Tag Archives: Wearables Tech

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.


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.

SMART MCUs for low power, smarter designs in Internet of Things, wearables, and the Industrial Internet

According to analysts at ABI Research, over the next five years businesses will integrate into their wellness plans more than 13 million wearable devices with embedded wireless connectivity. Wearable tech also ties into the rapidly evolving Internet of Things (IoT), which refers to a future world where all types of electronic devices link to each other via the Internet. Today, it’s estimated there are nearly 10 billion devices in the world connected to the Internet, a figure expected to triple to nearly 30 billion devices by 2020. The inherent versatility of Atmel | SMART microcontrollers and Atmel radio chips have made our silicon a favorite of Makers and engineers.


Along with this setting stage, the design aspects for low power are becoming more and more important in the next embedded design products. Atmel is right in the middle of the industrial and wearable tech revolution, with a comprehensive portfolio of versatile microcontrollers (MCUs) that power a wide range of platforms and devices.

Blood glucose meters, sport watches, game controllers and accessories, guess what they are all in common? In fact, many of these today are going to shift and evolve into new form factors and application use case as connectivity and clever interacting interfaces become designed. Yes, like a lot of other industrial and consumer devices, they are all battery powered and demanding a long or extended battery life. Translating it into an engineer’s challenge designing an embedded computing system, you will need a central heart, in this case a microcontroller, consuming as low power as possible in both active and static modes without sacrificing the performance. And, Atmel SMART | ARM Cortex-M4 based SAM4L series is designed with this in mind.


The SAM4L microcontrollers redefine the low power, delivering the lowest power in the same class in active mode (90uZ/MHz) as well as static mode with full RAM retention running and with the shortest wake-up time (1.5us). And they are the most efficient microcontrollers available today, achieving up to 28 CoreMark/mA. In this video, you’ll get an overview of Atmel | SMART SAM4L low-power microcontrollers (MCU), based on the ARM Cortex-M4 core. SAM4L MCUs operate at 90uA/MHz and achieve an efficiency rating of 28 CoreMark/mA. The devices feature an array of power-saving technologies, including Atmel’s proprietary picoPower technology. You’ll see a demo using the SAM4L-EK evaluation kit.

The SAM4L series integrates Atmel’s proprietary picoPower technology, which ensures the devices are developed from the ground up, from transistor design to clocking options, to consume as little power as possible. In addition, Atmel’s SleepWalking technology allows the peripherals to make intelligent decisions and wake up the system upon qualifying events at the peripheral level.

In this video, you will see how SAM4L microcontrollers support multiple power configurations to allow the engineer to optimize its power consumption in different use cases. You will also see another good feature of the SAM4L series, power scaling, which is a technique to adjust the internal regulator output voltage to further reduce power consumption provided by the integrated backup power manager module. Additionally, the SAM4L series comes with 2 regulators options to supply system power based on the application requirement. While the buck/switching regulator delivers much higher efficiency and is operational from 2 to 3.6V, the linear regulator has higher noise immunity and operates from 1.68 to 3.6V.

It’s all about system intelligence and conserving energy. Simply put, the SAM4L microcontroller (See SAM4L Starter Kit) is your choice if you are designing a product with long battery life but without sacrificing the performance — as demonstrated in this walkthrough of the Xplained Pro SAM4L Starter Kit.

The SAM4LC Cortex-M4 processor-based Flash microcontrollers offer the industry’s lowest power consumption and fastest wake-up. On top of what’s mentioned, this sub family of Atmel | SMART microcontrollers [labeled as ATASAM4L] devices are ideal for a wide range of industrial, healthcare and consumer applications.

Get a jump-start on your design with dedicated evaluation kits and software packages.  You can also easily catch up on some of the recent and past articles we posted related to Atmel | SMART SAM4L Microcontrollers.

Sewn open: Arduino and soft electronics

As several other recent threads on SemiWiki have pointed out, the term “wearables” is a bit amorphous right now. The most recognizable wearable endeavors so far are Google Glass, the smartwatch, and the fitness band, but these are far from the only categories of interest.

There is another area of wearable wonder beginning to get attention: clothing, which has drawn the interest of researchers, makers, and moms alike. The endgame as many see it is smart clothing: the weaving of electronics, sensors, and conventional fabrics into something called e-textiles. However, while athletes, soldiers, and other niches may get sensor-impregnated jerseys sooner, affordable clothing based on exotic advanced fabrics for most consumers may still be 20 or 30 years away by some estimates.

Right now, we have these anything-but-soft computing structures – chips, circuit boards, displays, switches – adaptable for some clothing applications. Still missing are some key elements, most notably power in the form of energy harvesting or smaller and denser batteries. The influence of water-based washing machines and their adverse effect on most electronics also looms large.

How do we cross this gap? It’s not all about advanced R&D; these types of challenges are well suited for experimentation and the imagination of makers. Several Arduino-compatible maker modules – all based on Atmel microcontrollers – have jumped in to the fray, showing how “soft electronics” can help create solutions.

LilyPad embroidery
Maybe I’ve built one or two too many harness assemblies using expensive, mil-spec circular connectors, but the fascinating thing to me is what makes all these boards wearable. Small size is nice, but anybody knows a project needs wiring, right? You’ll notice the large plated holes on the first several offerings: these are eyelets for conductive thread, literally intended to sew these boards to other components like fabric pushbuttons. Many projects also use snaps, similar to 9V battery connections, to disconnect boards for conventional washing of the garment.


The other side of this is the software. One of the attractive features of Arduino is the IDE, real live C-style programming simplified for the masses, with functions designed to perform I/O on the Atmel MCU. Code is edited on a PC or Mac, and compiled into a sketch and uploaded to the board. There are so many examples of code for Arduino maker modules out there available in open source, it makes it easy to find and integrate functions quickly.

If that all sounds crazy, consider the pioneer for this is Leah Buechley of the MIT Media Lab, one of the thought leaders of the maker movement and an expert on e-textiles. She is the brain behind the LilyPad, the original 2” diameter Arduino wearable circa 2007 commercialized through SparkFun, with the most recent version featuring the ATmega32u4 and native USB.

Adafruit took the next steps with two wearable boards.FLORA is slightly smaller than the LilyPad and retains the same familiar circular profile and ATmega32u4 MCU.GEMMA goes even smaller, 1.1” in diameter, packing an ATtiny85 on board with a USB connection for easy development.

Adafruit GEMMA

Not to be outdone by circles, squares and rectangles are still in the mix.SquareWear 2.0 comes in two versions, the 1.7” square variant with a coin cell socket onboard, both including the ATmega328 MCU with simulated USB, high current MOSFET ports, a light sensor, and a temperature sensor. Seeed grabbed the ATmega32u4 and designed it into the Xadow, a tiny 1” x 0.8” expandable unit with integrated flat cable connectors for daisy chaining.

SquareWear 2.0

These aren’t just toys for creating flashing LEDs; there is no shortage of sensors and connectivity, including displays, GPS, Bluetooth, and more compatible with these wearable maker modules. Their popularity is growing: Becky Stern of Adafruit claims there are over 10,000 units of FLORA shipped so far, and they are the darlings of maker faire fashion shows and hackathons.

Besides the upside for makers, maybe this sewing angle will finally allow us to explain electronics to our moms, after all. Until we get to the fulfilled flexible future of e-textiles and more advanced technology, the conductive thread of soft electronics will stitch together creative ideas using somewhat familiar tiny modules with today’s microcontrollers.

This post has been republished with permission from SemiWiki.com, where Don Dingee is a featured blogger. It first appeared there on May 21, 2014.