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Texas Instruments (TI) has launched a new high-performance microcontroller (MCU) portfolio for real-time control, networking, and analytics applications at the edge. Claiming 10 times the computing capability of traditional, flash-based MCUs, the new Sitara AM2x MCUs are said to close the gap between MCUs and processors to meet demands for intelligent analytics, advanced networking, and real-time control in industrial automation, automotive systems, and sustainable energy management.
There is a continued need for increasing performance levels in customers’ applications, including the ability to do more real-time control, together with the communications and the networking component, and the integration of those key core principles, said Mike Pienovi, general manager for Sitara MCU at TI.
The increasing level of performance requirements are driven by two primary reasons, he said. “They are the integration of more systems into a single application but also more intelligence at the edge as our customers’ applications continue to grow and have different levels of complexity that need to be supported.”
In industrial and automotive systems, customers have developed a reliance on real-time control and having that high performance or the fast decision-making capability to be able to process more data is a clear need and a growing trend, he added.
“As we look at communications and systems continuing to become more and more automated where they have to interface and collaborate with other systems within an overall end equipment there also is increased need for higher bandwidth networking,” said Pienovi.
“With the Sitara AM2x family of MCUs, we’re trying to address what we see as a gap between what traditional microcontrollers are able to accomplish and what higher performance processors have traditionally been able to address,” he said. “We are delivering a processor level of computing performance with MCU designed simplicity.”
Processing, control, networking, and security
The family of AM2x MCUs is able to achieve higher levels of processing, control, and networking requirements thanks to four key features – high-performance processing, integration of peripherals, hardware accelerators, and on-chip security.
First, the family offers high-performance processing with single to multicore devices, running at speeds up to 800 MHz per core, together with less than 1-watt of power consumption. It also integrates specialized peripherals and accelerators that engineers can choose based on their applications. The AM243x MCUs are the first family of devices available in the AM2x portfolio, featuring up to four Arm Cortex-R5F cores, each running up to 800 MHz.
The AM2x family of MCU is made up of multiple sub-families – the AM2431, AM2432, and AM3234 – to give customers a number of options to scale and to select the right orderable parts for their application, said Sonia Ghelani, business manager for TI’s Sitara MCUs.
The common blocks across the family of parts are multiple RF5 cores, each delivering up to 1 GHz of performance, which translates into over 6,000 DMIPs [of compute capability], she said. “If you look at traditional MCUs today typically they are in the hundreds of DMIPS range, so this gives customers a huge step-function increase in terms of performance improvement for whatever their application may be.
“The RF5 cores are delivering a ton more performance and customers can dial in exactly which version of the AM243x device works for their applications,” she added.
TI said this high processing speed is critical in factory equipment such as robotics, where fast computations coupled with the MCU’s internal memory enhance a robot’s precision of motion and speed of movement, translating to higher productivity. The additional processing capability enables designers to add analytics for functions such as predictive maintenance to reduce downtime on factory floors. In typical applications, AM243x devices can achieve this level of performance while consuming less than 1 W of active power, said TI.
By integrating sensing and actuation peripherals, the MCUs bring real-time control and networking to the edge, enabling low-latency real-time processing and control for factory automation as well as communications accelerators to simplify industrial networking. In addition, the AM243x devices support multiple industrial communications protocols, including Gigabit Ethernet, EtherNet/IP, EtherCAT, PROFINET, and IO-Link Master.
The family offers several hardware accelerators, said Ghelani. “We have a hardware accelerator for industrial Ethernet-based protocols, and there are a number of protocols that are supported. If you think about your traditional factory applications, for example, programmable logic controllers or remote I/O, all of these require endpoints to talk to each other and that’s where offloading some of that industrial communication gives customers a low latency path.”
“In addition, there is a secondary hardware accelerator that can be used for higher bandwidth protocol support and also for motor control applications,” she added. “Couple that with the I/Os supported, you really can improve the precision and speed of motor control applications.”
In addition, customers are doing more and more at the edge and have higher levels of requirements for both safety and and security, she said. “We have a hardware accelerator to do just that – a security accelerator, which is isolated from the rest of the the chip and allows for customers to truly reach some of the safety levels or security levels that their application may require.”
Ghelani also said that by bringing in these hardware accelerators they offload some of that higher bandwidth or compute-intensive applications to specialized cores to reduce both the power footprint as well as the total system cost.
The family also includes an MCU with freedom from interference (FFI) primarily used for monitoring and diagnostics, and a number of general and I/O protocols, so these devices can be used in a huge number of applications, she added. “We couple that with some high-speed interfaces like the 2-port Gigabit Ethernet switch supporting both IEEE 1588 and time sensitive networking or TSN and that really again enables the set of devices to work in some high bandwidth type of applications.”
Lastly, on-chip security features include support for the latest encryption requirements, and integrated functional safety mechanisms, diagnostics, and collateral to help enable system integrators target up to Safety Integrity Level (SIL) 3 of the IEC 61508 standard with their industrial designs.
Tools and training
To simplify and speed up design, TI also offers the Sitara AM243x LaunchPad Development Kit, enabling developers to start using the precision real-time control and out-of-the-box network capabilities. Available on TI.com, the dev kit is priced at $89.
Developers also have access to application-specific reference examples, tools, software, and the MCU+ Academy training portal to help designers with simple to complex tasks.
Preproduction versions of the AM2431, AM2432 and AM2434 are now available exclusively on TI.com in a 17 × 17-mm or 11 × 11-mm package. Pricing starts at $6.05 for 1,000-unit quantities.
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