Tag Archives: XMEGA

The SAM L21 pushes the boundaries of low power MCUs

Atmel just released a new Atmel | SMART ARM-based microcontroller. While the SAM L21 has the performance of a Cortex M0+ core, it also packs a number of ultra-low-power features. The MCU can even do touch sensing for buttons, sliders, and wheels while using extremity low power. One key component is there are five distinct power domains inside the chip. Most lower-power ARM chips, including Atmel’s, simply disable the clock to the various sections. The SAM L21 turns off power to the sections, hence no leakage currents in the thousands of transistors in that section.

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The numbers are impressive even without the power cycling. The SAM L21 uses 40uA/MHz, less than half that of the SAM D20, which uses 103uA/MHz. For static power with RAM retention with RTC, the SAM L21 is 4 times better, using 0.9uA instead of 3.8uA like the SAM D20.

The chip is being evaluated against the ULPBench performance metric. Our early testing shows the SAM L21 to be lower power than any of our competitors’ M0+ class chips.

Now, understand that power consumption is no trivial spec and you have to realize “it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘power’ is.” My buddy Dave Mathis is doing a sensor monitor system that is asleep 99.99% of the time, waking up once a day to take a measurement and send it wirelessly to a host. For that you want that low static power consumption. Prior to the SAM L21, that meant that you would look at our AVR 8-bit XMEGA parts. What is important to this application is static power, which is really leakage current in the transistors that make up the CMOS gates. An XMEGA not only has fewer transistors than any ARM part, they are made on a bigger process geometry, which results in less leakage.

What is truly revolutionary about the SAM L21 is that it provides you with 32-bit performance, but since it turns off power to unneeded sections of the chip, there is no leakage current in those sections. The XMEGA is still better for static power, with only 100nA of leakage in RAM retention mode, but it is still an 8-bit chip. If you want to do Internet of things (IoT) where you need a TCP/IP stack, or if you need to do some number crunching, you need an ARM-class 32-bit chip, and that is what the SAM L21 is.

Application engineer extraordinaire Bob Martin explained to me why you might save total power with a more power-hungry chip. He explained that is the deal with sensor fusion hubs. Most hubs have an IMU (inertial measurement unit), a 3-axis accelerometer, and a magnetometer. Now most of these talk SPI (serial peripheral interface) so you can easily read them out with an 8-bit AVR chip. And, Atmel makes the ATWINC1500 radio chip that has the TCP/IP stack inside, so an AVR can talk to it and out the door the data will go, all the way to the Internet. But realize that radio chips use way more power than microcontrollers, even fast big ones. A radio chip needs power to transmit, and that means they take milliamperes of current during transmit. So this is how a sensor fusion hub saves power. Rather than use the radio chip to send the data from each sensor, the ARM-based chip does the math and pre-processing to combine the raw data from all three sensors and then represent the result as a simple chunk of data representing its position in space. Then the radio chip has to send much less data. By using a more powerful microcontroller, you save total power since you reduce the on-time of the radio chip.

My buddy at Google tells me a fellow there has installed Linux on an AVR. He swears it even has a file system. He also notes that it takes a couple hours to boot into a GUI. So that is the other tricky power tradeoff. If you have to leave a little chip slogging away for a long time, you might be better off with a 32-bit ARM-based chip that can wake up, do its thing, and go back to sleep. The same is true for your external peripheral chips. Nick Gray, an analog application engineer points out you might not want the lowest power ADC (analog to digital converter) chip in your design if you are only reading it occasionally. He says what you really care about is how fast the chip wakes up and can take good data. If a fast high-current chip wakes up 10 times faster but uses twice the power, it will still use less energy, less charge, than the slower chip.

Firmware engineers need to be much more familiar with the hardware than Windows or web programmers. My buddy Wayne Yamaguchi has made an LED flasher that lasts for half a year on a tiny 1220 coin cell. You can spend 128 dollars on these flashing cufflinks, but the battery only lasts for 24 hours. What Wayne does is take the AVRtiny10 out of active mode and uses the RTC to wake it up. That is why his flasher lasts 182 times longer. Then again, Wayne has an EE and used to work at HP/Agilent. He studies the Atmel datasheets and then really gets the best out of them with his programming techniques.

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Wayne Yamaguchi shows off his blinkie board that uses an ATtiny10 in SOT-6 package.                                                       It runs for 6 months on a 1220 coin cell.

This is the beauty of the SAM L21. If you are a hardware person like me, you know that cycling power to CMOS chips can cause latchup and other problems. That is why it is hard to turn off sections of a chip like the L21 does, rather than just stop the clock. Atmel engineers have done all the hard work to make sure nothing blows up or latches, and they provided the supervisory logic so that all the power cycling is automatic when you are doing touch sensing. I am confident that there is no better chip to do touch sensing for battery powered gizmos that need the processing power for Internet of things applications.

Just realize there is no simple number or even a benchmark that will tell you the power consumption of your particular applications. I can’t find it again, but I recently read an editorial blog where the fellow wanted someone to take all the microcontrollers from all the manufacturers and “just figure out the lowest power one”. Well, that is impossible and the simplistic thinking we expect from bosses, not fellow engineers. There is no one number, there is no one chip that you can simply say is the “lowest power.” It all depends what you are doing with the chip and firmware you write for it. My pal Harry Holt is an application engineer over at Analog Devices. He is an op-amp expert and op amps have 30 or 40 different specs. Harry has a great line he tells the “newbies” to engineering. He says: “There are only three important specs to an op amp.” Harry’s victim gets excited and says, “What are they; tell me, what are the three specs?” Harry smiles and says “That depends on your application.”

Interested in learning more about the SAM L21? Stay tuned for more details. Meanwhile, you can read the latest blog pieces on the ARM-based MCU here.

Atmel and IHR driving innovation in automotive electronics

Atmel has just announced a collaboration with IHR, a worldwide partner in the automotive industry, to further support the innovation of Local Interconnect Network (LIN) systems. This collaboration leverages IHR’s LIN configuration tools with Atmel’s industry-leading embedded solutions to improve application integration, time-to-market and to minimize licensing costs.

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Atmel’s collaboration with IHR enables Atmel to provide manufacturers with a LIN-compliant evaluation environment to further streamline development, bringing the best of automotive engineering faster to market. IHR’s solutions support several Atmel technologies including the megaAVRtinyAVR and XMega AVR families.

For those interested, a free demo version of the LIN drivers is now available for download via the IHR website and can be used for evaluation purposes. Upcoming new product series will be supported by IHR solutions as well.

“With nearly 30 years of experience working with the automotive industry, Atmel has spurred the pervasive growth of electronic features in cars,” explained Giovanni Fontana, Atmel Automotive Applications Director. “Our collaboration with IHR will help our customers continue to build innovative electronic products in a cost-effective manner with improved integration and intuitive configuration capabilities.”

Atmel combines a unique blend of IVN products and embedded MCUs. AVR MCUs deliver the power, performance and flexibility to support a wide range of automotive applications. These small, yet powerful, advanced 8- and 32-bit AVR MCUs deliver the technical features, advanced architecture and dependable design ideal for an array of applications.

In what has become the industry’s largest, the Atmel LIN product portfolio includes stand-alone transceivers, system basis chips (SBC) which integrate a transceiver, a voltage regulator and often other functions as well as AVR MCU-based system-in-package (SiP) and application-specific (ASSP) devices.

“IHR is recognized for our proven LIN tools used by designers to create applications that automotive manufactures rely on as competitive differentiators,” said Rüdiger Kewitz, COO at IHR GmbH. “Together with Atmel, we offer a very compelling proposition for manufacturers to not only design next-generation embedded systems, but also to bring high-end applications to market through an amplitude of makes and models.”

Interested in learning more about Atmel’s LIN solutions? Additional information is available here. You can also browse through the Bits & Pieces archive on the topic.

Atmel-powered 1Sheeld (ATMega162) hits Kickstarter

Integreight’s 1Sheeld – powered by an ATmega162 MCU – is an easily configurable shield for Arduino boards. Essentially, 1Sheeld connects to a mobile Android app that allows users to take advantage of various smartphone features including the display, gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, GSM, Wi-Fi and GPS.

“Our product consists of two parts. The first part is a shield that is physically connected to your Arduino board and acts as a wireless middle-man, piping data between Arduino and any Android smartphone via Bluetooth,” an Integreight rep wrote in a recent Kickstarter post.

“The second part is a software platform and app on Android smart phones that manages the communication between our shield and your smartphone and let your choose between different available shields. By doing that, you can use 1Sheeld as input or output from Arduino and make use of all of the sensors and peripherals already available on your Android smartphone.”

So what can you do with 1Sheeld? Well, according to Integreight, “the sky’s the limit.”

“You have a powerful Android smartphone that can be used to control your RC car, tweet when plants are thirsty and have fun playing with your friends. This is just a fraction of what you can actually do with 1Sheeld, [as the] possibilities are endless,” the Integreight rep explained.

“And you can hook it up with Tasker! Of course you can control your home with your phone and Arduino, like controlling heat, ventilation and air conditioning, yard watering, pet feeding and the list goes on. However, we’ve integrated a plugin to Tasker on Android, by linking Tasker to the hardware; you get a whole new experience of home automation. You can use any hardware event to trigger an action on the phone or vice-versa, you can use a phone event to trigger an action on the hardware.”

On the software side, 1Sheeld is running a custom version of the Firmata protocol which allows the microcontroller to quickly scan each pin of the Arduino and report any status change to the app.

“You can use this functionality out-of-the-box without the need for our library. There is another mode also which relies totally on the Serial peripheral of the Arduino (Pins 0,1),” said the rep. “Here our library comes in handy, we built a protocol above the Firmata protocol to send huge amount of data to a specific shield on our app, that allowed us to implement LCD, Twitter, Seven Segment – with only two pins from Arduino instead of taking a whole port.”

Aside from the embedded ATMega162, key technical specs include:

  • Standard HC-06 Bluetooth adapter (Bluetooth 2.1)
  • Range up to 30 feet
  • 16 MHz operating frequency
  • Communicates with Arduino via UART

Interested in learning more about the Atmel powered 1Sheeld? You can check out the project’s official page on Kickstarter.

High altitude balloon tracking with the ATmega644

A Maker by the name of Ethan (and team) recently designed a low-cost open hardware/software high altitude balloon tracker with sensors that effectively form a mesh network with a master node.

The above-mentioned platform – powered by Atmel’s ATmega644 microcontroller (MCU) – is equipped with an onboard GPS module (NEO-6M), a micro SD card slot, a 300mW APRS (144.39MHz) transmitter and convenient headers to plug an XBee radio.

As HackADay’s Mathieu Stephan notes, the hardware is tasked with obtaining wireless data from various slave platforms, storing it in the uSD card while transmitting the balloon position via APRS along with other data.

“It’s interesting to note that to keep the design low-cost, they chose a relatively cheap analog radio module ($~40) and hacked together AFSK modulation of their output signal with hardware PWM outputs and a sine-wave lookup table,” Stephan explained. “The slave nodes are composed of ‘slave motherboards’ on which can be plugged several daughter-boards: geiger counters, atmospheric sensors, camera control/accelerometer boards.”

Interested in building your own Atmel-powered modular high altitude balloon tracker with mesh networked sensors? You can check out the project’s official page here.

Kilobots, small vibrating robots use the ATmega328

Thanks to pals at Evil Mad Scientist, I learned about these small self-powered autonomous robots called Kilobits. Brought to you by Harvard University, the little gizmos are run by an Atmel ATmega328.

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The little robots move on the little wire pins. There are two vibrating motors, like in a pager. They are arranged in “quadrature” so to speak. One will rotate the robot clockwise, and the other will rotate the robot counterclockwise. If you run both motors, the robot will move forward.

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The robots can communicate with an IR (infrared) transceiver. This allows them to exhibit swarm behavior like insects. Check out this video of the Kilobots doing their thing.

Harvard is doing this to study complex self organizing behavior. This may help psychologists and economists understand complex human behavior that just appears, like the open-source movement, the Dabbawala lunch delivery system in India, and how day workers outside of the Home Depot settle on rates and seniority.

The hi-zoot Harvard Kilobots are preceded by the Make community Vibrobot. Evil Mad Scientist did a great vamp with their BristleBot, which uses the head of a toothbrush.

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While created for research, to their credit, Harvard made this is an open-source project that is just perfect to be picked up by the Maker Movement. NY Maker 2013 starts Saturday, the Atmel team is setting up and the Evil Mad Science people will be at our booth to show off their cool Atmel-powered kits.

Atmel powered ArduLab is ready for launch!

The ArduLab – powered by Atmel’s versatile ATmega2560 – is a highly capable experimentation platform ready for space right out of the box. Designed by Infinity Aerospace, ArduLab can be programmed just like an Arduino.

The next ArduLab launch is scheduled for September 17, 2013. Although this particular mission is headed to the International Space Station (ISS) on an Antares Rocket/Cygnus spacecraft developed by the Orbital Sciences Corporation, the ArduLab is fully capable of operating on a number of suborbital launch vehicles and parabolic aircraft.

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“There are multiple [reasons] why we’re doing exactly what we’re doing [with ArduLab]. One is that space is usually not inclusive of all the people around the world,” ArduLab co-founder Manu Sharma recently told DIY Space Exploration. “I wanted to create products that enabled people across the globe… [to] make cool experiments and do anything they want.”

According to Sharma, the ArduLab crew will be launching pretty much every day for the next few years.

“[So] it probably won’t be as hard for [someone] to come up with an idea, ‘I want to see how fireflies fly in space,'” Sharma explained. “And he could program this thing and do any of those experiments. That was the real reason why we went to open hardware because it allows us to go beyond borders and find people to work on it very easily.”

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Sharma also noted that ArduLab ultimately wanted to create a community of space hardware hackers.

“We’re launching our forums and our community page where people can just hang out, share their experiences, and share knowledge about experiments that they’re doing and things like that. We really want to create a new committee of people and we need those people to [renew] possibilities of what we can do with ArduLab and future products,” he added.

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Interested in sending your experiment to the ISS and beyond? The Space Explorer Program includes ArduLab 1.0, an additional ArduLab board for experimentation development, launch slot to space and an Infinity Aerospace basic payload support for $4,995.

You can also customize your Explorer Program for an additional fee, while the Space Conqueror Program ($34,995 yearly subscription fee) offers unlimited flights to space, 3 x ArduLab 1.0, ($250 for each additional ArduLab 1.0) and a “Getting Started in Space” lesson with Infinity Aerospace engineers. Interested in learning more? Be sure to check out Infinity Aerospace’s official page here.

As previously discussed on Bits & PiecesAtmel’s ATmega2560 is a high-performance, low-power 8-bit AVR RISC-based microcontroller equipped with 256KB ISP flash memory, 8KB SRAM, 4KB EEPROM, 86 general purpose I/O lines, 32 general purpose working registers, a real time counter and 6 flexible timer/counters with compare modes. Additional key specs include a PWM, four USARTs, a byte oriented 2-wire serial interface, 16-channel 10-bit A/D converter and a JTAG interface for on-chip debugging.

The ATmega2560 is capable of achieving a throughput of 16 MIPS at 16 MHz, while operating between 4.5-5.5 volts. By executing powerful instructions in a single clock cycle, the device achieves a throughput approaching 1 MIPS per MHz, neatly balancing power consumption with processing speed.

Interested in learning more? See the infographic below which details just what ArduLab is capable of doing for your experiment.

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Blast off to space with the ATmega2560 powered ArduLab

The ArduLab – powered by Atmel’s versatile ATmega2560 – is a highly capable experimentation platform ready for space right out of the box. Sensor mounting is straightforward, with unique functionality addressing the technical challenges of operating in space.

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Designed by Infinity Aerospace, ArduLab can be programmed just like an Arduino. With a simple software command, the ArduLab switches into drive mode – making its memory accessible like a USB stick. In terms of physical assembly, the ArduLab is configurable using hex bolts and a few washers with an included allen wrench. Plus, over 100 flush mounted threaded inserts act as versatile anchors for a wide range of equipment.

The next ArduLab launch is scheduled for September 15, 2013. Although this particular mission is headed to the International Space Station (ISS) on an Antares Rocket/Cygnus spacecraft developed by the Orbital Sciences Corporation, the ArduLab is fully capable of operating on a number of suborbital launch vehicles and parabolic aircraft.

Interested in sending your experiment to the ISS and beyond? The Space Explorer Program includes ArduLab 1.0, an additional ArduLab board for experimentation development, launch slot to space and an Infinity Aerospace basic payload support for $4,995.

You can also customize your Explorer Program for an additional fee, while the Space Conqueror Program ($34,995 yearly subscription fee) offers unlimited flights to space, 3 x ArduLab 1.0, ($250 for each additional ArduLab 1.0) and a “Getting Started in Space” lesson with Infinity Aerospace engineers. Interested in learning more? Be sure to check out Infinity Aerospace’s official page here.

As previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, Atmel’s ATmega2560 is a high-performance, low-power 8-bit AVR RISC-based microcontroller equipped with 256KB ISP flash memory, 8KB SRAM, 4KB EEPROM, 86 general purpose I/O lines, 32 general purpose working registers, a real time counter and 6 flexible timer/counters with compare modes. Additional key specs include a PWM, four USARTs, a byte oriented 2-wire serial interface, 16-channel 10-bit A/D converter and a JTAG interface for on-chip debugging.

The ATmega2560 is capable of achieving a throughput of 16 MIPS at 16 MHz, while operating between 4.5-5.5 volts. By executing powerful instructions in a single clock cycle, the device achieves a throughput approaching 1 MIPS per MHz, neatly balancing power consumption with processing speed.