ST to launch its first neural microcontroller with NPU

ST to launch its first neural microcontroller with NPU

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

STMicroelectronics is set to launch its first microcontroller with a full neural processing unit (NPU).

The STM32N6 includes a proprietary NPU alongside a ARM Cortex core. This gives the same AI performance as a quad core processor with AI accelerator but at one tenth the cost and one twelfth the power consumption, says Remi El-Ouazzane President, Microcontrollers & Digital ICs Group at ST.

The chip will sample at the end of 2022, he said. While there is no mention of the ARM core that will be used, the performance and power figures point to ARM’s M55 or even its latest core, the M85, which has recently  been announced. The M85 is ARM’s highest performance M core, issuing up to three instruction per cycle with has internal accelerators for AI that help to boost the performance. 

ST is a key lead developer for ARM’s microcontroller cores and uses the ARM M7 core in the dual core M4/M7 STM32H7 and in the STM32F7 family alongside an ART AI accelerator. A new family, N6, points to the use of a new core.

Supporting AI in industrial and embedded designs was a key driver for the recent acquisition of French software tool developer Cartesiam and is part of the strategy to achieve $20bn of revenue between 2025 and 2027. 

“The new STM32N6 Neural MCU is dramatically lowering the AI technology implementation price point. This breakthrough supports our roadmap of new generation intelligent sensors allowing rapidly growing adoption in Smart Cities,” said Vincent SABOT, Executive Managing Director of developer Lacroix.

The choice of architecture is key for adding security support and integration with cloud services, and the M55 and M85 supports the ARMv8.1-M architecture. Yesterday ST announced deals with Microsoft and Amazon to connect the microcontrollers to the cloud.

ST is integrating its STM32U5 microcontrollers (MCUs), based on the 160MHz ARM Cortex-M33 core, with Microsoft Azure real time operating system (RTOS) and IoT Middleware and a certified secure implementation of ARM Trusted Firmware -M (TF-M) secure services for embedded systems.

The integration uses the hardened security features of the STM32U5 complemented with the hardened key store of an STSAFE-A110 secure element.

The integration with Amazon Web Services (AWS) also uses the STM32U5, this time with Amazon’s FreeRTOS real time operating system and the ARM trusted-firmware for embedded systems (TF-M).

The reference implementation is built on ST’s B-U585I-IOT02A discovery kit for IoT nodes with support for USB, WiFi, and Bluetooth Low Energy connectivity, as well as multiple sensors. The STSAFE-A110 secure element support is pre-loaded with IoT object credentials to help secure and simplifies attachment between the connected objects and the AWS cloud.

FreeRTOS comprises a kernel optimized for resource-constrained embedded systems and software libraries for connecting various types of IoT endpoints to the AWS cloud or other edge devices. AWS’s long-term support (LTS) is maintained on FreeRTOS releases for two years, which provides developers with a stable platform for deploying and maintaining their IoT devices.

Hardware cryptographic accelerators, secure firmware installation and update, and enhanced resistance to physical attacks provide PSA Certified Level-3 and SESIP 3 certifications.

ST will release an STM32Cube-based integration of reference implementation for both the Azure and AWS integrations in Q3 2022 that will further simplify IoT-device design leveraging tight integration with the wider STM32 ecosystem.

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