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IoT modules from Microchip

2020-11-09

IoT modules from Microchip

For several years now, one of the most popular keywords repeated in the electronics industry is IoT, means, “Internet of Things”. Below, we present compact modules that facilitate prototyping and accelerate time to market for IoT edge devices. These modules are development kits produced by Microchip, designed to communicate via Bluetooth or in Wi-Fi networks, ready to work with Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud.

Not only in industry, but also in everyday life, we observe a rapidly growing variety of devices that can function only when permanently or periodically connected to the internet, or at least to a home or business local network. This connectivity is employed by us on a daily basis – from operating TV sets using a smartphone, to comprehensive factory automation.

Communication with and between all devices working in the system enables centralising the control (e.g. in the case of a production line or a smart home), but also involves downloading and sending an amount of data. The data is obtained from various sensors, usually by means of microcontrollers, whose computing power is too low for complex analysis of the data, let alone presenting it in a user-friendly way. A local server may be helpful in data processing, but its installation and maintenance is often too expensive for the expected benefits. Therefore, designers and users frequently choose the services offered by external companies, such as Amazon or Google, i.e. storage and processing of the data “in the cloud”.

There is another challenge that any IoT device must face: security. Unfortunately, a device which is overly simplified may become the weak link of a home or business network infrastructure. Moreover, it will not provide adequate level of data protection. There is no need to remind anyone about the devastating consequences of the lack of adequate security, especially in the case of networks connected to the internet.

IoT modules from Microchip

32-bit microcontrollers are often used in IoT devices. They have sufficient computing power and are designed to work with network applications. Their resources make it possible to use the complex software responsible for operating user’s application, wireless transmission and ensuring an appropriate level of security of the data exchanged between the device and the cloud (authentication and cryptography). On the other hand, the need to build such extensive software is also a disadvantage. Development of such a solution is time-consuming, requires knowledge of the architecture of the system used, as well as advanced knowledge of libraries for operating the TCP/IP stack and MQTT-type or more advanced protocols, or a compatible operating system. Additionally, one must provide for the implementation of security solutions for transmitted data and the possible update of the firmware. In many cases, the use of a 32-bit microprocessor may unnecessarily complicate the design. It is especially the case when a functionally simple application is to be designed – for example, an application that reads data from environmental sensors and reacts to their change according to the instructions coming from the control centre via the cloud.

That is why Microchip, via TME, offers compact IoT modules equipped with 8- and 16-bit microcontrollers – AVR or PIC, depending on your needs and preferences.

Particular SMART/CONNECTED/SECURE functionalities are implemented by dedicated blocks (microcontroller/communication module/authentication chip).

The crucial information about the six modules available at TME is presented in the table below. They are basically divided into AVR and PIC microcontrollers. Customers can choose one of three modules from each group: an energy-saving module adapted to Bluetooth communications; Wi-Fi module designed to work with Amazon Web Services (AWS); or a Wi-Fi module dedicated to the Google Cloud service.

All boards are equipped with a debugger, which facilitates cooperation with IDE and accelerates prototyping. Thanks to the debugger and USB communication, programming of the module in the Microchip MPLAB® X IDE environment is performed very smoothly. The module is recognized automatically by the software, the LED lights indicate the current status of the device, and the user may utilise a virtual COM port and a logic analyser channel (GDI GPIO). Moreover, the products based on AVR microcontrollers remain compatible with the popular Atmel Studio and Atmel Start environments.

It is worth noting that Bluetooth modules can be powered by a small “coin” CR2032 battery thanks to the eXtreme Low Power (XLP) technology. Other models are equipped with a charge controller and a connector for a lithium-ion (Li-Ion) or lithium-polymer (Li-Pol) cell.

Model Microcontroller Connectivity type Dedicated to the service
AVR-BLE ATmega3208 Bluetooth n/d
AVR-IOT-WA ATmega4808 Wi-Fi Amazon Web Services
AVR-IOT ATmega4808 Wi-Fi Google Cloud
PIC-BLE PIC16LF18456 Bluetooth n/d
PIC-IOT-WA PIC24FJ128GA705 Wi-Fi Amazon Web Services
PIC-IOT PIC24FJ128GA705 Wi-Fi Google Cloud

Each module has additional components installed on PCB. Depending on the model, these can be: GPIO connector which gives you direct access to microcontroller functions, physical buttons, additional LEDs, light sensor (TEMT6000, Wi-Fi versions only), temperature sensor (MCP9808 or MCP9844) or accelerometer (BMA253, Bluetooth versions only).

Connectivity and security

Wi-Fi connectivity is possible thanks to the the ATWINC1510 module made by Microchip. It works in the 2.4GHz (b/g/n) bandwidth, supports TCP/IP in the IPv4 version and is compatible with networks encrypted via WPA/WPA2, TLS and SSL protocols. The items intended for Bluetooth connectivity are equipped with a RN4870 module. This is a proven, proprietary solution by Microchip. The module enables communication in the Bluetooth 5 standard and is operated by commands sent via the UART interface. Both communication modules (and therefore all presented products) are certified to work in key regions of the world: North America, Europe, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China.

Data sent by Microchip modules is additionally secured thanks to the use of ATECC608A cryptographic co-processor. It is a system that uses the ECC technique (Elliptic Curve Cryptography). As authentication (encryption) is performed in a dedicated system, it is quick and reliable, ensuring high information security. These devices are already pre-registered in AWS or Google Cloud, which means additional time saving for the user.

Microcontrollers

The modules based on AVR microcontrollers have one of the systems installed: ATmega3208 or ATmega4808. These are related, 8-bit constructions which vary in the available program memory (respectively: 32KB and 48KB) and static random access memory (4KB and 8KB). They can work with maximum frequency of 20MHz. Microcontrollers are equipped with 4 timers with 16-bit prescalers (frequency dividers). The user can also utilise 12 channels of A/C converter. Communication with peripherals is made by using the SPI / I2C and USART serial interfaces.

A more advanced solution is the PIC16LF18456 microcontroller, present in the PIC-BLE modules. It has been designed to be energy-saving (eXtreme Low-Power technology) and to work with various sensors. It has a 12-bit, 24-channel analogue-to-digital converter with a conversion function (ADC2 ). It can operate independently of the core and wake the core from the sleep mode – thus saving energy consumption. The system has also space for two comparators, two 10-bit PWM generators, four 8-bit and four 16-bit counters, and a 5-bit D/A converter.

PIC24FJ128GA705 microcontrollers are used in the PIC-IoT modules. These are 16-bit systems, operating at frequencies up to 32MHz and designed for mobile applications (powered by batteries). As in the case of the PIC16LF18456, they use CIP technology, i.e. core-independent peripherals, which is an additional energy-saving solution. The microcontroller can be used to manage a touch keyboard build in capacitive technology. It also has a built-in real-time clock and 3 analogue comparators. Having the components present in the PIC-IoT modules, this device is an easy to program, yet powerful tool that can be used to build advanced IoT devices.

The video below shows a simple application that uses the basic functionality of Microchip modules equipped with PIC microcontrollers. The system is connected to the Google Nest service. After receiving the call, information about the weather in a given location is downloaded. Using one of the Click add-on board from Mikroelekronika (in this case, it is a stepper motor driver), the module moves the indicating needle so that it points at the symbol of the current weather conditions in the location chosen by the user.

It is worth noting that all of the presented Microchip products can work with Click add-on boards from Mikroelektronika. Our catalogue includes hundreds of products of this manufacturer – make sure you see this offer.

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