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Newest Arduino Brings Wi-Fi and ARM to a Trim New Form Factor

Makers can choose from multiple development platforms for the Internet of Things (IoT), many of which feature processors based on ARM® design cores. Mark Woods, ARM’s Applications Architect and Maker, discusses how the average maker, regardless of whether they’ve a degree in electrical engineering or not, can get started on a project.

By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Single-board computers, such as the Arduino MKR1000 / Genuino MKR1000, the Raspberry Pi 3 and other models, are extremely useful to the maker community, offering increased capabilities while prices continue to fall and form factors are shrinking. Makers can now get their hands on microcontrollers or microprocessors, even full system-on-a-chip devices, when selecting a board-level development platform.

Figure1_Arduino MKR1000

Figure 1: The Arduino MKR1000 development board. (Courtesy https://www.arduino.cc/ )

“Makers —or DIYers for us Brits!—have always been pushing the boundaries, and have long been ardent users of MCUs,” says Mark Woods. “As more complex SoCs have made their way to low-cost platforms, they have seen rapid adoption. Examples are 3D printers built on ArduinoRaspberry Pi and BeagleBone—enabling low-cost system development and requiring only custom electronics for the machine control or user interface specifics. Another great example is the OpenROV community—a community of developers creating personal underwater robots—and again starting with BeagleBone and Arduino.”

“Low cost and high performance have been critical, alongside the ability to code in high-level languages, such as Java or Python—I see these attributes echoed in other successful communities.”

“What’s important here is that makers, who may have no formal electrical engineering skills, can develop complex systems without having to worry about the costs, time and complexity of building and debugging complex hardware just to get to the system creation starting line. Of course, makers typically share, so the whole community benefits from open-source software and sharing of builds and techniques.”

Figure2_Mark Woods

Figure 2: Mark Woods, ARM’s Applications Architect and Maker

Woods speaks enthusiastically about the new Arduino MKR1000, known outside the United States as the Genuino MKR1000. He notes the shape of the MKR1000 is different than previous Arduino boards.

“The MKR1000 is both more and less at once! The new form factor is much smaller than traditional Arduino boards, but integrates connectivity into that new smaller form factor, avoiding the need to add shields just for that function. In my mind, MKR1000 is fundamentally an Arduino ZERO and WiFi101 shield in one tiny package,” he says. “What’s also nice is this small board comes with standard 0.1-inch header in a DIP format, providing 28 pins for interfacing to the outside world with a nice mix of analog and digital functionality—perfect for hooking up sensors and for control manipulation.”

This IoT platform with Wi-Fi connectivity, priced at $35, includes software aimed at use by designers, hobbyists, makers and others, not just full-time embedded systems engineers. Woods adds, “Integration, high performance, low power, huge code ecosystem, bank-quality security and yes, a low price, tells me you can prototype quickly, pivot, try lots of different ideas, and once it looks like you have a winner, you can test your market with an RF-certified solution. Arduino is solving a lot of these issues with moving from a prototype to production. Remember Pebble? With modules like this, your path from prototype to small- or large-scale production is safe, predictable and visible.”

The MKR1000 is based on Atmel’s ATSAMW25 SoC device, which incorporates the ARM Cortex®-M0+ low-power microcontroller. Woods comments, “The Cortex-M0+ is the smallest and lowest-power ARM to date, but it punches above its weight, with a great blend of 32-bit performance, upward compatibility with the ARM world, and wicked power control. It has become the go-to CPU for low-power wearables, toys, sensor nodes, beacons and the Internet of Things.”

“One key design aspect of the MKR1000 is that Arduino chose Wi-Fi over Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), and with the SAMW25, they gave us a high-performance, standards-rich connectivity solution with security. 802.11 b/g/n—n is 1×1—at up to 72Mbits per second is fantastic capability for this class of device, in my opinion. But who am I to judge—let’s see what the one thousand Hackster MKR1000 competition entries do with that bandwidth! I also like that the board can be powered from a small LiPo (a Lithium Ion battery pack), and has a charging circuit onboard.”

What about the choice of Wi-Fi over BLE? “There are hundreds of BLE-capable compute nodes, perfectly suited to their applications, but I think Wi-Fi enables different use cases, and with the mix of bandwidth and range, should provide some interesting options and connectivity for IoT. If you don’t want to connect to a host, or just want point-to-point communications, well, that’s fine, too,” Woods notes.

Figure3 MKR1000

Figure 3: Connectivity options are expanded with the use of Wi-Fi on the MKR1000.

The MKR1000 features crypto-authentication for cybersecurity. “Designers of connected products have to consider security from the outset,” Woods says. “I think we’ve seen too many instances of products come to market with inadequate or no security, so having a crypto feature is great, and makes the statement that this is not only for hobby projects. Offering security also reaffirms this module as a competent platform to prototype and go to market with. The technical spec of the security agent is also excellent—unique serial, random number generator, secure key store, SHA-256, public-key algorithms. I can see many of these features themselves opening up design ideas and opportunities.”

“The Hackster-run World’s Largest Arduino Maker Challenge should provide plenty of inspiration. I wonder if we’ll see any winners on Kickstarter? I’ve just bought two myself and will be using them in my own top-secret build!”

These capabilities with the MKR1000 should propel multiple makers with their own projects.  “It’s not all philanthropic, of course—many open-source 3D printers, CNC (Computerized Numerical Control) machines, robots and more have come from successful companies that live alongside the open-source community that they both feed into and from,” Woods concludes.

This article was sponsored by ARM.

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