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Freescale's Internet-of-things controller chip cut down to size

Need an electronic brain for your keychain computer? Freescale's KL03, half the size of a golf ball dimple and costing 75 cents, might be just the thing.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read
Freescale Semiconductor's Kinetis KL03 processor, shown here nestled inside a dimple of a golf ball.
Freescale Semiconductor's Kinetis KL03 processor, shown here nestled inside a dimple of a golf ball. Freescale Semiconductor

BARCELONA, Spain -- Freescale Semiconductor, a maker of small processors called microcontrollers, has a tinier new one it hopes will help companies jump aboard the "Internet of things" bandwagon.

The microchips used in computers cost tens, hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars. But the Kinetis KL03 is an entirely different class for devices that aren't nearly so big and brawny: it measures just 1.6x2.0mm and costs 75 cents -- for customers buying them 100,000 at a time.

The 48MHz chip is 15 percent smaller than the earlier KL02, the company said. It's just right for something like a car key that could tell a person how much fuel the car has, but Freescale also expects to sell it for use in mobile devices, portable medical equipment, cars, and appliances.

Its size makes Freescale's chip "the world's smallest ARM-based microcontroller," the company said. ARM licenses chip designs to many manufacturers, an approach that simplifies programming because software more likely can be reused to reach different devices.

Freescale announced the ship at the Embedded World Conference show in Nuremburg, Germany, but the "Internet of things" is a big deal at the Mobile World Congress show here, too. The mobile show focuses primarily on mobile phones, but is expanding to connected cars, homes, city infrastructure, wearable computing devices, and other domains as electronic brains and network connections spread ever farther.

The KL03 is designed to work in very low-power devices that need less than 2KB of memory, Freescale said. The KL02 is designed for somewhat more powerful devices with more RAM.

The KL03 also includes 32KB of flash memory and 2KB of RAM. Freescale will release samples next month and plans to reach full production in June.

Freescale Semiconductor's Kinetis KL03 processor viewed close up.
Freescale Semiconductor's Kinetis KL03 processor viewed close up. Freescale Semiconductor