The sophistication of embedded devices was in the past often hidden from view. The embedded designer’s job was to make an application work reliably and efficiently. In many cases, few or even no people would ever directly experience or interact with it.
Today, the design of many embedded devices places an additional demand on the developer: to make the user’s experience of the device smooth, intuitive, enjoyable, even, dare I say it, cool.
This is giving rise to exciting developments in the world of the microcontroller, some of which are on display in this issue of FTM with its Application Spotlight on microcontrollers.
The smartphone has, of course, set high expectations for the way in which users interact with devices: consumers now take sharp, colourful graphics, a touch-sensing interface and always-on connectivity to the internet for granted.
This has led MCU manufacturers to extend the capabilities of the Integrated Development Environment (IDE) that they provide to users of their devices. Increasingly these enable direct porting to embedded operating systems such as FreeRTOS, and the incorporation of external protocol stacks such as TCP/IP. This is hugely beneficial for embedded designers, as it enables them to add sophisticated networking,
graphics and user-interface capabilities into systems based on a familiar MCU architecture,
rather than needing to migrate to a completely different microprocessor architecture which can run a full-blown desktop-grade operating system such as Linux® or Windows®.
Touch-sensing capability is also an increasingly common feature of today’s more sophisticated MCUs. Cypress Semiconductor has long pioneered the implementation of touch-sensing with its Programmable Systemon-Chip (PSoC® ) devices, and touch capability can also be found in the SAM L22 devices from Atmel, (click here) and STMicroelectronics‘ STM32L433 and STM32L476 series, (click here).
A particularly interesting innovation in the human-machine interface is represented by NXP’s LPC54114 (click here). This embeds a hardware voice-detection capability, as well as a comprehensive audio sub-system for interfacing to a digital microcontroller. Voice activation and control as an alternative or supplement to touch control has many potential applications. In fact, the main MCU
manufacturers are now committing huge investments to the development of voice-recognition
and natural-speech systems. Together with continuing improvements in the Watts/MIPS performance and security capability of embedded MCUs, it is an exciting time for users of MCUs in embedded systems.
What is more, Future Electronics’ highly trained engineers can help designers to find, evaluate and apply this new technology. I would urge you to take advantage of their expertise, and of the very broad range of MCUs and associated components for embedded designs available from Future Electronics.
Embedded Vertical Segment Director Future Electronics (EMEA)