Creating next-generation chips from the ground-up for wearables and IoT

There has been a lot of momentum lately around Imagination’s initiatives and technologies focused on creating a new generation of chips built specifically for IoT and wearable use cases. We thought we’d take a moment to fill you in.

The problem

Today, low-end IoT devices and wearables typically use multiple general purpose chips to achieve microcontroller, sensor and radio functionality, leading to expensive, compromised solutions. At the high end, devices such as smartwatches use existing smartphone chips, leading to overpowered, expensive devices.

The solution from Imagination

To reach the incredible volumes predicted by analysts, SoCs for wearable devices and IoT must be designed from the ground-up. Working with our partners, Imagination is enabling the design of new chips that extend battery life, enhance data and device security and feature the right CPU, graphics, video and multi-standard connectivity solutions. We’re also focused on building the needed standards, operating environments, and other ecosystem technologies to support these chips.

Imagination is proud to already have our IP in such SoCs, and our customers are giving us great feedback on our wearables roadmap. Together with industry initiatives such as the AllSeen Alliance or the cool new Android Wear from Google, and key partners including Ineda Systems, Ingenic Semiconductor, Microchip Technology and others, we are taking a leading role in building the ecosystems and technologies needed for a new generation of SoCs.

Extending battery life

With the always-on requirement for sensors in most wearables and IoT devices, together with their tiny form factors, battery life is a more critical concern for designers than ever before. Using power and area efficient silicon IP is therefore a must.

In wearable and IoT applications that require a CPU, an intelligent hierarchy of CPUs optimized for specific tasks can lead to extremely low power consumption. For example, an SoC can use a MIPS CPU such as a new Warrior M-class core, which achieves the highest CoreMark/MHz scores for MCU-class processors, to perform the function of monitoring sensors and also to manage the connectivity peripherals. When the SoC needs to process or analyze data, the system can wake up other CPUs in the system to perform their dedicated tasks. Such an implementation offers key benefits for extending battery life in wearables and IoT devices.

Ineda, a developer of low-power SoCs, is uniting various Imagination IP cores in its ultra-low power Wearable Processing Units (WPUs) designed to reduce power consumption in a variety of devices, including fitness bands, smartwatches and IoT. With unique combinations of Imagination’s MIPS CPUs and highly efficient PowerVR GPUs, the new Ineda WPUs represent one of the first SoC architectures built specifically for this new generation of devices.

Ineda Systems WPUs for wearables - MIPS, PowerVRIneda Systems’ WPUs will address the wearable platforms from a ground-up manner

Enhancing security

As more and more devices are connected to the cloud and each other, security becomes an ever-growing concern. Imagination has the right IP for public key infrastructure and crypto functions needed to provide trusted execution environments, secure boot, secure code updates, key protection, device authentication and IP/transport layer data security to transmit data to the cloud. Virtualization and security features across the range of MIPS Series5 Warrior CPU cores make them ideal for meeting next-generation security needs.

In space-constrained, low-power systems such as IoT or wearable devices, a virtualization based approach could be used to implement a multiple-guest environment where one guest running a real-time kernel manages the secure transmission of sensor data, while another guest, under RTOS control, can provide the multimedia capabilities of the system. For applications that demand an even higher level of security, the new MIPS Warrior M-class cores include tamper resistant features that provide countermeasures to unwanted access to the processor operating state. A secure debug feature increases the benefit by preventing external debug probes from accessing and interrogating the core internals.

 MIPS M5100 - hardware virtualizationMIPS M51xx CPUs support multiple guest operating systems

Driving new ecosystems and standardization efforts

Due to small device size, as well as a new and different functionality required in emerging IoT and wearable devices, much of the device and infrastructure ecosystems will be different than what’s needed for smartphones and other connected products. This includes standards in the areas of APIs, device-to-device communications, data analytics, device authentication, low-power connectivity and protocols, and even operating environments, which are critical to driving consumer and industry adoption.

At Imagination we are partnering with Google and other industry players on Android Wear, a project that extends Android to wearables, beginning with smartwatches. Already a strong player in the Android ecosystem, MIPS is one of the three CPU architectures fully supported by Google in each Android release, including the latest Android 4.4 KitKat.

Android Wear - developer preview

Images from the Android Wear Developer Preview site

To drive ecosystem development for IoT, we’ve also recently joined the AllSeen Alliance, which has been formed to create an open, universal development framework to drive the widespread adoption of products, systems and services that support IoT. The goal is to enable companies and individuals to create interoperable products that can discover, connect and interact directly with other nearby devices, systems and services regardless of transport layer, device type, platform, operating system or brand.

Imagination’s own application-independent FlowCloud technology platform enables rapid construction and management of M2M connected services. Designed to address the needs of emerging IoT and cloud-connected devices, FlowCloud enables easy product registration and updates as well as access to partner-enabled services including FlowAudio, a cloud-based music and radio service that includes hundreds of thousands of radio stations, on-demand programs, podcasts and more. Imagination intends for FlowCloud to be easily integrated with products using the AllSeen Alliance framework.

FlowCloud - a technology platform designed for IoT Imagination’s FlowCloud enables device-centric services including registration, security, storage, notifications, updates and remote control

Flexible, multi-standard connectivity

Wearables and IoT devices today use existing connectivity standards, such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth LE (Low Energy), but new standards, such as ultra-low power Wi-Fi extensions, are still in development. This means that choosing future-proofed, flexible solutions is a must for companies who want to create a product today that will still be viable when new standards are ratified.

Imagination’s programmable, multi-standard Ensigma radio processors (RPUs) can accommodate such emerging standards with a powerful and uniquely optimized balance of programmability and hardware configurability, delivering impressive functionality in compact silicon area.

 Ensigma Series4 Explorer RPU - Wi-Fi Bluetooth FM Combo IPEnsigma Series4 RPU are designed to provide multi-standard connectivity

 The right IP for the application

Imagination’s IP is already integrated into wearable and IoT products that are shipping today. This includes a number of smartwatches that leverage the MIPS architecture and smart glasses with PowerVR graphics and video.

SpeedUp smartwatch - powered by MPS

Imagination’s IP is already integrated into wearable products such as the SpeedUp Smartwatch, the world’s first Android 4.4 KitKat smartwatch

For example, Ingenic Semiconductor is offering a new MIPS-based IoT development platform called Newton. The Ingenic Newton platform integrates a MIPS-based XBurst CPU, multimedia (2D graphics, multi-standard VPU) low-power memory (mobile DDR3/DDR2/LPDDR and flash) 4-in-1 connectivity (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, FM) and various sensors on a single board around the size of an SD card (find out more about Ingenic Newton here).

In addition, MIPS-based 32-bit PIC32MZ MCUs from Microchip Technology are ideal for a number of wearable and IoT applications.

For designers of next-generation SoCs, Imagination’s broad IP portfolio offers scalable solutions for their specific application. This includes our MIPS Series5 Warrior CPUs including the new MIPS M-class M51xx cores, PowerVR Rogue GPUs including the PowerVR G6050, Ensigma Series4 Explorer RPUs with solutions for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth LE and more, PowerVR Series5 video processors (VPUs), PowerVR Raptor imaging processor cores, our unique Caskeid audio synchronization technology, and of course FlowCloud.

Make sure you follow Imagination on Twitter (@ImaginationPR, @MIPSGuru) for the latest news and announcements from the wearable ecosystem.

 

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