RoadTest: Panasonic MN63Y1214 NFC Evaluation Kit
Evaluation Type: Evaluation Boards
Did you receive all parts the manufacturer stated would be included in the package?: True
What other parts do you consider comparable to this product?: I have not used a comparable product but other devices enabled to work at the same frequency. In particular the RDM880 Reader/Writer tag module operating at the same frequency.
What were the biggest problems encountered?: Most of the expected documentation for products like this (I mean a development kit or an evaluation kit) was not present in the box, nor on the reference site. All the demo programs are very limited, for windows desktop only and both the application sides on Android and Windows are closed applications. The only documentation is referred to the demo installation.
As explained in the review proposal the idea was to test the product using the evaluation kit, aiming to adopt this IC in a project tailored to include the NFC communication.
In few words this consists in the automation of the borrowing books system in a college library. The project architecture is based on tags working at 13.56 MHz, the same frequency compatible with the NFC protocol layer; the project design includes an info-point + self service book restitution area that will work with both the RFID tags and any Android NFC enabled device.
A schematic description of the project is shown in the attached pdf document.
Note: all the documentation and information provided in this article related to the library project, accordingly with the project specifications and the client, are disclosed as will be released under open software licenses and open hardware specifications. The same part of the library also connects with a pre-existing full library management compatible with the standard OPA and based on the Khoa open source library management.
The initial purposes has been dramatically reduced as the evaluation kit has been studied. The biggest issue is the lack of any sort of SDK or, at least, some example source code. To use this tag inside an architecture for a custom real-world application it seems that most of the development kit software should be developed from scratch.
In the meantime I bought in past a couple of RDM880 modules whose specifications and usability was took in account as reference.
These modules, produced by the RDM Shenzen based company (China) www.datarfid.com are the most similar commercial stuff including a microcontroller and all the features for read and write RFID tags 13,56 MHz connecting to the host via RS232 TTL Serial. The availability of the serial connection works fine on both AVR and PIC micro controllers, as well as Raspberry PI and similar SBC and SOC devices. The cost of every unit is 35$. This module is very popular and a google search with the word "RDM880" gives the idea of how many pages with documentation, GiHub projects applicative samples and more can be found on the Internet.
The following images shows what was in the Evaluation kit box as it has arrived here
These was the first thoughts seeing a so structured micro controller. I was expecting a lot of development options... As the link on the paper required the registration to download the software kits I wait a moment and first of all I tried to see what was happening when plugging the stuff in a PC USB plug
The assembly of the two components, TAG with Antenna and micro controller was 100% obvious so I tried
Mounted and unplugged...
Mounted and plugged
Nice! Something happens: as the device is plugged the micro needs about one second to do something that seems a self-test then shows 00 on the display. Now it's time to install something and discover more.
After the site registration I have downloaded all the available documentation. The most general documentation is the Development kit installation manual that is attached to this post for convenience. I don't want to be too critical because AFAIK this is a really good product; the sensation is that it is at an early stage and a lot of time is already needed to explore all its potentialities. Panasonic mention this document as Development Kit. To be honest it seems more like a demo where one of the tools (the Windows side program) can also be used to make some tests, but in my opinion is far away to we usually expect by a SDK.
However the documentation is very complete based on the following documents:
Reading the entire documentation package the first sensation (confirmed as I have finished the reading) was that the theory is clearly explained but the user is expected to do its own experiments, develop in toto its own SDK, libraries, control functions etc. To be honest it was acceptable - as the product is new with all the problems that this implies - if there was no software at all. But with two applications that was anyway working, I think it was not so difficult to expose at least some code examples or some more information on the Android APK classes.
The documentation is valuable and in my opinion this is the most valuable part of the kit explaining all the features and possibilities of the product. The Administrator's manual is very appreciated; it is difficult to find in a single place all the functions of the IC, essential when building a set of APIs adopting the device inside an applicative project.
As well the IC datasheet is complete and explore in separate chapters the different function blocks of the component together with a special attention to the hardware aspects:
The NFC Tag LSI Application Note instead illustrates many different scenarios on how the IC component can be ruled between an NFC enabled mobile device and a generic host computer. Interesting the possibility to make projects where the NFC protocol is used in conjunction with WiFi or Bluetooth for faster and large amounts of data transfers.
The first issue is that the wide documentation provided has a lack of content: some documents are low-level engineer oriented (hardware project and low level firmware development) while the other are very generic and descriptive. Nice to read but too few detailed to plan a serious application development for the end-user. This penalise the application developers that need something at an intermediate level. The developer is expected to create an application based on an already existing hardware design and some robust information on software applications are welcome (or, better, needed).
Another disappointing aspect is in the Evaluation board circuit diagram and implementation. With the total absence of any source code example and only close applications, when I read the title of this document I though that this was the last Thule. Finally something on how to use the micro controller and make some experiments by myself! (the micro controller is the more expensive part of the kit)
Unfortunately this is the more meaningless of the entire documentation package. As I mentioned above, it is absolutely intuitive to plug the antenna over the microcontroller board. There is only one position that can fit and there is no option to make mistakes. This document just explain the NFC tag system connection, how is the circuit and how the antenna is connected. Then a wide explanation on how to plug the antenna in the microcontroller to work with it. All of this in six pages where excluding (probably) the fourth page, the rest is redundant and already explained in the other documents.
As it was impossible with the NFC documentation to know more on the micro controller boards, a further investigation was needed. On page 5 of the Evaluation board circuit diagram and implementation the board is shown as in the image below as the Micon Board BTP-101B
So I searched for this Panasonic board. It is sold by DigiKey, Farnell, Mauser etc. and all the datasheet references points to the Panasonic site. On the Panasonic site any accesss is reserved to the subscribers. After the login all references to this boards are just as the development board for the NFC tag. Like a doc that eats his tie. At the moment I was not able to find nothing more and this board usage remains a secrect. Just FYI the following are the loop links I have found:
Then jumping in the Panasonic reserved area the links "rotates" until you reach the NFC LSI tag.
This is a useful design tool that can be extremely helpful to design the NFC antennas circuits. To be honest, by one side I have appreciated the effort developing a so complete design support but by the other side I am disappointed as it works on the web and there is no way (excluding the screen capture) to produce any annex documentation to the PCB design. Only the PCB can be generated in a script format to include in the project schematics and PCB layout.
The following is the introductory video showing how this tool works
As explained in the video this tool does not provide a real load/unload method while it is the user that should manage a series of cut and paste operations to save locally the PCB design and eventually reuse it in future in the tool. The following list is an example of a Gerber output file from an antenna design. There is no option to choose another format than Gerber that is accepted by almost all the electronic design programs
***************************************************** NFC Design Navigator Gerber Data Output (V3.5:R01) ***************************************************** * Date : 2015 - Sep - 10 *Time : 18:41:20 * Data : MN63Y1214 (Antenna) * Antenna Design Parameter Lx: 30 , Ly:40 , W: 0.5 , G:0.3 , T: 60 , N:3 *---DATA FORMAT------------------------------------------------------* *GERBER FORMAT: RS274XG Character code : ASCII Coordinate format : 3.3 Coordinate mode : Absolute coordinate mode Coordinate skip : Yes Zero Suppress : Leading Zero Suppress Coordinate unit : Millimeters *DRILL FORMAT: EXCELLON Character code : ASCII Coordinate format : 3.3 Coordinate mode : Absolute coordinate mode Coordinate skip : No Zero Suppress : Leading Zero Suppress Coordinate unit : Millimeters *---FILE INFORMATION-------------------------------------------------* Atndat001.gb : POSI : Antenna Pattern (Layer 1) Atndat002.gb : POSI : Antenna Pattern (Layer 2) Thhdat012.dr : : Through Hole *---Atndat002.gb--- Antenna Layer2 Pattern Data ( Start ) ----------* %FSLAX33Y33*% %MOMM*% %ADD95O,0.48X0.1*% %ADD96C,0.45*% %ADD97C,0.45*% %ADD99R,0.5X0.5*% G54D97*G01X0Y0D02*X210Y800D01*G54D95*G01X210Y800D03*G54D99*G01X210Y1050D02*X210Y19025D01*X29710Y19025*X29710Y-20475*X210Y-20475*X210Y-2500*X210Y-2250D02*G54D95*G01X210Y-2250D03*G54D97*G01X1010Y800D01*G54D95*G01X1010Y800D03*G54D99*G01X1010Y1050D02*X1010Y18225D01*X28910Y18225*X28910Y-19675*X1010Y-19675*X1010Y-2500*X1010Y-2250D02*G54D95*G01X1010Y-2250D03*G54D97*G01X1810Y800D01*G54D95*G01X1810Y800D03*G54D99*G01X1810Y1050D02*X1810Y17425D01*X28110Y17425*X28110Y-18875*X1810Y-18875*X1810Y-2500*X1810Y-2250D02*G54D95*G01X1810Y-2250D03*G54D97*G01X2020Y-1450D01*M00* *---Atndat002.gb--- Antenna Layer2 Pattern Data ( End ) ----------* *---Atndat001.gb--- Antenna Layer1 Pattern Data ( Start ) ----------* %FSLAX33Y33*% %MOMM*% %ADD98C,0.5X*% G54D98*G01X2020Y-1450D02*X0Y-1450D01*M00* *---Atndat001.gb--- Antenna Layer1 Pattern Data ( End ) ----------* *---Thhdat012.dr--- Through Hole Pattern Data ( Start ) --------------* M48 METRIC,LZ FMAT,2 ICI,OFF T02C0.150 % M71 G90 T02 X0Y0 X2020Y-1450 M30 *---Thhdat012.dr--- Through Hole Pattern Data ( End ) --------------*
The evaluation software package is divided in two parts; it includes an NFCTAG ANDROID APP and an NFCTAG WINDOWS APP. These programs are the minimal necessary components to test all the features of the Tag. Also in the included installation manuals of these applications there is no mention to something else than the bare use of the examples.
The test elements used for this review: Windows PC, NFC enabled Android smartphone, the Panasonic NFC evaluation kit
The general result is that the usability of the Android software is very low with a user interface that gives a lot of problems to manage. The Windows application seems better but to use it in a decent way it is needed to have very clear idea on what are the features of the NFC tag. The following images shows some screenshot of the tests illustrating some of the features of the IC component.
The tag read memory results. As mentioned above, the Windows application has the advantage to be useful for a full content disassembly of the tag; not only to explore the features but also as a good support for debug. This is the only available support I have found until now.
The tag with the development board connected and ready to run.
One of the three Android applications can send files from the smartphone to the PC via NFC, directly or using Bluetooth or WiFi connections.
The image transfer Android application. ready to send the selected file.
Depending on the file size there are limits imposing the protocol choice for transfer.
After selecting the file, it is sufficient to put the smartphone nearby the tag and the transfer starts.
The receive file monitor on the Windows-side application and below the received file (an Android configuration file)
#!/bin/sh echo 0 > /sys/block/zram0/disksize /system/bin/tiny_mkswap /dev/block/zram0 /system/bin/tiny_swapon /dev/block/zram0
After testing all the available stuff and searched for the available documentation on the Panasonic site the perception is that the Panasonic NFC LSI MN63Y1214 NFC TAG is a very good product; it is the worth to include this IC in any new project involving this NFC communication. It is fast and reliable also when tested in a continuous series of accesses.
The problem is that the lack of documentation and examples and the poor availability of software for a wide testing (e.g. a jar library for the Android devices and more details oriented to the development of end-user application) require a planning of the development lifecycle, including a huge amount of time to develop at least the essential basis for its usage before the application itself.
As the device communicates via the serial mode to the host it seems also the ideal solution for usage in embedded devices, especially in a Linux environment that is never mentioned in the documentation.
the I2C interface is one of the two alternatives for communication. As a matter of fact you should consider that by one side the tag (the IC) should be on a circuit by one side connected to the antenna (designed as well following the frequency specifications, etc.) The other side connects to something else. As there is also the TTL RS232 available it is almost simple to connect this component on any microcontroller or PC. The issue as I have mentioned in the review is that without any software sample, library and definitely SDK a lot of time should be planned to develop your own library architecture before moving to the application implementation. And this makes the difference in terms of project time and costs.
On thing it's not clear to me: the I2C interface on the antenna board provides the exact content of the RFID or extra processing is required on the microcontroller? Do you think it's difficult to use the antenna board with a generic microcontroller?