Freescale Semiconductor brings ARM Cortex-A7 cores to the Internet of Things

Freescale is using ARM Cortex-A7 cores to provide smartphone-quality intelligence to the Internet of Things.


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The Internet of Things (IoT) is at the heart of some of the most exciting technology developments in 2013. A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Nikolay Guenov, Director Product Management, Digital Networking Division, and Nick Sargologos, Senior Marketing Manager, Digital Networking Division, of Freescale Semiconductor. They caught me up on some of their company's IoT developments and gave me a look into where IoT is going in 2014.

IoT as we know it today is an evolution of the smart grid, according to Sargologos.

 "The IoT is really a combination of a range of capabilities," he said. "The whole thing is about connecting a wide range of sensors, end points, the network, and the cloud to enable a lot more convenience, a lot more visibility into processes, events, machine automation, and various aspects of business-to-business and consumer-oriented activities."

Last October, Freescale announced a new family of devices based on the ARM Cortex-A7 cores. The ARM A7 is typically used in smartphones and other mobile devices. Freescale is extending smartphone-quality intelligence and efficiency to the network with its new devices. The new chip enables IoT gateways to communicate with a range of devices including:

  • Appliances
  • Security systems and monitors
  • Smart thermostats

The chip communicates with these devices regardless of the individual device's communication protocol, including 802.11, Bluetooth, or even ZigBee, and relays the information to the cloud.

According to Guenov, their devices target embedded communications and industrial applications with the highest level of integration in the industry for the given power interval.

"What we are doing here is merging the knowhow and IP that Freescale has developed over the years in the networking and communications market," Guenov said. He emphasized that Freescale has lots of intellectual property (IP) around packet processing and various aspects of embedded systems, especially communications, giving the company a broad reach into the market.

This strategic move by Freescale targets the next generation of networking and industrial type applications, so the company's new products probably won't be surfacing in the IoT for another year or so. Guenov said that their new set of devices will enable the aggregation of smart sensors, smart devices, and smart ends and bring a new set of capabilities to the cloud. The rise of IoT has led to a blurring of the traditional network edge that IT pros are familiar with.

The technology includes inputs all the way back to the data center to provide big data type analytics to help forecast trends in the data that's broadcast back from the smart devices, sensors, and end points in the field. A gateway aggregates data sent back by those sensors. According to Guenov, these devices enable you to make localized decisions about how a given action needs to be taken. He gave the example of a sensor-equipped bridge during wintertime. Sensors can determine whether there is a structural or weather condition (such as ice) on the bridge and either turn on warning signs or communicate the local conditions to another source, like a centralized management system, for further analysis and trending.

Beyond Guenov's example, the future of IoT in my eyes is going to be around making traditional infrastructure and machines smarter with the resultant business, safety, and productivity gains through connectivity, decision-making features, analytics, and control feedback that was previous out of reach.

IoT and the network edge of today

How is IoT blurring the network edge? "The network edge used to be very well defined. There were devices like access points that provided Internet or cloud access for laptops and desktop computers," Sargologos said. "And then you begin to have other devices like network-attached printers, network-attached storage devices that became nodes that were also at the edge of the network and could be communicated via a LAN remotely through the cloud."

Sargologos said a new term, "the fog," has been coined to describe the trend. "This relates to how diverse and deep the network edge is becoming because of the diversity of devices that are becoming network enabled." He mentioned a range of devices, including thermostats and dishwashers. However, we can expect to this diversity extend to network-enabling business applications for logistics and manufacturing where monitoring and analytics can benefit the overall business.

IoT in 2014 and beyond

Sargologos cited a number of areas where IoT may come into play in the future, such as control over digital signage across a network fed by servers storing content. This will enable the signage to change according to the demographics of the audience.

Your smartphone is also going to play a major role in IoT's future. After all, it carries with it so much data about your behavior and activities.

Word on the street is that IoT announcements are going to be plentiful at the 2014 CES. Freescale Semiconductor appears to be making the right moves to emerge as an IoT leader as the technology proliferates. For me, IoT's promises are still a bit too niche or pie in the sky, but I recognize the future of IoT in some backend business operations.

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By Will Kelly

Will Kelly is a freelance technical writer and analyst currently focusing on enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consumerization of IT. He has also written about cloud computing, Big Data, virtualization, project management ap...