MCU Tool Update Eases Multicore Automotive Control Development

Renesas Electronics has announced an update to its Embedded Target for RH850 Multicore model-based development environment for multicore MCUs for automotive control applications. The update supports development of systems with multirate control (multiple control periods), which is now common in systems such as engine and body control systems. This model-based development environment has become practical even in software development scenarios for multicore MCUs, and can reduce the increasingly complex software development burdens especially in control system development of self-driving cars.
Renesas’ earlier RH850 multicore model-based development environment automatically allocated software to the multiple cores and although verifying performance was possible, in complex systems that included multirate control, it was necessary to implement everything manually, including the RTOS and device drivers. Now there’s ever-increasing requirements to boost engine and vehicle performance, and at the same time shorten product development time. By making this development environment support multirate control, it is possible to directly generate the multicore software code from the multirate control model. This has made it possible to evaluate the execution performance in simulation.

Not only does this allow execution performance to be estimated from the earliest stages of software development, this also makes it easy to feed back the verification results into the model itself. This enables the completeness of the system development to be improved early on in the process, and the burden of developing the ever-larger scale, and increasingly complex, software systems can be significantly reduced. Renesas is accelerating the practical utility of model-based development environments in software development for multicore processors and is leading the evolution of green electric vehicles as proposed in the Renesas autonomy concept.

Control functions development requires multirate control, such as intake/exhaust period in engine control, the period of fuel injection and ignition, and the period with which the car’s status is verified. These are all different periods. By applying the technology that generates RH850 multicore code from the Simulink control mode to multirate control, it has become possible to directly generate multicore code, even from models that include multiple periods, such as engine control.

Renesas also provides as an option for the Integrated Development Environment CS+ for the RH850, a cycle precision simulator that can measure time with a precision on par with that of actual systems. By using this option, it is possible to estimate the execution performance of a model of the multicore MCU at the early stages of software development. This can significantly reduce the software development period.

The JMAAB (Japan MBD Automotive Advisory Board), an organization that promotes model-based development for automotive control systems, recommends several control models from the JMAAB Control Modeling Guidelines. Of those, Renesas is providing in this update the Simulink® Scheduler Block, which conforms to type (alpha) which provides a scheduler layer in the upper layer. This makes it possible to follow the multirate single-task method without an OS, express the core specifications and synchronization in the Simulink model, and automatically generate multicore code for the RH850 to implement deterministic operations.

Along with advances in the degree of electronic control in today’s cars, integration is also progressing in the ECUs (electronic control units), which are comparatively small-scale systems. By supporting multirate control, making it easier to operate small-scale systems with different control periods with a multicore microcontroller, it is now possible to verify the operation of a whole ECU that integrates multiple systems.

The updated model-based development environment is planned to support Renesas’ RH850/P1H-C MCU that includes two cores by this fall, and also support for the RH850/E2x Series of MCUs that include up to six cores is in the planning. In addition, Renesas plans to deploy this development environment to the entire Renesas autonomy Platform, including the “R-Car” Family of SoCs.

Renesas is also continuing to work to further improve the efficiency of model-based software development, including model-based parallelization tools from partner companies and strengthening of related multirate control support execution performance estimation including the operating system. Moving forward, Renesas plans to apply the model-based design expertise fostered in its automotive development efforts in the continually growing RX Family in the industrial area which is seeing continued increases in both complexity and scale.

Renesas Electronics |

MCU/MPUs Target Next-Gen Electric and Autonomous Vehicles

NXP Semiconductors  has announced a new family of high-performance safe microprocessors to control vehicle dynamics in next-generation electric and autonomous vehicles. The new NXP S32S microprocessors will manage the systems that accelerate, brake and steer vehicles safely, whether under the direct control of a driver or an autonomous vehicle’s control.

NXP is addressing the needs of carmakers developing future autonomous and hybrid electric vehicles with newly available 800 MHz MCU/MPUs. The first of the new S32 product lines, the S32S microprocessor offers the highest performance ASIL D capability available today, according to NXP.
The NXP S32S processors use an array of the new Arm Cortex-R52 cores, which integrate the highest level of safety features of any Arm processor. The array offers four fully independent ASIL D capable processing paths to support parallel safe computing. In addition, the S32S architecture supports a new “fail availability” capability allowing the device to continue to operate after detecting and isolating a failure—a critical capability for future autonomous applications.

NXP has partnered with OpenSynergy to develop a fully featured, real-time hypervisor supporting the NXP S32S products. OpenSynergy’s COQOS Micro SDK is one of the first hypervisor platforms that takes advantage of the Arm Cortex-R52’s special hardware features. It enables the integration of multiple real-time operating systems onto microcontrollers requiring high levels of safety (up to ISO26262 ASIL D). Multiple vendor independent OS/stacks can also run on a single microcontroller. COQOS Micro SDK provides secure, safe and fast context switching ahead of today’s software-only solutions in traditional microcontrollers.

NXP Seimconductors |

Firms Collaborate on 3D Surround View System for Cars

Renesas Electronics and Magna, a mobility technology company and one of the world’s largest automotive suppliers, have teamed up to accelerate the mass adoption of advanced driving assistance system (ADAS) features with a new cost-efficient 3D surround view system designed for entry- and mid-range vehicles.
The 3D surround view system adopts Renesas’ high-performance, low-power system-on-chip (SoC) optimized for smart camera and surround view systems. By enabling 3D surround view safety capabilities, the new system helps automakers to deliver safer and more advanced vehicles to a larger number of car consumers, contributing to a safer vehicle society.

Magna’s 3D surround view system is a vehicle camera system that provides a 360-degree panoramic view to assist drivers when parking or performing low speed operations. Drivers can adjust the view of their surroundings with a simple-to-use interface, while object detection alerts drivers about obstacles in their path. The system provides drivers a realistic 360-degree view of their environment, a significant upgrade to the bird’s-eye view offered by existing parking assist systems. The ready-to-use system minimizes integration time and development costs, making the system an easy, cost-efficient option for automakers.

Several automakers have already expressed strong interest in the technology, including a European automaker, which will be the first to integrate the 3D surround view system into a future vehicle.

Renesas Electronics |

MCUs Eye Closed-Loop Control Applications

Microchip Technology has introduced the new PIC18 Q10 and ATtiny1607 families, featuring multiple intelligent Core Independent Peripherals (CIPs) that simplify development and enable quick response time to system events. Advancements in the architecture of PIC and AVR 8-bit microcontrollers (MCUs) have optimized the devices for implementing closed-loop control, enabling systems to offload the Central Processing Unit (CPU) to manage more tasks and save power.

Well suited for applications that use closed-loop control, a key advantage of using the PIC18 Q10 and ATtiny1607 MCUs are the CIPs that independently manage tasks and reduce the amount of processing required from the CPU. System designers can also save time and simplify design efforts with the hardware-based CIPs, which significantly reduce the amount of software required to write and validate. Both families have features for functional safety and operate up to 5 V, increasing noise immunity and providing compatibility with the majority of analog output and digital sensors.

Offered in a compact 3 mm x 3 mm 20-pin QFN package, the new ATtiny1607 family is optimized for space-constrained closed-loop control systems such as handheld power tools and remote controls. In addition to the integrated high-speed Analog-to-Digital Converter (ADC) that provides faster conversion of analog signals resulting in deterministic system response, the devices provide improved oscillator accuracy, allowing designers to reduce external components and save costs.

Among CIPs in the PIC18 Q10 family are the Complementary Waveform Generator (CWG) peripheral, which simplifies complex switching designs, and an integrated Analog-to-Digital Converter with Computation (ADC2) that performs advanced calculations and filtering of data in hardware without any intervention from the core. CIPs such as these allow the CPU to execute more complex tasks, such as Human Machine Interface (HMI) controls, and remain in a low-power mode to conserve power until processing is required.

All PIC18 Q10 products are supported by MPLAB Code Configurator (MCC), a free software plug-in that provides a graphical interface to easily configure peripherals and functions. MCC is incorporated into Microchip’s downloadable MPLAB X Integrated Development Environment (IDE) and the cloud-based MPLAB Xpress IDE, eliminating the need to download software. The Curiosity High Pin Count (HPC) development board (DM164136), a fully-integrated, feature-rich rapid prototyping board, can also be used to start development with these MCUs.

Rapid prototyping with the ATtiny1607 family is supported by ATmega4809 Xplained Pro (ATmega4809-XPRO) evaluation kit. The USB-powered kit features touch buttons, LEDs and extension headers for quick setup as well as an on-board programmer/debugger that seamlessly integrates with the Atmel Studio 7 Integrated Development Environment (IDE) and Atmel START, a free online tool to configure peripherals and software that accelerates development.

The PIC18 Q10 and ATtiny1607 are available today for sampling and in volume production. Pricing for the PIC18 Q10 family starts at $0.77 each in 10,000-unit quantities, and pricing for the ATtiny1607 family starts at $0.56 each in 10,000-unit quantities.

Microchip Technology |

Low-Power MCUs Extend Battery Life for Wearables

Maxim Integrated Products has introduced the ultra-low power MAX32660 and MAX32652 microcontrollers. These MCUs are based on the ARM Cortex-M4 with FPU processor and provide designers the means to develop advanced applications under restrictive power constraints. Maxim’s family of DARWIN MCUs combine its wearable-grade power technology with the biggest embedded memories in their class and advanced embedded security.

Memory, size, power consumption, and processing power are critical features for engineers designing more complex algorithms for smarter IoT applications. According to Maxim, existing solutions today offer two extremes—they either have decent power consumption but limited processing and memory capabilities, or they have higher power consumption with more powerful processors and more memory.
The MAX32660 (shown) offers designers access to enough memory to run some advanced algorithms and manage sensors (256 KB flash and 96 KB SRAM). They also offer excellent power performance (down to 50µW/MHz), small size (1.6 mm x 1.6 mm in WLP package) and a cost-effective price point. Engineers can now build more intelligent sensors and systems that are smaller and lower in cost, while also providing a longer battery life.

As IoT devices become more intelligent, they start requiring more memory and additional embedded processors which can each be very expensive and power hungry. The MAX32652 offers an alternative for designers who can benefit from the low power consumption of an embedded microcontroller with the capabilities of a higher powered applications processor.

With 3 MB flash and 1 MB SRAM integrated on-chip and running up to 120 MHz, the MAX32652 offers a highly-integrated solution for IoT devices that strive to do more processing and provide more intelligence. Integrated high-speed peripherals such as high-speed USB 2.0, secure digital (SD) card controller, a thin-film transistor (TFT) display, and a complete security engine position the MAX32652 as the low-power brain for advanced IoT devices. With the added capability to run from external memories over HyperBus or XcellaBus, the MAX32652 can be designed to do even more tomorrow, providing designers a future-proof memory architecture and anticipating the increasing demands of smart devices.

The MAX32660 and MAX32652 are both available at Maxim’s website and select authorized distributors. MAX32660EVKIT# and MAX32652EVKIT# evaluation kits are also both available at Maxim’s website.

Maxim Integrated |

Software Speeds Safety Certification for STM32-Based Systems

STMicroelectronics has announced new free software for its STM32 microcontrollers. The functional-safety design package cuts complexity and IEC 61508 safety-certification costs for STM32-based safety critical applications. This resource is created for designers of STM32-based devices in the field of industrial controls, robots, sensors, medical, or transportation, which must be certified up to Safety Integrity Level (SIL) 2 or 3 of the recognized safety standard IEC 61508. ST’s STM32 SIL Functional-Safety Design Package simplifies system development and certification.

The SIL Functional-Safety Design Package comprises documentation and the X-CUBE-STL, a software Self-Test Library certified to IEC 61508 SIL3. The package is initially available for the STM32F0 series. ST will continue to introduce equivalent packages for all other series in the STM32 family throughout 2018 and 2019. There are currently more than 800 STM32 microcontroller variants.

ST’s STM32 SIL Functional Safety Design Package contains full documentation to support development of STM32-based embedded systems to meet IEC 61508 requirements for functional safety. The documentation comprises safety manuals that detail all applicable safety requirements, or conditions of use, with implementation guidelines to help developers certify their products to SIL 2 or SIL 3 in accordance with IEC 61508. Also included are the mandatory Failure-Modes Effects Analysis (FMEA), containing the detailed list of microcontroller failure modes and related mitigation measures, and Failure-Mode Effects and Diagnostics Analysis (FMEDA), which gives a static snapshot reporting IEC 61508 failure rates, computed at both the microcontroller and basic functions detail levels.

The software self-test library, X-CUBE-STL, is a software-based diagnostic suite for detecting random hardware failures in STM32 safety-critical core components comprising the CPU, SRAM, and Flash memory. The Diagnostic Coverage is verified by state-of-the-art ST proprietary fault injection methodology. Integrated with the familiar and proven STM32Cube workflow, it is application-independent thereby allowing use with any user application, and is delivered as compiler-agnostic object code.

TÜV Rheinland, a leading international certification institute for functional safety certification to relevant international standards, has positively assessed X-CUBE-STL-F0 according to the functional safety standard IEC 61508:2010. Detailed information of the certificate will be soon available on Swiss-based sensor manufacturer Contrinex is the first to use ST’s Functional-Safety Design Package to certify safety products based on STM32F0 microcontrollers.

The Functional-Safety Design Package for STM32F0 microcontrollers is available from, free of charge, subject to Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) with ST. Equivalent packages for other STM32 series will be introduced throughout 2018 and 2019.


STMicroelectronics |

Linux and Coming Full Circle

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief


In terms of technology, the line between embedded computing and IT/desktop computing has always been a moving target. Certainty the computing power in small embedded devices today have vastly more compute muscle than even a server of 15 years ago. While there’s many ways to look at that phenomena, it’s interesting to look at it through the lens of Linux. The quick rise in the popularity of Linux in the 90s happened on the server/IT side pretty much simultaneously with the embrace of Linux in the embedded market.

I’ve talked before in this column about the embedded Linux start-up bubble of the late 90s. That’s when a number of start-ups emerged as “embedded Linux” companies. It was a new business model for our industry, because Linux is a free, open-source OS. As a result, these companies didn’t sell Linux, but rather provided services to help customers create and support implementations of open-source Linux. This market disruption spurred the established embedded RTOS vendors to push back. Like most embedded technology journalists back then, I loved having a conflict to cover. There were spirited debates on the “Linux vs. RTOS topic” on conference panels and in articles of time—and I enjoyed participating in both.

It’s amusing to me to remember that Wind River at the time was the most vocal anti-Linux voice of the day. Fast forward to today and there’s a double irony. Most of those embedded Linux startups are long gone. And yet, most major OS vendors offer full-blown embedded Linux support alongside their RTOS offerings. In fact, in a research report released in January by VDC Research, Wind River was named as the market leader in the global embedded software market for both its RTOS and commercial Linux segments.

According the VDC report, global unit shipments of IoT and embedded OSs, including free/non-commercial OSs, will grow to reach 11.1 billion units by 2021, driven primarily by ECU-targeted RTOS shipments in the automotive market, and free Linux installs on higher-resource systems. After accounting for systems with no OS, bare-metal OS, or an in-house developed OS, the total yearly units shipped will grow beyond 17 billion units in 2021 according to the report. VDC research findings also predict that unit growth will be driven primarily by free and low-cost operating systems such as Amazon FreeRTOS, Express Logic ThreadX and Mentor Graphics Nucleus on constrained devices, along with free, open source Linux distributions for resource-rich embedded systems.

Shifting gears, let me indulge myself by talking about some recent Circuit Cellar news—though still on the Linux theme. Circuit Cellar has formed a strategic partnership with LinuxGizmos is a well-establish, trusted website that provides up-to-the-minute, detailed and insightful coverage of the latest developer- and maker-friendly, embedded oriented chips, modules, boards, small systems and IoT devices—and the software technologies that make them tick. As its name in implies, LinuxGizmos features coverage of open source, high-level operating systems including Linux and its derivatives (such as Android), as well as lower-level software platforms such as OpenWRT and FreeRTOS. was founded by Rick Lehrbaum—but that’s only the latest of his accolades. I know Rick from way back when I first started writing about embedded computing in 1990. Most people in the embedded computing industry remember him as the “Father of PC/104.” Rick co-founded Ampro Computers in 1983 (now part of ADLINK), authored the PC/104 standard and founded the PC/104 Consortium in 1991, created in 1999 and guided the formation of the Embedded Linux Consortium in 2000. In 2003, he launched to fill the void created when LinuxDevices was retired by Quinstreet Media.

Bringing things full circle, Rick says he’s long been a fan of Circuit Cellar, and even wrote a series of articles about PC/104 technology for it in the late 90s. I’m thrilled to be teaming up with and am looking forward to combing our strengths to better serve you.

This appears in the April (333) issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

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MCUs Offer Capacitive Touch and Proximity Sensing

Bringing capacitive-sensing capabilities to cost-sensitive applications, Texas Instruments (TI) has announced an expansion of its MSP430 microcontroller (MCU) family with capacitive touch technology. Developers can use the new MSP430FR2512 and MSP430FR2522 MCUs with integrated capacitive touch to add as many as 16 buttons as well as proximity sensing capability to industrial systems, home automation systems, appliances, power tools, home entertainment, personal audio applications and more.

New MSP430 microcontrollers with capacitive touch technology provide a solution to applications exposed to electromagnetic disturbances, oil, water and grease. The MSP430FR2512 and MSP430FR2522 MCUs deliver International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) 61000-4-6-certified capacitive sensing MCU-based solutions for applications exposed to electromagnetic disturbances, oil, water and grease. According to TI, the new MCUs offer five times lower power consumption than the competition, supporting proximity sensing and touch through glass, plastic and metal overlays.

TI’s CapTIvate technology adds the benefits of capacitive touch and proximity sensing to applications such as access control panels, cooktops, wireless speakers and power tools. Developers can quickly evaluate capacitive sensing for their applications with the new BOOSTXL-CAPKEYPAD BoosterPack plug-in module that is compatible with the CapTIvate programmer board (CAPTIVATE-PGMR) or TI LaunchPad development kits. The BoosterPack module joins a portfolio of MCUs, easy-to-use tools, software, reference designs and documentation in the CapTIvate Design Center and online CapTIvate technology guide. In addition, developers can find answers and support in the TI E2E Community to speed development with CapTIvate technology.

Production quantities of the MSP430FR2512 and MSP430FR2522 MCUs are available in a 20-pin very thin quad flat no lead (VQFN) package and a 16-pin thin shrink small outline package (TSSOP) starting at $0.69 in 1,000-unit quantities. The CapTIvate BoosterPack plug-in module (BOOSTXL-CAPKEYPAD) is available for $29.99.

Texas Instruments|

Circuit Cellar and Form Strategic Partnership

Partnership offers an expanded technical resource for embedded and IoT device developers and enthusiasts

Today Circuit Cellar is announcing a strategic partnership with to offer an expanded resource of information and know-how on embedded electronics technology for developers, makers, students and educators, early adopters, product strategists, and technical decision makers with a keen interest in emerging embedded and IoT technologies.

The new partnership combines Circuit Cellar’s uniquely in depth, “down-to-the-bits” technical articles with’s up-to-the-minute, detailed, and insightful coverage of the latest developer-  and maker-friendly, embedded oriented chips, modules, boards, small systems, and IoT devices, and the software technologies that make them tick. Additionally, as its name implies,’s coverage frequently highlights open source, high-level operating systems including Linux and its derivatives (e.g. Android), as well as lower-level software platforms such as OpenWRT and FreeRTOS.

Circuit Cellar is one of the electronics industry’s most highly technical information resources for professional engineers, academics, and other specialists involved in the design and development of embedded processor- and microcontroller-based systems across a broad range of applications. It gets right down to the bits and bytes and lines of code, at a level its readers revel in. Circuit Cellar is a trusted brand engaging readers every day on its website, each week with its newsletter, and each month through Circuit Cellar magazine’s print and digital formats. is a free-to-use website that publishes daily news and analysis on the hardware, software, protocols, and standards used in new and innovative embedded, mobile, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.  The site is lauded for its detailed and insightful, timely coverage of newly introduced single board computers (SBCs), computer-on-modules (COMs), system-on-chips (SoCs), and small form factor (SFF) systems, along with their software platforms.

“The synergies between LinuxGizmos and Circuit Cellar are great and I’m excited to see the benefits of this partnership passed on to our combined audience,” said Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief, Circuit Cellar. “ has the kind of rich, detail-oriented structure that I’m a fan of. Over the many years I’ve been following the site, I’ve relied on it as an important information resource, and its integrity has always impressed me.”

“I’ve been a fan of Circuit Cellar magazine since it was first launched, and wrote a series of articles for it in the late 90s about PC/104 embedded modules,” added Rick Lehrbaum, founder and Editor-in-Chief of “I’m thrilled to see LinuxGizmos become associated with one of the computing industry’s pioneering publications.”

“I see this partnership as a perfect way to enhance both the Circuit Cellar and LinuxGizmos brands as key information platforms,” stated KC Prescott, President, KCK Media Corp. “In this era where there’s so much compelling technology innovation happening in the industry, our combined strengths will help inform and inspire embedded systems developers.”

Read Announcement on here:

Circuit Cellar and join forces

Touch-Sensor Development Kit for ESP32

The ESP32-Sense Kit is a new touch-sensor development kit produced by Espressif Systems. It can be used for evaluating and developing the touch-sensing functionality of ESP32. The ESP32-Sense Kit consists of one motherboard and several daughterboards. The motherboard is made up of a display unit, a main control unit and a debug unit. The daughterboards can be used in different application scenarios, since the ESP32-Sense Kit supports a linear slider, a duplex slider, a wheel slider, matrix buttons, and spring buttons. Users can even design and add their own daughterboards for special use cases. The photo provides an overview of the ESP32-Sense Kit. The wheel slider, linear slider, duplex slider, motherboard, spring buttons, and matrix buttons, are shown in a clockwise direction.

The ESP32 SoC offers up to 10 capacitive I/Os that detect changes in capacitance on touch sensors due to finger contact or proximity. The chip’s internal capacitance detection circuit features low noise and high sensitivity. It allows users to use touch pads with smaller area to implement the touch detection function. Users can also use the touch panel array to detect a larger area or more test points.

The follow related resources are available to support ESP Sense Kit:

  • ESP32 t=Touch-Sensor Design: The reference design manual of the ESP32 touch-sensing system.
  • ESP32-Sense Project: Contains programs for the ESP32-Sense Kit, which can be downloaded to the development board to enable the touch-sensing function.
  • ESP-IDF: The SDK for ESP32. Provides information on how to set up the ESP32 software environment.
  • ESP-Prog: The ESP32 debugger.

Espressif Systems |


Wireless MCUs are Bluetooth Mesh Certified

Cypress Semiconductor has announced its single-chip solutions for the Internet of Things (IoT) are Bluetooth mesh connectivity certified by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) to a consumer product. LEDVANCE announced the market’s first Bluetooth mesh qualified LED lighting products, which leverage Cypress’ Bluetooth mesh technology. Three Cypress wireless combo chips and the latest version of its Wireless Internet Connectivity for Embedded Devices (WICED) software development kit (SDK) support Bluetooth connectivity with mesh networking capability. Cypress’ solutions enable a low-cost, low-power mesh network of devices that can communicate with each other–and with smartphones, tablets and voice-controlled home assistants–via simple, secure and ubiquitous Bluetooth connectivity.

Previously, users needed to be in the immediate vicinity of a Bluetooth device to control it without an added hub. With Bluetooth mesh networking technology, the devices within the network can communicate with each other to easily provide coverage throughout even the largest homes, allowing users to conveniently control all of the devices via apps on their smartphones and tablets.

Market research firm ABI Research forecasts there will be more than 57 million Bluetooth smart lightbulbs by 2021. Cypress’ CYW20719, CYW20706, and CYW20735 Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) combo solutions and CYW43569 and CYW43570 Wi-Fi and Bluetooth combo solutions offer fully compliant Bluetooth mesh. Cypress also offers Bluetooth mesh certified modules and an evaluation kit. The solutions share a common, widely-deployed Bluetooth stack and are supported in version 6.1 of Cypress’ all-inclusive WICED SDK, which streamlines the integration of wireless technologies for developers of smart home lighting and appliances, as well as healthcare applications.

Cypress Semiconductor |

Quantum Leaps

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief


Throughout my career, I’ve always been impressed by Intel’s involvement in a wide spectrum of computing and electronics technologies. These range from the mundane and practical on one hand, to forward-looking and disruptive advances on the other. A lot of these weren’t technologies for which Intel ever intended to take direct advantage of over the long term. I think a lot about how Intel facilitated the creation of and early advances in USB. Intel even sold USB chips in the first couple years of USB’s emergence, but stepped aside from that with the knowledge that their main focus was selling processors.

USB made computers and a myriad of consumer electronic devices better and easier to use, and that, Intel knew, advanced the whole industry in which their microprocessors thrived. Today, look around your home, your office and even your car and count the number of USB connectors there are. It’s pretty obvious that USB’s impact has been truly universal.

Aside from mainstream, practical solutions like USB, Intel also continues to participate in the most forward-looking compute technologies. Exemplifying that, in January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) show in Las Vegas, Intel announced two major milestones in its efforts to develop future computing technologies. In his keynote address, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced the successful design, fabrication and delivery of a 49-qubit superconducting quantum test chip. The keynote also focused on the promise of neuromorphic computing.

In his speech, Krzanich explained that, just two months after delivery of a 17-qubit superconducting test chip, Intel that day unveiled “Tangle Lake,” a 49-qubit superconducting quantum test chip. The chip is named after a chain of lakes in Alaska, a nod to the extreme cold temperatures and the entangled state that quantum bits (or “qubits”) require to function.

According to Intel, achieving a 49-qubit test chip is an important milestone because it will allow researchers to assess and improve error correction techniques and simulate computational problems.

Krzanich predicts that quantum computing will solve problems that today might take our best supercomputers months or years to resolve, such as drug development, financial modeling and climate forecasting. While quantum computing has the potential to solve problems conventional computers can’t handle, the field is still nascent.

Mike Mayberry, VP and managing director of Intel Labs weighed in on the progress of the efforts. “We expect it will be 5 to 7 years before the industry gets to tackling engineering-scale problems, and it will likely require 1 million or more qubits to achieve commercial relevance,” said Mayberry.

Krzanich said the need to scale to greater numbers of working qubits is why Intel, in addition to investing in superconducting qubits, is also researching another type called spin qubits in silicon. Spin qubits could have a scaling advantage because they are much smaller than superconducting qubits. Spin qubits resemble a single electron transistor, which is similar in many ways to conventional transistors and potentially able to be manufactured with comparable processes. In fact, Intel has already invented a spin qubit fabrication flow on its 300-mm process technology.

At CES, Krzanich also showcased Intel’s research into neuromorphic computing—a new computing paradigm inspired by how the brain works that could unlock exponential gains in performance and power efficiency for the future of artificial intelligence. Intel Labs has developed a neuromorphic research chip, code-named “Loihi,” which includes circuits that mimic the brain’s basic operation.

While the concepts seem futuristic and abstract, Intel is thinking of the technology in terms of real-world uses. Intel says Neuromorphic chips could ultimately be used anywhere real-world data needs to be processed in evolving real-time environments. For example, these chips could enable smarter security cameras and smart-city infrastructure designed for real-time communication with autonomous vehicles. In the first half of this year, Intel plans to share the Loihi test chip with leading university and research institutions while applying it to more complex data sets and problems.

For me to compare quantum and neuromorphic computing to USB is as about as apples and oranges as you can get. But, who knows? When the day comes when quantum or neuromorphic chips are in our everyday devices, maybe my comparison won’t seem far-fetched at all.

This appears in the February (331) issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

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Rad-Hard MCU Family Meets Space Needs

A new microcontroller that combines specified radiation performance with low-cost development associated with Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) devices is now available from Microchip Technology. Developing radiation-hardened systems for space applications has a history of long lead times and high costs to achieve the highest level of reliability for multi-year missions in a harsh environment. Today, space and other critical aerospace applications require faster development and reduced costs.

The ATmegaS64M1 is the second 8-bit megaAVR MCU from Microchip that uses a development approach called COTS-to-radiation-tolerant. This approach takes a proven automotive-qualified device, the ATmega64M1 in this case, and creates pinout compatible versions in both high-reliability plastic and space-grade ceramic packages. The devices are designed to meet radiation tolerances with the following targeted performances:

  • Fully immune from Single-Event Latchup (SEL) up to 62 MeV.cm²/mg
  • No Single-Event Functional Interrupts (SEFI) which secure memory integrity
  • Accumulated Total Ionizing Dose (TID) between 20 to 50 Krad(Si)
  • Single Event Upset (SEU) characterization for all functional blocks

The new device joins the ATmegaS128, a radiation-tolerant MCU that has already been designed into several critical space missions including a Mars exploration plus a megaconstellation of several hundred Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites.

The ATmega64M1 COTS device, along with its full development toolchain including development kits and code configurator, can be used to begin development of hardware, firmware and software. When the final system is ready for the prototype phase or production, the COTS device can be replaced with a pin-out compatible, radiation-tolerant version in a 32-lead ceramic package (QFP32) with the same functionality as the original device. This leads to significant cost savings while also reducing development time and risk.

The ATmegaS64M1 meets the high operating temperature range of -55°C to +125°C. It is the first COTS-to-radiation-tolerant MCU to combine a Controller Area Network (CAN) bus, Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) and motor control capabilities. These features make it ideal for a variety of subsystems like remote terminal controllers and data handling functions for satellites, constellations, launchers or critical avionic applications.

To ease the design process and accelerate time to market, Microchip offers the STK 600 complete development board for the ATmegaS64M1, giving designers a quick start to develop code with advanced features for prototyping and testing new designs. The device is supported by Atmel Studio Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for developing, debugging and software libraries.

Microchip Technology |

The Quest for Extreme Low Power

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief


Over the next couple years, power will clearly rank as a major design challenge for the myriad of edge devices deployed in Internet of Things (IoT) implementations. Such IoT devices are wireless units that need to be always on and connected. At the same time, they need low power consumption, while still being capable of doing the processing power needed to enable machine intelligence. The need for extreme low power in these devices goes beyond the need for long battery life. Instead the hope is for perpetually powered solutions providing uninterrupted operation—and, if possible, without any need for battery power. For their part, microcontroller vendors have been doing a lot in recent years within their own labs to craft extreme low power versions of their MCUs. But the appetite for low power at the IoT edge is practically endless.

Offering a fresh take on the topic, I recently spoke with Paul Washkewicz, vice president and co-founder of Eta Compute about the startup’s extreme low power technology for microcontrollers. The company claims to offer the lowest power MCU intellectual property (IP) available today, with voltages as low as 0.3 V. Eta Compute has developed and implemented a unique low power design methodology that delivers up to a 10x improvement in power efficiency. Its IP and custom designs operate over severe variations in conditions such as temperature, process, voltage and power supply variation. Eta Compute’s approach is a self-timed technology supporting dynamic voltage scaling (DVS) that is insensitive to process variations, inaccurate device models and path delay variations.

The technology has been implemented in a variety of chip functions. Among these are M0+ and M3 ARM cores scaling 0.3 V to 1.2 V operation with additional low voltage logic support functions such as real-time clocking (RTC), Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and digital signal processing. The technology has also been implemented in an A-D converter sensor interface that consumes less than 5 µW. The company has also crafted an efficient power management device that supports dynamic voltage scaling down to 0.25 V with greater than 80% efficiency.

According to the company, Eta Compute’s technology can be implemented in any standard foundry process with no modifications to the process. This allows ease of adoption of any IP and is immune to delays and changes in process operations. Manufacturing is straightforward with the company’s IP able to port to technology nodes at any foundry. Last fall at ARM TechCon, David Baker, Ph.D. and Fellow at Eta Compute, did a presentation that included a demonstration of a small wireless sensor board that can operate perpetually on a small 1 square inch solar cell.

Attacking the problem from a different direction, another startup, Nikola Labs, is applying its special expertise in antenna design and advanced circuitry to build power harvesting into products ranging from wearables to sensors to battery-extending phone cases. Wi-Fi routers, mobile phones and other connected devices are continually emitting RF waves for communication. According to the company, radio wave power is strongest near the source—but devices transmit in all directions, saturating the surrounding area with stray waves. Nikola Labs’ high-performance, compact antennae capture this stray RF energy. Efficient electronics are then used to convert it into DC electricity that can be used to charge batteries or energize ultra-low power devices.

Nikola’s technology can derive usable energy from a wide band of frequencies, ranging from LTE (910 MHz) to Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz) and beyond (up to 6 GHz). Microwatts of power can be harvested in an active ambient RF area and this can rise to milliwatts for harvesters placed directly on transmitting sources. Nikola Labs has demonstrated energy harvesting from a common source of RF communication waves: an iPhone. Nikola engineers designed a case for iPhone 6 that captures waste RF transmissions, producing up to 30 mW of power to extend battery life by as much as 16% without impacting the phone’s ability to send and receive data.

Whether you address the challenge of extreme low power from the inside out or the outside in—or by advancing battery capabilities—there’s no doubt that the demand for such technologies will only grow within the coming years. With all that in mind, I look forward to covering developments on this topic in Circuit Cellar throughout 2018.

This appears in the January (330) issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

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Infineon MCUs Serve Audi’s Autonomous Car Functionality

Infineon Technologies has announced that it supplies key components for the Audi A8, the first series production car featuring level 3 automated driving. The ability of cars to self-drive is split into a number of different levels: With level 3, drivers can temporarily take their hands off the steering wheel under certain conditions.  The Audi A8 allows this when parking and exiting, in slow-moving traffic or in traffic congestion. Using microelectronics from Infineon Technologies, a car can take over in this kind of driving situation.

Various types of chips from Infineon serve the safe automated driving in the Audi A8: sensors, microcontrollers and power semiconductors. Radar sensor chips from the RASIC family are installed in the front and corner radar. They send and receive high-frequency 77-GHz signals and forward these on to the central driver assistance controller (zFAS).

A microcontroller from the AURIX family is a key component of the zFAS for reliable automated driving. AURIX enables to secure the connection to the vehicle data bus. It assesses and prioritizes data packets and initiates their processing in the fastest possible time. For example, it initiates emergency braking based on data from radar and other sensor systems. The AURIX family of microcontrollers is especially ideal for this purpose thanks to high processing power and extensive safety features.

AURIX microcontrollers are used in several controllers in the Audi A8: On the one hand, they control the functions for the engine. On the other, they operate in the Audi AI active chassis and in the electronic chassis platform, which controls the shock absorption. The microcontrollers also support activation of the airbag.

In addition to the electronics for drive, driver assistance and chassis, other semiconductor solutions from Infineon are installed in the comfort and body electronics, such as for example LED drivers from the LITIX Basic family in the tail lights as well as bridge drivers from the Embedded Power family in the windscreen wipers.

Infineon Technologies |