Shrinking microcontrollers, means smaller wearable computers

Freescale reduces size of microcontrollers, a key component of Internet of Things technologies

If you want a wearable Internet of Things, the electronics have to be as small and as energy efficient as possible. That's why a new microcontroller by Freescale Semiconductor is notable.

The company has produced the Kinetis KLO3 MCU, a 32-bit ARM system that is 15% smaller than its previous iteration but with a 10% power improvement.

This microcontroller from Freescale Semiconductor is smaller than the dimple on a golf ball. (Photo: Freescale Semiconductor)

Internet of Things is a buzzword for the trend toward network-connected sensors incorporated into devices that in the past were standalone appliances. These devices use sensors to capture things like temperatures in thermostats, pressure, accelerometers, gyroscopes and other types of MEMS sensors. A microcontroller unit gives intelligence and limited computational capability to these devices, but is not a general purpose processor. One of the roles of the microcontroller is to connect the data with more sophisticated computational power.

The Kinetis KLO3 runs a lightweight embedded operating system to connect the data to other devices, such as an app that uses a more general purpose processor.

Kathleen Jachimiak, product launch manager at Freescale, said the new microcontroller will "enable further miniaturization" in connected devices. This MCU is capable of having up to 32 KB of flash memory and 2 KB of RAM.

Consumers want devices that are light, small and smart. They also want to be able to store their information and send it to an application that's either on a phone or a PC, Jachimiak said.

This microcontroller, at 1.6 x 2.0 mm, is smaller than the dimple on a golf ball, and uses a relatively new process in its manufacturing, called wafer level chip scale packaging. The process involves building the integrated package while the die is still part of a wafer. It's a more efficient process and produces the smallest possible package, for a given die size.

This article, Shrinking microcontrollers means smaller wearable computers , was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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