The cold war and its sister the space race fueled innovation and progress in both semiconductors and EDA technologies first. In the eighties they were replaced by the personal computer and today consumer products are the class of devices that seem to offer the greatest challenges to our industry. Yet, during all of these years, another product type has quietly pushed state of the art in electronics: the automobile. It has done so not with spectacular growth, like the cell phone for example, but through a series of innovation that have transformed the mechanical car of the 1970's, into a complex electro-mechanical system that depends heavily on the proper functioning of its electronics.
When, almost a year ago, the DAC Executive Committee chose Automotive Electronics as the theme for the 44th conference, many people questioned its relevance observing that few EDA companies had customers in the automotive field. But they have been vindicated. Spectrum magazine, the monthly publication of the IEEE, has just dedicated its cover page article to automotive innovations, and all of the ten vehicles featured sported electronics breakthroughs.
The car is a platform that offers varied possibilities to electronic engineers: from engine control to navigation, from drive train to entertainment. What started as an effort to diminish pollution, for example, has morphed into an integrated system of fuel injection control and exhaust manipulation system that not only diminishes pollutants but improves mileage as well. The folding maps and the unwelcome stops at a gas station to ask for directions are quickly becoming a thing of the past, as console systems, using the Global Positioning System, guide the driver to the selected destination. And even I, an inveterate lover of manual shift cars, have gladly seen the clutch pedal disappear into oblivion, replaced by electronic clutch systems that save gear shifts from uncoordinated foot/hand motions.
And it turns out that customers do exist: they may not be in the business of producing cars or car parts, but they produce semiconductor components and subsystems for the automotive market. To verify how EDA is impacting the automotive sector, and vice versa, just take a look at your TV during a car race. You will see Intel, AMD, Xilinx, Altera,and eSilicon, decals on Ferraris, Mercedes, and Porches on tracks throughout the world. I am waiting for the day the NASCAR circuit shows Fords sponsored by Synopsys and Ferrari's F1 cars proudly show the Mentor logo on the rear wing unless BMW beats them to it.