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32-Bit Microcontrollers

Written by Jeff Child

System Chips

Today’s 32-bit microcontrollers are practically everywhere, doing everything in the embedded space. Vendors continue to add more functionality, including advanced wireless connectivity, security, powerful motion control engines and more.

The term system-on-chip could arguably have been applied to 32-bit microcontrollers (MCUs) long before the term SoC ever emerged. For years, these MCUs have provided a mix of processing, memory and I/O on a single chip. And, as embedded systems have evolved, so too have 32-bit MCUs. The most sweeping trend in recent years has been the addition of wireless connectivity to these devices.

Driven mostly by the blossoming IoT phenomenon, today’s crop of MCUs includes many product offerings that include on-chip wireless connectivity. This has taken the form of support for Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Wi-Fi and other technologies. With MCUs embedded in systems across a wide diversity applications and industries, it’s hard to make any general statement about how they are used Aside from IoT, the leading MCU application areas include automotive, industrial systems, smart city, smart home, wearable devices and medical gear.

In an example of a 32-bit MCU application, the all-student Stanford Solar Car Project, from Stanford University, chose STMicrolectronics’ 32-bit STM32F4 MCUs for various applications in their solar car, Arctan. The Arctan was built to compete in the 2015 World Solar Challenge (Figure 1). That competition started in Darwin, Australia, crossed the Outback and ended 3,000km away in Adelaide one week later. In their Arctan vehicle, the Arm Cortex-M core-based STM32F4 MCUs monitored battery life and solar-panel efficiency and managed the electric motor and driver-control functions. According to ST, the Arctan was the fourth Stanford solar car with ST components. The STM32 MCUs optimize car performance based on real-time analysis of vehicle and environmental conditions.

FIGURE 1
The all-student Stanford Solar Car Project, from Stanford University, chose the 32-bit STM32F4 MCUs for various applications in their solar car, Arctan. The Arctan was built to compete in the 2015 World Solar Challenge. The MCUs monitored battery life and solar-panel efficiency and managed the electric motor and driver-control functions.

One of the most recent trends in 32-bit MCUs is the strategy of taking a particular functionally that used to be its own IC and combining it with a 32-bit MCU on one chip. One example is Infineon Technologies’ IMC301A-F064, a motion controller and an Arm Cortex-M0 MCU in one device. Each of the leading vendors have a variety of 32-bit MCU product lines in a myriad of versions. With that in mind, the MCUs in the product gallery displayed on the next couple of pages are a representative sampling the most recent MCU technologies available today. 

PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • APRIL 2020 #357 – Get a PDF of the issue


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Editor-in-Chief at Circuit Cellar | Website | + posts

Jeff Child has more than 28 years of experience in the technology magazine business—including editing and writing technical content, and engaging in all aspects of magazine leadership and production. He joined the Circuit Cellar after serving as Editor-in-Chief of COTS Journal for over 10 years. Over his career Jeff held senior editorial positions at several of leading electronic engineering publications, including EE Times and Electronic Design and RTC Magazine. Before entering the world of technology journalism, Jeff worked as a design engineer in the data acquisition market.

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32-Bit Microcontrollers

by Jeff Child time to read: 2 min