Internet of Things gets a hand from ARM's new operating system

The UK-based chip designer's Mbed operating system is among several efforts, including the work of standards groups and a new wireless protocol, designed to speed the adoption of the Internet of Things.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Ben Fox Rubin
Shara Tibken
3 min read


Desktops have Linux. Mobile devices have Android. The Internet of Things has...Mbed?

In another new effort to speed up the adoption of the Internet of Things, chip designer ARM Holdings announced Wednesday it has created a free operating system called Mbed, which it is launching with about two dozen partners including Freescale, IBM, Salesforce, Marvell and NXP.

ARM, which designs the chips found in most mobile phones, also unveiled its new Mbed Device Server, which allows companies to securely connect and manage devices. The goal is to make it simple for companies to develop Internet-connected devices that talk to one another, and for cloud providers, such as IBM, to analyze the data that's collected.

"We wanted to make it easy to build these connected, secure and simple platforms," Mike Muller, ARM's chief technology officer, said Wednesday during a meeting with reporters.

ARM believes Mbed will be used in everything from streetlights to home appliances and simple wearables, with the aim of creating devices with battery life measured in years, not hours.

The Internet of Things, or IOT, is the concept of connecting a wide variety of objects -- from garage doors to lights to dishwashers -- with the Internet and with one other, to offer new features and smarts for customers. Market researcher Gartner last year predicted 26 billion devices will be part of the Internet of Things by 2020, a 30-fold increase from 2009.

A handful of efforts were announced in the past year to help bring together this broad idea, with two different groups -- the AllSeen Alliance and the Open Interconnect Consortium -- working on general standards for IOT so different objects can start talking the same language.

Unlike the standards groups, ARM's new Mbed provides a free, customizable operating system in the vein of the Linux open-source operating system for PCs and Google's Android operating system for mobile devices. Some parts of the software will be open source, but ARM will control other parts to make sure Mbed remains unfragmented.

The operating system will work with many major connection standards, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 2G, 3G, LTE and CDMA cellular technologies. Mbed also works with Thread, a new wireless protocol founded by Google, Samsung, ARM and others in July.

Already, more than 70,000 developers have been working with earlier versions of Mbed, Muller said. The company started building the operating system in 2006.

"Bits of Mbed are in deployment today," Muller added. "What we're doing is pulling together the bits and pieces."

While Mbed will be used in simple wearables -- essentially those simply collecting readings such as heart rate -- the operating system won't replace Android or Samsung's Tizen operating system, which are used in smartwatches such as the Moto 360 and the Samsung Gear 2. Rather, Mbed will go in devices, including appliances, that previously relied on real-time operating systems. Such an operating system, also known as RTOS, often is selected because it can run on very limited computing hardware -- but the market has been fragmented.

ARM also said its Mbed operating system has been optimized to consume low amounts of power. Some products will be able to last for years without needing a battery replacement. Simple wearables in the near term will last about two months on a single charge, said Kris Flautner, general manager of ARM's Internet of Things business.

The Mbed operating system will be available to partners in the fourth quarter, with the first production devices expected next year.

ARM's Mbed Device Server also will allow users to remotely manage and analyze devices, such as cities using connected stoplights to analyze traffic patterns. The product is free for small developers, but ARM will be charging larger companies for its commercial use, which could provide new recurring revenue for ARM.

The Mbed platform also includes Mbed.org, which provides a database of hardware development kits, a library of reusable software components and other development tools.

"Before you can worry about all the analytics people get excited about, you first have to solve the problem of getting the data to the cloud in the first place," Flautner said. "It turns out that's not as easy as it sounds....What we're really trying to do is have a solution to this problem."