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Analysis and comment on all matters pertaining to the supply chain and distribution of electronics components from Richard Wilson, editor of Electronics Weekly

Can ARM’s Cortex-M3 processor save the planet?

Those clever guys at ARM in Cambridge seem to have come up with another winner with the Cortex-M3 processor core. Not only are the big name licensees, such as NXP, Toshiba and TI, developing new lower power silicon based on the 32-bit Cortex-M3 core, but the really interesting thing is that the core is also defining a whole new business for a couple of newer companies. That puts it in the same sentence with 8051 and x86. But with a difference. These comapnies want to use Cortex-M3 to create new types of energy-friendly MCUs and so save the planet in the process.

For some time now Luminary Micro has based its business designing and selling low power microcontrollers on the ARM Cortex-M3 core. And now to Luminary Micro’s Stellaris MCU family we will soon be able to add the name EnergetIC. This is the name of the low power MCU being developed by Energy Micro of Oslo. Energy Micro has signed a licensing agreement for the ARM Cortex-M3 processor, which will become the technology for it proposed range of low power MCUs. Energy Micro is the brain-child of a group of former executives from Chipcon, a wireless silicon company which was acquired by TI for $200m in 2006. According to company CEO Geir Førre, he has established a team of technical and commercial managers and analogue and digital IC designers. “We are looking to add more energetic, talented and brave men and women that want to make a big impact in a great company,” says Førre. The company is planning to release the first series of EnergetIC microcontrollers in the second quarter 2009. The founders and early employees have invested around $1.5m in start-up capital. “We target to fund the company development ourselves during the first two years of operations. Thereafter we will invite external investors to participate in Energy Micro. All new employees will also be offered stocks in the company, at a level that really matters,” says Førre. Let’s not forget Luminary Micro, who were there first and which has just introduced no fewer than 30 new MCUs all based on Cortex-M3. The steady move to 32-bit microcontrollers and the world’s new emphasis on energy-efficiency is the basis of the business plans for both these companies. “Our 10 year goal is to establish over a 1% market share in a market that today is worth more than $15bn and growing more than 5% per year,” says Førre. Which is good news for those clever guys in Cambridge, who find themselves in the right place at the right time.

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