The market for microcontroller units (MCUs) used in Internet of things (IoT) applications is on the rise, which is having a positive effect on overall MCU market growth. According to a report by HIS, the market for MCUs used in connected cars, wearable electronics, building automation and other IoT applications is expected to grow at an overall compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11 percent, from $1.7 billion in 2014 to $2.8 billion in 2019. The overall MCU market is expected to grow at a CAGR of just 4 percent through 2019.
Tom Hackenberg, senior analyst for IHS Technology, in a statement said, “Without the influence of IoT application growth, the MCU market is predicted to stagnate by the end of the decade.”
In this scenario semiconductor companies have been pouring all their energy and expertise into developing MCUs for the IoT industry, but this route is mired with challenges as Hackenberg in his statement said, “however, the industry’s challenge now is to quantify this new opportunity, since IoT is a conceptual trend, not a device, application or even a new feature,”
Bjorn Brandal, from Atmel, a leading MCU company, help shed some light on the biggest challenges for the makers of MCUs in the changing times.
ELE Times: What do you see as the biggest challenge for developers and makers in the IoT and smart hardware industry? How does Atmel help developers face those challengers?
Bjorn Brandal: IoT has gone from being a buzz-word to becoming a reality with real products coming out every day. To enable IoT, there is a strong need for the lowest power microcontrollers; together with connectivity- either Bluetooth low energy (BTLE), Wifi or ZigBee. For IoT applications to succeed they need the best in both class connectivity and battery life.
Atmel has always been a leader in ultra low power MCUs, which was recently further proven by the introduction of its lowest power Cortex M class microcontrollers in the world, the SAML21 series. We are also further strengthening our position as a leader in connectivity with the best in class products for both BTLE, WiFi and ZigBee.
One of the main challenges faced by developers and makers for IoT and smart hardware is to collect all the different bits and pieces needed not only from hardware and software point of view but all the way up to cloud integration. Traditionally this has been offered through many different vendors in a scattered offering, where a substantial amount of work has been needed just to get all the information and pieces collected and then with a strenuous task ahead of integrating this into an end application.
As a company focused on, and strongly positioned for success in the IoT industry, we have worked on making sure we can offer a streamlined and complete solution to this challenge. Not only are we offering the world’s lowest power microcontrollers and connectivity solutions, but we tie this all together in a complete Integrated Development Platform (IDP), the Atmel Studio 7. Besides traditional tasks of code writing, compilation and advanced debugging like low power debug, profiling, and data visualizers, it also integrates an extensive source code firmware library covering everything from board and device level drivers, middleware like communication stacks and even real time operating systems to complete application examples and qualified 3rd party SW. All this is available free of charge. Combined with strong partnerships with all the main cloud service providers worldwide we can offer our users a complete solution all the way from the end node data collection and user interaction to cloud integration. A complete solution to target everything from simple to very advanced IoT applications.
ELE Times: Nowadays, more and more 32-bit ARM-based MCUs are being used in design projects. Do you think ARM will be the dominant architecture in the MCU industry? Compared to other MCU suppliers, what is Atmel’s strength?
Bjorn Brandal: ARM Cortex-M have become the dominant 32-bit MCU architecture and competition in the ARM space is fierce. For a vendor to succeed they will need to bring something new to the market.
Key differentiation from Atmel have always been to introduce innovative features that cannot only reduce the bill of material for customers and help customers sell better end products faster, but also to ensure that the Atmel products offer higher performance, higher integration and lower power than competing products based on the same ARM Cortex-M architectures. We are seeing rapid growth for our Atmel|SMART Cortex-M0+ product lines, where devices like Atmel’s SAM D, SAML and SAMC families have been very well received due to innovative features like the Event System, the Peripheral Touch Controller (PTC) and the Custom Configurable Logic (CCL) block, giving customers higher performance and lower bill of material combined with a low power benefit.
By adding innovative features we make sure that the ARM based products from Atmel are not just any other ARM product. If you have attended any of the numerous Atmel technology seminars you should be aware of our saying “Think Beyond The Core”. With this we are pointing to the fact that the ARM core, although a central piece of an MCU, is only one small part of the device. By combining the ARM Cortex-M core with innovative peripheral features, we make sure that the CPU is efficiently offloaded by moving intelligence to the peripherals themselves. This is freeing up CPU time, and thereby ensuring that an Atmel Cortex-M based MCU can achieve even higher performance and lower power than competing products based on the same ARM core.
Furthermore Atmel is today the only supplier that can offer a complete portfolio of best in class 8-bit devices, the Atmel AVR, together with the most popular 32-bit core, the ARM Cortex-M. Our competitors might be strong on either 8-bit, or 32-bit ARM, but none are able to offer such complete and strong 8-bit portfolio combined with the popular 32-bit ARM products.
The 8-bit market is still growing, and for traditional 8-bit applications the Atmel AVR still offer a lot of benefits over 32-bit. With unbeatable sleep mode power consumption with full RAM retention and immediate wake-up, combined with the simplicity and ease of use of the AVR’s they are still the best choice for most mid- to low-end applications. Atmel is still investing heavily in 8-bit, and launched this year 10 new AVR products complementing the already huge family of products. We also have many new exciting AVR products on our development roadmap.
ELE Times: Many MCU companies are struggling to establish an ecosystem and partnerships for enhancing their position in the market. Does Atmel have any specific programs for ecosystem and partner programs?
Bjorn Brandal: Atmel is spending a significant effort in growing our ecosystem and partner network for further growth and strengthening of our position and leadership. Contrary to our competitors we are not only offering our partners traditional partnership, but we also allow partners to develop and integrate their offering and solution into our complete Integrated Development Platform by allowing 3rd party extensions and add-ons to the Atmel Studio 7 platform trough the Atmel Gallery extension repository.
ELE Times: Atmel launched the program “From MakerSpace to MarketPlace” for the maker movement. How do you value the influence of the maker movement to the industry and Atmel’s business development ?
Bjorn Brandal: Atmel has always been supportive of, and seen great value in the community of users of our products around the world. Not only our customers, but equally important also hobbyists and students/universities. We strongly believe in the creativity and innovation shown in the hobbyist community, with people passionate about electronics contributing to drive the innovation forward. We are therefore very excited to see the recent years increased popularity of the maker movement, a movement where Atmel have been active since the very beginning.