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MCU is also introverted – security, TSN are not a lot

There is no doubt that today’s advanced MCUs are at the heart of various embedded systems in hundreds of application areas. While some MCUs already offer a seemingly endless combination of computing power, peripheral combinations, and memory options, they continue to evolve and improve their offerings in every aspect.

Today’s MCUs To keep up with the times, MCU companies are continuously enhancing their peripheral portfolio and security, and some are even adding time-sensitive networking (TSN).

There is no doubt that today’s advanced MCUs are at the heart of various embedded systems in hundreds of application areas. While some MCUs already offer a seemingly endless combination of computing power, peripheral combinations, and memory options, they continue to evolve and improve their offerings in every aspect.

In this article, we will put together a series of new Arm core-based MCUs that bring new system capabilities to applications such as industrial systems, IoT, home automation, and consumer white goods.

NXP Crossover MCU embeds TSN switch

Industry 4.0 is characterized by high network traffic and large data exchanges on multiprotocol networks. But getting industrial networks to work together seamlessly can be difficult — especially when time-sensitive communications are required.

TSN provides key Ethernet determinism for Industry 4.0 applications.Image courtesy of NXP Semiconductors

Although Ethernet is widely used in industrial systems, it does not provide deterministic communication by itself. Fortunately, a set of IEEE 802 standards collectively known as TSN-enabled Ethernet is deterministic by default.

With all this in mind, NXP Semiconductors introduced the first MCUs with integrated Gbps TSN switches in May. Called the i.MX RT1180 crossover MCU, the dual-core device embeds an 800 MHz Arm Cortex-M7 core and a 240 MHz Cortex-M33 core. According to the company, the i.MX RT1180 provides the multi-protocol connectivity needed for simultaneous time-sensitive and real-time communications. This should enable engineers to easily create a unified and secure IIoT communication environment.

The chip’s ability to support multiple protocols is probably its most important feature. It supports the latest generation of TSN standards compliant with the IEC 60802 industrial automation standard. Supported TSN-based protocols include OPC UA Pub-Sub, Profinet over TSN and CC-Link IE TSN.

i.MX RT1180 crossover MCU block diagram. Image courtesy of NXP Semiconductors (click image or enlarge)

Provides up to 5 Gbps ports, including 4 ports on the TSN switch (layer 2) and 1 port on the TSN endpoint controller. It also supports real-time industrial Ethernet protocols, such as Profinet, EtherCAT, CC-Link IE Field, Ethernet/IP, HSR, etc.

On the security front, the i.MX RT1180 includes an NXP EdgeLock Security Enclave, a pre-configured, self-managing and autonomous on-chip security subsystem that removes the difficulties associated with implementing robust system-wide security intelligence for Industrial IoT applications.

According to NXP, MCUs provide integrated solutions for a wide range of industrial operations, including I/O management, motor control, compact motion control or gateway applications. The i.MX RT1180 is also suitable for automotive connectivity applications, where the i.MX RT1180 can act as a smart switch between different automotive ECUs.

Renesas MCUs certified by the NIST encryption program

Security is a critical feature for MCU-based designs, especially IoT systems, because by definition, they are connected systems. One way for MCU vendors to keep pace is to certify their products against safety standards maintained by various standardization bodies in the industry.

To that end, Renesas announced in May that its RA series of 32-bit Arm Cortex-M MCUs have been certified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cryptographic Algorithm Verification Program (CAVP). Specifically, the security engine in the company’s RA6M4, RA6M5, RA4M2 and RA4M3 MCUs is CAVP certified. This adds to several other IoT security features in the RA MCU chip. The company says the drivers required to use the certified SCE9 protected mode have been added to the RA Series Flexible Package (FSP) v3.6.0 and later.

Renesas said the RA MCUs have received PSA Certified Level 2 certification and IoT Platform Security Evaluation Standard (SESIP) certification in the past. But this new NIST CAVP certification is designed to validate cryptographic algorithms including Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), hashing, Rivest Shamir Adleman (RSA) and Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) key generation and a variety of embedded in security Mode RA MCU’s engine.

With this new certification, MCUs are equipped with a secure key management tool that is responsible for preparing keys for secure installations, updates, support development, production configuration, and key updates of products in the field.

Renesas said it recently conducted an independent evaluation comparing the RA MCU’s SCE9 protected-mode operation with an industry-leading secure element. White papers providing detailed assessment assessments.

Renesas Showcases Upcoming Arm Cortex-M85-Based MCUs

While equipping its current MCU products with the latest security mechanisms, Renesas is looking ahead to its next set of products by offering demonstrations of its upcoming MCUs based on the ArmCortex-M85 processor core. At Embedded World 2022 last month, Renesas provided the first live demonstration of the MCU.

Block diagram of the Arm Cortex-M85 processor core.Image courtesy of Arm

Arm announced in April that the Arm Cortex-M85 processor core features Helium technology. With advanced DSP/ML capabilities, the processor can accelerate compute-intensive applications, according to Renesas. According to the company, its upcoming M85-based RA series of MCUs will provide fully deterministic, low-latency, real-time operation for demanding applications in numerous markets. Renesas said the new MCU is scheduled to be released in 2023.

New Toshiba MCUs for Consumer Appliances and More

Last but not least, in mid-spring Toshiba announced 21 new MCUs in its M3H group as new additions to the company’s TXZ+ family of advanced devices. The M3H series MCUs are built on a 40 nm process and embed a 120 MHz Arm Cortex-M3 core. For memory, the chips offer up to 512 KB of code flash and up to 32 KB of data flash with 100k write cycle endurance.

The new MCUs also offer a wealth of interface and motor control options. These include UART, I 2 C, encoders and programmable motor control. Toshiba said the M3H group devices are suitable for a wide range of applications, including home appliances, motors and industrial equipment. The integration of a digital LCD driver is expected to reduce the number of components engineers need to enable Display functionality and facilitate contrast adjustment.

The new M3H MCUs are ideal for applications in home appliances and consumer electronics.Image courtesy of Toshiba

At the same time, the new MCU also has a high-speed, high-precision 12-bit analog-to-digital converter (ADC). The ADC allows individual sample and hold times to be set for each of the ADC’s 21 ADC input channels.

Toshiba says the ADC can also be used to control AC motors and brushless DC motors. This is done in conjunction with an advanced programmable motor control circuit on the MCU that can run synchronously with a 12-bit ADC.

Self-diagnostic functions are embedded in the devices of the on-chip ROM, RAM, ADC and clock units. This helps engineers achieve IEC60730 Class B functional safety certification.

The ultimate system-on-chip?

Because they provide so many systems functionally, MCUs are in many ways the ultimate system-on-chip. However, MCU vendors seem to be constantly looking for new ways to enhance the processing power, peripheral portfolio and security features of their MCU product lines.