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Bridging the gap between ChatGPT and TinyML: Purpose-built MCUs for battery-powered AI devices

ipXchange interviewed Alif Semiconductor back at Embedded World, but with full market launch approaching for their Ensemble devices, we think it’s time to revisit this MCU innovation in a little more detail, especially with AI being such a hot topic at the moment.

The basis of Alif’s Ensemble devices is a Cortex-M55 MCU architecture that utilises Arm’s new Ethos-U55 AI/ML accelerator for a 90% reduction in power consumption and system memory requirements during AI operations. This reduction is when compared to performing the same task using older Cortex-M cores alone, and the Cortex-M55 / Ethos-U55 combination uses 76 times less energy than even the AI-capable Cortex-M55 core alone when running a live image recognition task.

This level of power saving makes fast-paced, high-level AI workloads much more viable for battery-operated devices, enabling designers to push the boundaries of AIoT far beyond the realms of a typical TinyML workload, while retaining that all-important low power consumption. Another bonus of using Alif’s devices when starting an AI-enhanced design is the familiarity of the Arm Cortex-M MCU framework, which should hopefully smooth the learning curve when adopting this new technology.

As mentioned in our previous post, this Cortex-M55 + Ethos-U55 architecture is just the basis of Alif’s Ensemble family, and the other devices in the range expand to dual-core MCUs and MCU/MPU ‘fusion’ processors. This allows designers to combine AI-enhanced MCU-based designs with Linux-based HMIs, and still retain the power-saving features that make Alif’s devices an impressive basis for deploying higher-level AI functionality in battery-operated designs. It’s not quite at the level of a GPU-filled datacentre, but you’ll be surprised at what can be achieved with just a fraction of the power consumption!

Learn more about Alif’s Ensemble family on our board page, where you can also apply to evaluate the technology for use in a commercial application.

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Alif Semiconductor Ensemble Fusion Processors and Microcontrollers

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