Interview: TI explains its MCU strategy


Jennifer Barry

Jennifer Barry

What is the approach of Texas Instruments to microcontroller design? Jennifer Barry, the supplier’s product marketing engineer for microcontrollers explains how it positions its ARM and MSP430 MCU product families, and the importance of on-chip security.

Q. How does TI position its 16-bit MSP430 and 32-bit ARM Cortex MCUs in the market?

Jennifer Barry: TI positions its 16-bit MSP430 MCUs toward applications requiring ultra-low power to save battery life and energy.

Our MSP430 MCUs with FRAM are used for real-time data logging in addition to its ultra-low-power capabilities. Our ARM Cortex-M4 MCUs are positioned for performance and real-time control.

Our Cortex-R4 & R5 MCUs also are targeted for functional safety applications with their lockstep dual-core Cortex-R cores – in addition to the real-time performance.

Q. What parameters are defining MCU design?

Jennifer Barry: Some of the needs and trends driving MCU parameters include:

· Connectivity and the IoT – It seems more things are requiring connectivity to the Internet.

· Functional safety – More applications are requiring certification in harsh environments and adhering to new government regulations and industry standards.

· Smaller product size – Integration of smart analog, communication peripherals, connectivity on the chip enable a smaller board size, and therefore, product size.

· Longer battery life – Many applications require no battery change throughout the lifetime or a long battery life at the very least. Ways in which to enable developers to stay within a specific power budget and conserve overall energy by extending battery life are always considered.

· Higher performance – Customers require a higher level of performance for many applications, performing tasks in real time and running algorithms. Incorporation of DSPs and math accelerators/engines becomes key.

· Ease of development – As most of the new engineers enter the workforce, their training is focused in software development. We try and make the hardware evaluation easier with our development and evaluation kits. We incorporate IP on-chip and make it easy with our software packages and software in ROM to get started and to market faster.

Q. Can you talk about TI’s plans to add security to MCUs

Jennifer Barry: Security is growing in importance. Adding Crypto security to MCUs, especially ones that interface with connectivity are key.

And of course, the software security is also key. We also recognize the need to support multiple security protocols catered to regional and application-specific needs. This is done by offering multiple embedded encryption/decryption standards on-chip and multiple software drivers.

Q. Can you talk about TI’s plans for adding DSP extensions to MCUs

Jennifer Barry: TI has been offering DSP on its MCUs since 1997 in its C2000 MCUs. The need for real-time control, algorithm processing and complex math formulas have driven this integration, and it will continue to grow in the future.

Q. Do you believe the standalone MCU will ever be superseded by SoC type devices?

Jennifer Barry: It always depends on the application. There will always be a need for a relatively low-cost, low-power embedded processor with performance, and MCU will always be in demand.

However, when applications require running a high-level operating system, such as Linux, with very high performance, the SoC embedded processor will be required. I’m not sure it’s fair to say one will supercede the other.

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