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(Image courtesy of Kenmainr, Creative Commons).

Arm Turns to Software to Unsnarl the Internet of Things

Over the last decade, Arm has surrounded its operating system for Internet of Things devices, Mbed, with software for security and connectivity as well as managing, provisioning and updating firmware over the cloud. On Monday, the company said that this Mbed platform was in use by more than 300,000 developers, up about 30 percent over the last year.

The numbers open a window into the company’s progress in the Internet of Things market. Arm, which designs chips based on its low power architecture, has been trying to help engineers with device management, security and other challenges that it says have stunted the deployment of billions and billions of devices, ranging from factory sensors and smart thermometers.

Arm is putting its stamp on more of the software running on the more than 100 billion chips based on its blueprints and shipped since the company was founded almost three decades ago. The company, which is owned by Japanese conglomerate Softbank, has partnered with over 80 companies, including IBM’s Watson business unit and security firm GlobalSign, to build new capabilities into the Mbed platform.

"As organizations continue to shift to Industry 4.0 – the trend towards automation and smart manufacturing – efficiently managing the devices in their IoT deployment can make all the difference," said Dipesh Patel, president of Arm's IoT services group, in a statement. "Mbed is uniquely positioned to support these industrial organizations by breaking down the barriers to IoT adoption."

Arm introduced Mbed – a real-time operating system that supports more precise timing and reliability than general purpose software in personal computers and smartphones – in 2009. Most of these operating systems are built for 8-bit and 16-bit microcontrollers, but Arm focused on 32-bit chips that could be used in things like factory robots or automobiles.

The company’s roots in the embedded industry have helped put the operating system into more hands. Around nine percent of Internet of Things engineers use Mbed, according to a recent report from the Eclipse Foundation. On the other hand, the FreeRTOS operating system is employed by 20 percent, up from 13 percent two years ago.

Other companies are paying homage to Arm’s mbed strategy. Microsoft has designed an Arm-based microcontroller for Internet of Things devices and packaged it with an operating system and software platform, called Azure Sphere. The cloud service ensures that the embedded chips only run official firmware. It also automatically pushes out and installs security patches.

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