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Artificial Intelligence and IoT are Driving Most of the Trends

Randall Restle
Randall Restle, Vice President of Applications Engineering, Digi-Key Electronics

Randall Restle, Vice President of Applications Engineering, Digi-Key Electronics underlines the key technology trends for Microcontrollers (MCUs) in 2020. Here is what the veteran articulated.

Trends and Analysis of MCUs in 2020?

Once upon a time, semiconductor companies designed their own CPUs but that is not much the case today. Today, a CPU core is as much a “peripheral” as its peripherals! They are simply IP blocks. Ignoring the personal computer market of CPUs and, instead focusing on the broader embedded market, there are four popular CPU licensed cores: ARM, RISC-V, MIPS, & Xtensa. ARM is the leader, but the open source RISC-V core is coming on fast. Microchip’s PIC32 is based on MIPS and Chinese semiconductor Espressif Systems uses Xtensa. Xtensa was designed by Tensilica, now part of Cadence Design Systems. Digi-Key stocks over 27,000 microcontrollers from over 25 different manufacturers and that number continues to grow.

TensilicaAnother trend that is growing quickly is System in Package (SiP). The advantage of a SiP is that it can house multiple die of different technologies into a package that is practically the same size of a large integrated circuit. These devices are generally able to run complete operating systems, like Linux, with very few external devices and most of these devices are passives. I only know of 32- bit processors within these SiPs so they are indeed powerful little devices. One such SiP manufacturer is Octavo. I saw a demo of one of their devices powered from a USB connection without having a circuit board at all and talking to the host PC via a terminal window connected to a Linux command line coming from the SiP – no external devices! The best part is that this entire board’s worth of parts – those encompassed in the SiP – costs less than $45 for one. Of course, these devices are available from stock from Digi-Key.

Key Tech Trends in This Domain to Drive MCUs in 2020?

Artificial Intelligence and IoT are driving most of the trends. These technologies are ubiquitous to many applications. Some companies claim you need both technologies in the same chip solution. This opens opportunities for programmable logic companies as the processing requirement for neural networks are well-implemented in programmable hardware fabric. Interestingly, it is increasingly popular that programmable logic generally sports one or more CPUs. Take a course on programmable logic these days and you will learn how to configure its CPU core more than you will learn about hardware description languages. Another trend is to make software designers into programmable logic algorithm developers and use high level synthesis (HLS) compilers to map C and C++ code descriptions into hardware. One has to wonder whether the trend is for programmable logic and MCUs to become one market.

The 32-bit microcontroller Market in 2020?

Whereas the largest demand remains 8-bit microcontrollers, much to many people’s surprise, it seems few are interested in the 16-bitters. Instead, the 32-bitters are taking hold and why not – 32-bit devices cost as little as $0.24 for one. So, while 8-bit devices remain the largest market by units and by customer count, the 32-bit devices are in second place. The 16-bit market remains the prowess of digital signal processors whose realworld problems do not typically require more than 96dB (16 bits x 6dB per bit) dynamic range.

Impact of Automotive Segment in 2020?

Digi-Key is a broad-based distributor and does not focus on one market over another. Instead, we strive to be the first to stock and distribute new devices and we’re committed to offering the broadest selection of in-stock electronic components, as well as providing the best service possible to our customers, aiding engineers through the entire design process. Many customers tell us that they only design-in a new product if Digi-Key stocks it. This is because they know the product is real if Digi-Key stocks it. That said, Digi-Key stocks products in all device variations which include meeting automotive specifications.

Your Expertise and Focus in 2020?

Microchip and TMS320While other distributors are cutting back inventory, Digi-Key continues to partner and support the global engineering community with the most contemporary technology from current and new vendors. It aspires to be a one-stop shop to customers. Given its ship-from-stock, overnight shipping, customers value getting one box with all the parts to a project. Customers can provide reference numbers that are marked on the packages that Digi-Key sends so that customers can easily match their parts received to their Bill of Materials (BoMs). Aside from parts, Digi-Key is expanding its services offering and many of these are free of charge to the customer. For example, scores of Design Services Providers are listed to give customers the name of design firms capable of augmenting in-house designers or outsourcing entire designs to turnkey design services providers. Another free offering is DK IoT Studio. This is a cloud-based design tool that enables customers to configure the single board computers and sensors that it buys from Digi-Key into operable IoT systems. Upon completing one’s design with DK IoT Studio, one can see and control IoT endpoints with a smartphone from anywhere in the world. Of course, those endpoints require connectivity to the internet so another item that Digi-Key sells are data-plans for IoT endpoints to talk over most any cellular region in the world.Digi-Key has been on a digital path for 23 years, and the digital acceleration is only quickening. We’re improving our web experience with customized search and personalized content. The DK IoT Studio is expanding with new products and analytics offerings. Our Scheme-It tool is focused on stellar customer experience with a custom symbol generator and ability to export to KiCad. We’re fully committed to visual product search and our digital voice assistant, and we’re taking our B2B/API connectivity to the next level.



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