British chip maker Arm Holdings, has taken the wraps off a new energy-efficient microprocessor, which the company claims could pave the way for the "Internet of Things".
The 32-bit Cortex-M0+ processor, code-named Flycatcher, uses just a third of the energy of legacy 8- and 16-bit architectures, while delivering significantly higher performance, according to ARM.
Building on the previous Cortex-M0 processor, it offers a number of new features including single-cycle I/O, improved debug and trace capability and a 2-stage pipeline to reduce the number of cycles per instruction (CPI) and improve Flash accesses, further reducing power consumption.
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The chip's low-power, high-performance credentials mean that it could be used to increase the processing abilities of a wide range of everyday electronic devices, including home appliances, power meters, white goods (such as fridges), and medical monitoring equipment, according to Arm.
Using microcontrollers to provide machine-to-machine communication, management and maintenance across a range of wirelessly connected devices is a concept known as the Internet of Things. It is estimated that the number of connected objects will reach 50 billion by 2020.
"The Internet of Things will change the world as we know it, improving energy efficiency, safety, and convenience," said Tom R. Halfhill, a senior analyst with The Linley Group and senior editor of Microprocessor Report.
"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 can still deliver good performance."
Most 8-bit and 16-bit microcontrollers lack the intelligence and functionality to deliver applications that can wirelessly control energy usage in buildings, for example, or connect battery-operated body sensors to health monitoring equipment. However, Arm claims that its Cortex-M0+ processor will be suitable for a broad range of industrial and consumer applications.
The new technology has already been licensed by Freescale and NXP Semiconductor.
"We have worked closely with our partners on the definition of the new processor to ensure that it can enable the low-cost devices of today, while also unlocking the potential benefits delivered by the Internet of Things," said Mike Inglis, EVP and GM of Arm's processor division.
Arm is not the only company to have set its sights on ubiquitous connectivity. Microchip Technology designs and builds a rival range of 32-bit "Pic" microcontrollers, while Atmel offers 32-bit "Avr" products. Last year, Intel also announced it was investing around £16 million in joint research with Taiwan's top-ranked university, to investigate how the Internet can detect and interact with objects.