Chip designer ARM has announced a new energy-efficient microprocessor line aimed at embedded applications such as home appliances, metering, and lighting, as well as connected devices as part of the move to the so-called "internet of things".
The Cortex-M0+ has been designed to consume just 9 micro amps (µA) per MHz of clock speed, according to ARM, beating the 8-bit or 16-bit architectures already used in the applications it is targeting, while providing significantly higher performance.
Unlike ARM's higher-end Cortex A series designs, used in the chips that power smartphones, the Cortex M series is intended for applications such as intelligent sensors and smart control systems.
However, as with all ARM's products, it will be up to ARM partners and licensees to produce actual silicon based on the Cortex-M0+ design, which means that the architecture may not find its way into shipping products for some time.
The new processor has already been licensed by NXP and Freescale, ARM said, with the latter due to show working chips at the Embedded Systems Conference at the end of March.
With its 32-bit architecture, upwards-compatible with other ARM processors, the Cortex-M0+ offers increased performance without sacrificing power consumption.
It is capable of delivering chips operating at up to 250MHz when implemented in a 90nm process, but for its target markets, the 24MHz to 60MHz range is considered more likely.
As well as traditional on-chip serial interfaces like a UART, I2C, and SPI, chips based around a Cortex-M0+ core are likely to be combined with a radio front end, such as Zigbee or Bluetooth low-energy.
According to ARM, this will enable microcontroller chips to provide better communication, management and maintenance across a multitude of wirelessly connected devices, often referred to as the "Internet of Things".
Writing on ARM's Embedded blog, corporate marketing manager Alan Tringham said that the potential benefits of low-power smart sensors and devices able to communicate seamlessly with one another could be vast.
"They have the potential to deliver a range of energy-saving and life-enhancing applications from sensors; to wirelessly analyse the performance and control of domestic or industrial buildings and devices; to battery-operated body sensors wirelessly connected to health monitoring equipment," he said.
ARM said it is offering assistance to help developers move up from 8-bit or 16-bit microcontrollers to its new architecture.
The Cortex-M0+ supports ARM's compact Thumb / Thumb-2 instruction set, and is binary compatible with existing Cortex-M0 processor tools and real-time operating systems.
Daniel Robinson is technology editor at V3, and has been working as a technology journalist for over two decades. Dan has served on a number of publications including PC Direct and enterprise news publication IT Week. Areas of coverage include desktops, laptops, smartphones, enterprise mobility, storage, networks, servers, microprocessors, virtualisation and cloud computing.