Nordic Semiconductor makes AI and machine learning easily accessible on resource-constrained wireless IoT chips for the very first time

Written by Glyn High Tech

January 27, 2021

Nordic Semiconductor recently announced that further to entering into a partnership with Edge Impulse, a leading provider of what’s termed ‘tiny machine learning’ or ‘TinyML’ tools designed to run on resource constrained semiconductor devices, that all its nRF52 and nRF53 Series Bluetooth® Low Energy (LE) chips will now be able to benefit from easy-to-use AI and machine learning features as standard. This is a first for the Bluetooth semiconductor industry.

“What AI and machine learning on resource-constrained chips does – which Nordic will now collectively refer to as TinyML – is take the application potential of wireless IoT technologies such as Bluetooth to a whole new level in terms of environmental awareness and autonomous decision making,” comments Kjetil Holstad, Nordic’s Director of Product Management.

“Although we have had customers build and run TinyML applications on Nordic’s Bluetooth chips in the past, before now this required quite a high level of mathematical and computer programming expertise using professional science industry and academia software like MATLAB.”

One example of the above is two successful projects in the and Smart Parks backed ‘ElephantEdge’ wildlife tracker challenge that employed Nordic’s nRF52840 System-on-Chip (SoC). These included an award-winning design by Dhruv Sheth called ‘EleTect’, a TinyML and IoT smart wildlife tracker employing the nRF52840 SoC as well as an accelerometer, camera and microphone. Sheth’s different TinyML models included: Camera vision models to monitor the risk of poaching and predators or to monitor elephant movements; accelerometer data models to predict and classify common elephant behaviors; and audio data models to detect and classify elephant musth data and mood swings (a periodic condition in male elephants characterized by highly aggressive behavior that can place them in conflict with humans). These models were made ready for deployment in three forms including a C++ library, Arduino library, and OpenMV library all available on GitHub. 

“What our partnership with Edge Impulse will do is remove all the complexity and previous technological barriers-to-entry for our customers wishing to add TinyML features to their Bluetooth applications,” continues Holstad. “In fact using Edge Impulse tools, Nordic customers could be up and running TinyML on their applications within an afternoon. And at an ultra-low power consumption level that still supports extended battery operation, even from small batteries.”

Holstad says prime engineering areas for TinyML include but are not limited to audio and vibration where it can be used to establish normal operating patterns and rapidly detect anomalies. Example applications include anti-poaching (listening for gun shots), predictive and preventative maintenance (listening for tell-tale changes in the vibration signature of a public escalator or lift), and utilities (power line failure detection after a storm). But Holstad says all Nordic customer applications stand to benefit from TinyML from asset tracking to wearables.

The Nordic Edge Impulse partnership will center around Edge Impulse’s Edge Optimized Neural (EON™) compiler that is said to optimize computer processing and memory use by up to 50 percent when running TinyML on resource-constrained semiconductor devices.


Edge Impulse


“What Nordic Semiconductor is doing through its partnership with Edge Impulse is bringing AI and machine learning to the wireless IoT masses,” says Edge Impulse Co-Founder and CEO, Zach Shelby. “By leveraging the fact that every Nordic nRF52 and 53 Series Bluetooth SoC employs at least one powerful Arm core processor on-board, and is architecturally designed for ultra-low power battery operation, this partnership is effectively democratizing access to state-of-the-art TinyML within the Bluetooth market. Given the powerful application benefits of TinyML, this is going to help make the world a lot more reliable and a lot safer.”

Click to see the Edge Impulse Tutorials of continuous motion recognition, responding to voice and recognizing sounds from audio. You can also click to find Edge Impulse’s guide on nRF52840 DK and nRF5340 DK

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