There was something different in the air at the 40th Design Automation Conference in early June, especially when compared with the last couple of years. A sense of cautious optimism pervaded the week-long gathering, giving rise to the belief that the worst may finally be over.
When it comes to the underlying economic uncertainty in high tech, history encourages a quiet confidence. Human creativity remains a remarkable constant through market shifts and industry downturns, with smart people devising new technologies and applications previously never even considered. Looking back over the past 50 years, these surges in creativity typically occur at the beginning of the decade: the mainframe computer in the early 1960s, the personal computer in the early 1980s and the rise of the Internet in the 1990s.
If history is any indicator, then we are on the cusp of yet another burst of creativity that will jump-start the economy. Like those before it, the next "killer" application will combine new innovations with existing computing and communication technologies in a previously unthought-of, original way.
So the question is not whether there will be an upturn, but rather what can we do to help smooth the way for the next wave of creativity. To that end, designers are working in close collaboration with the electronic design automation community to address emerging design challenges.
For instance, the integration of heterogeneous technologies-RF, mixed-signal, analog and even MEMS-into a single system-on-chip, or more likely a system-on-package, opens the door for an exciting new set of possible applications. However, this integration is a formidable task indeed. Shrinking silicon geometries continue to raise the bar for existing challenges as well as pose brand-new ones. Power and design verification concerns are rising to the level of being potential roadblocks in our push forward. Moreover, a new challenge looms in the form of greater sensitivity to process variations, threatening wafer yields in production and demanding a design methodology capable of producing designs that are robust in the face of these variations.
The Design Automation Conference provides a unique forum for the gathering of researchers as well as industrial players. Next year's conference is being held in San Diego, the wireless technology capital of the world. No matter how the current uncertainties have changed by then, one thing is certain-DAC will continue to deliver the tools and technology needed for the inevitable next wave of innovation.