MIPS is bringing intelligence to everyday things

As Imagination’s Director of Technology PR, I spend most of my time writing about high-performance platforms for connected consumer electronics, networking and smartphones. It’s usually all about multiprocessing, multicore, multithreading, 1 GHz+ frequencies, and so on. But there are some really interesting things happening at the other end of the spectrum too—right around the 80 MHz range.

MIPS licensee Microchip Technology recently joined with its partner Digilent to introduce the new chipKIT™ platform. According to the press release, this is “the first 32-bit-microcontroller-based, open-source development platform that is compatible with Arduino hardware and software.” According to the release, hobbyists and academics can use it to easily and inexpensively integrate electronic functionality into their projects, even if they don’t have an electronic-engineering background.


That sounds great! But for those non-hobbyists and non-academics among us, what does this mean for MIPS and for the industry at large?

Let’s start with the basics. An Arduino board is an open-source microcontroller (MCU) board and software development platform used for programming the board. Hobbyists, artists, designers, academics and other folks use it to for building electronic and interactive functionality into… well… just about anything.

A feature on Hacknmod talks about some of the coolest Arduino projects—from a guitar pedal to a Wiimote-controlled espresso machine to a miniature pocket piano to a “wall-avoiding robot.” If you can dream it, clearly Arduino strives to help your vision become reality.

The one drawback is that, to-date, these boards have been based around 8-bit MCUs. The new chipKIT boards are based on Microchip’s 32-bit PIC32 MCUs, powered by the MIPS32 architecture.

The difference between 8-bit and 32-bit comes down to one thing: more! More performance, more memory, more advanced peripherals and functionally; you get the idea. Plus chipKIT boards are lower cost than existing 8-bit Arduino boards.

Back to the press release: “Not only is chipKIT the first Arduino-compatible platform to provide 32-bit performance, but Microchip’s PIC32 microcontroller is also the highest performance 32-bit microcontroller in its class, featuring the industry-leading MIPS32® M4K® core from Imagination Technologies.”

The press release also says that the new platform provides “four times the performance of any existing Arduino solution.”

So, what difference does all this performance make?

What we are talking about here is adding intelligence to everyday objects. This higher level of performance means support for new functionality, connectivity, and interfaces that will enable the most mundane of objects to become more than they are today. As you look around you, think about what the addition of some electronic circuitry and connectivity could mean for the items on your desk. I don’t know what I would do with an intelligent stapler, but I am sure someone out there can figure out how to make such a thing relevant.

The bigger implication here is about the growing connectedness and intelligence of things, and the impact this will have on our lives. We talk a lot about connected TVs and tablets and smartphones. But its not just communications and entertainment devices that are becoming Internet-connected and interconnected. Higher-performance microprocessors and open operating systems like Android have the potential to being new meaning and purpose to just about anything.

So this is where the story gets even more interesting. Another recent announcement from Microchip is about its new Accessory Development Kits for Android. The 32-bit version of these kits will be available shortly. According to Microchip, potential applications include automotive (e.g. car kits, audio and GPS); home products such as audio docks, remote controls and data backup; health products such as glucose meters and fitness equipment, and business applications such as credit-card terminals and projectors.

The Android Accessory Kit development boards feature a USB connector, a programming user interface and… guess what? They also include standard connectors for Arduino daughter cards.

The marriage of an Arduino board with Android is really an exciting prospect.

I can’t wait to see what developers do with all of these new tools. Through our work with Microchip, a leading provider of MCUs, and our Android on MIPS initiative, MIPS is at the center of some very cool things. Visit the Microchip website to learn more about the $27 chipKIT and the Accessory Development Kits for Android.

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