BOSTON--The battlefront among microcontroller makers is shifting up the stack as vendors wrap their silicon in middleware, said a Renesas executive in a wide ranging interview just prior to the opening of DESIGN East here.
Intel recently released a framework for embedded software based on security, management and Linux code from its McAfee, Wind River and PC divisions. Renesas made a similar move, cutting a deal to provide users of Renesas RX or RL78 MCUs with a license to Micrium’s software.
“A focus on the [MCU’s] instruction set architecture is misguided,” said Peter Carbone, vice president of marketing for Renesas Electronics America. “The model in the future is we need to provide both the hardware and software framework by market segments—that’s the game of the future,” he said.
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Carbone praised Intel’s move as in line with the market trend, but noted no single software framework will serve all embedded engineers. “It would be nice to have one framework that fits all needs, but it’s not going to be the case, so we need to work with different partners,” he said.
For its part, Renesas will provide its RX or RL78 users a free, single production license for Micrium’s real-time kernel and middleware, including code for TCP/IP, USB and file systems. The license comes with a one-year maintenance and support agreement from Micrium. Renesas is working with other software partners for similar deals.
“In the microcontroller and embedded space, the real goal is to create a framework for customers that allows better hardware abstraction and reduces the dependency on the CPU instruction set,” said Carbone. “Customers have been doing this in house for cost reasons, but now they can focus on value added development,” he said.
Thirty-five percent of embedded engineers said middleware availability was a deciding factor in choosing a processor, according to an annual survey of embedded engineers conducted by UBM LLC, the publisher of EE Times. Middleware ranked fourth behind availability of software tools as the top criteria with votes from 70 percent of respondents to the survey taken in January.
At the hardware level, Renesas is ramping its 40-nm generation of microcontrollers, focusing on low power performance and integration. Its 8- and 16-bit lines draw as little as 141 microamps per megahertz and its 32-bit families consume as little as 200 uA/MHz.
“These days, even if a system is plugged into the wall, the OEM still wants to sell it as green and energy efficient,” Carbone said.
Capacitive touch interfaces and analog including RF and are two main focuses for microcontroller integration at Renesas. For example, one 32-bit RX chip includes a 24-bit delta sigma A/D to handle metrology for water and gas meters. Separately, Renesas is developing MCUs with integrated Bluetooth Low Energy and Zigbee Smart Energy 2.0 wireless support.
Renesas is also developing a suite of MCUs with programmable analog front ends. “We’re also investing in software-defined radios that can be updated in the field because protocols and stacks are constantly changing,” Carbone said.
As for memory, the Renesas 40nm MCUs will support up to 8 Mbytes flash at 120 MHz single-cycle access times and 512 KBytes SRAM.