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ARM subsystem speeds up customised chip development for IoT

Steve Rogerson
June 10, 2015
 
Cambridge technology company ARM has unveiled a hardware subsystem to enable the fast and efficient development of customised chips for smart connected devices. The IoT subsystem is optimised for use with the company’s Cortex-M processors and radio technologies, physical IP and Mbed operating system.
 
This individually licensable subsystem IP block, together with Cortex-M processor and ARM Cordioradio IP, forms the basis for an IoT endpoint chip design, allowing partners to integrate sensors and other peripherals to create complete SoCs (systems-on-chip). Using ARM Artisan physical IP, the design is optimised for Taiwan foundry TSMC’s 55nm ultra-low power (55ULP) process technology with embedded flash memory, and should enable chips with reduced size, cost and power consumption, operating at sub one-volt.
 
“With industry expectations of hundreds of billions of new smart connected sensors by 2030, we see a growing demand for highly customised chips,” said James McNiven, general manager for systems and software at ARM. “Creating a highly tailored SoC is complex. The ARM IoT subsystem for Cortex-M enables companies to simplify the process and improve time to market. It enables our partners to focus finite design resources on the system functionality that differentiates them in their market.”
 
The subsystem will support IoT market growth by reducing development risk and enabling companies to create products quickly that address opportunities in the smart homes and smart cities markets. Companies expected to license the subsystem include analogue sensor makers and companies looking to add IoT connectivity to existing IP.
 
“A SoC is a complex combination of logic, memory and interconnect technologies, but equally as important is the glue that ties all these system components together,” said Jim McGregor, founder of Tirias Research. “By offering the IoT subsystem, ARM is enabling both new and established semiconductor vendors to design and deliver solutions in a very timely and cost effective manner, which is critical in the rapidly innovating IoT segment. With the most complete offering of hardware and software for IoT applications, it’s no surprise that more IoT devices run on ARM than any other architecture.”
 
The subsystem has a range of peripherals and interfaces, including links to TSMC’s embedded flash memory. It is designed for use with Cortex-M processors and optimised for Mbed and Cordio Bluetooth Smart radio. It is possible to integrate other radios and wireless networking standards such as Wifi and 802.15.4.
 
This subsystem has been developed in close collaboration with TSMC for production on its 55ULP process technology. The combination of Artisan physical IP and the 55ULP process means subsystems can run at sub-one volt operation, extending battery life and making it easier to run a device using energy harvesting.
 
“We have worked alongside ARM to ensure its IoT subsystem for Cortex-M cores is optimised for TSMC’s 55ULP process,” said Suk Lee, senior director at TSMC. “This process is very well-suited for smart IoT devices as it provides a fine balance of cost and energy-efficiency.”
 
TSMC launched the foundry segment’s first and most comprehensive ULP technology platform in September 2014 to serve a range of applications supporting demand for IoT and wearable devices.
 
More than eleven billion Cortex-M processor based chips have been shipped, while the Mbed developer community has now grown to over 100,000 users.