MiniPill LoRa – STM32 Low Power Node

After successful making a LoRa node with a ATtiny84 and BME sensor (https://www.iot-lab.org/blog/101/), I wanted to reproduce this node with a ARM processor. After 2 years of research and attempts, on an irregular basis, I succeeded.

history from right with the ATtiny84 node, and to the left the MiniPill LoRa.
In between STM32 development board prototypes.

With the design of the MiniPill LoRa a few major progresses are made:

New design

The MiniPill LoRa Node
  • Arduino code is still used, combined with a few lines of STM32 HAL code;
  • It’s a generic development board, hence the name MiniPill, a wink to the BluePill board. Without the RFM95 chip it can be used for other projects;
  • The LMIC library is used for the LoRaWAN protocol with OTAA as connection setup instead of ABP;
    NEW: ABP can also be used in the new code. See comments in the code.
  • Due to this library it is possible to downlink data to the node and get confirmation of the received data;
  • Even lower power is used, 1.9 uA during sleep period.
  • With a BME280 sensor temperature, humidity and also pressure can be measured and send through LoRaWAN. VCC voltage is also included in the data.
  • Enough pins are available for other sensors or actuators;
  • Due to a 4 layer SMT print and SMT components the print is smaller but has an other form-factor. The size is 33.1 mm x 22.9 mm.
  • Pinouts are labeled and 4 VCC and GND connectors are available for external sensors.

A few remarks

  • To use the code you have to use the PlatformIO toolset;
  • A custom board have to be added to the PlatformIO toolset;
  • The MiniPill LoRa board have I ordered at JLCPCB and let them put the components on it. It was much easier than solder the SMD on my own;
  • To program this board you have to use a ST-LINK V2 or V3 programmer interface. I have tested with the official ones, not a clone. I will try this in a later stadium;
  • The most connector pins on this development board has a distance of 2 mm instead of the standard 2.54 mm;
  • This board uses a STM32L051C8T6 microcontroller, not all pins are available on this board;
  • To reduce cost and space no Ceramic Cristal is used for the clock;
  • In version 1.2 drawings and PCB a design error is fixed.

The hardware

Schematic of MiniPill LoRa
Schematic of MiniPill LoRa

Here is the project on JLCPCB.com: https://easyeda.com/Leo/stm32-minipill-lora-v1-0. Although the link suggest otherwise this is the link is to the latest version: 1.2. The PCB design can be electrical optimised. I do not have very much experience in this.

Programming

For the programming I used a ST-LINK v3 programmer with my own made st-link-v3 extender (https://www.iot-lab.org/blog/355/). The programming pins are on the same position as the original STM32 BluePill. You only have to use four pins: GND, SWCLK, SWDIO, VCC-T (for sensing voltage, not to supply power). Power has to be applied on the normal VCC-GND pins. See also the mentioned post for more information on programming STM32.
Remember when the microcontroller is in Sleep mode you cannot program it. So you have to release the RSTn from ground (GND) to reprogram. I achieve that by using a external clamp to shortcut GND and RSTn and release just before the programming is done. Sometimes you have to try this a few times to get the timing right.
You do not have to solder the male header pins on this board. It is quite easy to make a connection with a header without soldering them.

Programming MiniPill LoRa with ST-LINK V3 and extender

Software: LMIC library

The software is written mostly in Arduino code. For the measurement of the VCC some STM32 HAL code is used. Remember that the code is written with the PlatformIO toolset. A custom board must be added to the toolset. All is explained in the README.md. Please notice the software is under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The code can be found at https://gitlab.com/iot-lab-org/minipill_lora-stm32_low_power_node.

Software: LMIC library and button wakeup

After some items on the Things Network forum about wakeup with a button instead of using a timed wakeup as in the standard examples, I managed to make example code for this. Code can be found here:
https://gitlab.com/iot-lab-org/minipill_lora-stm32_low_power_node_button_wakeup

Software: Proprietary Library

In my other project on LoRa with a ATtiny84 microcontroller I used an other library for LoRa and RFM95. At the end of November 2020 I ported this code successfully to the MiniPill LoRa node. This code uses only ABP and it is not waiting for downlink data. The lowest power consumption with a BME280 sensor is 1.5uA @20˚C, the same as the LMIC library.
This code can be found at https://gitlab.com/iot-lab-org/minipill_lora_prop_low_power_node

Low power

I achieved to power down to 1.9 uA in Sleep mode. I’ve added some evidence :-). At the time of measurement the temperature was 25˚C and more. At 20˚C the current is about 1.5uA in Sleep mode.

Due to the (Arduino) LMIC library the microcontroller runs on full power when the node is sending data and waiting for downlink data. This takes about 8 seconds. I did some measurements with a digital oscilloscope. The power this node uses on sending and waiting for downlink is about
5,46E-06 Ah. For more information on this subject please see my other post on power considerations.

sleep power1,90E-06A
24hr per day
365,25days per year
0,017Ah per year
16,655mAh per Year
send power5,46E-06Ah per measurements
288measurements per day (5 minute timeframe)
365,25days per year
0,574Ah per year
574,348mAh per Year
Total591,0mAh per Year (5 minute timeframe)
Examples
CR2032210mAh
0,4Years lifetime
LS142501200mAh
2,0Years lifetime
LS145002450mAh
4,1Years lifetime
Example calculations of power consumption and lifetime

Please do not forget to remove a 10k resistor on the BME280 module when you use this. This will save you about 300uA (3V/10k). Here is a picture shown of the removed resistor on the BME280 board:

BME280 module with removed resistor

Network tests

This node is succesfull tested at the The Things Network (TTN) in The Netherlands, as well as on het KPN network (Telecom provider in The Netherlands).

Building costs

Not unimportant are the cost of this node. Especially when you want to build more than one. I have ordered 10 PCBs for my first tests on version 1.1.

PCB Prototype€ 6,12
SMT Assembly (includes components)€ 23,78
SMT order discount coupon-€ 6,99+
Total production€ 22,91
Shipping cost€ 19,15
Import TAX and advance payment fee DHL€ 26,58+
Total cost for 10 prototypes€ 68,64
Cost per prototype€ 6,86
BME280 (including 6 pins header)€ 2,99
RFM95W€ 4,60+
Total cost without battery€ 14,45
ATtiny84 node without battery€ 14,58
Cost of MiniPill LoRa version 1.1 ordered at 2020-07-18

Discussion at the TTN forum

Luckily some people use my design and use my code. Information and discussions are also available at the Things Network forum:

https://www.thethingsnetwork.org/forum/t/minipill-lora-stm32-low-power-node

Contact

When you would like to test this MiniPill LoRa yourself, please post a comment on my contact page or below. I will contact you by e-mail in return.

12 thoughts on “MiniPill LoRa – STM32 Low Power Node

  1. Good day,
    My name is Kobus Steenkamp from South Africa.
    I want to congratulate you on this report.
    It is one of the best that i have seen!
    Keep on with the good things!
    Kind regards,
    Kobus

  2. Hoi Leo,

    Gaaf project! Ik wist niet dat jij ook in die hoek bezig was. Ga de blogs nog even lezen. Zeer interessant allemaal.

    Groet, Jan te Lindert

  3. Hello Leo,

    after fighting for years with LMIC and Atmega 328’s memory limits, I saw your great project and didn’t resist.
    I’ve just received ten partially assembled pcbs from JLCPCB and I’m waiting impatiently for a brand new ST-LINK programmer.
    Thank you very much for sharing the project and keep up the good working!

    Kind regards,
    Fabio

  4. Hallo Fabio,

    Thank you for you positive response. Please keep me informed about your experience with the MiniPill LoRa and if you can send some pictures of your project(s).

    Kind regards,

    Leo.

  5. Hi Leo,

    I have purchased some of the boards JLCPCB and soldered the components on it. Unfortunately I am not able to get the power consumption levels you see. With the code provided the lowest Consumption is 330 nA. If I pull off the BME280 the consumption drops to 90 nA.

    This was using the Arduino EDI. Later I also used PlatformIO and after some struggles I was able to compile your code (some warning messages during the process). In the end I was able to flash the bin file with STM32Cube programmer. The openocd programmer didn’t work (gave JTAG communication error??).
    The power consumption level was however the same (330 nA).

    The code is working & I receive the messages via TTN. So what could be wrong? Appreciate any help you can give.

    Thx Rob

  6. That are awesome news. Congrats! Would it be possible to use the Minipill also as a receiver? For the 328P connected to a RFM95 there is library that supports CAD mode of the RFM95 and therefore consums just a few µA in RX mode. Works great with a 328P but I’m running out of memory, pins and ram.

  7. Hello Max,

    It is possible to use the MiniPill as a receiver, hence its receives LoRaWAN data in the downlink mode.
    I have no experience with the CAD mode, but maybe with a few adjustments on the 328P code you can use the same code when it does not use low level ATMEL code.

    Indeed the problem with the 328P is the memory!

    Regards,

    Leo.

  8. I thought I’d answered this question in private mail.
    Now you can buy some kits (max 2) for experimenting for transportation and production cost.
    You can also use the JLCPCB project and copy this and order your own.

    Kind regards,

    Leo.

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