Bringing up Sensor Puck shows semis doing more for less

Bringing up ’ Sensor Puck

Step 1: Turn on Sensor Puck.

Step 2: Download “Silicon Labs Sensor Puck” app.

Step 3: View environmental and biometric readings.

That’s it. I’m free to explore.

This is more than a passing trend, it has become an embedded development de facto. More and more we see vendors like Silicon Labs wrapping their expertise in microcontrollers, , multiprotocol radios, and associated communications stacks and algorithms into neat little packages that allow app developers to begin adding value after the simple flip of a switch – and doing so at sub $30 price points. Of course, if you’re the hands-on type that wants to modify firmware, source code is typically provided free of charge in these kits and can be accessed through development environments that are available at little or no extra cost (in the case of Sensor Puck, Silicon Labs’ Simplicity Studio can be downloaded from their website, and a Segger 9-pin ARM Cortex debug cable and evaluation board are both available from Mouser). In some cases, vendors even go so far as to set you up with working , such as the heart rate monitor based on the Sensor Puck’s integrated optical sensor (Figure 1).

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Figure 1: Silicon Labs’ Si1147 optical sensor serves as the foundation of a heart rate monitoring application that comes preloaded on the company’s Sensor Puck development kit.

So voila! What once consumed a majority of the product development lifecycle has now been abstracted down to a couple of minutes, most of which is consumed during the mobile app download and install.

More for less

Short of magic (though the heart rate monitor is pretty damn cool), the advent of the () is changing business models and prompting semiconductor suppliers to do more for less. “The next big thing” could come from anywhere, and rather than waiting for it to show up on their doorsteps, silicon vendors are getting proactive by pushing their technology out into the world in the hope that it ships in some high-volume end product. If reducing barriers to entry means assuming a level of risk, so be it.

As Ross Sabolcik, VP and GM of Silicon Labs’ Analog, Power, and Sensors division explained in a meeting at the company’s Austin headquarters, the level of competition in high-volume markets means semicons have to provide a range of IP and offerings that are suitable for multiple applications, and what better way of illustrating these capabilities than through an agnostic development platform that showcases a , two sensors, and a power management IC in the same package (Figure 2)? Silicon Labs’ acquisition of shop Bluegiga earlier this year also allows the addition of in-house connectivity to the Sensor Puck and other dev kits via modules such as the Blue Gecko Bluetooth Smart SoC, meaning the company can tightly integrate and optimize the entire solution so developers don’t have to (Figure 3).

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Figure 2: The Silicon Labs Sensor Puck is outfitted with the Si7021 Temperature/Humidity Sensor (yellow), Si1147 Optical Sensor (red), TS3310 Boost Converter (green), and EFM32 Energy Friendly MCU (blue).
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Figure 3: The recently released Blue Gecko SoC from Silicon Labs is a product of the company’s acquisition of Bluegiga Technologies earlier this year, and is an example of how silicon vendors are diversifying their product portfolios to meet the diverse needs of today’s IoT developers.

I am not an engineer. But anymore, how much do you really have to be?