New processor to enable ‘net capable appliances

by James Meikle

Semiconductor research and design company Arm Holdings has just released details of its latest innovation: the world’s most energy efficient microprocessor design. They hope that these new chips will lead to a technology revolution and pave the way for a generation of internet enabled appliances from traffic lights to fridges and stethoscopes to light switches.

The new Cortex-M0+ chips (codenamed: flycatcher) are tiny; measuring less than 1mm squared, but still allow 32-bit processing power meaning they could handle much more sophisticated tasks than their predecessor; the Cortex-M0. They also use only two thirds of the power when running processor intensive tasks.

While the power use stats of the chips when in use are impressive, it’s another feature which should allow the chips to run off a small battery for years. The chips have been designed with a small piece of logic which controls how they access flash memory, meaning significant power savings through only accessing flash when they need to. The other main efficiency feature is that while in sleep mode they draw virtually no power.

Oh, and by the way, they will cost about 20 cents to manufacture.

When it comes to enabling a plethora of different devices to connect to the net all this lovely efficiency, processing ability and cheapness should open many hitherto closed doors. It’s very likely that you’re soon going to see loads of random devices connecting to the net, but is this necessarily a good thing?

If you’ve read many of my posts you may have noticed that I get a little worried about the prospect of AI and robots turning on humanity and attempting to wipe us out. So when I got to thinking about the prospect of damned near all the electrical appliances I have connecting to the net, I was not a happy tinfoil-hat-wearing bunny. Basically it raises the prospect of an advanced form of artificial intelligence (i.e. Skynet) conspiring to kill you through the use of seemingly innocuous devices. Here are just a few of the scenarios that were running through my addled mind:

Traffic lights, all green = major carnage.
You’ve got a potentially life threatening illness which could be easily remedied if treated early, but the bloody stethoscope tells the doctor you’re tickety-boo.
Your fridge just keeps ordering chocolate ice-cream online, then when you’re so fat you can barely walk your mobility scooter drives you off a cliff.
This may seem like nonsense to you at the moment and you can laugh all you want, just don’t come crying to me when you’re butt-naked being chased around the house by your robot vacuum cleaner.

Can you imagine any scenarios where seemingly innocuous internet connected appliances could try to kill you? If so, we’d really like you to warn us in the comments section.

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