Designers can accelerate the development and enhance their portfolio of connected things by using the same MCU platform

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

Rapid
innovation in today’s market exerts constant pressure on product and system
engineers. To help speed up the new product development process, Texas
Instruments has taken a robust software/hardware platform approach with
code-compatible devices and technologies to develop a cohesive platform that
offers a breadth of technical capabilities. Through this approach, a developer
can easily complete an initial design and then choose another code-compatible
device to further enhance or expand their portfolio without having to leverage
valuable resources to relearn the basics of the product. The result is a more
rapid and efficient development, enabling developers to focus on their
differentiation while earning a healthy return on investment over a longer
period of time.

A unified continuum
A relevant
example will illustrate how a unified platform approach covering a range of
foundational technologies can speed the development of new products, facilitate
their acceptance in the marketplace, and contribute to the success of
complementary products. This example will focus on a company that has decided
to enter the internet of things/home automation market with a smart security
control panel.

First, the
proper planning and research is conducted to determine the features and
capabilities of the initial product. Being versatile and adaptable are
essential if the company wants to be responsive to changing conditions in the
marketplace and adapt the initial product or create complementary products in
the future. In this regard, a unified platform approach to foundational
technology will be essential if the firm is to be agile and nimble as it pursues
its product strategies.

A robust
platform approach gives the team the support that it needs during every phase
of development, as shown in Fig. 1. Initially,
engineers will concentrate on learning what’s available and evaluate it using
resources like application notes, easy and fast training, evaluation kits, and
development boards to start development quickly. During the prototype and
development phase, the availability of off-the-shelf plug-in hardware and
software modules for the product’s technology platform, as well as standardized
software tools and utilities and code examples specific to the application,
will let the project team concentrate its efforts on developing differentiating
features.

As the
various partitions of the system start to come together, microcontrollers
(MCUs) based on a platform deep in utilities and tools will help ensure that
the system operates as expected and that various aspects of the product’s
operation, such as its overall system throughput, power consumption, and
security, are optimized accordingly. Ultimately, a robust platform approach
will have eliminated the surprises and made development much more predictable.

Fig. 1: Product life cycle with platform approach includes the
following content:
•  Evaluate and Learn — Development boards, application notes, white
papers, and online training modules
•  Prototype and Develop — Software development kits, example code, programming,
and API guides
•  Debug and Optimize — Integrated development environments, debug
probes, and utilities
•  Gen 1 Product Release — Platform deliverables
ensure more predictable and reliable product releases

Next steps: enhance and expand
Even as a new
product is introduced to the market, the development team is probably already
working on the second and third generations of the system. To continue the
previous example, the team may have decided that the smart security panel needs
Wi-Fi connectivity. If the MCU is part of a platform approach, adding Wi-Fi in
the second generation can be handled efficiently by moving the system to a
Wi-Fi-enabled MCU that shares the same platform. Full code portability from one
platform device to another means that the development team won’t have to start
over with new code or make massive revisions to the code base.

In addition,
team members won’t have to learn new tools to incorporate the small amount of
new application code needed for Wi-Fi because the new MCU has embedded Wi-Fi
support. Furthermore, engineers on the team will be able to leverage the same
tools that they used for the first-generation product. An example is shown in Fig. 2.

0918_Special_IoT_Fig-2

Fig. 2: Companies can enhance and expand on their product offering
using the same MCU platform.

For the third
generation, the team could decide to add Bluetooth Low Energy connectivity so
that users can access the security panel from their smartphones. Because of the
platform approach in the underlying technology, this generational transition
will be just as easy as the previous.

More complex
transitions, such as transforming the security panel into a gateway for other
home automation devices, could be accomplished with similar simplicity thanks
to the underlying platform approach upon which the first product was based. As
a gateway, the security panel could need Wi-Fi or Ethernet connectivity along
with wireless sub-1-GHz connectivity so that it can communicate with various
sensors. If the platform is sufficiently robust, sub-1 GHz can be quickly added
by migrating to another MCU with embedded sub-1-GHz support. With these
accomplished, complementary home automation devices that share the same
platform as the MCU can be easily created and rapidly interfaced to the
gateway.

For example,
a motion sensor for home security might be added to the product family.
Assuming that the MCU’s software platform includes a plug-in module for a
motion sensor that can leverage the published programming interfaces of the
platform, the new capability can be quickly incorporated into the gateway’s
code base. And because the same development tools will be used, no new learning
is required, shortening the development cycle further.

After
interfacing the gateway to a motion sensor, the product portfolio might expand
again by adding smoke and gas detectors or electronic door locks. Code and
knowledge portability, as well as a library of functional plug-ins all sharing
the same software platform, make this happen in short order.

Getting smarter
Everything
around us is getting smarter — our homes, appliances, automobiles, factories,
and offices. Engineers and product developers feel the pressure on a daily
basis of facing the daunting challenge of creating the next-great innovation.
Of course, it’s not enough for developers to keep up with the competition. They
have to be ahead of the curve, always mindful of what’s over the horizon. As shown in this example, a robust,
code-compatible, foundational technology platform facilitates efficient
innovation, simplifying initial software development and leveraging it to create
a comprehensive product portfolio that maximizes return on investment.

Part 1: Platform approach pays off for
product and system engineers
Part 2 — Platform approach: MCUs are key to ROI