Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA) has been clear about why it wants to acquire top chip designer ARM Holdings from its current parent organization, Softbank Group. Nvidia has built itself into a tech powerhouse and is one of the top researchers in AI. But it sees an opportunity to turbocharge ARM’s massive ecosystem (it’s by far the largest licensor of chip designs) with Nvidia technology and offer new choices for developers to choose from. For reference, Nvidia reported last year it has some 2 million developers working with its ecosystem of products, but ARM reaches some 70% of the global population with its designs and has over 13 million developers working with ARM devices.
The chance to propel the world into a new technological era is on the line. There are already tens of billions of devices with a network connection and basic computing chip in them (a movement collectively called the “Internet of Things,” or IoT), but there could be hundreds of billions or more in the next couple of decades. A recent development from ARM could hold the key to Nvidia dominating the semiconductor field.
The key to evolving the “Internet of Things” into the “Internet of Everything”?
Traditional semiconductor circuitry is “printed” onto crystalline silicon wafers, inflexible substrates that also have certain prohibitive costs that prevent them from being applied in many everyday applications. Flexible circuitry like that used in some sensors, digital memory, batteries, etc. have been developed, but the missing piece of the puzzle has always been a flexible microprocessor — where the actual central computational power resides in a computer system.
ARM may have just come up with a solution, dubbed PlasticARM (and originally described in the research journal Nature). The chip can be printed onto flexible substrates and is capable of running software programs from its own internal memory. The FlexibleARM microprocessor was derived from ARM’s Cortex-M0+ design, often used in wearable devices like smartwatches or fitness and healthcare trackers.
PlasticARM is still being tested, but the new chip architecture could help “pioneer the development of low-cost, fully flexible smart integrated systems to enable an ‘internet of everything’ consisting of the integration of more than a trillion inanimate objects over the next decade,” according to ARM. New form factors and applications could be unlocked using this technology, from food packaging to clothing to medical devices, and to health and wellness products.
A world of accelerated computing
With the opportunity to turn hundreds of billions of everyday objects into small computing devices with new flexible chips, PlasticARM is just one reason why Nvidia made the move to take control of ARM — and why semiconductor industry participants are lining up to oppose or support the deal. If Nvidia can inject its own computing research into ARM, the possibilities for novel devices solving real-world problems could be endless. Opportunities to license PlasticARM and the other chip blueprints available from the company could spawn a wave of new growth for the computing world as it infiltrates every corner of the global economy.
Of course, the idea behind PlasticARM is to create a flexible form factor chip that’s also affordable at scale. If Nvidia’s bid for ARM is successful, the company is not likely to make money hand-over-fist with this new microprocessor design. But owning such a malleable blueprint could help Nvidia unlock new high-end computing uses for its AI-based computing specialty in the years ahead. We are witnessing the emergence of a new leader in the computing world in Nvidia, and the Internet of Everything could be right around the corner as a result.
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