Silicon Labs announced the “Wireless Gecko Series 2” this morning, an IoT platform that includes new software, tools, and hardware in the form of a new SoC (system-on-chip) family.
The Series 2 SoC designs have a microprocessor, a hardware-based security core, and a wireless transceiver all on a single die that is housed inside a tiny 4mm x 4mm QFN package. The Blue Gecko supports Bluetooth LE (low energy) and Bluetooth mesh protocols while the Mighty Gecko supports multiple wireless protocols, including Wi-Fi.
The Wireless Gecko Series 2. All images used courtesy of Silicon Labs.
To learn more about Silicon Labs' decisions while designing this device, AAC spoke with Matt Maupin, Silicon Labs Senior Product Manager for Wireless IoT Products.
Matt Maupin, Senior Product Manager for Wireless IoT Products at Silicon Labs
To begin with, Maupin points out that platforms like these are important for future-proofing: “Devices like LEDs and smart meters are designed for five, ten, 15-year lifespans, and we have to think about that while developing new designs. The baseline hardware needs to be flexible enough to expand with changing standards as well as support over-the-air upgrades.”
The Wireless Protocols
Maupin calls Silicon Labs a leader in the "embedded IoT and wireless connectivity" space, a competitive place to be as the IoT has skyrocketed in popularity over the last several years. “[Embedded IoT devices] are devices on the [network] edge such as sensors, lighting, gateways, voice assistants, etc. One of the reasons we have been so successful is that we support a number of protocol stacks: Bluetooth Low Energy, Bluetooth Mesh, proprietary sub-GHz, Thread, ZigBee, Z-Wave, as well as Wi-Fi. These are all protocols that are very common in the Internet of Things."
An overview of the wireless protocols stacks the Gecko Series 2 accommodates
The link budget of these devices is up to 125 dB. This is calculated based on an output power of up to +20 dBm and sensitivity of -104.9 dBm @ 125 kbps using Gaussian frequency shift keying (GFSK). As with all devices, the link budget decreases as data rates increase. The receiver sensitivity falls to -97.5 dBm @ 1 Mbps GFSK, providing a link budget of 117.5 dB.
The Mighty Gecko and the Happy Gecko Specs
The main processor is an 80 MHz ARM Cortex-M33 with up to 1024 kB of flash and 96 kB of RAM.
Block diagram for Series 2 Blue Gecko and Mighty Gecko devices
The device consumes 8.8 mA during receive and 33.8 mA during transmit (@ 10 dBm), which is a bit much for battery-powered applications. But the power consumption is still low enough to qualify for California Energy Commission's Title 24 standard.
Dedicated Security Core
As stated in the Series 2 press release, Silicon Labs identifies security as one of the three main factors that IoT designers are concerned about (the other two being cost and network reliability). With that in mind, the Series 2 platform has security baked in at the hardware level.
The dedicated security core is faster and more energy efficient than similar software implementations, and the core is capable of handling multiple popular encryption schemes, including AES, SHA-1, SHA-2, ECC, ECDSA, ECDH, HMAC, and J-PAKE.
The hardware core can be used to provide secure communication between nodes, as well as ensure that the main memory has neither been corrupted nor tampered with. What’s more, when the devices are field-deployed, all debugging date provided over the JTAG interface can be encrypted, so that only engineers with the public key can decrypt and interpret the data.
Wireless Gecko Starter Kit
A development kit is available that allows you to program the Wireless Gecko 2 using Silicon Labs' free Simplicity Studio. The kits allow for thorough debugging of networks using either USB or Ethernet. This allows engineers to monitor and record every aspect of every device in their test network.
The starter kit and associated app
According to Maupin, however, Silicon Labs took their testing a step further than the three devices provided in the starter kit: “Our software team in Boston has five hundred nodes in the office that are all connected via Ethernet. This is also our [quality control] network that we can reprogram remotely to match customer networks.“
The new SLWSTK6006A starter kit provides three wireless mainboards, three wireless Gecko +10 dBm radio boards (SLWRB4180A), and three wireless Gecko +20 dBm radio boards (SLWRB4180A). Alternatively, individual radio boards can be purchased.
These devices are available now from distributors such as Mouser, DigiKey, and Arrow. A pre-certified module will be available in later in the year.
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