By Ingolf Leidert
Sensor networks are nothing brand new and even terms like “smart dust” have been around for a while. Many have envisioned a future where every technical entity around us will be “smart” in some way and is permanently connected to a huge network consisting of small sensors that help monitor and control our world. Usually, the large step into such a future vision is divided into several smaller steps. Obviously, one parameter seems to be essential for the small and smart sensors vision: the power consumption of such an entity. With the ATmegaRF SoC family, Atmel has introduced one of the lowest power IEEE 802.15.4 systems in the world. Its low power consumption combined with the full AVR microcontroller (MCU) capabilities makes networks built with lots of compact, low-power wireless sensors look more realistic now. One project that shows this perfectly is the Pinoccio.
Pinoccio is an open-source, crowd-funded solution that provides a complete ecosystem for building products supporting The Internet of Things. These small “scout” boards, compatible with the Arduino platform, come with everything a “smart, wireless, connected entity” would need:
- LiPo battery (chargeable over USB)
- Temperature sensor
- Several I/Os for connecting DIY hardware (like more sensors)
- And, as its “heart”, the Atmel ATmega128RFA1 with its excellent power consumption of less than 17mA when actively transmitting. The ATmega128RFA1 is pin-compatible with the new ATmegaRFR2 family…so perhaps we’ll see future “scout” boards in 64kB or 256kB versions.
The developers have chosen that MCU explicitly for its low power and RF capabilities. And, as you can see from the estimated power specs, a sleeping scout board should be able to run for more than a year from one battery charge. Because the whole Pinoccio ecosystem includes a Wi-Fi board that finally connects all the tiny “scout” boards to an existing Wi-Fi infrastructure and even offers SD card data storage, this whole system looks like a wonderful first step into The Internet of Things.