Innovation is the name of the game in the world of electronics, particularly for nascent markets like the Internet of Things (IoT). But if a company can’t quickly develop a prototype, test it, and move it into production, it can quickly turn into a losing proposition, resulting in a loss of time, resources, and sales. What Renesas Electronics Corp. has done for the IoT is to develop a complete platform that includes microcontrollers (MCUs), software, and development/starter kits. It’s designed around three key development pain points: time to market, total cost of ownership (TCO), and barriers to entry.
If you don’t think a semiconductor company can offer a robust software package, take a look at the new Renesas Synergy Platform. It is designed to eliminate the time that developers typically spend on writing software, ranging from peripheral drivers to communications and specialty stacks. The qualified platform enables embedded engineers to start at the software API level, eliminating the need to write baseline functionality and allowing them to work on innovation and product differentiation.
This ultimately translates into a reduction in time to market, total cost of ownership and barriers to entry, said Semir Haddad, director of marketing, microcontroller and microprocessor solutions, Renesas Electronics America.
The IoT brings a revolution in business models - which includes a host of services developed around data collection - that will enter every aspect of the developed world, Haddad said.
Renesas’ breadth of technologies will enable companies to bring services to every connected device, he added. “If you have a network of sensors and if it’s just sensors connected to the Internet it’s just a device, but if you add a platform and on top of that is intelligence based on all of the collected data it becomes much more.”
This is the type of business model that Renesas believes will change the world of embedded devices. Because Renesas saw this change coming, the company looked at what it could do to foster the change and to be part of it, said Haddad. “With this new IoT and additional complexity that comes with the new business model and services, you need a robust platform on the device side. You also need to bring software API and a software platform together.”
The result was the development of the Renesas Synergy Platform. “It’s a complete qualified platform that is designed to accelerate the development of an application and accelerate the adoption of new innovative technology,” said Haddad.
The platform addresses the requirements of many types of companies from start-ups to established players that are now considering the upgrade of their product lines with Internet connectivity and IoT capability, he added.
In many cases, the platform can be used as a way to fill a technology gap to develop next-generation products that provide IoT capability and connected services. “For many customers to innovate and bring new technology to market, it’s very difficult, and a solution like Renesas’ platform can reduce time to market and lower the barrier to entry,” said Haddad.
“We solve part of the problem,” he said. “As a semiconductor manufacturer we can help on the device side of the equation. We provide five elements - software that the customer will use to develop the application; the microcontroller that has been optimized to work together with the software; tools and kits for implementation of these new IoT solutions, and a solution product example, which shows how to design a particular type of application. The last element is the gallery that gives customers immediate access to our software and also third-party solutions.”
At the heart of the platform is the new Renesas Synergy MCU family that is optimized for the qualified software. Each new family – S1 (ultra-low-power), S3 (high efficiency), S5 (high integration) and S7 (high performance) – offers different performance levels and capabilities suited for specific applications. For example, the S3 family can be used in battery-powered portable products, including portable medical devices and wearables applications, while the high performance S7 devices can be used in interface hubs. All four families will be available in October.
In order to have a complete IoT development platform, a new range of MCUs were needed to “fit perfectly with the software, tools and other elements of the platform,” said Haddad.
The Renesas Synergy Software Package includes a real-time operating system (RTOS), communication stacks (TCP/IP, USB), file systems, graphic user interfaces and their associated development tools so engineers don’t have to buy any third-party software. Functions and features include specialized communication stacks, control algorithms, and security services.
It’s a fully integrated platform in which Renesas provides all the technical support and required licensing. For buyers and engineers, this means less time and resources spent managing relationships with different hardware and software vendors.
The qualified embedded software is tested to commercial standards with compatibility across all Renesas Synergy MCUs. The software package includes Express Logic’s X-Ware, which includes the ThreadX RTOS plus X-Ware middleware NetX and NetX DUO IPV4 and IPv4/IPV6 TCP/IP stacks respectively, USBX USB Host/Device/OTG protocol stack, FileX MS-DOS compatible file system, and GUIX graphics runtime library.
Renesas makes it clear that the software is “sold, maintained, and directly supported” by the company. In addition, all components of the Synergy platform, including software, MCUs, and hardware solutions, are supported directly by Renesas, making it easier for engineers who need technical support, and eliminating the need for purchasers to buy service, or maintenance, contracts, and manage additional vendor relationships.
The third and fourth elements of the platform are tools & kits, and solutions examples. The Eclipse-based integrated solution development environment (ISDE) is available with C compilers from GNU and IAR Systems. As noted earlier, the platform includes Express Logic’s Windows-based GUIX Studio graphic user interface prototyping tool and TraceX real-time event graphical analysis tool.
Renesas also plans to offer a variety of development or starter kits for each Synergy MCU series. The solutions or product kits will provide examples of actual commercial products, which customers can modify for their own end products.
The fifth element of the platform is what Renesas calls the Synergy Gallery, an online selection of software products from third-party software vendors that augment the Renesas Synergy Software Package to reduce development time. The need for plug-and-play add-on software components was fueled by the need of IoT product developers to reduce development time, said Haddad.
In addition to Express Logic, Renesas plans to announce other third-party partners in October. General availability of the first products in the platform is planned for the fourth quarter of 2015.
The Synergy Platform addresses the three pain points of developers when designing new IoT applications – time to market, cost of ownership, and barrier to entry, said Haddad.
Because Synergy is an integrated platform, it reduces the time developers need to develop driver software, middleware, and integration with RTOS, he added. “They get faster time to market for the same design or they can spend more time building additional innovation. It allows them to speed up fundamental development so they can develop new services and new applications quicker.”
As a one-stop shop with a complete platform, it will be a cost savings for customers, said Haddad. “We take ownership and support third-party software.”
The second value cost proposition is around “invisible costs,” said Haddad. “When developing a complete embedded application there are some invisible costs that contribute to the cost of the solution.”
These include underestimated costs around: purchase, acquisition, training, development, integration & optimization, verification & qualification, upgrades & updates, and later support and maintenance.
Synergy addresses barriers to entry, “by providing a complete solution which removes the question of whether you build or buy. We also offer a lifetime program for all devices and we’ll continue to maintain the software through upgrades and updates.”
“When you want to integrate a new technology you typically have to start the search for a vendor and then you have to analyze and assess the solution. It’s a learning curve,” Haddad said.
“With the Renesas platform, we provide all that. You get all the technology that is already pre-approved and pre-qualified. You don’t have any costs for development, and you don’t have to do an assessment. We also provide all the solution kits that enable you to see how the tech will work and what it could do.”
Renesas is holding its Renesas DevCon conference in October where developers can get an up-close look at the platform.