Optimizing Device Performance in Sensor Node Applications

How combining intelligent analog and core independent peripherals supports a broad range of innovative designs.

There seems to be no end to the variety of applications where an 8-bit microcontroller (MCU) can show up. Whether it is used as an initial introduction into embedded development, as the main controller in a connected application, or as an attach component to offload tasks from a larger system, an 8-bit MCU can be an excellent fit for many roles.

Designers now have access to MCUs that combine high resolution, Intelligent Analog and Core Independent Peripherals (CIPs). These MCUs are especially well suited for use in sensor node applications. For example, Microchip has introduced the PIC16F18446 family of eXtreme Low Power (XLP) MCUs. The family’s digital and analog peripherals include a 12-bit Analog-to-Digital Converter with Computation (ADCC), Zero Cross Detect (ZCD), two 10-bit Pulse-Width Modulators (PWMs), Peripheral Module Disable (PMD), Peripheral Pin Select (PPS) and more. Compatibility with a majority of both analog output sensors and digital sensors derives from support for operating voltages ranging from 1.8V to 5V.

Figure 1: Compatibility with most analog output sensors and digital sensors is one feature of MCUs that  serve a  wide range of applications.

This family of eight devices, available in a variety of packages ranging from 14 to 28 pins, also features an on-chip temperature sensor, offers up to 28 KB of Flash program memory and up to 2 KB of SRAM. Multiple communication interfaces mean a generous number of options to meet specific design requirements. Applications range from Internet of Things (IoT) sensor nodes to motor control, industrial processing control, medical, home appliances, touch sensing, and automotive systems (Figure 1).

Simplifying Real-Time Control
As one of the PIC16F18446’s key features, the integrated ADCC does its filtering autonomously to increase the accuracy of analog sensor readings. The result is higher-quality end-user data. It automates signal analysis and data acquisition functions to simplify real-time control and capacitive sensing designs. The ADCC contains built-in computational features that provide input and sensor interface functions including low-pass filtering, oversampling, averaging, and accumulation. This allows the CPU to sleep or execute other tasks, thereby decreasing power consumption. This power-saving capability also enables sensor nodes to run on small batteries, decreasing end-user maintenance costs and shrinking the overall design footprint.

Enhanced System Features
Memory Access Partition (MAP) is a customizable Flash memory area that supports bootloader write protection to prevent accidental over-write for data protection. Device Information Area (DIA) offers protected storage for unique device identification and contains calibration data for the internal temperature sensor module and the Fixed Voltage Reference (FVR) reading.

Low-Power Capabilities
Well suited for applications where performance and power consumption must be optimized to extend battery life, the PIC16F18446 offers sleep currents as low as 50 nA as well as power-saving functions like IDLE and DOZE modes. IDLE mode puts the CPU core to sleep while the internal peripherals continue to operate from the system clock. DOZE mode enables the CPU core to run at a slower speed than the system clock that is used by the internal peripherals. The Peripheral Module Disable (PMD) allows unused peripherals to be turned off individually, further reducing power consumption.

Faster Time to Market
Inherently simple to understand and implement, the PIC16F18446 family’s Core Independent Peripherals enable you to accomplish tasks in hardware while freeing up the CPU to do other tasks or go to sleep. These hardware-based peripherals offload timing-critical and core-intensive functions from the CPU, allowing it to focus on other critical tasks within the system. This decreases system complexity by eliminating the need for additional code and external components and also reduces power consumption, which allows for deterministic response time and decreased validation time.

Development Tools
The availability of a comprehensive, easy-to-use development ecosystem can shorten time to market. For example, the PIC16F18446 family of MCUs is supported by MPLAB® Code Configurator (MCC). This free plug-in for use with MPLAB X Integrated Development Environment (IDE) or the cloud-based MPLAB Xpress IDE provides a graphical programming environment that generates seamless, easy-to-understand C code. Using an intuitive interface, it enables and configures a rich set of peripherals and functions specific to the application.

The Curiosity development board, a feature-rich rapid prototyping board, can be used to jumpstart the development of your projects with these MCUs. Designed from the ground-up to take advantage of Microchip’s MPLAB X and MPLAB Xpress development environment, Curiosity includes an integrated programmer/debugger and requires no additional hardware to get started. The board offers several options for user interface, including physical switches, an mTouch™ capacitive button and an on-board potentiometer. A range of accessory boards are available via the MikroElectronika Mikrobus™ interface footprint.

Developers can purchase a Curiosity development board and PIC16F18446 MCU PDIP sample for $11.65 at microchipDIRECT with coupon code TP1919 until the end of September 2018. The PIC16F18446 is also available in a variety of packages and can be purchased from microchipDIRECT or from Microchip’s worldwide distribution network.


Curiosity development board and PIC16F18446 PDIP sample bundle: www.microchip.com/Curiosity184  (coupon code: TP1919)

Visit the website at: www.microchip.com/PIC16F18446Family

Video: Overview of PIC16F18446 Family of 8-bit Microcontrollers: https://youtu.be/A4gO2tZ7ek0

Stephanie Pinteric is a product marketing manager with Microchip’s MCU8 Business Unit. In this role, she is responsible for product definition and promotion of Microchip’s 8-bit PIC and AVR microcontrollers. Prior to joining Microchip Technology, she worked in various roles at Motorola/Freescale Semiconductor. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from University of Hawaii and an MBA from St. Edward’s University.


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