The newest entry in ARM's Cortex line, the Cortex-M0+ is claimed to be the world's most energy-efficient processor, delivering 32-bit performance on around one third of the typical energy requirements of an 8- or 16-bit processor. Targeting low-cost sensors and microcontrollers, the M0+ will come with a very modest price tag and could act as a crucuial stepping stone to a world in which everyday objects communicate with each other, sharing data to make smart, coordinated decisions that will improve our quality of life.
The M0+ builds on the previous Cortex-M0 processor and, despite a major overhaul that has added many new features (a single-cycle I/O port, improved debug and trace capability, and a 2-stage pipeline to reduce the number of cycles per instructions), it is still binary compatible with the developer tools and real-time operating system of its older, "slower" brother.
ARM told us that, depending on the semiconductor companies who have acquired its design, the per-unit cost of the Cortex-M0+ "is estimated to be less than $1 and possibly below 50 cents." Clearly, we're moving into a world where sophisticated microcontrollers (and, soon, even general-purpose microprocessors) will be a dime a dozen.
The Internet of Things
The vision now being embraced by many prominent IT companies is that of a world in which cheap, widespread RFID tags and microcontrollers will enable everyday objects to become interconnected and communicate with each other, providing efficient management and maintenance across a network of wirelessly connected devices - an idea known as "the Internet of Things."
The electronic devices in our planet generate a truly enormous amount of data, some of which is organized into systems. "The Internet of Things" is about taking this connection to the next level, creating a true "system of systems" in which the collected data is transformed into information, knowledge and, eventually, wisdom, increasing the "intelligence" of any single device.
The possibilities for intelligent interaction between devices would be almost endless.
GPS navigators in cars and motorbikes could request data from traffic surveillance cameras and other vehicles to provide much more reliable real-time traffic updates, weather conditions, measurements from road sensors and feedback from other drivers.
Reading tomorrow's schedule from your agenda, your alarm clock could set itself to ring at the appropriate time and, no matter how much you bargain for one more "snooze," won't stop ringing until the sensors in your bed establish that you're up; by then, the heating in your bathroom would have been on for a good half-hour, and will turn itself off once you've left the house.
Analyzing your weight change patterns over the last few months and collecting data from the exercise machines at your gym, as well as the data, sent by your shoes, counting the steps you walked for the day, your scale will tell your fridge how many calories you'll be needing for your next meal.
By knowing exactly how many items of a certain product are left in the shelves and in stock, as well as how fast they're selling, stores and supermarkets could save hundreds of millions of dollars by placing orders when needed and replacing items on their shelves with perfect timing.
Lamp posts could implement better adaptive street lighting; garbage collecting companies could save time and money by only collecting when the bin is full; a network of body sensors embedded in clothing could monitor your vitals during exercise, or call medical assistance as soon as something is wrong.
These are only a handful of possibilities that the Internet of Things may bring about.