ARM's new processor could usher in feature-rich robots, appliances, wearables

ARM's M7 processor could make drones more agile

ARM's Cortex M7 low-power processor

ARM's Cortex M7 low-power processor

ARM hopes its latest Cortex M7 processor design will lead to more responsive robots, smart appliances and wearables.

The Cortex M7 CPU design, which will be licensed to chip makers, could also go into cars, medical devices and networking and storage devices. The faster and power-efficient M7 will allow device makers to pack more functionality and features into products, said Nandan Nayampally, vice president of marketing for the CPU group at ARM.

For example, the Cortex M7, which operates at a clock speed of 400MHz, can bring finer control and accuracy in location and speed measurement to drones and robots, Nayampally said.

"The response time and management of motor control needs a certain speed," especially for moving devices and targets, Nayampally said.

The M7 can also be used in wearables like smartglasses as co-processors to collect sensor information. Faster processors like the Cortex-A, which is used in mobile devices, are still needed for highly visual or graphical functionality, Nayampally said.

ARM already dominates the smartphone and tablet market via Cortex-A chips, which are also due to appear in servers early next year. ARM wants its CPUs to go into more devices, and the Internet of Things market represents a big opportunity. The number of Internet-connected devices is expected to reach anywhere from 30 billion to 50 billion by 2020.

Key to IoT devices is support for wireless technologies and sensors, which can be packaged with M7 in hubs, industrial control systems and office and data center equipment, Nayampally said.

The M7, which also has digital signal processors and floating point functionality, is fast enough to provide "embedded intelligence" so only relevant information is dispatched to repositories, Nayampally said.

The new CPU sits at the top of the line of products that includes the Cortex M3, which is used in Qualcomm's Toq smartwatch, and Cortex M0, a microcontroller used in many low-cost development boards.

About 8 billion processors based on Cortex M designs have shipped to date, with 4.6 billion of those shipping in the last year and a half, Nayampally said.

One M7 CPU can perform the functionality of multiple M0 or M3 chips, which can help save space in devices, Nayampally said.

Chip makers Freescale, Atmel and STMicroelectronics are supporting the new processor design.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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