced a line of “Transforming Beauty” gowns that literally change from long skirts to short with the touch of a button.

As Mari Grigaliunas of MySuburbanLife reports, DiGregorio’s sample dress uses threads that run from the bottom hem to the waist of the garment to shorten the skirt when she pushes the button of an Atmel-based Arduino board hidden in the back of the dress.

Additional designs sketched by the teen arrange the threads in various designs to create completely different looks including a high-low skirt, a layered look and an Angelina Jolie inspired slit that disappears.

“I really like the idea of technology and fashion. There’s so many possibilities.” DiGregorio said.

“I’m kind of use to hiding things in clothing,”

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, quite a lot of wearable activity is currently centered around companies like Arduino and Adafruit. Both offer wearable electronic platforms powered by versatile Atmel microcontrollers (MCUs).

“Building electronics with your hands is certainly a fun brain exercise, but adding crafting into the mix really stretches your creativity,” says Becky Stern, Adafruit’s director of wearable electronics.

“Sewing is fun and relaxing, and adorning a plush toy, prom dress, or hat with a circuit of tiny parts can make you feel like you’re some kind of futuristic fashion designer. Playing with sensors and conductive textiles breaks electronics out of their hard shells and makes them more relatable.”

Just like their IoT DIY Maker counterparts, the soft electronics community has adapted various Atmel-powered platforms specifically for wearables, including the Arduino Lilypad (ATmega328V) (developed by MIT Media Lab professor Leah Buechley) and Adafruit’s very own Flora (ATmega32u4), which can be easily daisy chained with various sensors for GPS, motion and light.

Interested in learning more? You can check out our wearables article archives here.

Atmel @ Maker Faire Day 2

Atmel’s jam-packed booth (#205) hosted Makers, modders and hackers on day two of Maker Faire Bay Area 2014.

We showcased a number of uber-cool exhibits and demos throughout the day, with various guest appearances by various personalities such as Massimo Banzi and Sir Mix-A-Lot.

Our Day 1 image gallery is available here – and more Day 2 pictures below!

Atmel @ Maker Faire Day 0 (sneak peek)

Atmel is getting ready to take center stage at Maker Faire Bay Area 2014 in San Mateo on May 17th and 18th.

atmelmakerfaire1

Our team is currently setting up booth #205, where we’ll be showcasing a wide range of Maker projects, platforms and devices, including the new Arduino Zero which is powered by Atmel’s ARM-based SAMD21 microcontroller (MCU).

So, what else can you find in booth #205?

  • Wearable electronics and cosplay
  • MicroView
  • ProtoSnap Pro-Mini
  • Red Boards
  • FuzzBots
  • Phonear
  • Touch Boards
  • Hexabugs
  • uToT ‘bots
  • 3D printers
… And more!

Maker Faire Bay Area 2014 will kick off at the San Mateo Event Center in San Mateo, CA, on Saturday, May 17, from 10am to 8pm and Sunday, May 18, from 10am to 6pm.

Tickets can be purchased on-site at Maker Faire Bay Area 2014 on May 17 and 18, 2014 ($25.00 – $40.00 for a full day pass).

Can’t make it to the Faire? You can follow @Atmel live on Twitter for event updates, or join the conversation by tweeting #AtmelMakes.

Getting started with Adafruit’s Atmel-powered FLORA

Adafruit’s Becky Stern and Tyler Cooper have penned a new book about the company’s popular Atmel-powered FLORA platform.

Titled “Make: Getting Started with Adafruit FLORA,” the upcoming book details various wearable electronics projects that can be designed and built using the device.

Indeed, FLORA weighs in at 4.4 grams and measures only 1.75 inches in diameter. Featuring Arduino compatibility, the platform is one of the most beginner-friendly way to create wearable projects.

“This book shows you how to plan your wearable circuits, sew with electronics and write programs that run on the FLORA to control the electronics,” Stern explained in a recent blog post.

“The FLORA family includes an assortment of sensors, as well as RGB LEDs that let you add lighting to your wearable projects.”

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, Adafruit’s wearable electronics platform is built around Atmel’s versatile Atmega32u4 microcontroller (MCU).

The microcontroller boasts built-in USB support, eliminating the need for pesky special cables and extra parts.

According to Adafruit’s Limor Fried, FLORA is extremely “beginner-friendly.” Indeed, the device is difficult to accidentally destroy by connecting a battery backwards, thanks to a polarized connector and protection diodes.

Meanwhile, an onboard regulator ensures even connecting a 9V battery won’t result in damage.

Interested in learning more about Adafruit’s Atmel-powered FLORA? You can check out the platform’s official page on Adafruit here and sign up for book updates here.

Atmega32u4 MCU takes center stage in wearable tech challenge

Known as “FLORA,” Adafruit’s wearable electronics platform is built around Atmel’s Atmega32u4 MCU. The microcontroller boasts built-in USB support, eliminating the need for pesky special cables and extra parts.

According to Adafruit’s Limor Fried, FLORA is extremely “beginner-friendly.” Indeed, the device is difficult to accidentally destroy by connecting a battery backwards, thanks to a polarized connector and protection diodes. Meanwhile, an onboard regulator ensures even connecting a 9V battery won’t result in damage or tears.

Numerous Makers are using FLORA to design a wide range of creations, a fact that has caught the eye of the folks at element14. To be sure, the Newark Corporation recently issued a challenge to engineers and Makers to develop their own piece of wearable technology. The platform of choice for the contest? Adafruit’s versatile FLORA kit.

“Wearable technology is incredibly popular at the moment. Yet, we’re still waiting for a product that brings wearable technology together with clothing and that’s what makes this competition and the Adafruit kit stand out,” explained Dianne Kibbey, Global Head of Community, element14.

“In this challenge we’re calling on our talented community to create something new in wearable technology that will make a difference to the everyday lives of the user. From tracking the vulnerable or elderly to finding a lost handbag in a nightclub, wearable technology is only just getting started and has the potential to do so much and this is why we’re all really looking forward to seeing the submissions in this competition.”

As previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, Atmel is right in the middle of the wearable tech revolution. First off, Atmel’s SAM4S and tinyAVR MCUs are inside the Agent smart-watch which recently hit Kickstarter. Atmel MCUs have also tipped up in a number of Maker projects for wearable tech, like the LED pocket watch we featured earlier this month.

Clearly, wearable tech is getting a long overdue makeover, as Internet-linked computers are woven into formerly brainless attire such as glasses, bracelets and shoes.

“We are heading for the wearable computing era,” Gartner analyst Van Baker told the AFP. “People are going to be walking around with personal area networks on their bodies and have multiple devices that talk to each other and the Web.”

Ben Arnold, director of industry analysis for consumer technology at NPD, expressed similar sentiments.

“Traditional technology companies will have to start paying attention to how sensors are enabling us to live,” he added. “Consumers are ultimately going to become more aware of their data in the digital ether. I suspect wearables are going to disrupt the way tech firms are doing business now.”

Wireless smart watch launches on Kickstarter

Pebble may have caused a splash in the watch-tech space, but Secret Labs and the House of Horology are about to make an even bigger one, with the Agent smart-watch.

smart2

Kicking off on Kickstarter today, the campaign promises to bring together a “fusion of New York fashion and cutting edge technology.” But of course, it would say that, wouldn’t it?

So, cutting through the hype, what’s actually cool about it?

The first thing that stood out to me, was the wireless charging aspect. That’s a big differentiator that sets the Agent apart from the competition, because it means the watch doesn’t have a USB port on it, allowing it to be properly waterproof.

As someone who already wrecked my Nike Fuelband in the pool (what the hell is the difference between “water resistant” and “water proof” anyway?!) this is kind of a big deal! Also… wireless charging! Nikola Tesla would be glowing with pride! We keep saying we live in a wireless world, so it’s about time we had the products to back up the notion.

smart4

I also like the fact that it’s cell phone agnostic, so whether you have an iPhone, Android, or Windows Phone, you can still connect to the device via Bluetooth. Because who wants to be locked into a phone just because you have a neat watch? (I’m naming no names, you know who I’m talking about!)

Agent does all the usual things you’d expect from a smart watch; it notifies you when you receive a call, beeps at you if it realizes you’ve left your phone behind (can anyone say “attachment issues”?), allows you to add all kinds of apps, like the weather, or GPS features. And of course the watch comes in a plethora of colors, so you can be ever so subtly different (from every eighth person who owns it).

It’s the innards of the watch, however, that I think are particularly compelling. Mostly because it makes pretty excellent use of battery resources by using both an Atmel Cortex-M4 (ARM A4 processor) micro with a smaller helper micro. The faster Cortex processor runs powerful watch apps while the smaller micro takes care of housekeeping services. Power when you need it, power saving when you don’t. Which is the whole point of a “smart” watch.

The dual-bank flash also makes sure that firmware gets upgraded painlessly without ever leaving the watch in a “bricked” condition, and it also apparently boasts “redundant fail-safe recovery modes” and “independent hardware-based reset features” to ensure that misbehaving apps can’t turn the watch into a nice looking paperweight.

Because make no mistake, it is nice looking.

smart1

The display is probably the nicest feature, and to my mind is the crispest to date for a smart watch. It also doesn’t look quite as bulky as some other digital timepieces I’ve seen on Kickstarter.

Keeping with the low energy theme, the Agent watch also supports both classic and low energy Bluetooth and sports a rechargeable battery that can be eventually replaced.

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Best of all, in my mind? It’s assembled right here in the great US of A, which the team claims will significantly speed time to market, reduce manufacturing risk and allow them to be super duper nitpicky about build standards. Not to mention it allows them to create jobs here in America, which is always a good thing. Dare I suggest… it’s about time!

If the Kickstarter goes according to plan, full production is slated to begin in December of this year. Sound good? Go on over to the project page and check out the specifics.