Friday, January 20, 2012

Atmel Microcontroller (non-ATmega/ATtiny compatible) with built-in 433MHz (US: 310MHz) transmitter!

While researching parts for my soil moisture sensors I stumbled across these awesome Atmel microcontrollers:

I was so excited I had to share. At about AU$8 each, these little beasties might make building wireless soil moisture sensors so much easier it's just not funny. The main problem is going to be ordering them, since Jaycar and Element14 don't carry them, and DigiKey has them as non-stock components with 4000 unit minimum volumes. They're 4-bit 8051-architecture micros so they're not going to be compatible with the ATmega or ATtiny range, so I lose the advantage of having the same arch on sensor and control system. For something as relatively simple as sampling an analog temperature and humidity sensor that may not be a big problem.

It may still land up being easier to use an ATtiny for the analog sensor controller and digital sensor data transmitter, so I can use (mostly) the same software tools as for the ATmega on the control board. I could then hook the sensor's ATtiny up to either some wiring for wired service, or to an RF transmitter IC for wireless operation without much if any change to the sensor codebase.

Atmel also have a family of RF receiver ICs (with matching tx modules or transceivers available) so I might be able to avoid the need for a breakout board / shield for the RF receiver support and just make it an optional component in the base design. Things like the ATA5723 /ATA5724/ATA5728 and the ATA5745 /ATA5746 RF receiver ICs could be awfully handy at about AU$4 each ... if I can find someone who'll sell them to me in less than 1,500 unit quantities. If not, there are lots of other highly integrated 433MHz RF receivers and transmitter ICs out there.

The ATA8204P3-TKQY looks particularly suitable; it's a slower and cheaper unit without UHF, but that shouldn't be a biggie for my use. It's cheaper than any of the other units except the ATA8202-PXQW 19 on digi-key, and should do the job fine. It's surface mount so it won't be assembly-friendly, though. An alternative might be the ALPHA-RX433S from RF-Solutions as that's packaged as a little module that'd be a bit saner to solder up.

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