Freescale’s New Dime

By Adam Lotia

Freescale announced a new small single module chip (SMC) yesterday that is the size of a dime. The new chip contains a dual core processor, a dedicated graphics processing unit (GPU) and can be configured with up to 2 gigabytes of RAM.

Freescale claims the new chip, the i.MX 6 Dual, can be capable of running 3D graphics for applications such as gaming that have high graphics processing needs. The chip can be pre-loaded with either Linux or Android for development and application needs.

Now as a constant tinkerer, this is something I hope to get my hands on to see where this will take the IoT next. Freescale mentions in their press release that wearable technologies as the primary use for this chip; I think this is the quick easy win but not the real application. What I’m more curious about is where this will take the industrial IoT space and the healthcare industry.

With industrial the smaller the chip, the less power needed. That is key for lots of industrial remote needs where power becomes an issue. Many of the solutions that are out on the market can only last for a limited amount of time before the battery needs to be replaced, which can cut the actual machine’s useful life out in the field. In this case, with longer battery life and smaller module size, with just as much if not more horsepower, a machine can intelligently do the defined job for longer periods of time; saving money and possibly do more. Take, for example, something as simple as tracking. Asset tracking, as we know, is currently one of the largest areas for IoT, so battery life and size of the tracker makes a huge difference in how well the asset can be tracked and for how long. With Freescale’s new SMC, now assets can not only be tracked for longer, but also collect more critical data from more sensors like temperature, gyroscope, accelerometer and light sensors.

On the healthcare side, we are seeing the same needs as the industrial, but the interesting bits are the encryption capabilities put onto the i.MX6 SCM chip. The medical field may have the same needs as the industrial IoT, the data being processed for patients’ confidentiality needs to be encrypted to meet standards like HIPAA. More frequently we are relying on devices to diagnose and help treat patients—this chip would be an interesting core to some of the new diagnostic tools coming out in the field, like a connected home kit that could measure patients’ vitals for a remote doctor or nurse to manage treatment. In this way home healthcare can be managed in a much more proactively, where the remote patients’ data can specify the urgency of care needed.

While this new chip is exciting and has potential to enable improved IoT tech, is this going to drastically change the market? No, I’d say this is on par for what we will continue to see in the IoT space, and what we will start to see in regards to more powerful processing within smaller and smaller form factors. The smaller form factors, like this chip, will also specialize in doing specific instruction sets well, rather than for running full on computers. Instead, these form factors will run specific applications like wearable technologies, industrial control devices, or connected vehicle components. I can’t wait to see where the industry moves to next.