The Future of Hardware Design

The future of hardware design is in the cloud. Many companies are already focused on the Internet of Things (IoT) and creating hardware to be interconnected in the cloud. However, can we get to a point where we build hardware itself in the cloud?

Traditional methods of building hardware in the cloud recalls the large industry of EDA software packages—board layouts, 3-D circuit assemblies, and chip design. It’s arguable that this industry emphasizes mechanical design, focusing on intricate chip placement, 3-D space, and connections. There are also cloud-based SPICE simulators for electronics—a less-than-user-friendly experience with limited libraries of generic parts. Simulators that do have a larger library also tend to have a larger associated cost. Finding exact parts can be a frustrating experience. A SPICE transistor typically does not have a BOM part number requiring a working design to become a sourcing hunt amongst several vendor offerings.123D Circuits with Wifi Module

What if I want to create real hardware in the cloud, and build a project like those in Circuit Cellar articles? This is where I see the innovation that is changing the future of how we make electronics. We now have cloud platforms that provide you with the experience of using actual parts from vendors and interfacing them with a microcontroller. Component lists including servo motors, IR remotes with buttons, LCDs, buzzers with sound, and accelerometers are needed if you’re actually building a project. Definitive parts carried by vendors and not just generic ICs are crucial. Ask any design engineer—they have their typical parts that they reuse and trust in every design. They need to verify that these parts move and work, so having an online platform with these parts allows for a real world simulation.

An Arduino IDE that allows for real-time debugging and stepping through code in the cloud is powerful. Advanced microcontroller IDEs do not have external components in their simulators or environment. A platform that can interconnect a controller with external components in simulation mirrors real life closer than anything else. By observing rises in computer processing power, many opportunities may be realized in the future with other more complex MCUs.

Most hardware designers are unaware of the newest cloud offerings or have not worked with a platform enough to evaluate it as a game-changer. But imagine if new electronics makers and existing engineers could learn and innovate without hardware for free in the cloud.

I remember spending considerable time working on circuit boards to learn the hardware “maker” side of electronics. I would typically start with a breadboard to build basic circuits. Afterwards it was migrated to a protoboard to build a smaller, robust circuit that could be soldered together. Several confident projects later, I jumped to designing and producing PCB boards that eventually led to an entirely different level in the semiconductor industry. Once the boards were designed, all the motors, sensors, and external parts could be assembled to the board for testing.

Traditionally, an assembled PCB was needed to run the hardware design—to test it for reliability, to program it, and to verify it works as desired. Parts could be implemented separately, but in the end, a final assembled design was required for software testing, peripheral integration, and quality testing. Imagine how this is now different using a hardware simulation. The quality aspect will always be tied to actual hardware testing, but the design phase is definitely undergoing disruption. A user can simply modify and test until the design works to their liking, and then design it straight away to a PCB after several online designs failures, all without consequence.

With an online simulation platform, aspiring engineers can now have experiences different from my traditional one. They don’t need labs or breadboards to blink LEDs. The cloud equalizes access to technology regardless of background. Hardware designs can flow like software. Instead of sending electronics kits to countries with importation issues, hardware designs can be shared online and people can toggle buttons and user test it. Students do not have to buy expensive hardware, batteries, or anything more than a computer.

An online simulation platform also affects the design cycle. Hardware design cycles can be fast when needed, but it’s not like software. But by merging the two sides means thousands can access a design and provide feedback overnight, just like a Facebook update. Changes to a design can be done instantly and deployed at the same time—an unheard of cycle time. That’s software’s contribution to the traditional hardware one.
There are other possibilities for hardware simulation on the end product side of the market. For instance, crowdfunding websites have become popular destinations for funding projects. But should we trust a simple video representing a working prototype and then buy the hardware ahead of a production? Why can’t we play with the real hardware online? By using an online simulation of actual hardware, even less can be invested in terms of hardware costs, and in the virtual environment, potential customers can experience the end product built on a real electronic design.

Subtle changes tend to build up and then avalanche to make dramatic changes in how industries operate. Seeing the early signs—realizing something should be simpler—allows you to ask questions and determine where market gaps exist. Hardware simulation in the cloud will change the future of electronics design, and it will provide a great platform for showcasing your designs and teaching others about the industry.

John Young is the Product Marketing Manager for Autodesk’s 123D Circuits ( focusing on building a free online simulator for electronics. He has a semiconductor background in designing products—from R&D to market launch for Freescale and Renesas. His passion is finding the right market segment and building new/revamped products. He holds a BSEE from Florida Atlantic University, an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management and is pursuing a project management certification from Stanford.

Dual-Core, Runtime-Reconfigurable Processor for Low-Power Applications

Imsys has developed a dual-core, runtime-reconfigurable processor that can run at 350 MHz with an active power consumption of 19.7 µW/MHz using one core. Intended for low-power applications, 97% of the processor’s transistors are used in memory blocks. The cores share memories and a five-port grid network router (NoC). Memory management is handled by microcode, and memory is closely integrated with the processor without the need for an ordinary cache controller. The active consumption of each core—executing from RAM, including its consumption there—is 6.9 mW at 350 MHz.

Imsys’s processor is suitable for sensor nodes powered by energy harvesting in the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as in many-core chips for microservers and robotics. Microcode, as opposed to logic gates, is compact and energy efficient. Imsys uses extensive microprogramming to accomplish a rich set of instructions, thereby reducing the number of cycles needed without energy inefficient speculative activity and duplicated hardware logic. Each core has two instruction sets, one of which executes Java and Python directly from the dense JVM bytecode representation. C code is compiled to the other set with unparalleled density. Internal microcode is used for computationally intensive standard routines, such as crypto algorithms, which would otherwise be assembly coded library routines or even special hardware blocks. Optimizing CPU intensive tasks by microcode can reduce execution time and energy consumption of by more than an order of magnitude compared to C code.

The rich instruction set optimized for the compiler reduces the memory needed for software. And just like the microcoded algorithms, it reduces the number of clock cycles needed for execution. This platform has a certified JVM and uses an RTOS kernel certified to ISO 26262 safety standard for automotive applications. The development tools will be enhanced with the support enabled by the LLVM infrastructure. A new instruction set optimized for an LLVM backend has been developed and is being implemented in the coming hardware generation.

Source: Imsys

Connected Home Solutions with ZigBee and Thread-Ready Connectivity

Silicon Labs recently introduced a series of comprehensive reference designs that reduce time to market and simplify the development of ZigBee-based home automation, connected lighting and smart gateway products. The first in a series of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, the new reference designs include hardware, firmware, and software tools for developing high-quality connected home solutions based on Silicon Labs’s ZigBee “Golden Unit” Home Automation (HA 1.2) software stack and ZigBee SoC mesh networking technology.SiliconLabs IoT-SolutionsSilicon Labs’ ZigBee connected lighting reference designs feature wireless lighting boards and a plug-in demo board. The Golden Unit ZigBee stack allows LED lights to reliably join, interoperate, and leave a mesh network. The connected lights can support white, color temperature tuning, and RGB color settings as well as dimming.

Silicon Labs’ ZigBee-based home automation reference designs include a capacitive-sense dimmable light switch and a small door/window contact sensor. The light switch provides color, color tuning, and dimming control capabilities. As opposed to conventional switches, the wireless, battery-powered switches have no moving parts and are easy to place anywhere in a home. The switch design includes Silicon Labs’s EFM8 capacitive sensing microcontroller to detect different user gestures (touch, hold, and swipe). The contact sensor reference design provides all the tools needed to create wireless, battery-powered sensors used to monitor door and window positions (open or closed).

Silicon Labs offers two ZigBee gateway options to complement the reference designs:

  • A plug-and-play USB virtual gateway that works with any PC development platform and supports the Windows, OS X, and Linux environments as a virtual machine
  • An out-of-the-box Wi-Fi/Ethernet gateway reference design based on an embedded Linux computer system

Both gateway options enable you to control and monitor ZigBee HA 1.2-compliant end nodes through Wi-Fi with any device with a web browser, such as a smartphone or tablet. With an intuitive, web-based user interface, you can easily create rules between ZigBee end devices including lights, dimmable light switches, and contact sensors.

Silicon Labs’ connected lighting, home automation, and smart gateway reference designs are currently available. The RD-0020-0601 and RD-0035-0601 connected lighting reference designs cost $49. The RD-0030-0201 contact sensor reference design is $39. The RD-0039-0201 capacitive-sense dimmable light switch reference design is $29. The USB virtual gateway is $49. The out-of-the-box Wi-Fi/Ethernet gateway reference design is $149.

Source: Silicon Labs 

STM32 Family Enabled for the ARM mbed IoT Device Platform

STMicroelectronics has announced that the STM32 family of ARM Cortex-M based microcontrollers is now enabled for the ARM mbed IoT Device Platform with the latest public version of the ARM mbed OS. The mbed platform adds a standard OS, cloud services, and development tools for creating new IoT applications.

By adding mbed to its handy design ecosystem, STMicro is encouraging more productivity and collaboration in IoT development. Using the mbed OS with STM32 development hardware enables you to innovate while reducing your product’s time to market. You can easily incorporate STM32 microcontrollers with STMicro’s sensor and power-management products to deploy “smart,” secure IoT designs.

Source: STMicroelectronics

Arcturus uCMK64-IoT module: TLS security, Ethernet, Wi-Fi and more (Sponsored)

The Arcturus uCMK64-IoT is a 60x60mm module for developing secure IoT devices that require a combination of connectivity and control. The hardware uses a 120MHz, Freescale Kinetis K64 microcontroller with Ethernet, Wi-Fi, TLS security, peripheral connectivity and optional audio. The platform is controlled using a simple command protocol over a UART or TCP/IP socket, providing options for both host-MCU or cloud integration. The protocol supports I/O, bi-directional UART-to-net communication, device services and settings. A “call home” feature automatically originates the secure TLS socket connection to a remote server, helping to egress firewalls.

uCMK64-MOD-Top_PennyThe platform is fully compatible with the eco-system of Arcturus IoT tools, including Mbarx-System Manager, a powerful tool for securely managing entire network sites. Developers can easily connect, change firmware, configure, control or probe attached sensors and peripherals. An IoT apps store, provides direct access to firmware.

The uCMK64 is IoT made easy, no complex BSP or software system integration. The development kit contains everything you need to get started.

uCMK64-Kit_ContentsKey features:

  • 120MHz ARM® Cortex® M4 microcontroller
  • Ethernet with network stack
  • 11bgn Wi-Fi
  • Optional audio
  • Socket or UART control
  • Eco-system of IoT Tools
  • -40 to +85C parts rating


  • TLS based secure connectivity
  • I/O controls
  • UART-to-net peripheral connectivity
  • Optional VoIP, audio and PA firmware

How to buy:

  • uCMK64-IoT Development Kit
  • uCMK64-MOD – Module
  • uCMK64-SSB – Board

Learn more at


Next-Gen Bluetooth Low Energy Solutions

Microchip Technology recently launched next-generation Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) solutions intended for Internet of Things (IoT) and Bluetooth Beacon applications: the IS1870 Bluetooth LE RF module, the IS1871 Bluetooth LE RF module, and the BM70 module.Microchip BM70

The Bluetooth LE devices include an integrated, certified Bluetooth 4.2 firmware stack. Data is transmitted over the Bluetooth link using Transparent UART mode, which you can integrate with any processor or PIC microcontroller with a UART interface. The module also supports standalone “hostless” operation for beacon applications.

The optimized power profile of these new devices minimizes current consumption for extended battery life, in compact form factors as small as 4 × 4 mm for the RF ICs and 15 × 12 mm for the module. The module options include RF regulatory certifications, or noncertified (unshielded/antenna-less) for smaller and more remote antenna designs that will undergo end-product emission certifications.

The BM70 Bluetooth Low Energy PICtail/PICtail Plus daughter board enables code development via USB interface to a PC. Or you can connect to Microchip’s existing microcontroller development boards, such as the Explorer 16, PIC18 Explorer and PIC32 I/O Expansion Board. The BM-70-PICTAIL costs $89.99.

The IS1870 Bluetooth LE RF IC (6 × 6 mm, 48-pin QFN package) costs $1.79 in 1,000-unit quantities. The IS1871 (4 × 4 mm, 32-pin QFN package) costs $1.76 in 1,000-unit quantities. The 30-pin BM70 Bluetooth LE modules are available with or without built-in PCB antennas, starting at $4.99 each in 1,000-unit quantities.

Source: Microchip Technology

New Pre-Certified HumRC Series Remote Control Transceiver

Linx Technologies recently introduced new pre-certified remote control and sensor transceiver modules. Built on the Hummingbird platform, the HumRC Series transceiver is a frequency hopping spread spectrum (FHSS) transceiver designed for reliable bidirectional remote control and sensor applications. Available in 900 MHz, the HumRC outputs up to 10 dBm, which results in a line-of-sight range of up to 1 mile.HumRC pre-cert-series-pr-art

The HumRC Series module is a completely integrated RF transceiver and processor designed for bidirectional remote control. It employs a fast-locking FHSS system for noise immunity and higher transmitter output power as allowed by government regulations.

The remote control transceiver has eight status lines that can be individually configured as inputs to register button presses or as outputs to drive application circuitry. A selectable acknowledgement indicates that the transmission was successfully received. Primary settings are hardware-selectable, which eliminates the need for an external microcontroller or other digital interface.

The transceiver also has two analog-to-digital (ADC) inputs for sensors or circuits that output an analog voltage. The module can automatically respond to a command with these values, so a sensor node does not need an additional microprocessor.

To aid rapid development, the HumRC Series low-cost RF modules are available as part of a newly conceived type of Master Development System. This development kit is intended to assist in the rapid evaluation and integration of the HumRC Series data transceiver modules. It features several preassembled evaluation boards that include everything needed to quickly test the operation of the transceiver modules.

Source: Linx Technologies

The IAR Connect Portal for the IoT

IAR Systems recently launched IAR Connect, which is a portal that presents product development platforms and serves as hub intended to connect innovators interested in the Internet of Things (IoT) and other emerging technologies.IAR Systems connect

One of the first members of IAR Connect is Renesas Electronics. Customers using the Renesas Synergy Platform can begin product development at a high level of abstraction and focus completely on designing innovative features for embedded applications and connected devices.

“The best way to take advantage of the possibilities of the new connected world is by providing new technology offerings, sharing knowledge and establishing strategic alliances, such as our strong partnership with Renesas. With IAR Connect, we enable innovation by connecting people and technologies. I invite everyone to connect, get inspired and explore the potential of the Internet of Things and the connected world at”, said IAR Systems CEO Stefan Skarin in a released statement.

Source: IAR Systems

New Low-Power Smart Sensor Wireless Platform for IoT Devices

Dialog Semiconductor recently announced that it is collaborating with Bosch Sensortec to develop a low-power smart sensor platform for Internet of Things (IoT) devices. The 12-DOF smart sensor reference platform is intended for gesture recognition in wearable computing devices and immersive gaming, including augmented reality and 3-D indoor mapping and navigation.DS008_bosch-Dialog

The platform comprises Dialog’s DA14580 Bluetooth Smart SoC with three low-power Bosch Sensortecsensors: the BMM150 (for three-axis geo-magnetic field measurement), the BME280 (pressure, humidity, and temperature sensor), and the siz-axis BMI160 (a combination of a three-axis accelerometer and three-axis gyroscope in one chip). The resulting 14 × 14 mm2 unit draws less than 500 µA from a 3-V coin cell when updating and transferring all 12 × 16 bits of data wirelessly to a smartphone.


The 2.5 × 2.5 × 0.5 mm DA14580 SmartBond SoC integrates a Bluetooth Smart radio with an ARM Cortex-M0 application processor and intelligent power management. It more than doubles the battery life of an application-enabled smartphone accessory, wearable device, or computer peripheral in comparison with other solutions. The DA14580 includes a variety of analog and digital interfaces and features less than 15 mW power consumption in active mode and 600-nA standby current.

Bosch Sensortec’s BMI160 six-axis Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) integrates a 16 bit, three-axis, low-g accelerometer and an ultra-low power three-axis gyroscope within a single package. When the accelerometer and gyroscope are in full operation mode, the typical current consumption is 950 µA.

The BMM150 integrates a compact three-axis geo-magnetic field sensor using Bosch Sensortec’s high performance FlipCore technology. The BME280 Integrated Environmental Unit combines sensors for barometric pressure, humidity, and temperature measurement. Its altitude measurement function is a key requirement in applications such as indoor navigation with floor tracking.

Source: Dialog Semiconductor

Small, Low-Power Battery Management Solution for the IoT

Texas Instruments’s new bq25120 battery management solution features low quiescent current (Iq) at 700-nA with the buck converter and operates at 1.8 V. Supporting batteries from 3.6-V to 4.65-V, and fast charge currents from 5-mA to 300-mA, the bq25120 enables wearables and Internet of Things (IoT) applications to remain on without draining the battery. TI Battery1

The bq25120 includes a linear charger, configurable LDO, buck converter, load switch, push button control, and battery voltage monitor. You can use it with other devices to integrate more end application features.

With the $99 bq25120 evaluation module (EVM), you can speed up time to market by easily evaluating device features and performance. The 2.5 mm × 2.5 mm bq25120 charger costs $1.60 in 1,000-piece quantities.

Source: Texas Instruments

New Ultra-Compact Wireless M-Bus Module

AMIHO Technology recently announced an ultra-compact and cost effective Wireless Meter-Bus module. The AM090 is intended primarily for connecting smart meters and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. At just 15 × 15 mm, the AM090 works well with small sensors and other IoT end points.AMIHO AM090

Fully compliant with the European standards (EN13757), the AM090 features Freescale’s Kinetis family of ARM cortex MCUs and operates at 868 MHz. The module includes a comprehensive and optimized software stack, which can be licensed as a stand-alone product for integration into other designs.

Source: AMIHO Technology

IoT Project: DIY, Net-Connected Wireless Water Heater

Some people like to remotely start their cars when it’s cold outside. Dan Beadle took this idea one step further by Internet-enabling his mountainside retreat’s hydronics system. The innovative design enables him to warm the house well in advance of his arrival.

Serving up the current temperature involves several computers, a Wi-Fi access point, and the DPAC Airborne module.

Serving up the current temperature involves several computers, a Wi-Fi access point, and a DPAC Airborne module.

In “Wireless Water Heater” (Circuit Cellar 163), Beadle writes:

My mountain home, where I have vacationed for years, is well insulated, making it a snap for the heater system to keep warm. I have a small, efficient heater; however, it takes forever to warm the house from a 50°F standby to a livable 68°F. Typically, I arrive late and shiver in my jacket for three or four hours until the house warms up—and that does not warm the entire house, just the portion needed to get through the night.

I had been thinking for a while about Internet-enabling the system. The idea was to turn on the heater before we start up the mountain. I have DSL at the house with a fixed IP. So, it seemed like it would be a simple task to enable a thermostat. I considered using an X10 thermostat, but, after a few of our X10-enabled lights found a mind of their own, I decided that I wanted better reliability. My next thought was to use simple copper to do the hook-up. I started planning a cable from my office/DSL entry up to the logical thermostat location. Then I procrastinated. I could not bring myself to run the wires along the surface of my redwood paneling. (And it was not at all feasible to remove the paneling.) Wireless makes the problem a lot simpler: there are no wires to run, and the applications processor and digital I/O on the module make the hardware design trivial.

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Blue Gecko Module Simplifies Smart Design

Silicon Labs recently introduced a fully integrated, precertified Bluetooth Smart module solution that provides a speedy path to low-power wireless connectivity for the IoT. The BGM111 module is the first in a family of advanced Blue Gecko modules delivering integration, flexibility, energy efficiency, and toolchain support with an easy migration path to Blue Gecko system-on-chip (SoC) solutions. It simplifies Bluetooth Smart design for a wide variety of applications ranging from smart phone accessories to industrial sensors.

Based on Silicon Labs’s Blue Gecko wireless SoCs, the 12.9 mm × 15 mm × 2.2 mm BGM111 modules provide a plug-and-play Bluetooth Smart design precertified for use in North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific. The BGM111 modules are preloaded with the Bluegiga Bluetooth 4.1-compliant software stack and profiles and are field-upgradable using device firmware upgrades to Bluetooth 4.2 and beyond.SiLabs BlueGeckoThe BGM111 module is supported by Silicon Labs’s wireless SDK, which means you can use either a host or fully standalone operation through the Bluegiga BGScript scripting language. Using a familiar BASIC-like syntax, BGScript enables you to create Bluetooth applications quickly without using external MCUs to run the application logic. All application code can be executed on the BGM111 module.

Pre-production samples of the BGM111 Blue Gecko module, supported by the SLWSTK6101A Blue Gecko wireless starter kit, are currently available. BGM111 module pricing begins at $4.97 in 10,000-unit quantities. The SLWSTK6101A starter kit costs $150.

Source: Silicon Labs

Two-Pin, Self-Powered Serial EEPROM for the IoT

Atmel recently announced a two-pin, single-wire EEPROM intended for the Internet of Things (IoT), wearables, and more. The self-powered devices don’t require a power source or VCC pin, with a parasitic power scheme over the data pin. They provide ultra-low power standby of 700 nA, 200 µA for write current, and 80 µA for read current at 25°C.

The AT21CS01/11 devices eliminate the need for external capacitors and rectifiers with its parasitic power scheme over a single data pin. Plus, their ultra-high write endurance capability to allow more than 1 million cycles for each memory location to meet the requirements for today’s high-write endurance applications.

The AT21CS01/11 products include a simple product identification with a plug-and-play, 64-bit unique serial number in every device. Furthermore, they deliver industry-leading electrostatic discharge (ESD) rating (IEC 61000-4-2 Level 4 ESD Compliant), so a variety of applications (e.g., cables and consumables) can tolerate exposure to the outside environment or direct human contact while still delivering high performance.

The new devices follow the I2C protocol, which enables easy migration from existing EEPROM with less overhead and the capability to connect up to eight devices on the same bus. The AT21CS01 devices offer a security register with a 64-bit factory programmed serial number and an extra 16 bytes of user-programmable and permanently lockable storag.

The AT21CS01 is intended for low-voltage applications operating at 1.7 to 3.6 V. For applications that require higher voltage ranges (e.g., Li-Ion/polymer batteries), the AT21CS11 supports a 2.7 to 4.5 V operating range.

The AT21CS01 devices are available in production quantities in three-lead SOT23, eight-lead SOIC, and four-ball WLCSP. Pricing starts at $0.32 in 5,000-piece quantities. The AT21CS11 will be available in Q4 2015.

Source: Atmel

Advantech Offers Full Support of Microsoft Windows 10 IoT

Advantech now supports Windows 10 IoT (Internet of Things), which is intended to power a wide variety of intelligent connected devices, such as mobile point-of-sale units, robots, and medical equipment. Windows 10 IoT is designed to connect through Azure IoT Services and to provide enterprise-grade security along with machine-to-machine and machine-to-cloud connectivity.AdvantechWin10

Advantech offers diverse platforms with Windows 10 IoT preinstalled, including boards, systems, and gateways. Advantech WISE-PaaS Platform as a Service supports Windows 10 IoT with Core, Mobile, and Industry versions through Universal Windows Apps structure to offer Cloud Services. With it, developers can rapidly build applications and easily and deploy IoT cloud solutions.

Source: Advantech Corp.