From the cars we drive to the appliances in our homes, and the smoke alarms that keep our homes safe, microcontrollers (MCUs) are in just about everything. Renesas is the world’s largest supplier of MCUs, and while MCUs draw less attention in comparison to microprocessors, Renesas is innovating to help propel momentous digital trends in automotive and IoT.
Renesas has been in the MCU business for a little over a decade, stemming from the 2010 merger of NEC Electronics and Renesas Technology, which itself was a spinoff from the Hitachi-Mitsubishi merger in 2003. With its headquarters in Japan and manufacturing facilities in Japan, China, Southeast Asia and the United States, Renesas is the world’s number one automotive MCU provider.
I have written previously on Renesas’ financial growth and company culture, which you can read about here, and its IoT and infrastructure business unit (IIBU), which you can read about here. I now want to turn my attention to Renesas’s bread and butter MCUs, specifically its R78 family and the recently announced RL78/G15 MCUs.
Chasing industry trends
I want to start by breaking down some of the digital trends in the consumer and industrial IoT sectors and how these trends affect the MCU market.
Whether we’re talking about Industrial IoT (IIoT), the smart home or future smart cities, IoT is also accelerating at a rapid rate. Huge numbers of devices are now intelligently connected, with more coming online all the time, and data is now routinely collected and shared across multiple devices. Many of these IoT products are portable, battery-powered systems that need low-power computing, which again calls for efficiency from MCUs.
IIoT devices that make up smart factories need components that can handle higher operating temperatures and are able to withstand harsh environments. For example, a sensor control for air quality and humidity or a heat generating part like overhead lights or an inverter. At the same time, MCUs must also maintain a small footprint to minimize the size of IoT devices.
As IoT devices become increasingly complex, the ability to configure and optimize an MCU within a module is critical to developing an IoT device. The more configurable an MCU is, the more efficient and cost effective it can be. One of the drawbacks of an MCU is that although it is smaller, simpler, and can be more cost effective than a microprocessor (MPU), configuration and system level code are the bulk of the work for IoT developers. You can read more about IoT technology trends here.
Renesas differentiates itself with its low-power MCUs—the RL78 family—by focusing on small package size, reducing end-systems costs and enabling the devices to cover a broad range of consumer and industrial applications. Let’s take a closer look at the recently announced RL78/G15.
This new model is the latest addition to Renesas’s low-power MCUs that target 8-bit MCU applications. Renesas says it packs many peripheral functions and 4KB to 8KB of code flash memory in package sizes ranging from eight to 20 pins. It also has a wide operating ambient temperature range, from minus-40 degrees Celsius and 125 degrees Celsius, making it ideal for systems that create considerable heat. The small package and thermal capabilities combine to offer a truly differentiated level of versatility.
One of the reasons the Renesas RL78 is so popular is that it’s so easy to configure within the Renesas developer environment. The RL78/G15 can be configured using Renesas’s GUI-based Smart Configurator, which easily generates driver code for peripheral functions. Renesas says it also offers the Fast Prototyping Board (FPB) for evaluation; the FPB is likewise aimed at shortening development cycles. I believe its seamless developer environment enables Renesas to offer the RL78/G15 to suit a wide range of applications while also enabling reduced cost for end systems.
One application that Renesas has showcased for the RL78/G15 is a 100-watt USB Power Delivery (PD) adaptor with multi-output. Renesas says it enables an all-in-one mobile charger for users to easily charge multiple devices without worrying about incompatibility. With the low power draw of the RL78/G15 during operation and while in its standby mode, I believe it could offer next-generation PD in systems that require high power efficiency—as in electric vehicles, for instance.
The IoT space is rapidly changing, creating new opportunities for Renesas to innovate with its low-power and broadly applicable RL78 MCUs. Its newest addition, the RL78/G15, builds on these differentiated offerings with support for FPB and a wider operating ambient temperature. I am interested to see how MCU offerings will evolve as we continue to witness more IoT devices connected in industry and consumer sectors , creating smart factories, homes, and public spaces.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy co-op Jacob Freyman contributed to this article.