Hardware and software platforms accelerate design innovation

By Ray Upton, VP
& GM, Connected MCU, and Zoran Mladenovic, GM, Software Development, Texas
Instruments

Year after year, the pace of innovation is accelerating. New
products, new features, new capabilities, and new technologies enter the
marketplace daily in rapid succession. For example, the internet of things (IoT)
was unheard of a few years ago, and now, Gartner predicts that by 2020, some 20.4
billion IoT devices are expected to be in place.

Rapid innovation like this exerts constant pressure on product and
system engineers to quicken the rate of new product introductions or be left
behind. Suppliers of enabling technologies have to step up and make sure that their
customers are in position to take advantage of each window of opportunity available
to them. To do this, we need to make innovation easier and faster.

Semiconductor companies like ours can’t fixate on hardware to the
exclusion of software. In today’s fast-moving markets, software makes a
difference for companies trying to be agile, nimble, and opportunistic. That is
why Texas Instruments has taken a platform approach that is inclusive of both
hardware and software and which leads to rapid system innovation.

Software
rising

Over the last decade, software is top-of-mind for system
developers. Software lets product and system engineers be more flexible and
responsive to the needs of the marketplace. Features for current products can
be upgraded or changed quickly through software updates. Or new products can be
developed by taking the hardware design of a current product and changing its
software so that a different product can be quickly introduced into a niche
segment.

This shift toward software is reflected in the makeup of most
technology companies. A recent survey of embedded product
manufacturers
 
found that they devote 61% of
their development resources to software. Investors are often overwhelmed by the
uncertainty that the ever-evolving software requirements and resourcing bring
to a given product. This is often true as a sizeable development time is spent
on integration of basic system components versus the application, which often
drives product differentiation in the market.

We have worked closely with system developers in many different
industries and learned that we can offer the greatest value by providing a
cohesive platform approach that stretches across to hardware and software and
includes many code-compatible devices and technologies. With this sort of platform,
compatible software and hardware can be combined to accelerate system
innovations that leverage prior development for maximum return on investment
(ROI).

A
solid foundation

Often, the fastest way to market will involve a software
implementation of at least portions of the new product’s functionality using
general-purpose programmable microcontrollers (MCUs). These types of devices offer
the greatest flexibility and can be easily updated throughout the early
prototyping phase.

When new features or enhancements are needed, system updates are
much easier if the device that was used in the original design was part of a
platform that includes a range of code-compatible MCUs and other compatible
components. When this is so, the initial code from the original design can be efficiently
migrated to other MCUs within the platform when the need for greater compute
cycles or more memory dictates.

 

Fig. 1: Example of a single software platform for a range of
microcontrollers.

Over time, a new device in the platform may integrate additional
hardware capabilities that further reduce system cost and power consumption while
increasing performance so that a system will be more competitive in the
marketplace. As long as the platform maintains appropriate compatibility, such
updates can be made efficiently while maximizing ROI.

The platform’s application programming interfaces should be well-documented
and leverage industry standards wherever possible to ease the interfacing of
external components such as sensors, actuators, various communication
technologies, and compatible software plug-ins that easily extend system
functionality to speed up system development even further. By leveraging
industry standards in the platform, a greater number of developers can quickly deploy
technology solutions, increasing the speed of market adoption yet again.

Part
2 – Platform approach: MCUs are key to ROI
Hardware and software platforms
drive long-term product strategies