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Atmel Wants to Help Power Your IoT and Wearables

During ARM’s TechCon 2013 in Santa Clara, we got a chance to sit down and talk with Atmel and to see what new developments the company had in store. Since Atmel [NASDAQ: ATML] is an ARM licensee, they obviously had no problem releasing two new products at ARM’s TechCon. These two new products are clearly forward-thinking products that will hopefully put them as front runners in newly expanding parts of the ARM universe.

Atmel’s two announcements came by the way of a new sensor hub as well as an expansion of their ARM A5 product line. Atmel first talked to us about their sensor hub and the introduction of the SAM D20 Cortex M0+ based design. Their MCU is designed in conjunction with a special development board in order to make it easier for companies to develop certain sensor fusion more easily. And because of the MCU’s low-power and design it can be integrated into tiny package sizes enabling sensors and sensor fusion within a single package.

This is because Atmel’s $29 development board is capable of enabling not only the connectivity of multiple sensors from various vendors, but also provides an easier software stack to make sensor fusion possible. After all, the truth is that sensor fusion will be the future of most mobile computing and it makes sense that someone would need to make it easier to combine different sensors together. ARM is working with Bosch, Intersil, Kionix, MEMSIC and Sensirion to make sensor wings in order to work with the Xplained development board. By doing this, these companies not only increase the possibility that their sensors will get used, but they also make it easier to buy more of their sensors.

Atmel even got quotes from all of their sensor partners to comment on their happiness with the new MCU and packaging. Obviously, the most notable name on the list was Bosch, and even they were pretty impressed. Dr. Stefan Finkbeiner, CEO and General Manager, Bosch Sensortec said, ?We?ve been the first adopters of Atmel?s SAM D20 sensor hub solutions. With Atmel?s solutions, our low-power 9-axis absoluteorientation sensor (BNO055), optimized with Bosch Sensortec?s sensor fusion software, can now achieve performance that was previously not possible in a single package.? This is a perfect illustration of how Atmel’s solution can make a company’s sensors not only smarter, more effective, and power saving, but also smaller.

After we heard about their sensor hub MCU we got an update from the company about their updates to their ARM Cortex A5-based solutions which are designed to expand the company’s capabilities. This chip is their SAMA5D3 MPU and is designed to increase the versatility, durability and gaining more features. Atmel’s goal is to enable these Cortex-A5 chips to be used in virtually any low-power application with or without the need for display. One of the variants of this chip, the SAMA5D36, is a superset device which enables the use of an LCD, 2 ethernet ports, and dual CAN support. All other models sacrifice on one of those three things, but this chip enables all three fully. There is also the SAMA5D36 and SAMA5D35 which support ambient temperatures in the range between -40 degrees to 105 degrees celsius. This would enable some very interesting industrial applications as well as potential for some automotive applications. There is even a possibility that such a chip with such lower power consumption could be utilized for some IoT or wearable applications, but that will remain to be seen until someone actually utilizes this chip for those uses.

That may be easier now that the SAMA5D3 supports Android 4.2 as well as Windows Compact 7 BSP, QNX, NuttX BSP as well as more operating systems and software development tools. Atmel will price this chip starting at the price of $6.95 for 1,000 piece quantities, which is probably for their very base model and will likely be more expensive for the thermally toughened models and superset model. It remains to be seen whether or not these improvements will help the company get more design wins, but being more flexible and building ecosystems generally lends to more adoption and that appears to be Atmel’s approach.

For those interested, Atmel also announced their earnings for the 3Q 2013 and the company reported GAAP earnings of $5.4 million on $356 million in revenue with a gross margin of 40.3%. This is within their projections for earnings and revenue, however lower than the previous two quarters when account for GAAP. If you look at their non-GAAP earnings you notice that the company actually improved quarter over quarter but still struggled compared to the quarter a year ago. The company appears to be working on improving earnings with design wins in dozens of Android and Windows 8.1 tablets, so they appear to be working hard. Their MCU business appeared to struggle when compared to the remainder of their business units, but with the appointment of Dr. Reza
Kazerounian from Freescale in March to SVP and GM of the Microcontroller BU, from Freescale, things will likely change. The decrease in revenue of was mostly attributed to the reduction of sensor hub shipments, which Atmel had earlier forecasted, but still is an important business segment for the company with the growth of sensors in mobile devices and wearables.