Imagination Technologies, which is looking to carve a space for itself in the mobile chip space among ARM and Intel, is touting advances its MIPS-based CPUs are making in the burgeoning worlds of the Internet of things and wearable devices.
At the EE Live show in San Jose, Calif., Imagination officials unveiled a small computing platform about the size of an SD card that was created by partner Ingenic Semiconductor from China and powered by Ingenic's MIPS-based XBurst CPU. Ingenic is offering the computing board—called Newton—as a development platform for vendors that want to build small, energy-efficient wearable devices or systems for the Internet of things (IoT) that run Google's Android mobile operating system.
Imagination officials said wearable devices and IoT are markets that the company can take advantage of by offering vendors low-power systems-on-a-chip (SoC) designs and other technologies they can leverage to create products.
"To reach the incredible volumes predicted by analysts, SoCs for wearable devices and IoT must be designed from the ground-up," Kevin Kitagawa, director of strategic marketing at Imagination, wrote in a post on the company's blog April 1. "Working with our partners, Imagination is enabling the design of new chips that extend battery life, enhance data and device security and feature the right CPU, graphics, video and multi-standard connectivity solutions. We're also focused on building the needed standards, operating environments, and other ecosystem technologies to support these chips."
The markets for the IoT and wearable devices are expected to grow rapidly over the next few years, and most tech companies—including Intel and ARM—are putting a lot of effort and money behind growing their portfolios in those areas. IDC analysts forecast that IoT technology and services revenues will grow from $4.8 trillion in 2012 to $7.3 trillion by 2017. Meanwhile, Berg Insight analysts have said the number of wearable devices—from smart glasses to smartwatches—shipped will jump from 8.3 million units in 2012 to 64 million in 2017.
Intel later this year is expected to launch Edison, a development platform based on its Atom chips that device makers and software programmers can leverage to develop products for the wearable device and IoT markets. The chip maker also is building out its Quark family of small SoCs aimed at those spaces.
For its part, ARM offers SoC designs for the IoT, including the Cortex-MO+ chip. ARM last year also bought Sensinode Oy, which made software for the IoT. Company officials have said the IoT is a natural fit for ARM's architecture, which is found in most smartphones and tablets on the market today.
Imagination in 2012 spent $100 million for MIPS Technologies' chip business, with plans to extend its reach into the mobile device space. In October 2013, the company unveiled a design for a 32-bit six-core MIPS processor—dubbed the Series5 "Warrior" chips—for embedded, mobile and consumer devices. More 32- and 64-bit designs are expected, officials have said.
Ingenic's Newton is an example of how the MIPS architecture can be used, according to Imagination spokesman Alexandru Voica. The development board features not only the MIPS-based CPU, but also a dedicated two-dimensional graphics engine, connectivity via Bluetooth, WiFi, near-field communication (NFC) and FM, sensors and memory.
"The Ingenic Newton platform has been designed to fit in devices about the size of a quarter dollar coin (21.6mm x 38.4mm), targeting markets such as wearables, IoT, healthcare, home appliances, security, industrial control, consumer electronics and many more," Voica wrote in a post on the Imagination blog.
Others also are leveraging MIPS architecture, according to Imagination's Kitagawa. He pointed to Ineda, an SoC maker that is using various Imagination cores in its low-power Wearable Processing Units (WPUs) aimed at such devices as fitness bands, smartwatches and IoT systems. The WPUs leverage MIPS CPUs as well as Imagination's PowerVR graphics engines.
Imagination also is among a number of tech vendors—including Intel and ARM partners Qualcomm and Samsung—on the list of partners in Google's Android Wear wearable device initiative, announced in March.
Along with the Warrior CPUs and PowerVR GPUs, Imagination also is touting for the IoT its Ensigma Series4 Explorer radio communications processors for integrating broadcast communications capabilities into SoCs, FlowCloud platform for development and management of device-to-device and device-to-cloud applications, and PowerVR Series5 video processors.