The last five years have heralded the Internet of Things (IoT) – the concept of connecting all objects to the Internet. This has resulted in hundreds of new products reaching the market each month, across all segments. The Arm Cortex-M3 processor has been central to many of these innovations in the IoT space; it’s the innovator’s choice. Its ease-of-use and extensive software support enable a company with a creative idea to focus on delivering its product to market, rather than being lost or blocked with long embedded design cycles.
At the heart of the innovation, the Cortex-M3 processor has been key to opening up new market areas and applications. Previous generations of embedded products extensively used 8-bit and 16-bit processors, limiting functionality to only controlling low-level operations. The Cortex-M3 changed this by making 32-bit processors easily usable for these lower-level functional areas, at the same time supporting new features that have provided increased sophistication both for general embedded applications and IoT connected devices.
Without the Cortex-M3, many market leading devices would not have reached the consumer. The combination of power efficiency and a wide range of supporting libraries have enabled the wearables market, among others, to develop extensively. We would not have seen such low-power audio players providing interactive and easy to use interfaces and controls; or handheld GPS systems; or devices that detect our running, walking or sitting. There is a whole generation of people who could not imagine life without these devices.
It is hard to create an exhaustive list of the devices that rely on the Cortex-M3. Here are a few that you may have encountered before arriving at work in the morning…
You may have been woken up by a smart light bulb turning on when your alarm went off; or you may have drunk coffee from a Cortex-M3 controlled coffee machine; or started your robot floor cleaner to clean your house whilst you are at work. You may have read your email via your Wi-Fi router; played music over Bluetooth; tracked your activity status on your Fitbit health tracker, opened the window in your car or bought an energy bar in the digital vending machine – all of this is made possible by the Cortex-M3 processor.
Arm Cortex-M processors have been shipped in over 34.6 billion SoCs to date and are supported by an industry-leading ecosystem, with over 40 operating systems and a wide range of certified tools. This broad choice of resources means developers can accelerate time to market and reuse their software investment, from prototyping to production.
Prior to the Cortex-M3, getting from concept to prototypes was an in-depth process. It involved schematic capture, component sourcing, board development and debugging cycles – often resulting in an 18-month cycle. This would seem alien in today’s rapid IoT development timeframe.
You can now reach prototype phase in days, rather than months or years, using easily available, low-cost development boards, which often have software stacks included. Fast prototyping is critical for IoT to scale, and fundamental to the range of innovation and breadth of devices we see today.
But it isn’t just about prototyping - there are hundreds of boards available with the Cortex-M3 that can be reused for both prototype and production phases. The ability to buy certified boards that are ready for production, along with their software, enables devices to reach production and ramp in line with the market needs. By using these platforms, a wider range of people can develop their innovations with a lower experience level of embedded device development. Reducing these barriers to entry has opened the gates to the breadth of innovation we are seeing today, as shown by Hillcrest Labs. Just a few months ago, it launched a high-precision sensor hub, based on the Cortex-M3, that advances navigation systems in cost-critical consumer robots. We are likely to see this type of technology inside and outside the home – from autonomous mowers to service robots.
Many companies take their solutions further to include custom silicon. In the past, this would not have been feasible, except for products in large volumes. This also has changed, opening up the option of custom silicon to companies with relatively small run rates. Arm DesignStart makes this possible, with a fast, simple, no-risk path. You can license the Cortex-M3 processor with no license fee, only a success-based royalty. This means you can get started quickly and access all that the Arm ecosystem has to offer – without the huge outlay that most designers have come to expect. The DesignStart package includes a reference design for the system around the processor, making it easier to integrate the specific peripherals needed for your SoC design.
So, no matter what stage of your development, the Cortex-M3 offers a trusted, proven jumpstart to turn your concept into a reality. Build on an industry-leading foundation to ensure your next product makes the IoT headlines.
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