Microcontrollers

Microcontrollers – whether 8, 16 or 32bit – are all around us: at home, at work, in our cars and in industrial systems. Reflecting this abundance, the market for microcontrollers is worth more than $16billion a year and growing strongly.

The market was once dominated by 8bit parts, but the price performance advantage of ARM based 32bit devices, along with the need to accommodate more complex software, is starting a move from 8bit to 32bit mcus. And this is accompanied by the appearance of multicore devices.

In this section, New Electronics brings you the latest on the microcontroller market.

Pocket sized avionics computer meets industry’s SWaP needs

The aerospace sector is driven by a four letter acronym – SWaP; written in long hand, it translates to size, weight and power. That’s no real surprise; if you can make aircraft that are lighter, they will be – at least, in theory – more fuel efficient. And if you can make the electronics content smaller and less power hungry, that will also contribute to the overall savings.

The surprising differences between ARM MCU cores that appear to be identical

There are many reasons why the ARM Cortex-M series of processor cores has come to dominate the market for 32bit microcontrollers. Across the many varieties of Cortex-M cores, design engineers can choose from an array of performance, power consumption and communications capabilities, allowing them to find an ARM based MCU which will be suitable for almost any application. And, by standardising on the Cortex-M family, OEMs not only benefit from a common instruction set, but also from an ecosystem of libraries, tools and firmware with which thousands of embedded engineers are already familiar.

Do engineers know what they like and like what they know?

Engineers can select from a range of technologies which might be appropriate for their next design. Options include ASICs, FPGAs and embedded CPUs. But there is a suspicion that, rather than selecting the platform which will be best for the job, engineers fall back on something with which they’re familiar.

ARM-processor toolchains accelerate safety-critical compliance

With designers increasingly turning to ARM processors for safety-related applications spanning medical, transportation, avionics and industrial segments, the software that runs upon these processors has come under ever-tighter scrutiny as even the slightest error can have disastrous consequences.

European researchers are working on a host of energy efficient microservers

European research organisations and companies are busy targeting microservers as a potential very large revenue stream for the medium term. At least four groups, funded to a large extent by the EU's 7th Framework Programme, are looking at a variety of often overlapping processor, system and software architecture projects, all scheduled to finish in September 2016.

How a motor controller based on a 32bit processor could drive the transition to a new generation of electric motors

We are entering a new era of motor technology, with many of the 10billion electric motors sold each year in line for an upgrade. Innovation in motor control algorithms and the lowering cost of embedded microcontrollers are prompting a new generation of brushless DC (BLDM) and permanent magnet synchronous (PMSM) motors. At the heart of these new motors is an integrated motor controller integrated circuit, containing a 32bit processor core, as well as revamped configurable analogue and power management circuitry. Sophisticated motor control algorithms – such as field oriented control (FOC) – running on the processor core remove the need for external sensors, thereby reducing overall system component count.

Sharing basic algorithms will save innovators from 'reinventing the wheel'

It's been a busy few months for Steve Whalley. Having retired from Intel after 28 years, where his last post was director of sensing, Whalley is now chief strategy officer for the MEMS Industry Group (MIG), where he is leading efforts to prepare the MEMS and sensors ecosystem for what is anticipated to be a decade of explosive growth.

Metrology research aims to improve the commercial application of MEMS

Today's applications for MEMS are hugely varied. They range from accelerometers in automotive airbag deployment systems, detecting the rapid negative acceleration of the vehicle, to inkjet printer heads, reacting to patterns of heat from electric current by dispensing tiny droplets of ink at precise locations to form the image on the paper. They are also seen in smartphones, measuring the rotation of the device to create an intuitive user interface.

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