Graphics are becoming more important as increasing amounts of data are gathered and displayed for use in Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Embedded Computing Design spoke with Kurt J. Parker, Product Marketing Manager of Microchip Technology’s MCU32 Division, on the company’s Low-Cost Controllerless Graphics (LCCG) technology and how it affects growing embedded graphics demands.
What graphics demands do embedded systems face now and in the future?
We are in an exciting time as we witness the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT is really about many processing nodes gathering, sharing, and aggregating data for analysis and reaction. Some of that analysis will be done automatically, but a significant amount will be done by humans. Therefore, graphics in the IoT world will need to have the performance to move quickly between the levels and types of data presented; must be easy to implement so developers can rapidly adjust to new communication capabilities and data availability; must be small, low power, and cost efficient; and, finally, these graphics must be easily readable and understandable.
What are the current implementation challenges graphics developers are facing?
Graphics in embedded systems have two main purposes: convey information to the user, and convey brand value on behalf of the supplier. Therefore, developers are striving to make information easy to understand and react to, while also presenting the information in such a way as to convey the brand message. These goals are all bounded by size, cost, and time budgets. Furthermore, the key engineer responsible for development may not be a graphics designer, and have no experience in graphics development or implementation. While developers may or may not have the appropriate experience, they may be contending with corporate marketing, which may have a brand department with very strict guidelines on color, size, positioning, and other aspects of graphics that the developer will be tasked with implementing. The fact that brand extends beyond a simple image is gaining in mindshare among embedded developers and their marketing departments. Entry, exit, and movement are just some of the aspects that are also associated with brand.
How does Low-Cost Controllerless Graphics (LCCG) work, and how is it different from other graphics processing?
The Microchip 32-bit PIC32 microcontroller portfolio's high processing performance and high-performance DMA combine to render graphics directly on displays, without an external graphics controller. This enables professional-looking graphics at a fraction of the cost, size, and complexity, compared to other graphics-processor or multi-chip solutions.
What applications benefit most from Microchip's LCCG technology? What are the advantages?
There are many applications, such as appliances, home/business/factory automation, and consumer goods that can benefit from the increased usability that professional-looking graphics provide. However, a multi-chip graphics controller may not be feasible, due to space and/or cost constraints. LCCG delivers this capability in a single chip, while using <5 MIPS – that’s less than 2 percent of the processing power of a PIC32MZ 32-bit microcontroller – leaving plenty of processing power for applications, communications stacks, and data manipulation.
What graphics hardware is Microchip working on next?
Microchip's November 2013 announcement of the PIC32MZ 32-bit, 200 MHz microcontroller family positioned us as the leader in 32-bit-MCU performance, with a 654 CoreMarks score – the highest EEMBC-certified score for any 32-bit MCU executing from internal Flash memory. The PIC32MZ also introduced a significant jump in integrated memory, where graphics are stored before they are sent to a display, when using the LCCG method. We will also be releasing updates to our MPLAB Harmony software framework that will include new and updated graphics drivers for LCCG.
What graphics-processing advances are needed to help drive embedded systems' graphics capabilities?
First, because embedded systems increasingly need to communicate more data in smaller spaces, components in the system need to continue following rapid integration and performance-efficiency paths, driving size down and value up. Second, tools and libraries that enable professional-looking graphics with minimum experience and development effort will allow developers at all experience levels to produce results that help their products stand out in increasingly crowded and fast-moving markets.