Decades-long battery life in new ARM-powered microcontroller

31 Mar 2015

Microcontroller and touch-technology company Atmel has just released its new ARM Cortex-M chip, which may revolutionise these early days of Internet of Things (IoT).

Sensors and batteries – the two keys to unlocking the future of IoT. Can we make small enough sensors to garner and exchange the right data? Can we make small enough, powerful enough, batteries that don’t need recharging every few hours?

These are the two questions posed for today’s inventors, and they are being answered every day.

Now, Atmel’s latest creation may have brought significant IoT engagement closer to reality, with its new low-powered 32-bit SAM L controller able extend the battery life of small, low-powered intelligent devices by decades.

So things like fire alarms, monitors, weather readers etc require far less charging, limited battery changing and far longer lifetimes.

Apparently Atmel’s new products contain one-third the power of rival solutions, combining Flash with SRAM to allow wireless capabilities. With a full speed USB device and embedded host, the MCU also features a 12bit A/D converter with up to 20 channels and a 12bit 2channel D/A converter.

Its key technical advancement is how it operates in sleep mode, it seems, with the chip so low in power that it can charge off energy capture from the body.

When ‘sleeping’, the chip can do more than you’d think, thanks to it being divided into five separate power domains.

“In traditional sleep modes, you’d just gate away the clock (to stop power dissipation from switching),” said Andreas Eieland, Atmel’s director of product marketing, to Arstechnica.

“What we’ve done on the L21 is that we have five power domains – we don’t just gate away the clock, but we can also take away leakage (of power) from unused modules.”

The result is a far more efficient, small controller that, if advanced upon in the right way, will open up a whole new swathe of devices for IoT innovation.

It’s just a sample, prototype release so far, but once the right people get their hands on this it’s only a matter of time before it creeps into suites of low-powered devices.

Microcontroller image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic