Ritesh TyagiThere will be significant opportunities available to the embedded MCU market in 2014, specifically for 40nm MCUs targeting Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Thanks to their high performance, low-power consumption, abundant on-chip memory and peripheral resources, increased connectivity options and generally low cost, 40nm MCUs are capable of handling nearly any requirement asked of them by client-side, bringing intelligence to IoT applications.

And IoT is where semiconductor vendors want to be in the coming years as that is where the next computing revolution will take place.  In the 1980s, it was personal computing. In the 1990’s, it was the Internet, and in the 2000’s it was mobile computing.  But now, advances in wireless communication and semiconductor manufacturing have made it technologically and economically possible to network nearly every device we use in the modern world.  The ability to network devices, gather information about how they are operating in their environment and share that data with powerful data analytics engines that can adjust device performance in real time will affect how we work, play and live in ways that have yet to be discovered.

While nearly every industry will be touched by IoT, let’s take a look at a handful that stand to show the most opportunity for increased MCU adoption.

1. Automotive – MCUs have already been widely adopted by the automotive industry as traditionally mechanical systems (power steering, anti-lock brakes, etc.) have migrated to digital platforms.  Recent analyst forecasts note strong growth for connected car applications, and as these make their way into less costly, higher volume cars, the demand for MCUs to control these systems will increase.  For example, ABI Research is forecasting the number of MirrorLink and GENIVI infotainment systems to nearly triple over the next five years, hitting 27.9 million systems by the end of 2018. IHS sees a more than 40-percent expansion in the automotive wireless market by 2018 and continued growth in the infotainment market, reaching $8.54 billion in worldwide semiconductor revenue by 2018 with healthy growth for in-dash, head unit connectivity and telematics systems. MCUs play a vital enabling role in these systems, and the deployment of these and emerging applications, like autonomous vehicle systems, will drive higher demands for high-performance, low-power connected MCUs.

2. Medical – as our population ages and the need for healthcare increases, healthcare providers are looking for new ways to increase the efficiency and efficacy of healthcare. MCU-powered blood pressure and blood glucose monitors are already widely available, but the use of secure MCUs with connectivity support will revolutionize how consumers and providers use these devices, from smartphones and tablets to the doctor’s office.  Imagine the cost and time savings afforded by a doctor being able to monitor a patient’s biometrics remotely instead of the patient having to make office or lab visits to keep their provider apprised of their condition.

3. HVAC/Building Management – Air conditioning and lighting make up more than 50 percent of the energy use in commercial buildings. With energy prices on the rise, the need to regulate the use of power for heating and cooling large commercial buildings is higher than ever, and the industry is seeing a growing demand for energy-efficient HVAC systems. In a recent report, Navigant Research forecast worldwide revenues from energy-efficient systems to reach $33.2 billion annually by 2020. With this growth come new opportunities for MCUs. By combining low-cost sensors with connected MCUs that integrate inverter technology, HVAC systems can now control energy use with a level of granularity previously unavailable.  Systems can now detect occupancy rates by floor (in some cases even by individual rooms) to increase or decrease heating and cooling as needed. This kind of control can greatly reduce a commercial building’s energy consumption, by as much as 30 percent in some cases.

4. Industrial – Industrial automation systems has been deployed for a while, but as is the case with HVAC, rising power costs have manufacturers looking to squeeze as much power efficiency as possible out of their manufacturing systems. Connected MCUs can make sure that motors and servers used in industrial applications are offering maximum efficiency for lower power consumption yet still providing the performance necessary to keep production on schedule.

5. Energy – Smart grids are being deployed throughout the world to make energy distribution on local power grids more efficient.  Smart meters are a key component of any smart grid architecture as they monitor and control energy supply and demand.  MCUs are already being used to connect and power smart meters, and the volume of MCUs shipping for use in smart meter applications are forecasted to rise for the foreseeable future.