Atmel Introduces Rad Hard Microcontrollers

The Internet is full of extremely clever people, and most of the time they don’t realize how stupid they actually are. Every time there’s a rocket launch, there’s usually a few cubesats tucked away under a fairing. These cubesats were designed and built by university students around the globe, so whenever a few of these cubesats go up, Internet armchair EEs inevitably cut these students down: “That microcontroller isn’t going to last in space. There’s too much radiation. It’ll be dead in a day,” they say. This argument disregards the fact that iPods work for months aboard the space station, Thinkpads work for years, and the fact that putting commercial-grade microcontrollers in low earth orbit has been done thousands of times before with mountains of data to back up the practice.

For every problem, imagined or not, there’s a solution. Now, finally, Atmel has released a rad tolerant AVR for space applications. It’s the ATmegaS128, the space-grade version of the ‘mega128. This chip is in a 64-lead ceramic package, has all the features you would expect from the ATmega128 and is, like any ‘mega128, Arduino compatible.

Atmel has an oddly large space-rated rad-hard portfolio, with space-grade FPGAs, memories, communications ICs, ASICs, memories, and now microcontrollers in their lineup.

While microcontrollers that aren’t radiation tolerant have gone up in cubesats and larger commercial birds over the years, the commercial-grade stuff is usually reserved for low Earth orbit stuff. For venturing more than a few hundred miles above the Earth, into the range of GPS satellites and to geosynchronous orbit 25,000 miles above, radiation shielding is needed.

Will you ever need a space-grade, rad-hard Arduino? Probably not. This new announcement is rather cool, though, and we can’t wait for the first space grade Arduino clone to show up in the Hackaday tips line.

New Part Day: Tiny, Tiny Bluetooth Chips

The future of tiny electronics is wearables, it seems, with companies coming out with tiny devices that are able to check your pulse, blood pressure, and temperature while relaying this data back to your phone over a Bluetooth connection. Intel has the Curie module, a small System on Chip (SoC) meant for wearables, and the STM32 inside the Fitbit is one of the smallest ARM microcontrollers you’ll ever find. Now there’s a new part available that’s smaller than anything else and has an integrated Bluetooth radio; just what you need when you need an Internet of Motes of Dust.

The Atmel BTLC1000 is a tiny SoC designed for wearables. The internals aren’t exceptional in and of themselves – it’s an ARM Cortex M0 running at 26 MHz. There’s a Bluetooth 4.1 radio inside this chip, and enough I/O, RAM, and ROM to connect to a few sensors and do a few interesting things. What makes this chip so exceptional is its size – a mere 2.262mm by 2.142mm. It’s a chip that can fit along the thickness of some PCBs.

To provide some perspective: the smallest ATtiny, the ‘tiny4/5/9/10 in an SOT23-6 package, is 2.90mm long. The smallest PICs are similarly sized, and both have a tiny amount of RAM and Flash space. The BTLC1000 is surprisingly capable, with 128kB each of RAM and ROM.

The future of wearable devices is smaller, faster and more capable devices, and with a tiny chip that can fit on the head of a pin, this is certainly an interesting chip for applications where performance can be traded for package size. If you’re ready to dive in with this chip the preliminary datasheets are now available.

Mergers and Acquisitions: Dialog Buys Atmel

Dialog Semiconductor has announced their acquisition of Atmel for $4.6 Billion.

In recent years, semiconductor companies have been flush with cash, and this inevitably means consolidation. NXP and Freescale merged in March. In June, Intel bought Altera for $16.7 Billion just a week after Avago bought Broadcom in the largest semiconductor deal ever – $37 Billion.

The deal between Dialog and Atmel is not very big; the combined revenue of both companies should be $2.7 Billion, not even in the top-20 semiconductor companies by revenue. However, Atmel is an extremely big player in the Internet of Things and the nebulous ‘maker’ market. Dialog’s portfolio is complementary to Atmel’s, focusing on mobile platforms such as smartphones, e-readers, and tablets. The future is in the Internet of Things, and Dialog wants to get in on the ground floor.

Dialog’s current portfolio is focused mainly on mobile devices, with Bluetooth wearables-on-a-chip, CODEC chips for smartphones, and power management ICs for every type of portable electronics. Atmel’s portfolio is well-established in automotive, smart energy metering, and the maker movement. While the Arduino may be Atmel’s most visible contribution to the industry, the Arduino itself is just a fraction of Atmel’s sales in this space. Atmel parts can already be found Internet of Things products like the LightBlue Bean (an 8-bit AVR), and the Tessel 2 Internet of Things board (a 32-bit Atmel ARM).

Curiously, neither Dialog nor Atmel have many sensor or MEMS products, and the future of wearables, portable electronics, and the Internet of Things will depend on these sensors. STMicroelectronic produces both the microcontrollers and sensors that are packed into phones. TI is nearly a full-stack hardware company, able to produce everything that will go into a wearable or Internet of Things device, all the way from the power regulator to the microcontroller. Although this may be seen as a shortcoming for Dialog and Atmel, both companies combined are still many times smaller than the likes of Avago/Broadcom or NXP/Freescale there’s plenty of room for more acquisitions to round out their future needs.

As for what changes will come to Dialog and Atmel’s portfolio, don’t expect much. Unlike the NXP and Freescale merger where both companies have a lot products that do pretty much the same thing, the portfolios of Dialog and Atmel build on each other’s strengths. You’ll have your 8-bit AVRs for a few more decades, and with Dialog’s focus on connectivity, we can expect even more tools for building the Internet of Things.

50 Winners Using Atmel Parts

For the last few weeks we’ve been celebrating builds that use parts from our manufacturer sponsors of the 2015 Hackaday Prize. Today we are happy to announce 50 winners who used Atmel parts in their builds. Making the cut is one thing, but rising to the top is another. These builds show off some amazing work from those who entered them. In addition to the prizes which we’ll be sending out, we’d like these projects to receive the recognition they deserve. Please take the time to click through to the projects, explore what has been accomplished, and leave congratulations a comment on the project page.

Still Time to Win!

We’re far from the end of the line. We’ll be giving roughly $17,000 more in prizes before the entry round closes in the middle of August. Enter your build now for a chance in these weekly contests!

Continue reading “50 Winners Using Atmel Parts”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Useful Code For Useful Things

The Hackaday Prize isn’t exclusively about building things that will help the planet; you can also build things that will enable others to build things to save the planet. [Eric] isn’t saving the world with his commonCode library, but it will make it vastly easier for other people to build the next great Thing.

The idea behind commonCode is the same as shared libraries you’ll find in any desktop application of reasonable size; it provides a common library for AVR microcontrollers to build just about anything. Bit manipulation, an interface for timers, math functions, graphics, I/O, and peripheral drivers are all available in the commonCode library. This makes it easy for the developmentally challenged among us to create whatever project they want.

The commonCode library wasn’t created just for The Hackaday Prize. [Eric] has been tinkering around with AVRs since well before the Arduino existed, and he has dozens of projects in permanent installations. It’s a great way to give back to the community, and the perfect way to allow people to develop their own things to solve whatever problem they have in mind.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

A Very, Very Small IMU

The reason we’re playing with quadcopters, flight controllers, motion controlled toys, and hundreds of other doodads is the MEMS revolution. A lot is possible with tiny accelerometers and gyroscopes, and this is looking like the smallest IMU yet. It’s an 18mm diameter IMU, with RF networking, C/C++ libraries, and a 48MHz ARM microcontroller – perfect for the smallest, most capable quadcopter we’ve ever seen.

The build started off as an extension of the IMUduino, an extremely small rectangular board that’s based on the ATMega32u4. While the IMUduino would be great for tracking position and orientation over Bluetooth, it’s still 4cm small. The Femtoduino cuts this down to an 18mm circle, just about the right size to stuff in a model rocket or plane.

Right now, femtoIO is running a very reasonable Kickstarter for the beta editions of these boards with a $500 goal. The boards themselves are a little pricey, but that’s what you get with 9-DOF IMUs and altimeter/temperature sensors.

Building Super Small Linux Computers From Scratch

Conventional wisdom says small, powerful embedded Linux like the Raspberry Pi, Beaglebone, or the Intel Edison are inherently manufactured devices, and certainly not something the homebrew tinkerer can produce at home. [hak8or] is doing just that, producing not one, but two completely different tiny Linux computers at home.

The first is based on Atmel’s AT91SAM9N12 ARM processor, but the entire board is just about two inches square. On board is 64 MB of DDR2 DRAM, a USB host and OTG port, and not much else. Still, this chip runs a stripped down Linux off of a USB drive.

The second board is based on the Freescale i.MX233. This board is similar in size and capabilities, but it’s not exactly working right now. There’s an issue with the DRAM timings and a capacitor underneath the SD card is a bit too tall.

The real value of [hak8or]’s project is the incredible amount of resources he’s put into his readme.mds for these repos. If you’ve ever wanted to build an embedded Linux device, here’s your one-stop shop for information on booting Linux on these chips.