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ARM launches new chip design for automotive, health and robotics

[LONDON] ARM Holdings Plc, the UK company that designs the semiconductors found in most of the world's smartphones, has introduced a chip engineered to move the company into new markets including self-driving cars and surgical robots.

ARM, acquired by Softbank Group Corp for US$32 billion in a deal that concluded earlier this month, on Tuesday debuted its Cortex R-52 processor design.

The chip is targeted for use in devices where safety is critical such as automated cars and health-care devices.

"You would want this anywhere there was a danger of loss of life or limb due to machine-human interaction," John Ronco, ARM's vice president of product marketing, said in an interview.

Masayoshi Son, Softbank's founder and chief executive officer, said he decided to buy Cambridge, England-based ARM in large part due to the company's potential to push chip designs into these new markets and expand its reach in connected devices called the Internet of Things.

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ARM is particularly interested in cracking into the automotive market, which until now has relied heavily on processors designed by carmakers and auto parts manufacturers, Mr Ronco said. "A lot of these customers have never used ARM-based chips before," he said.

Mr Ronco said the new processor, which took ARM five years to develop, switches between tasks 14 times faster than its predecessor model, the Cortex R-5. He said the design has already been shipped to customers, including Geneva-based STMicroelectronics NV. ARM didn't disclose what licensing and royalty fees it will charge for the R-52.

Anshel Sag, a semiconductor analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said the R-52 would allow ARM to fill a critical gap in its existing intellectual property portfolio.

"It enables them to claim that they have a processor that has been designed for safety applications from the ground up with certain levels of security and reliability," Mr Sag said. He added that he thought the processor had few competitors currently on the market.

The processor should help bolster ARM's position in the Internet of Things market for connected devices, an area ARM has been targeting for some time, Mr Sag said.

Cortex-R chips account for 71 of the company's 1,379 existing processor licenses, the fewest of any of its processor lines, according to ARM's July 2016 earnings statement. By comparison, its Cortex-A chips, which dominate the smartphone market, account for 252 licenses.

ARM isn't the only chipmaker pushing into the expanding market for safety-critical chips. Intel Corp, the world's biggest maker of semiconductors, purchased Italian semiconductor designer Yogitech, which specialised in safety chips, for an undisclosed amount in April.


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