“Our microcontrollers are great for digital power applications”

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Advanced analogue peripherals allow more sensors and user-friendly features, leading to greater cyber security in the IoT era. Vinay Thapliyal, technical marketing manager, MCU, India, STMicroelectronics speaks with Deepshikha Shukla, technology journalist, Electronics For You, about how ST’s new mathematical accelerators are increasing the speeds of connected devices, while saving energy.

EB: How can the processing capabilities of advanced electronic products be improved?
The latest smart electronic products adopt higher-efficiency power technologies, such as silicon carbide or gallium nitride to save energy, and come with extra sensor-driven features. Hence, we have unleashed the next generation of microcontrollers STM32G4 with the performance to manage them. These have two new hardware mathematical accelerators to boost the processing of applications, using CORDIC and filtering functions among a range of features to support increased performance and energy efficiency. These microcontrollers are great for digital power applications as well as for consumer and industrial appliance applications.

There are also higher-performing analogue peripherals and converters, with ultra-speed connections for a lightning-fast response to external events. These support the latest USB-C interface with power delivery, which allows fast charging and can easily power devices up to 100W.

EB: How do accelerators help to increase speed and save more energy?
Because they are dedicated to speedy calculations such as trigonometry for energy-saving motor controls in appliances or air conditioners, and filtering for signal conditioning or digital power control, the accelerators compute results faster and more efficiently than the general-purpose main processor. This offloading also frees the core to receive more sensor data and control additional user functions.

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Higher-resolution power conversion timers with various built-in functions offload the CPU and ease developers’ lives further. Enhanced peripherals and interfaces with the industry-standard ARM core now extend the application reach and help simplify design, while reducing power consumption and boosting performance.

EB: How does an automotive accelerometer secure remote key fobs?
Ordinary passive keyless entry (PKE) radio fobs listen continuously for an ‘unlock’ request coming from the vehicle when it is touched. They then send a command to unlock the vehicle. Thieves can force a fob that is out of range to send an unlock command via an intermediate transmitter to gain access to and steal the vehicle.

Enhanced with an accelerometer, fobs can ignore malicious relayed transmissions by powering down the receiver when a vehicle is not moving and out of range. The radio wakes only when movement is detected at close range as the owner approaches the vehicle. Deactivating the receiver during idle periods will also help to extend the battery life.
ST’s AIS2DW12 passes severe industry shock testing; hence, vehicle owners can enjoy greater security without taking extra care of a fragile fob, and with longer battery life as a bonus. Leveraging the dedicated internal engine for efficient movement and orientation detection, the operating current of just 380nA at 1.6Hz is at least twice as good as alternative devices, which saves battery energy.

EB: What are the unique features and applications of next-generation microcontrollers?
Features such as a scalable securable memory area for secret storage and secure live firmware upgrade, debug-access prevention after programming to reduce threat surfaces, state-of-art AES-256 encryption, unique device ID, and true random number generator (TRNG) empower developers to handle the latest cyber security challenges.

With greater precision, faster computing, and increased feature integration, STM32G4 MCUs support energy efficiency and extra functionality in a wide range of products that have smart-factory, smart-living, and smart-energy applications. They also have e-mobility applications, including e-bikes, digital power supplies, advanced motor controls, lighting, building automation products, and many others.

EB: What features in these microcontrollers help to achieve cyber protection for connected devices?
Depending on the model, hardware cyber protection can include features such as dedicated encryption co-processors, customised secure boot, a random number generator to prevent hackers observing patterns in signals, and secure storage for encryption keys. In addition, secure firmware installation solutions for microcontrollers provide protection while devices are being programmed for the first time.

Designers can implement a robust multi-level strategy leveraging security-focused chip features and software packages with the help of STM32Trust. ST also builds firewall code isolation mechanisms for tamper detection, and implements ARM TrustZone technologies for extra protection of the most sensitive code. This ensures trust among devices, prevents unauthorised access, and helps to resist side-channel attacks. All this averts data theft and code modification. For example, the X-CUBE-SBSFU software package demonstrates how to protect application code when being transferred into boot memory or when it’s updated in the field.

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