Microcontrollers, also known as embedded controllers, are computers. However, they are not like personal computers or mainframe computers, which have the ability to run hundreds even thousands of programs. Rather, microcontrollers are computers that are designed to fulfill a particular need, not multiple needs. Your personal computer and microcontrollers do have some basic commonalities, as all computers do.
All computers have a central processing unit (CPU), and the CPU loads the necessary programs; all computers have random-access memory (RAM) so that variables can be stored; all computers have input and output devices as well so that the user can interact with the computer. While this may sound confusing and complicated, microcontrollers are actually designed with simplicity in mind. They are generally made to be small, low-cost, and low power. You may not have heard of microcontrollers before, but chances are, you have many of them in your home, office, and automobile.
Your microwave, your car, your cellular telephone, your digital alarm clock, your VCR, and many more widely used products utilize microcontrollers for optimal functionality. The items that use microcontrollers do so in order to be more user-friendly and efficient. Pretty much anything that has a digital LCD or LED screen uses a microcontroller, as do many products that do not have a digital read-out screen.
Microcontrollers are not used on their own they are embedded in other computers and machines (hence, the reason that these controllers are also referred to as embedded ). The microcontrollers are responsible for controlling a particular action or feature for a device; a microcontroller controls one specific program. The program that a microcontroller runs is stored in read-only memory (ROM). The program that is stored in the microcontroller’s ROM is generally unchanging, which is one of the reasons that microcontrollers are able to be so small and efficient.
Microcontrollers function by taking input from the device that they are in. For example, the microcontroller in a microwave is given input from the keypad. When you use the microwave keypad to select thirty seconds of high-power for your leftover pizza, that information is sent to the microcontroller for execution.
The microcontroller has the purpose of turning the microwave’s generator on and off, based on the selections you press on the keypad. In instances where it would be practical, microcontrollers are ruggedized so that they will work under the stress of environmental factors or rough treatment. Ruggedization is implemented in car engine microcontrollers. For a microcontroller to work well with a car engine, it has to be able to withstand extreme heat and cold, and it has to withstand the bumps and movements that are obviously going to occur when a car is driven.
Microcontrollers can run on a variety of different processors. In many cases, however, the most minimalist processors are used, since they are also the least expensive, and nothing more powerful is needed to fulfill the duties of the microcontroller.
These minimalist processors have appropriately termed microcontroller chips or microchips, and they are embedded CPUs. Microcontrollers are the worker bees of the computer world, doing their specialized jobs quietly and diligently for the good of the device. You may not have known that they were there, but they have been helping you out with your technological products for years.