The PIC10F 8-bit flash microcontrollers offer Microchip Technology's PICฎ architecture in a compact SOT-23, 6-pin package, 2.92 mm long. Company engineers say they were able to put such compute power into the diminutive package thanks to advances in process technology that have reduced chip physical feature sizes. Fanie Duvenhage, product marketing manager, adds that feature size alone isn't the sole enabler of the microcontroller. The company's proprietary flash technology and PIC architecture , both taking up low chip-space overhead, were also critical to development.
The benefits of the PIC10F series look to cascade down the design chain. For example, a bug discovered in development of an ASIC or PCB could require a silicon or board change, delaying time-to-market. Duvenhage says now a fix could be to change the functionality of a single signal using the small programmable microcontroller, eliminating the need to redesign the ASIC or board. Development time for such an "electronic glue," microcontroller-based fix would be significantly less as well. he claims.
In circuit Serial Programming (ICSP) allows developers to reprogram the PIC10F after placement on a circuit board. By incorporating the device in a design from the start, engineers can not only remedy bugs but also allow for late design changes, enable field upgrades, perform system calibration during manufacture, and add unique identification codes to a system.
Microchip says the microcontrollers by themselves can replace logic and timing components such as smart gates, signal conditioners, and encoders/decoders, as well as eliminate mechanical devices including switches and timers, cutting parts counts. Duvenhageexpects their small size and low cost (between $0.49 and $0.65 each in quantity) to push the processor family into "disposable" applications, such as medical uses including pregnancy and drug testers, and blood sugar monitors.
The developers also wanted to make the microcontrollers easy to use, so they incorporated an instruction set of only 33 commands. Tom Starnes, research VP for semiconductors at the analyst firm Gartner, Inc., sees the PIC10F's simplicity of use attracting more design engineers to the benefits of the programmable flash microcontrollers, even those new to the technology.
Microchip offers a $36 development kit