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The next robot war: ARM vs. x86

Aug 26, 2008 — by Rick Lehrbaum — 21 views

With an ARM vs. x86 battle raging in the mobile handset space, a similar confrontation appears to be looming in the market for robots and robotic devices, predicts market analyst firm ABI Research.

Today, most of the money for robotics goes into the military and space exploration segments, according to ABI. However, the consumer market is expected to become the largest robotics segment over the long term.

“The challenge in personal robotics engineering is keeping costs low,” says ABI principal analyst Philip Solis. “Part of that is to fit complex software into as small an ARM processor as possible, with even lower-cost ARM processors handling subsystems of the robot.”

An alternate way to get more processing power at little to no cost is to use a nearby PC to act as an external “brain,” communicating with the robot via WiFi, ABI explains. However this PC would have to be actively running whenever the robot was in use, which could be impractical or undesirable. Complete autonomy for the robot is preferable, and for that, powerful yet low-cost processors are needed.

“We could see x86-based processors such as Intel’s Atom competing against various ARM-based solutions,” says Solis. “These processors are on their way to ramping up in mobile devices and in home consumer electronics, and will be applicable to lower-cost personal robotics as well. As shipments of such processors grow, their falling prices would make them increasingly attractive. We would likely see very small, lower-power x86 processors used as the main processors, alongside ARM processors.”

ABI Research’s recent report, Personal Robotics, covers the market for consumer robots and major components used by personal robots. It examines key industry drivers in the robotics space and in software development platforms that will become critical to the development of this market. The report is part of the firm’s Emerging Technologies Research Service, which also includes various research reports, ABI Insights, and analyst inquiry support.

[This research brief is copyright © 2008 ABI Research. All rights reserved. Reproduced by with permission.]

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