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What's next in microcontrollers?

Posted: 16 Nov 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:MCU design? MCU of the future? processing capability?

Sanghi: A manufacturer with the most flexible, adaptable and low-cost development resources will provide win-win business solutions today and tomorrow.

MCUs have come a long way in terms of their applications, processing capability, architectures and fusion with other semiconductor products such as ASICs and SoCs. So what are some of its future challenges and what is next in MCUs?

MCU users, the OEMs, are trying to survive and thrive in an increasingly global and competitive environment, which is being exacerbated by a sluggish U.S. economy. Such users are facing three challenges:

? Differentiating their end products through features, performance or price;

? Reducing time-to-market to recoup their increasing investments in complex designs;

? Trying to do both without a cost penalty.

These challenges form the foundation for what is next in MCUs. For differentiating their end products, OEMs are in a rush to add more features, such as:

User interface!The user interface is rapidly transitioning from knobs and push buttons to touch sensing. Especially in the appliance industry, a touch-sense user interface offers advantages in looks and functionality. A countertop stove surface can be a sheet of glass with no moving parts. This offers decorative looks and ease of cleaning.

The complication arises in making the touch sense work through spilled water, dirty or wet hands and hands with kitchen gloves on. Future MCUs will be able to deal with this complexity and will offer an easy-to-use touch-sense interface to OEMs.

Connectivity!The system users are trying to increase the ability of their systems to be connected to other systems locally or remotely. A number of wired and wireless connectivity protocols are becoming popular.

In many cases, the most flexible solution consists of two chips!an MCU and a connectivity chip. Alternatively, one-chip solutions are also available with a connectivity module onboard the MCU.

Displays!The displays on systems and appliances have gone through a fair amount of evolution over the years, from LEDs to dot matrices to LCDs. There are constant challenges with brightness, contrast, size and segments of the display. Future MCUs will provide easy interface to large displays using quarter VGA technology built inside the MCU.

Low power!There is a relentless drive toward low power consumption to prolong battery life and save power for a greener earth. MCUs are increasingly seeing low power modes, such as sleep modes and coma modes going down to nanowatts of current consumption.

High voltage!Many users are migrating toward higher voltages for higher efficiency in applications such as automotive and industrial. MCUs need to routinely work at 40V, 60V and even higher for transients.

The second challenge is reducing time-to-market for their products. This is requiring manufacturers to increasingly provide excellent development tool chains, including compilers, integrated development environments, debuggers, RTOS, graphic tools, reference designs and code libraries.

Increasing numbers of customers do not have enough engineering resources and are looking for their MCU suppliers to provide technical support in helping them complete their designs. For many applications, the efficiency of engineering resources is more important than just the price of the silicon. A cost-effective migration path is becoming increasingly important. This is where customers can fit their next design in the same MCU or choose one that fits into the same package pinout, has comparable peripherals and reuses a large portion of their code, thus preserving their investment in firmware.

In a global marketplace where changes occur everyday, only the nimble survive. An MCU manufacturer with the most flexible, adaptable and low-cost development resources!creating a whole-product package!is likely to provide win-win business solutions today and tomorrow. It is not just about the silicon anymore.

- Steve Sanghi
President and CEO
Microchip Technology Inc.

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