Silicon Labs Bets on the IoT with Thunderboard Reveal and Micrium RTOS Acquisition

November 04, 2016 by Majeed Ahmad

Silicon Labs acquires Micrium embedded software and unveils a sensor-to-cloud development kit to bolster its IoT tool-chain offerings.

Silicon Labs acquires Micrium embedded software and unveils a sensor-to-cloud development kit to bolster its IoT tool-chain offerings.

Silicon Labs is beefing up its ecosystem muscle with the Thunderboard™ development kit that boasts a multiprotocol wireless system-on-chip (SoC), six motion and environment sensors, 8 MB of external flash for over-the-air (OTA) firmware updates, and a built-in SEGGER J-Link to simplify the programming and debugging tasks.

The Austin, Texas–based chipmaker also showcased its newly acquired Micrium embedded RTOS software for battery-powered wireless sensor nodes at the recent ARM TechCon held in Santa Clara, CA on 25-27 October 2016.

According to Tom Pannell, Director of MCU Marketing, Silicon Labs is working with Micrium on a version that is better integrated with its silicon offerings. The ultimate goal for Silicon Labs is to achieve a bigger presence in the software footprint. "Nearly 80 percent of our semiconductor customers today want to know way more about the software than the chip."

Pannell added that "developers will benefit from a tighter integration of Micrium RTOS with Silicon Labs' Simplicity Studio tools, wireless stacks and hardware offerings—MCUs, multiprotocol wireless SoCs, etc." However, Micrium's open RTOS and software tools will continue to be available for other silicon vendors.


Jean Labrosse: Micrium will continue to support existing and new RTOS users. Image courtesy of Silicon Labs.

"Micrium RTOS software is silicon vendor agnostic and is firewalled with its own process and services," said Jean Labrosse, Micrium's founder, chief architect, and now Senior Software Engineering Director at Silicon Labs. Micrium is a commercial-grade RTOS for embedded design that supports more than 50 MCU architectures.

The low-end embedded systems are mostly driving the need for RTOS software in connected device applications. The real-time operating system or RTOS abstracts embedded software challenges that developers face while designing the Internet of Things (IoT) products.

The Making of IoT Ecosystems

Silicon Labs' acquisition of Micrium RTOS software and the launch of ThunderBoard development kit for sensor nodes is a testament to the crucial importance of the ecosystem in the IoT scheme of things. The chipmaker claims its ThunderBoard Sense platform helps IoT developers to quickly move from proof-of-concept to developing cloud-connected wireless sensing applications for homes, offices, smart cities, smart grids, transportation, agriculture, and asset tracking.

Silicon Labs has also announced that Samsung is using its Gecko wireless chipset—part of the ThunderBoard sensor-to-cloud development kit—in the ARTIK™ 0 modules for battery-powered IoT edge nodes. The Gecko wireless SoCs—based on ARM® Cortex®-M4 processor core—boast protocol stacks for Bluetooth® low energy, ZigBee®, and Thread® connectivity.

Silicon Labs' Pannell said that the ThunderBoard kit is aimed at simplifying the work for developers so that they can focus on applications. "The design process is now more complicated than merely managing the electronic components and what Thunderboard aims to do is provide a complete solution."


ThunderBoard Sense collects motion and environmental sensor data and processes it via multiprotocol wireless chipset: EFR32MG. Image courtesy of Silicon Labs.

Case in point: IoT developers aren't required to have RF design expertise for developing wireless sensor node applications. They can pull in peripherals, add radio stacks, and create wireless sensor nodes powered by small coin-cell batteries.

Apparently, chipmakers in the IoT spaces are frantically creating IoT tool-chains built around sensors and wireless connectivity. Silicon Labs' acquisition of Micrium RTOS and Thunderboard kit launch are the latest reminder of how quickly the IoT ecosystem is evolving with a greater integration between hardware and software worlds.