Revolutionizing The Connected World

How to enable the next generation of smart and connected devices.


One of the 21st century’s biggest global developments is the evolution of connectivity. If you had asked someone 20 years ago what they understand the word ‘connected’ to mean, it is unlikely they would associate it so firmly with technology.

Mobile technology has transformed the way in which we interact with one another. We are surrounded by a rapidly growing network of connected devices with the Internet at the heart. Electrical appliances from televisions to thermostats are now designed to work better when connected to the Internet, and this is changing our daily lives. We often refer to the Internet of things (IoT) as something in the distant future, but we need only look at this massive explosion of Internet-centric devices and appliances to see that it is already beginning to come to fruition. The demands of this connected world mean that intelligent and embedded chips will be required in a huge number of products and these must be always-on, always-aware, always-connected and provide high digital signal processing (DSP) performance for tasks such as local data pre-processing, voice and image processing, access to richer content while enabling increased system reliability and fault tolerance.

With these demands in mind, ARM has developed its highest-performance embedded processor, the Cortex-M7. The processor brings a range of new features and capabilities to the highly popular Cortex-M family of low-power, 32-bit processors. At a micro-architectural level, it enables partners to build some of the highest-performance microcontroller cores. It is targeted at demanding embedded applications including next generation vehicles, connected devices, and smart homes and factories, supporting the increasingly connected world.

One example use-case is in the evolution of domestic appliances such as washing machines and kitchen cooktops. Whereas these devices would once have a simple user interface and have very basic processors inside, we are beginning to see devices with more intelligence, providing users with more customizability and more control, while consuming less energy and fewer resources. Next-generation products typically will have touchscreen panels with sophisticated displays and advanced control motors to include field-oriented control algorithms. Such enhancements in motor control would dramatically improve operational efficiency while simultaneously reducing cost – in turn making a difference to both the manufacturing and maintenance costs of appliances. Moreover, these devices may need to run communications software stacks allowing connectivity with other appliances and the outside world to provide billing information, usage statistics and other important metrics. These demanding functions require a microcontroller with the ability to process large data sets without consuming large quantities of power.

With a powerful six-stage superscalar pipeline, the processor’s throughput is significantly improved by the ability to execute multiple instructions per clock, and the overall instruction execution time is shortened. It also maintains an ultra-low power profile. By having more capabilities per clock cycle, tasks can be completed at lower system clock speeds, meaning for example that an audio subsystem, which previously needed 200MHz to operate, can now be done at 100MHz. Alternatively, the support for higher clock speeds allows tasks to be executed quickly in active mode meaning the processor can spend longer in low-power modes. The processor also benefits from advanced system buses with instruction and data accesses over 64-bit interfaces. This enables multiple instructions to be fetched per clock cycle.

Building on the processor’s high-performance, low-power profile, a range of development resources including compilers, libraries and example application code will provide developers with an easy migration path from previous Cortex-M series processors, and result in an accelerated time-to-market.

The Cortex-M7 processor will enable ARM partners and OEMs to produce a new generation of connected products and continue the rapid development of the Internet of Things. With this processor, ARM has developed a new product to extend its range of ubiquitous Cortex-M series processors. From the ultra-low power Cortex-M0 through to the Cortex-M7, developers have a huge range of microcontrollers to choose from to create any type of device with embedded intelligence.

As our world becomes increasingly connected, the ARM ecosystem continues to deliver a low-power advantage for the next generation of all things that enable the Internet of Things.


Jayna Sheats says:

With all due respect to your company’s very remarkable achievements, Mr. Johnson, if you had asked Joel Birnbaum your lead question even more than 20 years ago (when he became VP of R&D at HP), he would have given a reply which embodied every single point you describe in your first and second paragraphs. I saw this vision painted in essentially every single “coffeetalk” at the Labs for a decade.

It is not semiconductor technology per se that has slowed the realization of this vision, but the readiness of the market to accept it. Hosts such as home appliances and autos turn over very slowly, and only a few new features will be incorporated in each new design. The wider vision of the IoT, in which things which have no electronic component now would have “intelligence” of some kind, requires both market pull (and seamless interoperability so the user doesn’t have to be virtually a programmer), and better technology (smaller, cheaper and lower power components). The M0+ is going in the right direction, but major advances in packaging are required to meet these requirements.

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