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Smart Bluetooth, Sensors and Hackers Showcased at CES 2015

Internet of Things (IoT) devices ranged from Bluetooth gateways and smart sensors to intensive cloud-based data processors and hackathons – all powered by ARM.

By John Blyler, Editorial Director

Connectivity continues to be a major theme at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The only difference each year is the way in which the connectivity is express in products. For example, this year’s (2015) event showcased an increase in gateway networking devices that permitted Bluetooth Low Energy-equipped gadgets to connect to a WiFi router or other interfaces with the outside world.

According to a recent IHS report, the global market for low-power, Bluetooth Smart integrated circuits (IC) will see shipments rise nearly tenfold over the next 5 years. This is good news for very low power wireless semiconductor intellectual property (IP) and device manufacturers in the wearable and connected markets. One example out of many is Atmel’s BTLC1000 chip, which the company claims will help improve battery life by over 30% of current devices. The chip architecture is based on a ARM® Cortex®-M0 processor.

Bluetooth Smart is the intelligent, low-power version of traditional Bluetooth wireless technology that works with existing smartphone and tablet applications. The technology brings smart connectivity to every day devices such as toothbrushes, heart-rate monitors, fitness devices and more. (See, Wearable Technologies Meet Bluetooth Low Energy)

For the IoT to be useful, sensor data at the edge of the connectivity node must be communicated to the cloud for high performance processing of all the IoT data. This year’s CES showcased a number of multicore 64-bit devices like NVIDIA ARM-based Tegra X1. Another example of a high-end computing system is Samsung’s Exynos 5422 processor that is based upon ARM’s big.LITTLE™ technology and contains four Cortex-A15 cores and four Cortex-A7 cores. These types of products can run Android and 4K video displays on a 28nm process node.

Team mbed

Many embedded software developers enjoy the challenge of creating something new. Today, it is fashionable to call these people hackers, in part because they exhibit the prerequisite mindset, namely, “one who programs enthusiastically…”  – from the Hacker’s Jargon File, circa 1988.

Special events called hackathons have been created for these enthusiastic programmers to practice and demonstrate their skills. For example, back in August of 2014, ARM provided a group of hackers know as Team mbed™ with hardware and software development platforms for the AT&T Hackathon at Super Mobility Week. Last week, Team mbed returned to participate in the ATT Hackathon at the CES 2015. The team consisted of Internet of Things (IoT) industry participants from Freescale, Multi-Tech, Nordic Semiconductor, STMicroelectronics, u-blox and ARM. The team was supplied with a number of cool resources including ARM mbed-enabled development boards, connectivity modules, and a variety of different actuators and sensors. These resources combined with available guidance and inspiration enabled the developers to bring their own ideas to reality.

Following the show’s IoT theme, these software developer were given a ‘smorgasbord’ of sensors and actuators to go along with a variety of hardware platforms and I/O connectivity subsystems including Bluetooth®, cellular, Ethernet, and Wi-Fi®.  Recent projects are built around this IoT platform are highlighted at haster.io/mbed (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Krisztian Flautner, GM of IoTBU at ARM, discusses this new mbed offering that sets out to simplify and speed up the creation and deployment of Internet of Things (IoT) products

Next to connectivity, sensors are the defining component of any IoT technology. Maybe that is why sensor companies have been a growing presence on the CES show floor. This year, sensor-related vendors accounted for over 10% of total exhibitors. Many new IoT sensor technology is implemented using tiny MEMS physical structures. At CES, a relatively new company known as Invensense announced a Sensor System on Chip that combines an ARM Cortex-M0 processor with 2 motion co-processors (see Figure 2). This combination enables a 6-axis motion measurement all in a 3mm x 3mm x 1mm package. To complete the package, this device has its own RTOS that is compatible with Android Lollipop.

Figure 2: InverSense chip with sensors.

Such sensor systems on chip would make a fine addition for the resources available for Team mbed at their next hackathon.

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