Create a multi-core app

The Dev Board Micro has a dual-core MCU with a Cortex M7 core and a Cortex M4 core, enabling a variety of multi-core applications. When the board boots up, the bootloader starts the M7 executable only. So if you want to use the M4 core, you need to start it from your M7 program. This page shows you how to do that and introduces some of the inter-process communication (IPC) features available on the board.

Define an M4 program with CMake

First thing you need to do is tell CMake which program you want to run on the M4. You can do that with the following updates to your CMakeLists.txt:

  • Declare the M4 executable with add_executable_m4(). (This works exactly the same as add_executable_m7() because they're both wrappers for add_executable().)
  • Link the M4 executable's libraries with target_link_libraries().
  • Add the M4 executable target to the M7 executable by declaring it with the M4_EXECUTABLE property. (The M4 executable will be bundled into the M7 binary.)

For example, the following CMakeLists.txt declares an M7 executable named multi_core_hello, which includes the M4 executable named multi_core_hello_m4:





Notice that the linked libraries for each executable are unique, because not all libraries are the same for the M7 and M4.

Execute the M4 program

Just like an M7 program, an M4 program must include an app_main() function as its entry point. So your code for the M4 might appear identical to code that runs on the M7. However, only the M7 program's app_main() starts automatically upon boot.

When the board boots, the bootloader loads the M4 program into memory but it does not run until you start it from your M7 program by calling IpcM7::StartM4(). For example, the following M7 program ( from the above CMake file) starts the M4 program ( and then suspends itself:

#include "libs/base/ipc_m7.h"
#include "libs/base/mutex.h"

extern "C" void app_main(void* param) {
Note: Just like there can be only one M7 executable app_main(), there's only one M4 executable, so you don't need to specify its name. Just start the M4 and the system invokes app_main() in your M4 executable.


Although most code works the same on each core, there are some important exceptions:

  • M4 can't use the Edge TPU: Only the M7 can execute inference on the Edge TPU. This is because the M4 currently cannot access the USB stack. (You can still run TFLite Micro models on the M4.)

  • M4 must initialize resources: Many system resources are initialized by default on the M7, but not on the M4. For example, the camera is already initialized for M7 programs, but an M4 program must initialize the camera before you can use it. For example:

    // Only M4 programs need to call camera's Init()

    Other resources that must be initialized for the M4 include timers, random number generators, and temperature sensors.

Also beware that there is no internal arbitration if both cores attempt to access a shared resource such as the camera. If each core wants to use the camera (or other shared resource), you must use a MulticoreMutexLock to avoid both cores calling upon it at the same time, which can have undefined results.

Communicate between cores

There are essentially two ways to communicate between the M7 and M4: with a mutex lock to avoid simultaneous access to a shared resource, and with inter-process communication (IPC) to send custom app messages.

To protect a shared resource with a mutex lock that works across cores, simply create a MulticoreMutexLock on each core, using the same gate number. This lock should be initialized right before each program attempts to use a shared resource, so that code will be blocked in the event that the other core still holds the lock. The lock is released by each core once the code leaves the scope of the MulticoreMutexLock object.

To pass messages between cores, you just need to create a message with IpcMessage and, depending whether your sender is on the M7 or M4, send it to the other process with either IpcM7::SendMessage() or IpcM4::SendMessage(), respectively. For details, see the IPC API reference.

Multi-core examples

Sometimes, the best way to learn is to read some working code. So check out these examples that use both MCU cores:

  • multi_core_blink_led: Starts an M4 app to blink an LED and suspends the M7 app.
  • multi_core_hello: Starts an M4 app and then continuously prints "Hello world" from each core (using a mutex lock to ensure alternating messages).
  • multi_core_ipc: Performs IPC between cores, with each core sending and receiving messages