Feeds

ARM's ultra-low-power fridge-puter chips: Just what the CIA ordered

'He's just had a Scotch egg, sir' 'Ha! I knew it!'

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration

Why would ultra low-power devices matter to gadget makers and spooks?

The highly desirable low-power characteristic of a microcontroller defines battery life: how long the device can run off a portable energy supply and how much performance can be squeezed out of it. While the operational current draw is useful, what engineers really want to know is the standby current, because this determines how much will effectively leak out when the processor is doing absolutely nothing apart from waiting for an interrupt to stir it.

Freescale, which has licensed the new M0+ core for its Kinetis L range of microcontrollers, is keeping such figures close to its chest; it will reveal its finalised specifications in Q2 2012.

York estimated that, at full operation, a third of the current draw will come from the processor core (the 9uA/MHz figure), a third from the flash memory and a third from the peripheral sensor circuitry.

"If it's not well under 50uA [per Mhz] I'll be very surprised," said York, commenting on the overall current draw of an M0+ core with memory and interface circuitry connected. This is a power consumption of the chip while running a maths benchmark, representing a real-world number-crunching scenario; York accused one rival of running a NOP loop – a piece of code that essentially doesn't do anything – as a benchmark to brag about high performance while using little power on a microcontroller.

The success of the M0+ core and its uptake as a ubiquitous data-tossing processor will depend heavily on how low the chip manufacturers can squeeze the standby current.

CIA, enter stage right

The director of the US's Central Intelligence Agency, David Petraeus, speaking at a summit this month on intelligence gathering and engineering, touched on the concept of "an internet of things" - the notion of networking appliances and other objects together using such tiny, low-power radio-linked embedded chips to make to controlling gear easier (and monitoring people a piece of cake).

"In the digital world, data is everywhere, as you all know well. Data is created constantly, often unknowingly and without permission. Every byte left behind reveals information about location, habits, and, by extrapolation, intent and probable behaviour," said Petraeus.

"The number of data points that can be collected is virtually limitless — presenting, of course, both enormous intelligence opportunities and equally large counterintelligence challenges."

The spy boss was chiefly concerned with the huge amounts of data that can be collected from American citizens who intend to become CIA agents – in an age when parents set up Twitter and Tumblr accounts for their newborns, managing the identities of future operatives suddenly becomes non-trivial.

However, he went on to wax lyrical over smart sensors: "As you all know, exploiting the intelligence opportunities — which is an easier subject to discuss in an unclassified setting than the counterintelligence challenges — will require a new class of in-place and remote sensors that operate across the electromagnetic spectrum. Moreover, these sensors will be increasingly interconnected."

Referring to item tagging, sensors and wireless networks, and embedded engineering, Petraeus added that the proliferation of tiny, portable and intelligent sensor networks will appeal to his organisation. He said:

Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters — all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low cost, and high-power computing — the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing.

In practice, these technologies could lead to rapid integration of data from closed societies and provide near-continuous, persistent monitoring of virtually anywhere we choose.

You can see alpha-grade low-power smart sensor chips in action on the Freescale stand at DESIGN West in San Jose, California next week. NXP is also a Cortex-M0+ licensee. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Nice computers don’t need to go to the toilet, says Barclays
Bad computers might ask if you are Sarah Connor
4K video on terrestrial TV? Not if the WRC shares frequencies to mobiles
Have your say with Ofcom now, before Freeview becomes Feeview
PEAK LANDFILL: Why tablet gloom is good news for Windows users
Sinofsky's hybrid strategy looks dafter than ever
YES, iPhones ARE getting slower with each new release of iOS
Old hardware doesn't get any faster with new software
You didn't get the MeMO? Asus Pad 7 Android tab is ... not bad
Really, er, stands out among cheapie 7-inchers
Apple winks at parents: C'mon, get your kid a tweaked Macbook Pro
Cheapest models given new processors, more RAM
VMware builds product executables on 50 Mac Minis
And goes to the Genius Bar for support
Leaked Windows Phone 8.1 Update specs tease details of Nokia's next mobes
New screen sizes, dual SIMs, voice over LTE, and more
Microsoft stands on shore as tablet-laden boat sails away
Brit buyers still not falling for Windows' charms
prev story

Whitepapers

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?