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ARM CTO looks forward and backward in keynote

UPDATE 15 December 2015: Minor changes made to reflect correct ARM product nomenclature.

By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

“Innovation is still thriving in semiconductors,” said Mark Muller, chief technology officer of ARM Holdings, in a keynote address Tuesday morning (November 10) at the ARM TechCon conference and exposition in Santa Clara, Calif.

“We’ve always had constraints on what we can do,” he added. Still, “there’s an incredible amount of innovation ahead of us.”

ARM CTO Mike Muller describes the company's strategy, upside in server opportunities, and technology's march towards the IoT.

With ARM marking its 25th anniversary this month, Muller briefly reviewed the history of the company and the technology that preceded its establishment, harking back to the BBC Micro Model A/B computer of 1981 and the 1985 introduction of the ARM1 processor. The BBC Micro has ultimately led to this year’s introduction of the BBC micro:bit single-board computer, which is being provided for free to 10-year-old and 11-year-old schoolchildren in the United Kingdom.

Muller talked about ARM’s progress in getting its designs into server chips, with “multiple manufacturers” shipping ARM-based servers, he noted. Such servers are being implemented at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center in Spain and at Sandia National Laboratories, Muller said.

Moving on, Muller said, “Mobile computing has been transformed.” While the annual growth rate of mobile devices is expected to decline to 10 percent by 2020, such “not bad” growth will primarily be coming from entry-level smartphones by the end of the decade, he added.

The CTO touted “a truly remarkable product,” the ARM Cortex-A35 processor, being introduced at this week’s conference. Chips with that processor design will be able to run on less than 6 milliwatts, he said.

At the same time, Muller said of ARM’s product strategy, “It’s so much more than processors.” The company aspires to provide “all of the IP [intellectual property] you need,” he said to the designers in attendance.

Muller enthused about what he called “the product of the year,” an energy-harvesting Bluetooth Low Energy insulin pen designed by Cambridge Consultants, incorporating a Dialog Semiconductor chip. The KiCoPen concept has no battery, he noted. Using piezoelectric technology, it derives its energy from the injector cap being removed from the pen.

The ARM executive also addressed the security issue with the Internet of Things and related products. “We’re under attack in a way we never were before,” Muller said.

“How do we make a $1 microcontroller design done by people with no security experience, secure?” he asked.

ARM also introduced the TrustZone CryptoCell security technology this week, along with its ARMv8-M architecture for embedded devices.

“The hardware is the easy part,” Muller commented. With the IoT, there are familiar problems in chip and system design, “times trust,” he said.

“You have to be able to secure them,” Muller said of IoT devices. “You share that trust around you.”

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