by Leo Kelion
13 March 2012
ARM Holdings has
unveiled what it describes as the "world's most
energy-efficient microprocessor" design.
of a "Flycatcher" microcontroller
Arm expects billions
of devices to use microcontrollers
based on its
The firm says that microcontrollers based on the "Flycatcher"
architecture will pave the way for the "internet of things" - the
spread of the net to a wider range of devices.
It suggests that fridges and other white goods, medical equipment,
energy meters, and home and office lighting will all benefit from
Two firms have licensed the technology,
"It opens up all devices to the potential of being connected all
the time," Freescale's Geoff Lees told the BBC.
"It's allowing us to provide connectivity everywhere. 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."
The Cortex -M0+ architecture is designed to provide chip-makers with
the means to build microcontrollers that require "ultra low power"
but are capable of 32-bit processing.
Arm says it went back to the drawing board to create the new
processor cores which measure 1mm by 1mm in size.
It says the microcontrollers should draw around a third less energy
than their predecessors, which only offered 8 and 16-bit
It adds that its design has been created to be a low leakage part -
meaning it consumes almost no power when it is in sleep mode. The
firm says that means devices can offer wireless connectivity when
paired with modern bluetooth or radio equipment, offering years of
life from a single battery-pack rather than months.
Arm's director of embedded marketing Gary Atkinson says it
could herald a new generation of smart energy systems.
"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," he said.
"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
"So you should add connectivity to things like fridges, washing
machines, freezers and dishwashers. If the wider electricity
network is being very heavily used and if the element in your
dishwasher could go off for two or three minutes to alleviate
that - well then that would make a big difference."
ARM says it expects the microcontrollers will sell for around 13-20
pence per device - and it will charge its clients about a 1-2%
royalty fee from that price on top of a license charge.
Although the sums may appear small, the firm notes that Ericsson
recently forecast there would be
50 billion connected devices by
2020 compared to 10-15 billion at present.
Arm says much of that growth will come from types of equipment that
are not connected to the net at present - presenting the firm and
its customers with a huge growth opportunity.
However the Cambridge-based company does not have the market to
Arizona-headquartered Microchip Technology designs and builds a
rival range of 32-bit "Pic" microcontroller, while California-based
Atmel offers 32-bit "Avr" products.