ARM has released a new chip design that will make more things, from home appliances to self-driving cars and smartwatches, a whole lot smarter.
The 32-bit ARM Cortex M7 chip promises to pack a punch by doubling the computing brainpower and digital signal processing of the current-generation ARM Cortex M4, which runs at 168 megahertz compared to the 400 megahertz that powers the newer Cortex M7, all while increasing battery life and reducing footprint. When used in a flying drone, for instance, the new chip allows for improved flight management, more accurate speed and navigation, better control and more secure radio communications.
However, it is not just drones that will benefit from being fitted with a Cortex M7. The Cambridge-based chip designer aims to drive the Internet of Things market into full gear with the Cortex M7. With a size small enough to allow it to be fitted into a tiny notch in a golf ball and support for sensors and wireless technologies that fuel IoT objects, ARM's latest chip can be used to power an entire variety of devices, from Internet-connected coffee makers to smart fire alarms at factories.
"Whereas a tiny, 8-bit microcontroller may have been sufficient in the old world, a much more powerful device is needed in the world where these devices are far more connected," says ARM senior product manager Ian Johnson.
ARM has already made headway into the smartphone market with its line of Cortex A processors. Apple chose the ARM11 to power the very first iPhone that was released in 2007 and again went for the Cortex A8 and Cortex A9 for the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4S respectively.
However, the lesser known Cortex M line of chips have been quietly taking over the IoT market since they were introduced ten years ago, with more than 8 billion processors shipped from ARM partners since 2004. More than half of those, or 4.6 billion units, were shipped in the last year and a half. This year alone, ARM partners have shipped around 1.7 billion units of the Cortex M processors, giving ARM the upper hand in the IoT market.
"We have a massive advantage when it comes to low-power devices," says Thomas Ensergueix, senior product marketing manager at ARM's CPU Group. "Intel comes from the PC processor world. The Internet of Things market is already massively in the Cortex."
Atmel, Freescale and ST Microelectronics have all signed up as the first licensees to use the Cortex M7 design and are expected to produce the first M7 chips by early 2015.