TI gets in the game
In 1980, TI’s Ed Caudel designed the initial architecture for what would become the company’s first digital signal processor. Surendar Magar was hired the same year to optimize the architecture around DSP algorithms. TI introduced the resulting design to the world in February 1982 in the classic International Solid-State Circuits Conference paper, “A Microcomputer with Digital Signal Processing Capability." Caudel announced the final product, the TMS32010, in April 1982 in Paris at the International Conference on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing.
After Speak & Spell launched, TI went on to develop DSP devices for a host of industries, but the key to the business, and ultimately to the growth of the market at large, was the ecosystem that emerged around the processors. “TI became the first company with a sophisticated signal-processing chip and also understood that the device [itself] was not the product; the product was the device plus support plus the development environment plus a device hotline,” says Frantz, one of the industry’s foremost DSP engineers. “We created a product for customers to use in their product.”
In the early years, TI’s DSP hotline was a great source of design help to customers, especially because in many cases the person who answered the phone was the architect of the device in question. “TI had some pretty large customers, and we were getting calls from six or seven different area codes from each of these big customers in different locations,” Frantz says. “We realized that we knew more about what each company was doing than they did. We did all we could to help them grow.”
There were also calls from many small start-ups asking the same questions, so TI began to see markets forming even before the players themselves picked up on the trends. The company spent the coming years inventing the next generation of signal processors to do the “crazy” things their customers wanted to do, as Frantz puts it.
Along the way, TI remained mindful of the “three P’s of value”: performance, price, and power dissipation. “Most people did not realize that power dissipation was that important,” says Frantz, “but we had been working on low-power device technology since the mid-’60s, when the calculator was invented.”
Early on, TI began its third-party program, marshaling small companies with DSP expertise to “fill in the holes” that TI could not address. Frantz describes the program as a “value Web,” through which all participants would make money while expanding the available customer-support network.
Fernando Mujica, director of TI’s System Architectures Lab and an expert in analytical embedded processing, is a member of the generation of engineers to whom DSP pioneers such as Frantz are passing the baton at TI. “Over the last 30 years, virtually every aspect of our lives has been influenced by DSP,” Mujica says. “Now, we are seeing the DSP take on embedded analytics tasks, a growing and evolving area demanding the highest degree of programmability. Signal-conditioning and -compression technologies are now implemented as hard-coded accelerators and integrated with DSPs in modern embedded processors.”
Current DSPs and other embedded processors tackle tasks that previously required human interaction. A case in point is the expanding range of automotive-safety features, including lane-departure warning and active cruise control, available in high-end vehicles. Such systems go beyond convenience features to warn the driver and even apply the brakes or steer the vehicle in an emergency.
“In the near future, embedded analytics solutions will make autonomous vehicles a reality,” Mujica says (Figure 2). “Robotics is another area that is about to be revolutionized by the increasing capabilities of embedded processors to take on complex analytics tasks.”
Figure 2: Future embedded automotive analytics will create autonomous vehicles.
To see how digital signal processing is integrated into many of TI’s offerings, take a look at TI’s high-performance, KeyStone-based multicore processors, single-core processors, and OMAP processors.