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MCUs and IoT Inks the Next Future!

Simon Meadmore, Global Head of Semiconductors, Premier Farnell and element14

In recent years, 32-bit MCUs, which are more powerful and sold at a higher price, have comprised a larger share of the MCU market. This trend is only expected to increase, as manufacturers introduce more IoT-enabled products requiring more powerful, faster performance. Joining for an erudite conversation, Simon Meadmore l Global Head of Semiconductors l Premier Farnell and element14, expounds on how IoT will be the  key driver for MCUs and where the semiconductor industry is headed in the future with these IoT-enabled MCUs. Edited Excerpts. 

  1. Unlike yesterday where MCUs major focus was for the industrial and automotive market. Today, its consumer demand which is sweeping the MCU segment; hence, the architecture and functionalities completely differ from early times. How do you think this market will rev-up to these new demands? 

What was once seen as hype surrounding IoT trends has now become a key driver in the MCU market. MCUs play a key role in IoT: sensors, distributed intelligence, energy management, wearable technologies, secure communications and building automation; yet demand for industrial and automotive remains – driven by the emergence of Industry 4.0 and demand for connected car, smart automotive applications and advances in ADAS and autonomous vehicles.  There is huge demand for ultra-low power devices to support technology. In which MCU’s also play a key role.

Semiconductor and technology companies are responding to the extensive demand for microcontrollers across automotive, consumer electronics, industrial IoT, military, aerospace and healthcare. To specifically satisfy consumer demand, we are seeing technology launches that open the field to users who do not have previous development experience.

Hanhaa, for example, has launched a platform called Symbisa.  This enables quick and simple IoT device deployment and data monitoring that is accessible to anyone.  Symbisa offers developers and IT professionals an entirely new way to build IoT applications by using a Microsoft Excel add-in.  The module is an all-in-one, always-connected device, approximately the size of a smartphone, that carries sensors capable of detecting and collecting environmental information including GPS location, orientation, temperature, light and humidity. Using an Excel add-in, real-world data streams directly into any desktop or mobile device that runs Excel for Office 365 and data can also be pushed from Excel up to a unit’s e-ink display. Anyone with basic spreadsheet knowledge can start exploring the possibilities of IoT, interpreting sensor data, developing dashboards and triggering events that require follow-on actions in a matter of minutes – without coding, engineering capabilities, or a WiFi or network link-up.  To complement this easy to deploy platform, users also benefit from a well-defined end user cost model, made possible by connectivity through Hanhaa’s own secure global mobile network, charging users by how often data is captured, rather than the amount of data used. The nature of this product, simply to deploy with a straightforward financial model for use, opens up IoT to an ever growing ‘consumer’ audience.

  1. Today’s companies are taking new approaches in developing MCUs for certain area, sectors and applications, and the opportunity is huge. What is your company’s approach to feeding  this global demand?

As a distributor, element14 has invested substantially in its product inventory during the last twelve months, adding a number of new semiconductor suppliers to its product offering as well as deepening the existing linecard. New franchises include Xilinx, Nordic Semiconductor, with enhanced profiles from NXP, Microchip, Cypress and ST supports our aim to be there when it matters, every day, for our many customers across the globe and give our customers in India access to an abundant supplier product portfolio, making spot purchasing more convenient than ever.  We also continue to work with start-ups and other businesses who have developed platforms and devices specifically for IoT including HanHaa (above) and Indian based Graspio who developed a Raspberry Pi add on board enabling users to programme IoT devices simply and quickly with drag and drop programming on a mobile app.

To support this increase investment in stock, Premier Farnell, element14’s parent company have also announced £60 million investment in a new state of the art distribution warehouse in Leeds, United Kingdom.  This new warehouse will be the largest distribution centre in the Premier Farnell group and a hub for future growth – serving eight other distribution centres across the globe and enabling us to support our customers, wherever they are, better than ever.

  1. A lot more software is lauding the MCU market. How Cloud is critically defining the MCU technology. What pros and cons does it bring?

A huge influence is put on which MCU to choose when thinking of how to connect to the cloud. There are many attributes to take into consideration, such as, power consumption, clock rate, memory and most importantly the security features required. Fortunately most MCU vendors also have developments kits available to make this task easier and to help save the time of designers who are not experts in this field. 

  1. Now, microcontroller itself can have multiple microcontrollers connected to it, what more major breakthroughs are expected in this domain?

We are seeing an increase in platforms that address a growing demand for data processing and embedded artificial intelligence at the edge itself, giving ‘smart’ devices an ability to make decisions on the input received with little or no human intervention.

element14 is currently working with Octonion who launch their end IoT Edge Intelligent Platform exclusively through element14 in the autumn.  This pre-industrialized IoT platform (with a dedicated micro controller, hardware and software will enable IoT projects industrialization 3 times faster than currently experienced.  The platform incorporates Octonion edge software, enabling edge computing and management at all software levels (firmware, gateway and Cloud). It also provides an unprecedented Artificial Intelligence framework at the node.

NXP have also recently launched a machine learning (ML) environment enabling users to implement ML functionality on NXP’s breadth of devices from low-cost microcontrollers (MCUs) to breakthrough crossover i.MX RT processors and high-performance application processors.

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