ARM TechCon 2016 Reveals the Internet of Useful Things

ARM® Holdings, with a system point of view, pledges to support IoT “from chip-to-cloud” with several new offerings, including a foray into SaaS. ARM’s extreme growth and recent, over-priced acquisition demonstrates that IoT is creating value and new markets.

At ARM TechCon 2016, Simon Segars, CEO of ARM, stated, “If I look back in 2015; almost 15 billion ARM-based chips were shipped by the ARM partnership.…and it adds up to about fifty billion dollars’ worth of silicon.” ARM has wide-spread IP and so many partners that ARM’s broad ecosystem rivals that of open source in ubiquity. After the acquisition by the Japanese company Softbank, ARM is well-positioned to take IoT to the next level, as keynotes in ARM TechCon 2016 emphasized the long-term relationship between purchasing company Softbank and SoftBank Mobile’s CEO Masayoshi Son (“Masa”) and ARM CEO Simon Segars.

Figure 1: Masayoshi Son, CEO of SoftBank, SoftBank Mobile, Chairman of Sprint, and seemingly title-less within ARM, referred to jokingly as “Simon’s boss” during the keynote at ARM TechCon 2016. [Source: The Japan Times]

Figure 1: Masayoshi Son, CEO of SoftBank, SoftBank Mobile, Chairman of Sprint, and seemingly title-less within ARM, referred to jokingly as “Simon’s boss” during the keynote at ARM TechCon 2016. Source: The Japan Times

Figure 2: Simon Segars, CEO of ARM Holdings. (Source: ARM)

Figure 2: Simon Segars, CEO of ARM Holdings. (Source: ARM)

By all accounts, Softbank acquired ARM for the sole purpose of latching on to the next industrial revolution, The Internet of Things (IoT), which Masa likened to “the pre-Cambrian explosion” as creatures like trilobites gained valuable information through sensors, such as vision. Masa, who is also described by Forbes as a philanthropist, clearly stated that his plans are to allow ARM to shorten the timeline to delivering on its roadmap, as the ARM top staff are relieved of pressures to fund deepening challenges along the route of Moore’s Law.

However, funding cannot be a concern for ARM, as ARM experienced an impressive 20% growth, year-on-year, as the world witnessed an increase in the sophistication of mobile devices. ARM technology is deployed in everything from supercomputers to sensors so tiny you can barely see them. ARM’s future looks bright, in large part to the forecast for IoT. As Segars also indicates, “The demand for processor-based intelligent silicon is not going down anytime soon, and that’s going to drive enormous opportunities for everyone.”

Figure 3: ARM TechCon 2016 EXPO Floor Entrance [Source: Extension Media]

Figure 3: ARM TechCon 2016 EXPO Floor Entrance (Source: Extension Media)

In just two years, devices on the Internet will exceed that of traditional mobile devices. ARM predicts that in 2018, 7.8 billion mobile devices will be deployed, but will be exceeded by IoT at 8.5 billion. ARM forecasts 275 billion IoT devices deployed in the year 2021. And by 2021, they project that there will be 15.7 billion IoT devices, with an estimated accumulation of 1 trillion IoT devices total that will be using the Internet in 2035. Perhaps this is why within a short seven weeks ARM was offered and closed on a deal with Softbank, who paid a 40% premium for ARM at $32 billion USD last August.

Why Now, IoT?

IoT is not a “blue sky” dream, with demonstrated interest in IoT’s future by way of the ARM acquisition. The industrial sector especially seeks to implement IoT for tangible gains in productivity for large-scale, far-flung energy production and all the way down to the factory floor. IoT promises to bring system-level insight that simply is not possible otherwise. But why now? Why didn’t IoT become a thing with the Internet bubble of 2000? IoT’s maturation derives from the decreasing cost of high-performing processors coupled with ubiquitous wireless connectivity, enabling sophisticated intelligence to be pushed down to accomplish computing tasks within sensor nodes, in a system with unprecedented convenience.

This technological dream is what Masa, a UC Berkeley graduate and current chairman of Sprint, emphasizes. His vision extends to the future of IoT such that smart sensors, making local decisions using algorithms as they sift through reams of data, can upload critical puzzle pieces for further analysis from a larger point of view. This will connect with artificial intelligence (AI) for making our world a better place to live, to put it mildly. Masa calls this “singularity.” IoT and AI will together achieve a level of sophistication resulting in a world with achievements such as no more car accidents and people living quality lives in excess of 100 years.

Cradle-to-Grave, Chip-to-Cloud: What is ARM doing about IoT?

ARM has committed to shepherding this process of implementing IoT with ARM partners so that OEMs can achieve heretofore unprecedented productivity and efficiency gains for themselves and their customers. ARM is tackling much more than processors; they have committed to the entire Chip-to-Cloud “signal chain” with the announcement of two new Cortex®-M cores based on ARM v8-M, TrustZone® CryptoCell security technology, the Mbed™ Cloud addition to the mBed™ IoT platform, and ARM Cordio® radio IP. ARM aims to help partners build platforms in a consistent way, and the new offerings demonstrate that commitment.

Figure 4: ARM is in nearly everything, as evidenced by ARM’s display of partner platforms on the EXPO floor.

Figure 4: ARM is in nearly everything, as evidenced by ARM’s display of partner platforms on the EXPO floor.

ARM Cortex-M23 and Cortex-M33, Embedded Processors based on ARM v8-M

The new ARM Cortex-M23 and Cortex-M33 cores were announced as the first embedded processors based on the ARMv8-M architecture. Analog Devices, STMicroelectronics, Microchip, NXP, Renesas, Silicon Labs, and Nuvoton have all licensed one or both processors. The ARM v8-M brings TrustZone to resource-constrained IoT nodes. In turn, Cadence Design Systems showcased its support for the latest ARM Cortex-M23/Cortex-M33 cores with the Cadence Rapid Adoption Kit (RAK), which enables users to differentiate development environments in secure IoT devices.

ARM Cordio Radio IP: Bluetooth 5 and 802.15.4-based Thread and ZigBee

Connectivity tailored to IoT launched in ARM’s ultra-low power, next-generation Cordio Radio IP. ARM Cordio radio IP includes Bluetooth 5 and 802.15.4-based standards Thread and ZigBee. Cordio Radio provides a complete and qualified solution, with standards compatibility designed to work in lock-step with ARM processor and system IP from RF signal to software stack.

ARM TrustZone® Security Technology

Security is essential for IoT devices. Today’s cars have hundreds of chips, and none are encrypted, according to Masa at the first keynote of the conference. ARM’s commitment to security begins with the baking of the silicon at the physical layer in the whole IoT stack with TrustZone, “a system-wide approach to security” for both Systems-on-Chip and central processing units.

According to the ARM site, the ARM® TrustZone® technology “is the concept of secure and non-secure worlds that are hardware separated, with non-secure software blocked from accessing secure resources directly.” TrustZone technology can be integrated into any ARM Cortex®-A, which are high-performance applications processors, and can be integrated into the latest Cortex -M23 and -M33 systems. Cortex-M processors extend down to the smallest of microcontrollers.

Renesas Electronics, Express Logic, and IAR Systems have collaborated to create a foundation for the next-generation Renesas Synergy Platform supporting ARM v8-M cores. Express Logic’s ThreadX® RTOS and the IAR Embedded Systems Workbench® software development environment support the ARMv8-M architectures leveraging the TrustZone technology. IAR’s Workbench offers one toolbox, one view, and one uninterrupted workflow for seamless integration for all available ARM cores.

Figure 5: A figural overview of ARM® TrustZone

Figure 5: A figural overview of ARM® TrustZone

Mbed Cloud, ARM’s first SaaS

Mbed Cloud follows the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, new to ARM but a critical part of ARM’s chip-to-cloud chain commitment. The Mbed Cloud SaaS is organized as a selection of different services that the OEM may need. Mbed Cloud delivers device management and completes the ARM mbed® IoT platform. Device management includes things like establishing basic activity, boot-strapping new devices as they are deployed, firmware updates, key injection and provisioning of devices, managing security, and managing the rights to access data on IoT devices. ARM stops short of managing cloud servers and services, however. OEMs can access any cloud that they choose (e.g., Azure, IBM, Amazon). You could say that ARM bestows cloud independence. Don’t assume that ARM will not influence cloud server businesses, however, since by 2021 one trillion devices are projected to use the Internet, and thus create traffic for data centers worldwide. (A very rough estimate from ARM CTO Mike Muller at the ARM press conference indicates that it’s reasonable to assume about 10,000 IoT devices may be serviced per server, and potentially 20% of the system supply of servers by 2021.)

In a press conference, ARM officials stated that Mbed Cloud is standards-based, pointing out that “ARM’s DNA is finding the right line between standardization and innovation. Standardization is for the ecosystem. Partners can do the innovation.”

ARM is not the only company beating the IoT piñata. Intel and General Electric are also deeply involved, and it appears that the electronics industry will make it happen and the industrial sector, with GE leading the charge, will make IoT part of someone’s life. However, many have not experienced IoT as much more than a “connected pedometer,” since the hype cycle for IoT thus far has delivered disappointing results in the consumer segment. Nevertheless, change will occur in the medical, aerospace, military, industrial and the automotive sectors and it’s inspiring to see what technology companies are enabling. IoT will touch everyone’s lives, they just won’t know it.


LynnetteReese_115Lynnette Reese is Executive Editor, Embedded Systems Engineering and Embedded Intel Solutions, and has been working in various roles as an electrical engineer for over two decades. She is interested in open source software and hardware, the maker movement, and in increasing the number of women working in STEM so she has a greater chance of talking about something other than football at the water cooler.

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