PARIS — Focused intently on the market potential of the Internet of Things (IoT), Silicon Labs announced Monday the acquisition of Micrium, a supplier of real-time operating system software.
The move effectively positions Silicon Labs in a league of its own in IoT field. It is now the only chip vendor offering multiprotocol wireless MCUs complete with a commercial-grade embedded RTOS.
Tom Pannell, Silicon Labs' director of IoT marketing, told EE Times, “At Silicon Labs, we are going through a transformation – from being a chip provider that offers functions on the board to a solution company that includes everything from chips, modules and software.”
He added, “As Silicon Labs being a smaller company, we know we must do something really innovative to get recognized in the market.”
Micrium is the world’s recognized leader in RTOS technology. The company’s RTOS has been ported to more than 50 microcontroller architectures, with several thousand customers, according to Jean Labrosse, Micrium’s founder and CEO.
Micrium’s commercial-grade RTOS powers automotive, motion control, medical devices, safety critical systems, avionics, industrial and consumer electronics devices. “NASA is also one of our customers, as Mars Rover running on Micrium RTOS,” added Labrosse.
Micrium’s RTOS and software tools will continue to be available to all its silicon partners worldwide, giving customers a wide range of options, even when using non-Silicon Labs hardware, the two companies said. Micrium will continue to support existing as well as new customers.
Why the need for RTOS?
So, why did Silicon Labs decide that it has to own an RTOS company?
“It has become obvious to us,” said Pannell, “as we help customers to go to the IoT market, RTOS is the bigger, and more important piece of software [puzzle].”
In particular, as Silicon Labs pushes multi-protocol chips that allow a customer’s product to join multiple ecosystems with varying protocol requirements, it faces specific problems with meeting real-time requirements in wireless protocol stacks. “Things like schedulers, real-time bits must go into our stacks,” said Pannell.
Silicon Labs’ wireless MCUs provide support for a range of multi-protocol scenarios. They include concurrently running ZigBee and Thread, enabling the MCU to time slice networks for supporting Bluetooth Low Energy and 802.15.4 at the same time, or boot-loading to change the protocol with Bluetooth Low Energy commissioning a Zigbee device.
Previously, such real-time switches in wireless protocol tasks went to a network co-processor, Pannell explained. But as ARM processors have grown bigger and Silicon Labs’ customers started opting for a single-chip solution running both their apps and multiple wireless protocols, Silicon Labs saw the need for RTOS inside its own multi-protocol wireless MCUs.