Other MCU innovations include new ways to use capacitive, resistive or even mechanical means to quickly wake a chip out of sleep mode or switch faster between modes. Longer term, future microcontrollers will start to look like multicore processors with a variety of different blocks handling analog functions that work better digital circuits as process geometries shrink, he added.
Bogen also is exploring the use of low cost sensors in the health and fitness market that rely on MCUs for signal and data processing.
“It’s amazing what can get out of an accelerometer just by doing the right filtering and computing of the results,” he said. “Some sensors can detect small temperature gradients, and you can use that to build up other information—it’s important to think different about the sensors, too,” he added.
Energy Micro came to Design West with news it struck a partnership with ARM to create a package of university materials that get their products in front of engineering students. The package includes online and live lectures and design kits, aiming to spark next-generation designs.
Such changes are needed to forge bonds with young engineers who are becoming oblivious of the underlying chips.
Years ago, “the microcontroller was a significant part of the system--it was like a religion for the EE who was an Intel or Motorola guy,” Bogen recalled. “You don’t see that connection to an architecture anymore—they use one core or another” almost interchangeably, focusing more on systems architectures, he said.
" A micro is a Mealy state/machine with C/C++ design input to design state transitions ("program"). It is only viable that the "next-state" transition have more input available to it, than provided by the tried and tested GPIO+standard peripheral interfaces. The richness of realizable state transitions , directly correlated with the diversity of creative applications of the micro, is greatly enhanced if one can provide more environmental information for the Mealy machine via better mix/match of integrated sensors."
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.