Observations from ARM TechCon 2016

Two weeks ago, I attended ARM TechCon, the annual developer conference showcasing the latest offerings from ARM and its partners.  There were a lot of new products (new and improved processor cores, radios and other IP), announcements with key themes around IoT (Internet of Things), mobile, security, automotive functional safety, and embedded software development.  This was the first TechCon after ARM was acquired by Softbank for $32B this summer, so there was great interest in hearing what Masayoshi Son (Chairman & CEO of Softbank) would say in his first public appearance with ARM.  Masayoshi Son talked about


connected and intelligent IoT devices enabling an explosion of new technologies, just like the Cambrian Explosion enabled thousands of new species on Earth, and suggesting that this will lead to 1 trillion IoT devices in 20 years. This will lead also to the Singularity – when machine intelligence exceeds the collective intelligence of humans. To the conference audience, this raised concerns about the possibility of conflict between humans and machines in the near future.  He also emphasized the importance of security and why it will be critical in this highly-connected IoT environment.

ARM CTO/CEO Keynotes

Mike Muller (ARM CTO) in his keynote talked about innovations in healthcare driven by ARM technologies, including polio vaccination tracking through wearables and cancer screening through smell sensors (and even a deodorant from Unilever that activates only when needed).  Simon Segars (ARM CEO) shared a perspective of IoT gleaned from data collected from over 700 businesses that provided some interesting comparisons.  In 2013, 96% of the companies surveyed believed that in three years, they would be using IoT in some way. In 2016, in a survey of the same companies, 75% believed that IoT has had some impact on their business.  This shows that the adoption of IoT is happening widely, though not at a scale that people expected.

Security Everywhere

Security was a big theme at the conference. ARM is making a big push for making ARM-based solutions more secure end-to-end–from the microcontroller to the cloud.  TrustZone security mechanisms have been part of the last several generations of ARM processors. TrustZone is hardware-based security that prevents non-secure software from accessing secure resources directly.  CoreLink SIE-200 now extends TrustZone to cover the entire the SoC.  ARM is also bringing TrustZone to microcontrollers based on the ARMv8-M architecture to secure them from attacks.  Combined with CryptoCell (which provides cryptographic services), ARM now has a very compelling hardware-based security solution.

Device Management with mbed Cloud

ARM also announced a SaaS offering to manage mbed powered devices.  This is additional to the mbed operating system that ARM offers for Cortex-M based devices.  With mbed Cloud, you can now connect, provision and update mbed devices. The mbed Cloud offering is scheduled for availability in Q1 2017.

Blockchain meets IoT

In the expo, there were quite a few demos showing blockchain with IoT use cases.  IBM showed a “smart parking” use case where blockchain was used to share parking meter data across various stakeholders (city, meter operator, customers).  Trustonic, an emerging security technology vendor, showed how blockchain can be used for Root of Trust on TrustZone-M to secure systems that have modules from third parties. Both of these blockchain demos won the best of show awards as well.

Intel @ ARM

When you see Intel presenting at the ARM conference, you know that the power center has realigned in the semiconductor universe.  Granted, it was Intel’s custom foundry group making a pitch to fabricate ARM chips, but there were quite a few Intel staff at ARM TechCon.  It helps since the conference was a stone’s throw from Intel’s headquarters in Santa Clara.  However, having ARM chips fabricated with Intel’s state-of-the-art processes will be a big benefit for end customers.

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