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Changing faces

Some microcontrollers are already emulating simple analogue circuitry. Is there any reason why they shouldn’t take on more?. By Vanessa Knivett.

For a number of years now, the humble microcontroller has been going up in the world. Yet its increased usefulness correlates with a decline in its absolute cost and relative cost per bit. Whilst many designers have used this cost/bit ratio to migrate to 16 or 32bit mcus, it has brought an array of new opportunities, particularly in the automotive space, to the 8bit market.

The price drop for microcontrollers has meant that 8bit mcus have steadily encroached on traditional mechanical functions by offering increased reliability at cost and pcb area advantages. There is also evidence of cannibalism, as 8bit versions take designs off their 4bit counterparts.

But it has also won fans because of a significant development trend of including flash on a microcontroller. This has enabled designers to change functionality towards the end of the design cycle, whilst keeping the design intact. Particularly useful for today's emerging designs, microcontrollers are being used as a kind of 'electronic glue', enabling bug fixes or late changes but avoiding the expense or time to market pressure of a redesign.

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Graham Pitcher

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