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What the ARM M4 Chip Means for Your Fridge, Microwave, and Breadmaker

arm cortex m4

ARM's just pulled the veil off its Cortex M4 low-power microcontroller CPUs. They're tiny, super-smart, and they might just be responsible for making your next refrigerator or dryer a much more eco-friendly machine.

I just did a quick count of how many CPUs are in devices I can see without moving from my office chair. It's nine, and I'm probably missing a few: Some are in my laptop and iPhone, of course, but many are in things you wouldn't necessarily think about—like the DSLR on my desk and the laser printer on the shelf. A stroll into my kitchen would probably add another nine, in the washing machine, breadmaker, and so on.

These latter gizmos are precisely what ARM is targeting with its M4 microcontrollers—the small, dedicated computing devices that basically make your home appliances, or simpler portable gadgets, actually work. ARM's stated intent is to essentially smarten up these devices even more, with a tiny sliver of ARM-designed silicon that's probably overpowered for the device's basic purpose, but which leverages the extra computing power to actually improve the electrical performance/efficiency of the device. The upshot is that your gizmos can be slightly cleverer and slightly more eco-friendly. And ARM's chips themselves are famous for their low power consumption.

A device like a fridge, equipped with an ARM-controlled cooling system, could connect over a network to tweak its cooling efficiency on a more intelligent basis than a simple on-off thermostat. An ARM-powered MP3 player would probably consume fractionally less power than a non-ARM one, which extends its battery life, requiring less charging and less burden on the electricity company (its no surprise, of course, that the new Apple A4 chip inside the iPad is supposedly ARM-based, giving it its prodigious battery lifespan.) Of course ARM-powered home appliances, equipped with BlueTooth, Wi-fi or over-power-lines networking are also absolutely the sort of tech needed to make Smart Grid and Smart Power Meter solutions work.