How do we manage all those blocks in an age of exploding block usage?
LAS VEGAS — If you want to see what electronic design innovation is all about these days, come to the Consumer Electronics Show. Just ignore the lobster food truck. (Sure, food trucks are all the rage, but lobster in the desert? From a food truck? Really?)
Even if you restricted yourself to the Sands Expo Center, the array of technology development showcased here the first week of 2015 was breathtaking. The Sands was packed with almost countless wearables vendors, IOT systems houses, and 3-D printers. In my travels over four days at the CES, this was easily the most-bustling hall.
[This blog is sponsored by Cadence.]
But for these guys — from a market standpoint — there's a shakeout ahead: There are too many vendors in the wearables and IOT space making too-similar products.
You could pooh-pooh the fact that some of the innovation is only marginally advancing particular applications. For example, a remote security camera system (Netatmo) that recognizes faces as they pass in front of your camera at home (“Sarah just arrived home from school”) rather than just alert you to the fact that someone has passed in front of the camera. That has some added value, especially in commercial security networks. Is it transformational? Hard to tell right now.
What these types of applications tell me is much more profound. They suggest that hardware development — in fact system development — is far more accessible today than ever.
Consider that facial-recognition technology example: A clever algorithm running atop off-the-shelf hardware. Consider the French wireless firm Parrot: They showed off, among other technologies, a Bluetooth-enabled plant-watering system. That’s a pretty simple application running on top of accessible, existing and proven hardware and wireless technologies.
At the Cadence booth, Realtek Semiconductor showed off an “always-on, always-listening” controller for mobile devices leveraging a Cadence Tensilica HiFi DSP. Right now, users have to fire up their mobile devices and then execute a voice command. This particular solution allows you to simply wake your phone and execute a command all at once with your voice because. The device is always on waiting for a voice prompt but consuming very little power thanks to the IP and controller design.
Rise of IP subsystems
What’s enabling these systems innovations is of course IP. You’ve no doubt seen the slideware showing that the number of IP blocks in an average SoC has crested 100 and is moving quickly north. That’s 10 times the number of blocks than we designed in just a few short years ago.
This explosion in block usage is creating its own design complexity (how do we manage all those blocks?). Rich Wawrzyniak, market analyst with Semico Research, has written about the rise in the development of IP subsystems. He describes it this way:
Instead of dealing with SoC design at the lowest common denominator -- the discrete IP block, SoC designers now look to move up a layer of abstraction to design with system level functionality to reduce the effort and cost associated with complex SoC designs today.
He points to the acquisitions of Denali (by Cadence) and Virage Logic (by Synopsys) as “the start of a period in which large SIP providers will exert a concerted effort to create IP subsystems, combining many discrete IP blocks into larger, more converged IP products to offer better performance and to reduce the cost of IP integration into complex SoCs.”
Semico forecasts the IP subsystem market will double from $108 million in 2012 to nearly $350 million in annual sales in 2017. IP providers clearly understand that delivering IP is just one piece of the puzzle and that to enable system development there needs to be a subsystems push as well.
This trend — and the systems it enables — is going to drive much more rapid innovation in the months and years ahead. That’s what you’re seeing in the Nevada desert every January, a stone’s throw from the lobster food truck.
—Brian Fuller, former editor of EE Times, is now editor-in-chief with Cadence in San Jose.
Blog was sponsored by Cadence.