The first day of DAC saw two keynote sessions, both from people who live and work within Texas. In the morning was Gregg Lowe from Freescale. The complete write-up of this can be found here. The second keynote was kicked off with a vision talk given by Lip—Bu Tan, President and CEO of Cadence. You can find that over in my blog on EDN. This second keynote was given by James Truchard, co-founder and current president and CEO of National Instruments (NI).
James Truchard started by saying that he loves it here in Austin, and created a company because he wished to stay here. He said that NI helps to solve complex engineering challenges brought about by a complex world. He continued talking about the emerging platforms that Lip-Bu mentioned, namely the iPhone and iPad and how they have revolutionized the way we live. He said the result of this is that kids brains are being wired differently because of it. These devices are getting more complex and containing more features all the time and manufacturing issues can create problems with these at any time, so you have to be ready to test them. NI is involved with the integration into that test product and also the creation of a platform intended for lower volume applications that can be reused for multiple projects. The goal is to speed up the process of innovation. We talk about how we need to support everything from kindergarten to rocket science. We provide a simplified version of our Labview software for the Lego Mindstorms, which could be targeting 10 year olds and then we also work on space programs and with CERN for control systems around the ring.
NI has grown organically and was initially self-funded. Today they have over 7000 employees in 50 countries. They work with 35,000 companies, and he noted that companies such as GM or Siemens only count as one customer. They work with 7000 universities around the world. Platforms are changing the rules of design and a lot of design jobs are going away as these platforms integrate more and more. Consider a platform such as the iPhone and iOS. It creates an opportunity to have all of these applications including a bag pipe tuner. Whoever used to design and build products to do this now finds that they have a $24.99 competitor that runs on the iPhone. This is revolutionizing the way in which designs are done and moving many things to a software based approach. He said this is the same philosophy that they want to bring to low volume products that integrate many kinds of I/O into a single platform.
An important element to us, for building our platform, is to start at the front of the process and we have thousands of algorithms capable of doing that, on through the components of implementation, hundreds of I/O devices with different targets for different environments all with a common theme of being part of this platform working in a real-time environment. It is a combination of HW and SW along with an ecosystem, test and measurement, where there could be tens of thousands of drivers and 3rd party IP that can be used to build ecosystems that span across many applications and hardware that combines FPGAs for customizability.
We want to be wherever engineers and scientists are solving hard problems with a goal to reduce design time. He went on to talk about the founding of NI and the products that they created over the past 40 years. He said that they wanted to do for structured engineering what the spreadsheet had done for financial analysis. Today there is another transition taking place as we move to platform based solutions where software is center stage. Software is the future in many domains and we believe that it will be in instrumentation as well. Now they have a new saying - they want to do for embedded what the PC did for the desktop. By this he means create a platform that can be re-used with SW that migrates with Moore’s Law in that you can use the same software but upgrade the hardware.
Much of the talk was about the company and how the company thinks it fits into various strategies and methodologies in use by various industries. It rambled and had little structure to it, and I was left feeling that this was a company pitch and not a keynote presentation. One minute he is talking about RF design, the next performing hardware/software tradeoffs and then showing a rack of equipment to connect a product into test equipment. Many statements seemed to lack coherency. For example he said they are using an FPGA to provide a protocol aware approach for high speed testing. I have no idea what that means.
It did not inspire questions for the industry or imply directions it needed to go in. The closest it got were his thoughts on 5G. We need to increase speed, improve response time and reduce battery consumption. He then went on to talk about using FPGAs to provide dirty environments to test algorithms. Perhaps the message was to RTL designers. Your days are numbered and you had better become a software engineer.
He ended with the statement: to platform or not to platform – that is the question?
Do you think that being an RTL engineer is a dead end career choice?Brian Bailey
– keeping you covered
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