arm logo
March 14, 2012

New Super-Efficient Chip May Herald A World Of Hyper-Connectivity

British multinational semiconductor and software design company Arm Holdings announced that it has created what it is calling the “world´s most energy-efficient microprocessor” design — technology that it believes will have a ripple effect throughout a variety of industries and ultimately changing the meaning of ℠being connect´.

Built around what´s known in the industry as the “Flycatcher” architecture, the company says that the innovative processor lends itself for use in any number of devices, from to home appliances to heart monitors.

Arm Holding and its two licensed manufacturers, NXP and Freescale, say that this is the processor of the future.

“It opens up all devices to the potential of being connected all the time,” Freescale´s Geoff Lees told BBC News.

The über-efficient little Cortex-M0+ processor will not, however, be making its way into notebooks, smartphones or tablets. Instead, the 32-bit, 90-nanometer chip will most likely be used to connect gadgets that we didn´t even know we had a reason to connect.

“It´s allowing us to provide connectivity everywhere,” said Lees. “So anything from consumer appliances, MP3-music audio docks, kitchen equipment with displays right through to remote sensors in rain monitoring equipment or personal medical devices — an area where ultra-long battery life allied to high performance and safety is becoming more and more important.”

Arm representatives are already hard at work building hype for the new processor and making the rounds with manufacturers of household appliances, medical equipment, motor control devices and even lighting and power companies.

Quoting Tom R. Halfhill, senior editor of Microprocessor Report, Arm´s website noted that “The Internet of Things will change the world as we know it, improving energy efficiency, safety, and convenience.”

“Ubiquitous network connectivity is useful for almost everything — from adaptive room lighting and online video gaming to smart sensors and motor control. But it requires extremely low-cost, low-power processors that still can deliver good performance.”

“The ARM Cortex-M0+ processor brings 32-bit horsepower to flyweight chips, and it will be suitable for a broad range of industrial and consumer applications.”

The whole idea behind the processor, says Arm, is to share the intelligence that we´ve come to expect in our communication devices with a whole new range of “everyday devices.”

Indeed, the Cortox-M0+ may be the technology that launches us into the world of the Jettsons, where your car, your dish washer and your sprinkler system are able to communicate, coordinate and conserve (don´t ask how), making your life simpler and easier.

And with energy costs on the rise worldwide, the processor´s potential for creating a more energy-efficient modern world is another of its major selling points.

Implemented and networked on a large and systematic scale, Arm´s microcontrollers could usher in an era smart energy systems, says director of embedded marketing Gary Atkinson.

“Every developed nation country has a graph showing electricity demand is going to outstrip supply at some point in the next 20 years unless we do something different,” said Atkinson.

“What we need to do is something called design response — where all the devices on the network can make a decision as to whether or not to come
on in order to smooth out peaks and troughs in electricity demand.”

Atkinson says once energy-gobbling devices like refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers and dryers are outfitted with these devices and patched into a system, they´ll be able to sense and respond to a variety of critical contingencies. For instance, if an electricity network is approaching overload, the devices would be able to turn themselves off for a few minutes, sparing the network and ultimately saving on energy costs.

50 BILLION BY 2020?

Arm plans on selling the devices for under 20 cents apiece, charging manufacturers a 1-2% royalty and licensing fee on top of that.
While that may initially seem like small change for a potentially revolutionary piece of technology, there are already over 10 billion devices on line right now, a figure that the company Ericsson has predicted could skyrocket to 50 billion by 2020.

According to a report that appeared in Ericsson´s White Pages last year, “The vision of more than 50 billion connected devices (is) based on ubiquitous internet access over mobile broadband.”

“Devices or things will be connected and networked independently of where they are. Falling prices for communication, combined with new services and functionality connecting virtually everything to serve a wide range of commercial applications, individual needs and needs of society.”

“The 50 billion connected devices vision marks the beginning of a new era of innovative, intertwined, combined products and services that utilize the power of networks.”

With a scant eight years remaining until 2020, this vision of a hyper-connected world in which even the least among our gadgets is integrated into bustling information networks may seem a bit ambitious and more than a little utopian.

Yet some perspective can be gleaned from taking a quick look back at the exponential growth in technological sophistication that´s taken place since the start of the new millennium. Remembering the smartphone-free, Googleless world of the not-so-distant past lends a measure of plausibility such projections.


On the Net: