Microcontroller market and design dynamics - Q&A with Gaute Myklebust, VP of MCU Product Planning, Atmel
In an exclusive Q&A with Embedded Computing Design, Gaute Myklebust, VP of MCU Product Planning for Atmel, discusses the development and outlook of the Microcontrollers (MCUs) as they expand into more advanced markets.
The microcontroller market is continuing to expand year after year, boosted by demands for embedded control in popular applications such as smartphones and smart energy systems. Taking a big picture perspective, Gaute highlights important factors influencing microcontroller development today and in the future.
ECD: In which market segment do you foresee the fastest growth for microcontroller-based products?
MYKLEBUST: Capacitive touch-screen controllers with cellular phones are the largest application driver right now. Capacitive touch screens have become the technology of choice for smartphones and are also working their way into feature phones, replacing resistive touch screens and increasing the penetration rate of touch-enabled phones.
ECD: What new microcontroller technologies are available to meet the growing customer demand for extremely small, low-power embedded devices?
MYKLEBUST: Migration to more advanced technology nodes drives both lower active power consumption and smaller form factor. However, this migration also poses a challenge for static power consumption. Many applications are battery-powered, and some require several years of battery lifetime. For these applications, static power consumption is the most important factor for overall power use. To address this, numerous sophisticated techniques have been developed, including back-biased memories and a magnitude of power domains with an associated power management system.
ECD: Software development is a huge portion of each new embedded development project. What software tools, libraries, and educational materials does Atmel offer developers?
MYKLEBUST: This has always been a focus area for Atmel. Our development environment includes full-chip cycle-correct simulation models and on-chip debug modules, which serve as the base platform for software development. In addition, we offer the Atmel Software Framework (Figure 1), which is a comprehensive set of software modules our customers can use in their development.
The software framework consists of low-level device drivers, software stacks, and drivers for external devices. Hardware abstraction layers simplify migration between microcontrollers, and a carefully designed API makes it easy to integrate software components with a third-party Real-Time Operating System (RTOS). We provide a number of different ways to educate those who use our microcontrollers, including data sheets, application notes, discussion forums, direct customer support, webinars, road shows, videos, and e-learning courses, as well as the Atmel Technology Live developer conference coming up this fall.
ECD: With cloud computing and connectivity dominating embedded designs, what security precautions are available to prevent unauthorized access?
MYKLEBUST: Companies are usually very protective about their software. We’re seeing that customers who have software as their main asset are currently reluctant to use cloud storage for their projects and rely on closed network repositories and version control. It is important that the development environment itself is safe and protected so that code projects cannot be downloaded by any backdoor through online Integrated Development Environments (IDEs).
ECD: What radio frequency elements are available with Atmel microcontrollers, and what are the most popular applications?
MYKLEBUST: We are engaged in multiple areas with respect to RF. For example, Atmel has a wide offering of stand-alone transceivers and System-on-Chip (SoC) devices based on the IEEE 802.15.4/ZigBee standard. Application areas include smart energy, lighting, and remote keyless entry/access control. With Atmel’s wide microcontroller portfolio, our devices are often used alongside radio transmitters, even in areas where we do not provide a radio offering.