Freescale Unveils Smaller Controller Chip for Internet of Things

The Kinetis KL03 MCU is 15 percent smaller than its predecessor and 35 percent smaller than competitive offerings, Freescale officials say.

Freescale Semiconductor in March will begin sampling a tiny ARM-based microcontroller that company officials say will be ideal for the burgeoning Internet of things.

Introduced this week at the Embedded World Conference show, Freescale's Kinetis KL03 MCU comes in a package that is 1.6 by 2.0mm and an ARM Cortex-MO+ core that makes the microcontroller high performing and highly energy-efficient. It is 15 percent smaller than the vendor's previous generation, the Kinetis KL02, and 35 percent smaller than 32-bit ARM microcontrollers from competitors, according to Freescale officials.

The microcontroller is small enough to fit into the dimple of a golf ball, they said.

Big things are expected from the Internet of things (IoT), with IDC analysts earlier in February forecasting that the market for technologies and services in the space will grow from $4.8 trillion in 2012 to $7.3 trillion by 2017. The IoT refers to the rapid growth in the number of smart devices—from industrial machines and cars to appliances, mobile devices and surveillance cameras—that are being connected to the Internet, communicating with each other and generating massive amounts of data. Cisco Systems is predicting that the number of connected systems and things will grow to 15 billion to 25 billion by 2015, and then to 40 billion to 50 billion by 2020.

And according to researchers at the Consumer Electronics Association, those 50 million connected systems will represent only 4 percent of the things on Earth that can be connected.

These connected systems will need small, powerful and energy-efficient chips in them, according to Freescale officials. The size of the Kinetis KL03 MCU makes it a good fit for the IoT as it unfolds, including for applications in such areas as consumer devices, health care and manufacturing.

"When size is no longer a barrier to incorporating microcontrollers into edge node devices, we can start to redefine what's possible for the Internet of things," Rajeev Kumar, director of worldwide marketing and business development for Freescale's microcontrollers business, said in a statement. "We see the miniaturization of MCUs as a key driver of IoT evolution. With the groundbreaking form factors of the new Kinetis KL03, systems designers for edge node products now have the technology they need to develop entirely new product categories capable, quite literally, of changing the world."

Freescale officials expect to begin full production of the Kinetis KL03 in June.

Many chip makers are turning their attention to the potential in the IoT. Intel in September 2013 introduced its Quark line of systems-on-a-chip (SoCs), which are significantly smaller and more energy-efficient than the company's low-power Atom platform. Two months later, Intel created a business unit focused on the Internet of things. ARM in 2012 introduced the first of its Cortex-MO+ chips for the IoT, and last year bought Sensinode Oy, which made software for the IoT.

In December 2013, Broadcom introduced its ARM-based Wireless Internet Connectivity for Embedded Devices (WICED) chip platform for the IoT.

The response to the release of the Kinetis KL02 a year ago was strong, and the KL03 is meeting the demand for even smaller designs, said Kathleen Jachimiak, product manager at Freescale.

"The Kinetis mini MCUs represent the best of the MCU industry showing just what electrical engineers can do with silicon," Jachimiak said in a post on the Freescale blog. "Could things get smaller? Definitely. Smaller dies, new process technologies, finer pitch solder ball layouts. The possibilities are endless."