Mohamed Awad, VP of Arm’s IoT Business, discusses Arm’s vision for its IoT business with Neil Tyler.

In the past five years Arm has shipped over 100 billion chips for applications including smart healthcare, industrial robotics and the connected home. Today it is well positioned to help drive both innovation and adoption when it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT).

According to Mohamed Awad, VP of Arm’s IoT Business, however, there is still a lot to be done in terms of the development, deployment and monetisation of IoT devices, as well as a broader ecosystem, that will help to unlock value and enable developers to focus on innovation.

“Looking at the IoT, there’s still much to be done when it comes to addressing all of these issues. It’s going to require a multi-year effort to deliver on the promises that have been made.

“Over the years, we’ve talked at length about the IoT and today our focus is on connecting numerous ‘intelligent’ endpoints to an infrastructure and, as a consequence, creating and generating real and actionable insight from each one. From smart healthcare to remote monitoring, from industrial robotics to the connected home we are, in many respects, still at the beginning of this revolution in connectivity,” Awad suggested.

When intelligent devices are connected to an infrastructure, new challenges will emerge. What is done with the data that is generated and how do you glean meaningful insights are, Awad pointed out, just a few of the challenges.

“There’s already some intelligence at the edge but we are now actively connecting smart devices to an infrastructure. Once they are connected to a broader network we then need to take into account a range of issues from managing updates to adding new workloads to devices - these are new concepts for endpoints that will need to be addressed.”

The reality, according to Awad, is that it will take many years and numerous steps, and miss-steps, to get these devices in place and delivering actionable data.

“Some industries have been moving faster than others,” he conceded, “and while there is a lot to do, there have certainly been some successes.”

IoT everywhere

To many covering this field it does seem like we’ve been talking about the IoT and its impact for a very long time. While Awad agreed, he believes that what we are now seeing is far greater sophistication when it comes to the IoT – with a host of “weird and wonderful things” now becoming available.

“A lot has been achieved but when you look at the IoT today it’s about combining the intelligence of all end-points and that’s really what has changed. Before it was about a limited amount of insight from one device – and while there’s some value in that, the real value comes from AI type intelligence from many connected devices.”

Awad expects that endpoint AI (IoT endpoint devices locally processing data into actionable insights) will accelerate the value generated from the IoT and, in turn, will help to drive much greater adoption with the mass deployment of efficient and intelligent endpoint AI.

That’s the stage Awad argues we are at but it’s not something, he concedes, that will be easy to achieve.

So Arm is aiming to, “simplify that vision and make it easier to generate insights from those intelligent endpoints - the broader ecosystem needs to be able to create and unlock that value so people can focus on innovating new applications,” said Awad.

“Arm is looking to leverage its AI capabilities and to unleash a number of technology enhancements to accelerate IoT development.”

Awad highlighted three important updates that Arm has recently announced: these include expanding the endpoint AI capabilities of the Arm Flexible Access portfolio with the inclusion of the Arm Cortex-M55 and Ethos-U55; a new Roadmap Guarantee for Arm Flexible Access customers and increased focus on software investment in order to simplify development and, “unleash the potential of Arm’s diverse IoT ecosystem.”

While the development of endpoint AI will help to accelerate the value generated from IoT and drive much greater adoption, “It will need to be delivered at a cost point and within a power budget that enables mass deployment that’s delivered both efficiently and cost effectively.”

To deliver on this, last year Arm introduced the industry’s first microNPU, the Ethos-U55, and the Cortex-M55 microcontroller.

“These devices, along with the recently unveiled Ethos-U65, bring the same capability to higher performance points and extend microNPU applicability to Cortex-A based systems.”

Arm has also looked to accelerate endpoint AI deployments by expanding its Flexible Access portfolio to include both Cortex-M55 and Ethos-U55, giving its partners much greater freedom to explore, experiment and design with products, “without any up-front license costs,” added Awad.

The launch of the Flexible Access programme in 2019 has seen more than 100 companies, from start-ups to established semiconductor companies signing up – many of which are first-time Arm silicon partners.

According to Awad as more companies join the programme so Arm will look to evolve it further.

“We need to ensure they have the confidence to develop the long-term roadmaps their IoT solutions will require, so we have introduced the Roadmap Guarantee for Flexible Access.

"The Roadmap Guarantee ensures that Arm will continue to offer the CPUs included in the Flexible Access portfolio for five years, and Arm has committed itself to adding future Cortex-M and Ethos-U products to the Flexible Access programme shortly after they come to market.

The work being undertaken by Arm is also to the benefit of the software developer ecosystem.

“We are committed to making the software development experience on Arm as seamless and simple as possible, alongside embedded edge and endpoint devices,” said Awad.

According to Awad, Arm’s ecosystem will remain focused on ensuring all of the varied and evolving workloads are portable, maintainable, and easily deployed across devices and operating systems and will be able to seamlessly connect to any cloud service.

“Efforts like Project Cassini, which is an open, standards-based initiative looks to deliver a cloud-native software experience across a secure Arm edge ecosystem.

“We’ve talked about the ‘weird’ and ‘wonderful’ devices that the IoT is creating, but that makes it very difficult to develop the necessary software to support them, especially without prior knowledge of the device. It can be a real challenge if only a limited number of developers can engage easily with a specific platform.”

Arm is now focused on expanding collaborations with a host of partners to deliver a unified and streamlined AI experience for developers.

Awad concluded, “Arm technology had a particularly important role in enabling the smartphone revolution that has changed the way we use technology forever.

“When it comes to the IoT, Arm is once again about enabling innovation and allowing people to build on the opportunities it affords and delivering more from accelerating the IoT revolution.”