The Device Chronicle interviews Marcus Woxulv, technical marketing manager, STMicroelectronics, to better understand the power of Micro Processing Units in IoT projects.
STMicroelectronics is a French-Italian multinational electronics and semiconductors manufacturer headquartered in Plan-les-Ouates near Geneva, Switzerland. The company resulted from the merger of two government-owned semiconductor companies in 1987: “Thomson Semiconducteurs” of France and “SGS Microelettronica” of Italy. It is commonly called “ST”, and it is Europe’s largest semiconductor chip maker based on revenue.
STMicroelectronics offers the impressive STM 32 portfolio of hardware solutions and software tools, which provide much of the backbone for IoT device performance at scale. Mender.io is a partner for robust and secure OTA software updates in the STMicroelectronics ecosystem and Marcus took some time to describe the powerful performance capabilities of the STM 32 portfolio and some of the typical use cases where MPUs are used.
Marcus proudly explains that the STM 32 Family is a highly recognised and extensive ecosystem and has a set of development tools and software that offer full coverage and the ability to make it work easily, and the support is well lauded too.
Industrial applications with high communication frequency
In the industrial space, Marcus says there is a requirement for some kind of communication gateway and it needs to be heavy duty and high performance where there is a lot of communication taking place in the application. In this scenario, a micro controller unit would just not be robust enough for this application. Sometimes, you would also have an interface either with a display, or a headless device, a black box on the wall which is Ethernet-connected and the user can interact with the unit from a terminal. MPUs are connection-centric equipped with high speed USB, and these MPUs can be 3D capable so high fidelity graphics can be generated on the device.
EV charging infrastructure
EV chargers are another emerging area as the Linux platform gives developers a stable and robust platform on which they can develop their backbone and then develop add-on applications, or have a common interface to allow 3rd party developers to build applications, or allow infrastructure or government bodies to add more applications to the infrastructure. This is important for a common infrastructure such as EV. Marcus comments “You can get a long way with Linux but a professional software set up still needs to be invested in. The other benefit is the transparency and community that helps accelerate development.”
Machine learning, MPUs and maintenance
High end applications for predictive maintenance on a complex scale require MPUs with cloud connections. Pre-processing may be done on the edge node, and the data can be re packaged and sent quickly to the cloud, it is received and there is no need to sacrifice the resolution or latency in the system to compute it as you may have to do with an MCU. Marcus points out that “Popular applications such as Amazon Alexa are MPU-based, and that most tasks are done in the cloud and hardly any are done on the edge. These MPUs are extremely fast at grabbing and packaging the data, the only work that is being done locally is the keywording.”
Also, the low powered capabilities of these MPUs are a real virtue. Marcus comments there is “little excess heat from the MPU and so it can be set in a closed environment and won’t burn itself up when going at full speed. It is highly flexible with strong performance, such as a gateway application in a dust proof environment so the device needs to be fully encapsulated so that it can be used in the Sahara for example.”
Security essential for STMicroelectronics
For bulletproof security, Marcus describes how STMicroelectronics has adopted smart cards from the banking sector to be adopted as hardware security modules (HSM) for the devices. These STM 32 HSM cards are pre-loaded with one-time use codes in 10,000 units, that decrypt the firmware when you flash your target. The firmware is then encrypted and the keys stored on the smart card can be shipped to a 3rd party so you can mitigate against the risk of unit overproduction or against theft of the code by a third party as only individual units can be programmed at a time. Secure socket provisioning and Secure Firmware Installation in MPUs works with HSM to ensure the protection of software when it is being shipped out to be assembled and programmed somewhere else.
We wish Marcus and his colleagues at STMicroelectronics well as they continue to build an ecosystem of quality hardware and software solutions with partners to address IoT project needs in a highly performant, robust and secure manner.