Tackling wireless sensor development - Embedded.com

Tackling wireless sensor development

Semiconductor companies that supply the hardware/software building blocks for embedded wireless M2M and IoT apps are running into a new breed of developer. Totally different than the experienced designers of past years, many of them have no background in MCU development or in any of the many wireless protocols. The only things they have in common with veteran developers are the desire to participate in a new wave of Internet of Things designs and get their ideas to market as fast as possible. Among these companies are Texas Instruments, Silicon Labs, and Freescale Semiconductor, each with its own view of what tools a developer needs and how best to provide them.

Inexperienced developers have always been there, demanding tools that are easier to use, Texas Instruments System Applications Manager Jarle Boe told EE Times. But recently, as the excitement about IoT and wireless sensors has grown, they have increased in number. “At TI-sponsored events on such topics in the past we would get 50 to 100 or so developers on average. Now, depending on the venue, we are seeing very many more than that. And many of the newcomers are inexperienced with hardware development on MCUs and want simpler and quicker ways to develop code.”


Developing sensor tags with a downloadable app [Video link] (Source: Texas Instruments)

To meet that need and to accelerate adoption of its recently introduced SimpleLink family of ARM-based CC2650 wireless microcontrollers, TI this week introduced its new SimpleLink Multi-Standard SensorTag IoT kit for such newbies. The kit is a complement to the company’s Launchpad platform for experienced MCU developers.

Via an app downloaded to a mobile platform, a developer can access a cloud based environment within which code can be developed for the selected sensor.

Via an app downloaded to a mobile platform, a developer can access a cloud based environment within which code can be developed for the selected sensor.

Initially the kit includes wireless connectivity tools for Bluetooth low energy, 6LoWPAN, and ZigBee apps on the CC2650 MCU. Planned for later addition to the kit is a Wi-Fi SensorTag for the SimpleLink CC3200 wireless MCU.

The software with the kit is primarily a cloud-based graphical menu environment in which developers can select from a set of wireless options for the sensor tag environment as well as MCU configuration, power requirements, and other critical information. It then generates the code for developing a prototype of a sensor tag appropriate in any specific product environment. “The aim was the creation of an environment was as hands-off as possible from the underlying hardware, with an emphasis on helping developers get the code they need as quickly as possible,” said Boe.

TI sensor tag tool includes DevPack plug-in modules for particular applications such as LEDs and smartwatch displays.

TI sensor tag tool includes DevPack plug-in modules for particular applications such as LEDs and smartwatch displays.

Out of the box, the developer is provided with a free iOS or Android app. With no programming experience required, the kit allows connection via the app to the Internet in less than three minutes to either a server for TI’s IoT cloud ecosystem, or the one for IBM’s Bluemix IoT Foundation.

Provided with the kit are reference designs which include such things as 3D print files of the SensorTag enclosures that allow reuse of the Sensor Tags as a starting point for a developer's own designs. Also included are DevPack plug-in modules that extend the kit functionality and programmability for particular applications such as LEDs and smartwatch displays.

Boe said that generating the necessary code using the kit’s cloud-based tool is as simple as downloading a sensor tag app from the Apple App Store or GooglePlay and pulling the tab on the sensor tag batteries in the kit to power it up. Then pick the sensor tag for a particular wireless option from a device list and select “sensor view” to see the sensor readings. From there, development is a matter of selecting a needed function and dragging and dropping it a main graphical window to automatically generate the necessary code.

TI's sensor tag development tools allow developer to pick tag features, drag them into a design, and instantly see the code needed to take design to completion.(Source: Texas Instruments)
TI's sensor tag development tools allow developer to pick tag features, drag them into a design, and instantly see the code needed to take design to completion. (Source: Texas Instruments)

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