‘Boring’ MCUs need shake up says entrepreneur

The microcontroller market is getting boring, says Alf-Egil Bogen, who hopes to shake things up. He shared idea on how to do it in an interview at Design West.

“There’s no time to think different, anymore–we all license ARM cores and go make the same products at TSMC,” said Bogen who recently joined Energy Micro AS (Oslo) as chief marketing officer. “You can differentiate much more than what we see in the products today, you just have to think different,” he said.

Bogen affectively left an early retirement to work for his old college buddy in Norway, Geir Forre, the chief executive of Energy Micro. Many years ago, Forre worked as CEO for Bogen who was chairman of Chipcon, a microcontroller startup sold to Texas Instruments. The two had talked about working together again since Forre started Energy Micro in 2007.

“We had a lot of conversations about whether I could work for him–maybe he thought this was his revenge,” he quipped. Bogen sees MCUs hitting new lows in voltage and power.

Bogen not only decided to join the company, he agreed to invest $2 million of his own money in it. “I have a lot of ideas on products, tools and marketing that I haven’t been able to use so far,” he said.

One of the innovations Bogen wants to see is much broader use of energy harvesting. For example, energy harvesting could be used to power the lowest sleep modes in many embedded products. The broader use of the technology could spawn more work in the fledgling field, creating a virtuous cycle of innovation, he said.

In MCUs, there’s still plenty of room to push power consumption to new lows, Bogen added. Energy Micro is working on new libraries and process technology enhancements at TSMC that will lower voltage and power-consumption levels for future products without sacrificing too much analog performance, he said.

EEs becoming MCU agnostic
Other MCU innovations include new ways to use capacitive, resistive or even mechanical means to quickly wake a chip out of sleep mode or switch faster between modes. Longer term, future microcontrollers will start to look like multicore processors with a variety of different blocks handling analog functions that work better digital circuits as process geometries shrink, he added.

To read more, go to EET News and Analysis

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