Over the last decade, I've seen a number of devices that might be classed as field-programmable analog arrays (FPAAs) appear and disappear. Some of them were really rather interesting, but for one reason or another they never took off. Maybe they had the wrong approach. For example, I recall one device that comprised a relatively large number of analog tiles. Each tile contained an op-amp that could be configured to act as an integrator, differentiator, adder, subtractor, comparator, amplifier, and so forth. Also, the interconnect between the various tiles could be configured as required.
Personally I thought this was rather interesting, but after leaping onto center stage with a fanfare of trumpets, these little scamps quickly meandered away never to be seen again. Thus, I was very interested to see the latest announcement from Actel (www.actel.com) about their new mixed-signal FPGA called Fusion, which they refer to as a programmable system chip (PSC).
As opposed to creating something that is so generic it can do anything, but it can’t do anything well, Actel have taken another tack, which is to create some focused analog peripherals that can be configured and tuned to perform a specific range of tasks very well indeed. In addition to their configurable analog content, Fusion PSCs also include Flash Memory and digital FPGA fabric. This digital fabric supports Actel's ARM and 8051-based soft MCU cores, and these cores can be used to dynamically tune the analog peripherals on-the-fly.
I don’t think these little rapscallions are going to fade away, but instead they are here to stay, because I think we'll be seeing them appearing in a wide range of applications over the coming months. In fact, I'm really looking forward to seeing some of the innovative applications that will appear featuring these devices.