Ambiq Preps Launch of Sub-Threshold ARM MCUs

11 November 2014

Ambiq Micro Inc. (Austin, Texas), a 2010 spin-off from the University of Michigan, will launch its first sub-threshold voltage operation microcontrollers within a "few weeks" and has announced it has raised $15 million in a funding round led by new investor Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

The microcontroller, aimed at wearable and Internet of Things applications, is said to offer a factor of 10 reduction in power consumption compared with conventionally operated MCUs.

Existing investors, including Austin Ventures, Mercury Fund, and ARM Holdings, supported the Series C funding round. Ambiq said it would use the money to accelerate the development of its subthreshold power optimized technology (SPOT) platform. This could mean a transfer of the imminent MCU designs to a more advanced manufacturing process offering yet lower power consumption.

Ambiq's SPOT platform operates transistors at lower than conventional levels. This reduces achievable clock frequencies in digital circuits but as power consumption scales with the square of voltage, for many applications could offer improved energy efficiency.

The company has already produced real-time clock (RTC) circuits using this technology and microcontrollers based on the Cortex-M0+ core licensed from ARM are expected before the end of 2014 with volume production due in 2015, according to earlier comments from Ambiq executives. The MCUs will target Internet of Things (IoT) applications, particularly wearable electronic devices, where energy savings will translate into much longer battery life, Ambiq said in a statement.

Ambiq added that the soon-to-be-announced microcontrollers are being implemented in the same standard CMOS process as the RTCs, which are believed to be fabbed by leading foundry Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd.

Ambiq said its MCUs could transform battery-operated applications by extending battery lives from months to years or by allowing additional features within fixed power budgets. Smaller batteries or use of energy harvesting techniques could be another consequence of much lower active power consumption.

"KPCB’s Low Power Everywhere initiative believes that in a world where consumers and businesses are always on, there’s an increasing need for devices with improved energy efficiency and battery life. Ambiq Micro has developed a 10X lower power MCU for mobile, wearables and IoT devices. We’re excited to back an exceptional team and to help them quickly scale this opportunity," said KPCB partner, Wen Hsieh. Hsieh joins the board of Ambiq Micro.

Related links and articles:

IHS MCU and MPU research

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