San Jose based microcontroller maker Atmel is working on a new type of ultra-low-power ARM-based chip that promises to take low power to new extremes by offering battery life measures in decades.
The firm's SAM L21 32-bit ARM chips are designed for sensors, wearables and disposable devices and are so low-power they can run off energy capture from the body.
The SAM L21 uses fewer than 35 microamps of power per MHz of processing speed while active and less than 200 nanoamps of overal power when in deep sleep mode. For comparison, the existing low-power chips consume 120 to 160 microamps per MHz of processing speed. Full details at ARS Technica.
The L21 MCU uses a 42 MHz Cortex M0+ CPU core—the smallest 32-bit ARM processor. It also carries up to 256 kilobytes of Flash memory, up to 32 kilobytes of static RAM, and up to 8 kb of separate low-power static RAM that is kept powered at everything short of the deepest sleep mode—even off a low-power backup battery when the main battery is exhausted.
The processor may not be enough to, say, run an Ubuntu desktop, but it's certainly enough computing power and memory to run a real-time operating system with multiple programs, handle physical interfaces, stream media from a USB device or other external storage, and tweet you when your dishes are clean. It also can handle a lot of tasks that can reduce the power usage of other components in a device.