Hardware-Based Security and a Dev Kit for Alexa: A Look at Microchip Technology at CES 2019

January 16, 2019 by Mark Hughes

Catch up on what Microchip released at CES this year and which trends they're focusing on for 2019.

Catch up on what Microchip released at CES this year and which trends they're focusing on for 2019.

The Microchip Technology booth at CES this year demonstrated a wide variety of technologies that may address challenges you face in your next design. From 8-bit microcontrollers that run coffee-makers to 32-bit secure payment system microcontrollers, Microchip has been pursuing an array of technology trends, both with internal development and a slew of acquisitions over the past several years.


A timeline of Microchip acquisitions. All images from Microchip Technology.


Here's an overview of the Microchip Technology highlights from CES 2019 and how they reflect the biggest trends of the coming year.

Security Built into Hardware: SAM L11

Microchip is the only major chip manufacturer I personally visited this year that designs with security in mind. Many other manufacturers leave embedded system security for the engineer to figure out, which is arguably a problem in today’s Internet-of-Things connected world.

Microchip’s smart-connected-secure embedded system design platform allows engineers to create designs with security that begins at boot time. “Chip-level tamper resistance, secure boot, and secure key storage, combined with TrustZone technology, is designed to protect customer applications from remote and physical attacks.”


Diagram of security functionality for the SAM-L11 IoT node


Trusted code and data (TrustZone) can be separated from non-trusted code and data on the microcontroller -- preventing bad actors from changing your code, stealing your cryptography keys, or harvesting your intellectual property.

Let’s Do the TimeFlash Again

If you design printed circuit boards, there is a good chance that you know what a crystal oscillator is. After all, they’ve been around for a little over a century. Crystal oscillators have specific frequencies that are determined at the factory; those frequencies drift due to temperature and age. MEMS oscillators, on the other hand, can be programmed to any desired frequency at the factory, or right on your workbench.



Microchip's TimeFlash 2 field programming kit measures the power consumption, frequency, and accuracy of their MEMS-based oscillators. It also allows you to compare them to any oscillator that has a standard footprint, so you can see the performance gains right on your workbench. As an added bonus, MEMS oscillators do not require any external support components (e.g., capacitors, resistors, etc.), so in some cases, using a MEMS oscillator might be cheaper than a traditional crystal oscillator.

LoRa SiPs

Microchip announced their SAM R34/35 SIP at electronica just a few short months ago. These ICs have a 32-bit ARM MCU and sub-GHz radio, all in a tiny 6mm x 6mm BGA Package. Evaluation kits and technical support are available from Microchip. These chips were made for IoT communication using LoRa protocol in sub-GHz operating frequencies.

Lower operating frequencies, and a combination of high receiver sensitivity (down to -148 dBm), and high output power (up to +20 dBm) provide a transceiver platform that can perform quite successfully in a variety of urban environments. Learn more about the LoRa ATSAMR34 at the product page.

How Far Touch Sensors Have Come

Several microchip makers incorporate capacitive touch buttons and sliders into their microcontroller designs. Microchip supports capacitive touch in certain lines of their PIC, AVR, and SAM microcontroller families.



What makes Microchip an advantage is their high noise-robustness; their sensors are able to work on wet surfaces, through thick gloves, and in otherwise noisy or harsh environments. This is accomplished through software and hardware improvements over the last several decades, some of which include better routing practices (including guard traces), frequency hopping design, and software/hardware filtering.

Dev Kit for Alexa Voice Service (AVS)

In case you’ve not been paying attention these past several years, voice has become an increasingly popular medium for HMIs (human-machine interfaces). To that end, Microchip's subsidiary MicroSemi Corporation demonstrated a development kit for Amazon’s AVS.



The kit mounts to the top of a Raspberry Pi 3B and allows designers to experiment with 1, 2 (linear), or 3 (triangular) microphone arrays. Multiple microphones are used in beam-forming applications where signals must be isolated from background noise. The development kit allows developers the chance to experiment with Microchip’s Timberwolf ZL38063 Audio Processor.

Looking Forward to 2019

Microchip has a broad portfolio of devices and these are just a few that I saw on my tour of their booth. The trends they demonstrate are helpful indications of what companies like Microchip are going to continue to focus on in the coming months.

Based on this January's releases and highlights, we can see that interfaces will continue to evolve over the coming year. From gesture recognition to robust touch sensors, we're seeing innovative interfaces get more advanced hardware. Voice recognition, perhaps above all others, has grown more popular as an interface, as have the various devices that utilize it.

Security, too, is clearly a major point of interest in 2019. Increasingly, hardware manufacturers are placing security directly into designs rather than relying on software programs to ensure encryption.

What else can you divine about 2019 from Microchip's CES offerings? Share your thoughts in the comments below.