OK, it’s not exactly AT&T park…it’s the parking lot. But they have a huge semi loaded up with lots of cool Atmel stuff to show off some of the things that their customers are doing with their microcontrollers and display technology, primarily focused on the internet of things (IoT). I went down to check it out, which would have been a lot easier before I moved house since they are a few hundred yards from my old place. They will be in Napa on 23-242th March and then Las Vegas on 26th. There are lots more cities too.
First up is one of the smart watches (coincidentally Google just announced their entrance into this market today too). It contains two Atmel microcontrollers, one ARM Cortex to do the work and another 8-bit AVR microcontroller to handle I/O and to wake up the application processor when there is work to be done. It also has a wireless charger (on the left) which is a good idea given that the watch is waterproof and so the case can be completely sealed.
Next up was some Philips technology for controlling dozens of lights for color and brightness from an iPad. Each bulb (actually an LED or a strip of LEDs) has a Zigbee mesh network microcontroller and can vary its color across the spectrum.
Then a Black and Decker cordless drill. One problem companies in the power tool business have is that they would like their tools to only work with their batteries. They obviously have a financial interest in doing this but it is a huge liability problem too. Their products tend to be build overseas and sometimes the designs get stolen and batteries with crummy cells or electronics are sold as genuine. And it is Black and Decker that gets sued when one of these catches fire, which is a real issue with battery control. The bigger the battery, the bigger the problem. In fact it is one of the things that Tesla had to focus on to build power packs the size they need using the same lithium-ion technology used in cellphones, laptops and cameras. Using a chip that costs well under $1 with Atmel’s security software it is possible to make batteries that authenticate. They communicate over the power lines when the battery is changed and if the authentication fails with either the drill or the charger then it simply will not work. Some of the inkjet printer manufacturers have started to do this too, to ensure that only genuine cartridges are used, since their business model depends on cheap printers and making money on ink. Putting up the cost of the printer cuts their market share a lot but not selling ink means they can’t make money.
Finally a technology I’ve seen before, which is Atmel’s flexible display technology called Xsense. The touchscreens look exactly like the transparencies we used to use on overhead projectors, although actually a bit thinner. They can be flexed in use although the initial applications seem to tend more towards being able to build screens that are not flat: watches that wrap around your wrist, curved tablets and so on.
They also had a 3-D printer. I’ve written before how Atmel has over 90% market share of the microcontrollers for this market. As the prices come down, these are clearly going to get much more widely available. The one they had printed in plastic (you can also get them that print metal and how about this one printing a house out of concrete, in 24 hours).
Later there was a panel session on Internet of things with people from Atmel, ARM, Humavox (wierless charging) and August (IoT door locks). I won’t try and describe the whole panel, this blog is already too long. The most interesting aspect was that everyone was very concerned about security and privacy. After all, if you control the door lock through your smartphone you want to make sure nobody else does, and you probably don’t want just anyone to know all the times at which you come and go. Especially if they can correlate that with where your self-driving car took you, who you called and so on. As more and more data ends up in the cloud, this will be a bigger and bigger problem. There was also a worry about small companies being taken over by the likes of large ones: you may not care that Google knows the temperature in your living room, but you probably do care if they know everything above and can sell that information to monetize it.
Full details of Atmel’s Tech on Tour are here.