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Sensor processing: 16-bit digital signal controllers roll

Aiming to open up a new range of motor control and sensor-processing applications, Microchip Technology Inc. will introduce two families of 16-bit digital signal controllers this week in smaller packages and at lower price points. “Some markets really like low pin counts; sensors and motor control like 'small' and are dictated by 'small' quite often,” said Steve Marsh, manager of strategic marketing for the digital signal controller division of Microchip (Chandler, Ariz.). The two-member dsPIC33FJ12GP and two-member dsPIC33FJ12MC digital signal controllers (DSCs) are “the lowest-pin-count and lowest-priced general-purpose digital signal controllers” available today, Marsh said.

Both families will be formally introduced this week, the dsPIC33FJ12GP on Tuesday at the Sensors Expo & Conference in Rosemont, Ill. Available in 18-pin and 28-pin versions, including a 6 x 6-mm QFN, and at prices starting at $1.99 each in lots of 10,000, the two dsPIC33FJ12GP controllers will enable a new class of smart sensor processing applications, Microchip said.

“All embedded apps have sensor inputs. Lots of times it's garbage in, garbage out,” with input signals degraded by noise, changes in environment, temperature variation or other factors, Marsh said. Microchip's latest DSCs will enable smart-sensor applications by erasing the need for costly or bulky notch filters and by improving signal-to-noise ratio with an on-chip 10-bit A/D converter with up to 1.1-Msample/second performance. “You can oversample and get rid of that quantization noise,” Marsh said.

Like the smart-sensor DSCs, the company's two dsPIC33FJ12MC devices, aimed at motor control and power conversion applications, hit new lows in terms of size and price point, Marsh said. They come in 20- and 28-pin packages, including a 6 x 6-mm QFN, at prices starting at $1.99 each in 10,000s. The DSCs will run a sensorless field-oriented control (FOC) algorithm that's newly available for free as downloadable source code from Microchip's Web site. The FOC algorithm will run on any of Microchip's motor control dsPIC devices. “As algorithms go, this provides the big three. We think it's the ultimate in terms of power control, noise reduction and torque control,” Marsh said.

Digital signal controllers–a term that Microchip coined five years ago–are embedded controllers with on-chip algorithms that handle digital signal processing (DSP) functions. Freescale Semiconductor and Texas Instruments also sell DSCs.

Microchip's DSCs and the company's 16-bit microcontroller units (MCUs) have a lot in common. They use the same development tools, have compatible peripherals, compatible software and compatible pinouts, creating a convenient migration path and building on designers' familiarity. “Migration flows a number of ways. Whatever the [customer's] next design is, it gives a degree of freedom to stay within the family for subsequent designs. Everything you'd find on a DSP you'll find on here,” Marsh said of the latest DSCs. “But we wanted it to look like a microcontroller.”

Microchip offers close to a hundred 16-bit micro- and digital signal controllers, and plans to add about 50 more by the end of its next fiscal year, Marsh said.

“With their dsPIC DSCs and PIC34 MCUs, Microchip is the only company on the planet with truly unified DSP and MCU product lines,” said Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts, a market research firm. “The dsPIC33 family gives MCU people an easy migration path to DSP performance.”

The new DSCs are implemented in the same 0.25-micron technology as earlier dsPIC controllers, but the implementations have been optimized for cost-sensitive markets, Marsh said. All of the parts are available now in both sample and production volumes.

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