Atmel’s New Microcontrollers and IoT, Wearables

Atmel’s New Microcontrollers and IoT, Wearables
by Paul McLellan on 10-17-2014 at 7:00 am

 More and more companies, regardless of their vertical, are trying to get closer to their customers and see various aspects of the internet of things (IoT) as the way to do so. For a good example, here is Salesforce Wear Developer Pack which, as they say:..is a collection of open-source starter apps that let you quickly design and build wearable apps that connect to the Salesforce1 Platform. Millions of wearable devices connected to the cloud will create amazing new application opportunities.

Since salesforce.com cuts across all industries this has potential impact in many different market segments.

And the wearable devices that they list are Google Glass, Android Wear, Samsung Gear Watch, Myo Armband, Nymi Bionym, Pebble Watch, Jawbone UP, Epson Moverio, Vuzix Smart Glasses, Oculus Rift, Meta Glasses.

This combination brings home that the internet of things isn’t just about the things, it is about connecting the things back to the cloud so that the data generated can be aggregated where it has much greater value.

 I am sure that people will design SoCs for various aspects of IoT, but even if they do I think it will be in old processes, not even 28nm, so they can integrate sensors and analog and wireless on the same chip. But more likely a lot of these will be small boards with microcontrollers, wireless and sensors on different chips. For example, take a look at the iFixit teardown of the Fitbit, which in its current incarnation is about one inch by quarter of an inch.

An important aspect of doing this sort of design is having enough microcontrollers with the right combination of features. You can’t afford to have twice as much flash as you need or too many unused functions. The Atmel microcontroller product finder shows that at present they have 506 different ones to choose from.

The most recent two are SAMA5D4, and SAMD21 which are specifically targeted towards wearables and IoT projects. These are the latest two products in the Atmel SAM D family.

One area of especial concern in this market is security since it is too dangerous to simply try and do everything in software on the microcontroller. Keys can be stolen. Software can be compromised if it is in external RAM. An area of particular security concern is to make sure that any JTAG debug port is secure or it can be used to compromise almost anything on the chip.

So what are these chips?


The SAMA5D4 is an ARM Cortex-A5 device with a 720p hardware video decoder. It has high security with on-the-fly capability to run encrypted code straight out of external memory, tamper detection, secret key storage in hardware, hardware private and public key cryptography and ARM TrustZone. It supports both 16 and 32 bit memory interfaces for maximum flexibility. It is targeted at applications that require displays, such as home and industrial automation, vending machines, elevator displays with ads, or surveillance camera playback.

The SAMD21 is the latest Atmel microcontroller based on the ARM Cortex-M0+ but in addition to the features on earlier cores it also has

  • Full Speed USB Device and Embedded Host
  • DMA
  • Enhanced Timer/counters for high end PWM in Lighting and motor control – I2S
  • Increased I2C speed to 3.4Mbit/S
  • Fractional PLL for audio streaming

As you can deduce from the feature set it is target at medium end industrial and consumer applications, possibly involving audio and high power management .

And to show that this sort of market is starting to become real, at the salesforce Dreamforce event earlier in the week a keynote was given by Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas (and a founder of Beats that Apple recently acquired). In a chat with Marc Benoiff, CEO of salesforce.com, he has already leaked that he will introduce a wearable wrist computer that doesn’t require a phone to piggy-back on (unlike the Apple Watch).

Or watch the chat:

More information on the SAMA5D4 is here.


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