Atmel Microcontroller Portends Decade-Long Power On A Single Battery Charge For IoT Devices

The Internet of Things is poised to see an explosion of growth over the next few years as more companies try to make more products "smart" or connect them to the Internet. This will present many great challenges, and one of them could be achieving long battery life for things that can't be plugged all the time.

Back in 2012, ARM announced the ultra-low-power Cortex-M0+ MCU (microcontroller), an ARMv6-M 32-bit chip that's the smallest processor design ARM currently licenses to chip makers. Atmel, a leading microcontroller maker, is one of the companies that has taken the power optimizations even further with its proprietary design.

Atmel's new SAM L21, based on the Cortex-M0+ MCU, managed to get a power consumption level as low as 35 microamps/MHz when the processor is active, and only 200 nanoamps when it's idle. This could lead to a potential battery life of over a decade for common implementations.

Atmel envisions that the chip could be used in devices such as fire alarms, healthcare, medical, wearable and in places such as rural, agriculture, offshore and other remote areas, where the battery can't be changed or charged often.

The SAM L21 uses a 48 MHz (2.46 CoreMark/MHz) Cortex-M0+ MCU, 256 KB of flash memory, 40 KB SRAM, and up to 8 KB of separate low-power static RAM to keep things running as close to idle mode as possible. The chip also includes advanced features such as an AES encryption module and a true random number generator (TRNG). Security is another great challenge for IoT devices, so it's good to see that Atmel wants to make strong encryption possible even on such a low-end chip.

"With over two decades of MCU experience, ultra-low power picoPower technology is part of Atmel's heritage, starting with our AVR family. The SAM L21 MCUs leverage this ultra-low power expertise and are enabling customers to solve their power challenges for battery-powered IoT devices," said Pat Sullivan, Vice President of Marketing, Microcontroller Business Unit, Atmel Corporation.

The Atmel SAM L21 is available for sampling now and comes with the development platform that includes the Xplained Pro kit, code libraries and Atmel Studio support. The Xplained Pro is an evaluation board that comes with an onboard debugger and standardized extension connectors. The Atmel Studio is a free IDE that supports the SAM L21 board and can calculate its power consumption for different tasks. The company hasn't announced any pricing yet.

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Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.