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Silicon Labs Buys Maker of Real-Time Operating Systems

Silicon Labs said on Monday that it had acquired operating system maker Micrium in an effort to provide software that controls tiny connected devices, ranging from smart thermostats to industrial sensors.

Silicon Labs designs the microcontrollers and wireless chips required to link devices with the Internet of Things. The acquisition, the company said in a statement, will help “simplify IoT design for all developers” by wrapping together its chips with Micrium’s embedded software.

The deal is Silicon Labs’ third acquisition in the last two years related to the Internet of Things. In 2015, it acquired wireless module supplier Bluegiga Technologies for $61.5 million and Telegesis, a maker of mesh networking modules for everything from medical devices to smart toasters. While the company’s recent deals have broadened its wireless offerings, the latest move is focused on technology that gives instructions to devices.

“IoT products are increasingly defined by software,” said Daniel Cooley, senior vice president of Silicon Labs’ IoT products, in a statement. “Explosive growth of memory and processor capabilities in low-end embedded products is driving a greater need for RTOS software in connected device applications.”

Founded in 1999, Micrium develops real-time operating systems and has ported them to more than 50 microcontroller architectures. Their software has been downloaded more than 250,000 times, according to a statement. The company is headquartered in Weston, Florida.

Silicon Labs said that it will continue selling Micrium software to developers using hardware from other companies. But Silicon Labs also said that it would customize the software for its own wireless chips. This will allow developers using Silicon Labs hardware to add applications instead of having a second microcontroller act as a host processor.

Real-time operating systems differ from the general-purpose software giving instructions to laptops and smartphones. In a general-purpose operating system, multiple programs – like the web browser and word processor that this reporter has open now – can run simultaneously. The OS divides processing power between different applications.

Real-time operating systems are more regimented. They typically devote an entire computer's processing power to the most important task, before moving onto other jobs. That allows the operating system to run tasks with very precise timing and reliability, which is especially important in things like automated factories and cars. A small timing error could force factories to shut down or airbags to deploy too early or late.

In recent years, selling chips for the Internet of Things has become a large part of Silicon Labs’ business. In the second quarter of this year, the company said that IoT sales grew to $76.7 million, which accounted for 44% of the company’s entire revenue.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed. Jean Labrosse, Micrium's founder and chief executive, will join Silicon Labs' executive ranks.

William Wong contributed reporting.

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