Dev boards help speed IoT design - Embedded.com

Dev boards help speed IoT design

IoT design is the implementation of microcontroller (MCU) solutions with the ideal connection protocol for your application. Microchip Technology recently announced smart, full-stack, embedded development solutions to help with the task.

Microchip’s embedded line ranges from its small PIC and AVR MCUs for sensors and actuators to sophisticated 32-bit MCU gateway and microprocessor (MPU)-based solutions for edge computing, providing the ability to connect to any main core and any main cloud using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or 5G narrowband technologies, all while maintaining a solid security foundation with support from Microchip’s Trust Platform for the CryptoAuthentication family.

IoT design

IoT networks of sensors and intelligent devices will be able to connect virtually every aspect of our environment — homes, physical objects, transportation and communication systems, clothing, and even the human body — enabling us to exchange data and take the appropriate actions. If the internet of things is to provide more opportunities for the technology audience, however, workflows must be simplified, and better use of modular components must be made to address the real technical challenges in IoT projects, from software design to hardware implementation.

There are three basic types of projects for IoT applications. In cloud-connected projects, servers use dedicated software to analyze and process data collected by systems. Projects connected to a local network use an intranet network to communicate. And in gateway-based projects, gateway systems are used to adapt existing systems to the internet.

Usually, the first step in any project is to choose the ideal development kit for your prototype. Building a cloud-connected IoT system from scratch can be a costly and time-consuming process that requires expertise in many engineering disciplines. Today’s developers face more challenges than ever when making their design decisions, including longer development times and higher security threats. Development kits and other prototyping platforms are vital to the efforts to level the IoT supply chain, accelerate innovation, and empower anyone who has the ideas and ambition to design and create successful IoT platforms.

Microchip solutions

With Microchip Technology’s embedded development solutions, developers can connect quickly, easily, and securely to any cloud using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and 5G narrowband technologies, all while maintaining a strong security foundation with the CryptoAuthentication family, according to the company.

“We still see that the adoption rate of IoT is fairly slow,” said Oyvind Strom, marketing director at Microchip Technology. “There are many solutions out there, but we see a large customer base where not necessarily all of them are comfortable with IoT. What we have been doing is launching edge nodes and gateways where ease of use is in focus.”

The combination of proven security hardware solutions and an unprecedented degree of partnership helps protect against security threats, ranging from remote cyberattacks to the creation of counterfeit products. These threats are widespread, extending across all industries, and can result in substantial losses in terms of deployment and recovery costs, revenue from services, and, most significantly, brand equity.

Microchip has added a range of intelligent, connected, and secure rapid-prototyping solutions. There are four new Wi-Fi–based IoT development platforms and two new Bluetooth prototyping boards for the PIC and AVR product lines. A new IoT gateway solution with Amazon Web Services (AWS) IoT Greengrass and Azure extends the portfolio. And Microchip’s partnership with Sequans has enabled new kit solutions for LTE-M and NB-IoT infrastructure connections.

Each solution is designed to focus on ease of use and rapid development for intelligent industrial, medical, consumer, agricultural, and retail applications with security in mind. The choice of connectivity technologies, combined with the full range of microcontroller and microprocessor performance and peripheral features, makes these solutions scalable in a range of markets.

“When the customer wants to develop an IoT solution, you can either do IoT without the cloud or you can do IoT with the cloud,” said Strom. “And cloud computing is definitely one of the fastest-growing areas in the world. There are three major cloud companies: Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. We are partnered with all of them.” The PIC-IoT WA and AVR-IoT WA boards were developed in collaboration with AWS and help designers natively connect IoT sensor nodes to the AWS IoT Core service via Wi-Fi.

“When you buy this board, you basically plug it with the USB plug to your PC, and it will bring you to a dedicated webpage where you enter your Wi-Fi credentials,” said Strom. “You will literally [be streaming] data to the Amazon cloud within 30 seconds of plugging that board into your computer for the first time. From [there], you can continue to develop your application with our comprehensive ecosystem around this board. It’s a very powerful board done with the most cost-efficient microcontrollers that you’ll find in the industry, and it shows that you don’t need to go to 32-bit platforms to do edge-node IoT.”

The two boards are supplied with a temperature sensor and a light sensor for demonstration purposes only. A microbus expansion socket allows adding more than 300 different sensors from click boards that the Microchip ecosystem supports (Figure 1).


Figure 1: PIC/AVR-IoT WA board (Image: Microchip Technology)

The SAM-IoT WG board connects the Google Cloud IoT Core with the popular SAM-D21 Arm Cortex-M0+ 32-bit Microchip range of microcontrollers (Figure 2).


Figure 2: SAM-IoT WG board (Image: Microchip Technology)

The Azure IoT SAM MCU-based platform integrates the Azure IoT SDK and Azure IoT services with Microchip’s MPLAB X ecosystem of development tools. The card offers much more computing performance than the other platforms in the lineup. In addition to transmitting your data, you can perform analysis by using artificial intelligence on the board.

“Predictive-maintenance types of applications, for instance, could be one [application area]; the board can also be used for vision,” said Strom. “These kinds of high-end applications for IoT nodes would be a suitable target for this platform.”

In addition to the requirements for Wi-Fi boards, there is high demand for Bluetooth implementations in the industrial sector. All types of maintenance and repair of industrial equipment today are performed with integrated Bluetooth. The service technician can read an error code or other data from a tablet or phone to avoid having to intervene mechanically.


Figure 3: PIC/AVR-BLE board (Image: Microchip Technology)

The PIC-BLE and AVR-BLE boards are based on PIC and AVR microcontrollers for sensor node devices that connect to mobile devices for industrial, consumer, and security applications and the cloud via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) gateways (Figure 3).

To ensure that only authorized devices can connect to the embedded device, an on-board secure element IC completes the Root of Trust from the embedded device up to the cloud. The main on-board sensors are temperature, light, and a three-axis accelerometer. It is possible to implement other external click-board sensors and develop a custom application using LightBlue, an application that can be downloaded from Google Play or the App Store (Figure 4).


Figure 4: The LightBlue app (Image: Microchip Technology)

As long as you can take advantage of Wi-Fi and BLE, it’s always helpful to have a gateway connectivity solution. Wi-Fi suffices for home routers, but if you want a closed network, you will also need to provide a gateway in your application.

The gateway solution with AWS IoT Greengrass is based on the latest wireless system-on-module (SoM), the ATSAMA5D27-WLSOM1, which integrates the SAMA5D2 MPU, the WILC3000 Wi-Fi combo module, and Bluetooth, powered by the high-performance MCP16502 power management integrated circuit (PMIC).

“These solutions are fully certified with the AWS Greengrass solution; Greengrass is Amazon’s solution, where you have cloud computing locally on your node,” said Strom. “This can have many advantages, including near-real-time responses and the ability to operate even if your internet connection is down.”

Microchip also announced the LTE-M/NB-IoT Development Kit in collaboration with Sequans. The kit includes modules based on Sequans’s Monarch chips, which enable coverage of IoT nodes and take advantage of the latest low-power 5G cellular technology. By design, gateways add a layer that is an obstacle to direct connectivity, so if you want to transmit data directly to the cloud, an LTE-M/NB-IoT solution is the way to go.

Service providers are starting to roll out their 5G networks, which will enable a huge amount of IoT node traffic on mobile nets (networks). Use of the two dominant protocols for IoT connectivity — LTE-M and NB-IoT — varies globally by region, and the standards are not identical (Figure 5). Sequans has 5G technology that can be used in the Americas, all European countries, Japan, and China. With this solution, Microchip can serve customers around the world with LTE-M/NB-IoT technology and IoT technology, supporting all major networks around the globe.


Figure 5: LTE-M or NB-IoT development kit (Image: Microchip Technology)

Microchip’s new IoT solutions are based on the company’s extensive ecosystem of development tools, focused on the MPLAB X integrated development environment (IDE). Code generators such as the MPLAB X Code Configurator (MCC) automate and speed application code creation and customization for smaller PIC and AVR microcontrollers. At the same time, Harmony’s software libraries support all 32-bit solutions for microcontrollers and microprocessors.

>> This article was originally published on our sister site, EE Times Europe.

 

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