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ARM developing processors to make wearables 'invisible'

In the gold rush for wearables, the key to success is invisibility and long battery life. ARM is pursuing the development of tiny processors that fit the profile.

The new CPUs and microcontrollers are being developed for the whole range from tiny data-collecting wearables to sophisticated wearables such as smartglasses that require more processing power, ARM executives said Monday at a press conference at Computex in Taipei.

To that end, ARM also announced its first CPU design center for the Asia market in Taiwan, where development of such processors will take place. The processors will fit into the Cortex-M line.

Many ARM-based processors already go into fitness trackers, smartwatches, health monitors and high-end wearables like Oakley’s Airwave 1.5 ski glasses. The processors under development could consume just nanowatts of power and be in wearables that blend with the body easily, said Noel Hurley, deputy general manager for CPUs at ARM.

He gave the example of the ARM-based Freescale KL03 microcontroller, which is virtually invisible and used in thermostats and bulbs, Hurley said.

“They are like dust, you can scatter them around,” Hurley said.

Wearables are growing fast, and there’s a lot of ongoing experimentation with screen sizes, sensors and operating systems, Hurley said, adding that some ideas will succeed while some will fail.

But for all wearables, size, power, connectivity and data management matter the most, Hurley said. The battery is the heaviest component in such devices, and ARM is trying to reduce the power consumption of wearables to nanowatts through its processors, Hurley said. Smaller batteries could lead to wearables that better agree with the body.

He gave the example of health monitors in hospitals, which patients could easily rip off. But if the wearable is hidden somewhere, it would be less of a hassle to the patient and the hospital, which will get a continuous data feed without interruption.

“The weight and profile of the product is really important,” Hurley said.

The new wearable CPU designs will put the sensors close to digital signal processors (DSPs), so data can be quickly processed for interaction with smartphones or other data collecting instruments.

ARM licenses its processor design to chip makers, which then use it in wearables and other devices. ARM processors are used in notable wearable devices such as Google Glass and Samsung’s smartwatches. ARM offers the Mbed development platform where device makers can mix and match components, connectivity options and operating systems.

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