Arm virtual hardware could change IoT economics

  • October 20, 2021
  • Steve Rogerson

Softbank’s UK chip design subsidiary Arm this week unveiled an approach to IoT design that it believes will lay the foundation for a new IoT economy.

Called Total Solutions for IoT, it could simplify and modernise software development, resulting in accelerated time to market for developers, OEMs and service providers at all stages of the IoT value chain and a reduction in product design cycles by up to two years.

“Through a radical change in how systems are designed, Arm is uniquely positioned to fuel a new IoT economy that rivals the shape, speed and size of the smartphone industry’s app economy,” said Mohamed Awad, vice president of IoT at Arm. “Arm Total Solutions for IoT changes the way we’re delivering key technology to the entire ecosystem and demonstrates our significant and ongoing investment in the software that will empower developers to innovate for global impact.”

Built on the foundations of Arm Corstone, a validated and integrated subsystem that has accelerated time to market for more than 150 designs from Arm silicon partners, Total Solutions for IoT introduces virtual hardware targets for software developers, OEMs and service providers. This cloud-based offering delivers a virtual model of the Corstone subsystem to enable software development without the need for physical silicon.

Virtual hardware brings modern agile software development methods such as continuous integration and continuous deployment (CICD), devops and MLops to IoT and embedded platforms, without having to invest in complex hardware farms.

With accurate models of Arm-based SoCs providing mechanisms for simulating memory, peripherals and more, development and testing of software are now possible before silicon availability. This can reduce a typical product design cycle from an average of five years to as little as three years. It allows Arm silicon partners to gain customer feedback for chips before tape out, while enabling the entire IoT value chain to develop and test code on the latest IP well ahead of silicon availability.

Arm Virtual Hardware is available on AWS Marketplace and Arm partners are already using it to innovate faster and accelerate their time to market.

The package provides a complete way to design for specific use-cases, leaving developers to focus on innovation and differentiation across diverse applications and devices. It has everything needed to simplify the design process and streamline product development, including hardware IP, software, machine learning (ML) models, tools such as the virtual hardware targets, application specific reference code, and support from Arm’s IoT ecosystem.

The first configuration is available now and addresses general-purpose compute and ML workload use-cases, including an ML-based keyword recognition example. Available today are virtual hardware targets for multiple configurations of the Arm Corstone-300 subsystem from Arm SoC partners, incorporating the Cortex-M55 processor and Ethos-U55 MicroNPU.

To allow industry players to leverage the software and services they invest in across the widest range of platforms, Arm is also introducing Project Centauri. Project Centauri aims to achieve for the Cortex-M software ecosystem what Project Cassini does for the Cortex-A ecosystem, by delivering a set of device and platform standards, as well as reference implementations for device boot, security and cloud integration.

The Project Centauri APIs include support for PSA-certified and Open-CMSIS-CDI, a standard cloud-to-device specification that reduces the effort required to enable different cloud offerings and real-time operating systems. This should reduce engineering costs, accelerate time to market, enable IoT deployments at scale and improve security across the Cortex-M ecosystem.

To date, Arm partners have shipped more than 70 billion Cortex-M based devices and show no sign of slowing, as chips for IoT are expected to have an average CAGR of nearly 15 per cent to 2026, according to Mordor Intelligence. To address this growth, Arm is focused on ensuring its ecosystem is at the forefront of accelerating IoT innovation by making Arm IP increasingly accessible to companies of all sizes through Total Solutions for IoT and programmes such as Arm Flexible Access.

Arm says this represents the beginning of a new era for IoT, one of true software and hardware system-level co-design.