Tech Pro Research

Last week, news broke that IBM is working on a new microcontroller that will support the ultra-small electromechanical systems that are often used for ubiquitous Internet of Things applications. Among those applications is powering IoT devices such as smart lights, sensors, and traffic lights. The technology would also have potential for commercial applications in autonomous driving.

IBM’s microcontroller chip is only a few grams or less in weight and a mere seven millimeters across. They say this is an indicator of how much an internal circuit board can shrink with the rate of emerging and mainstream implementation of these energy-efficient systems. But how will the company make sure it keeps up with Moore’s Law as the IoT computer market heats up?

This week’s IOT teardown by tech research firm Tech Pro Research lets us discover just how much of a pocket change is required for an embedded microcontroller microcontroller. On paper, you have to imagine that this small chip has a lot of components, like a battery, antenna, serial interface, logic, and other so-called “bios”. But the analysis by Tech Pro reveals that despite some 4,700 possible products, these components came to only 1,293, well below the 140 different power options given as the total number of potential device components.

“This means that the internal structure of the microcontroller chip must be very carefully designed,” said Tech Pro Research Senior Analyst Clement Ng. “In the most mundane commercial implementation, for example, once the microcontroller chip is embedded in the enclosure it must continue to function properly. It must be redesigned as the device’s requirements change. We can see in this teardown that the microcontroller chip contains not only the microcontroller, memory controller, and communication protocols but also all the obtrusive ‘bios’ components, i.e. LED, antenna, power sensing, and so on. These obtrusive elements can account for about 20 percent of the total electronics components needed to make a computer chip.”

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