ORLANDO, Florida —In the future, embedded processors with on-chip sensors will dominate the IC business, according to Lisa Su, chief technology officer at Freescale Semiconductor Inc. (Austin, Texas).
While embedded processors already outnumber those in personal computers today, by 2015 that trend will have redefined the semiconductor industry — away from PC-oriented chip makers [Intel] toward embedded solution providers like Freescale, said Su in her keynote to the Freescale Technology Forum (June 16-19, 2008).
"Today there are about 150 embedded microprocessors around the home in various appliances, media players and other consumer electronic devices, plus there are another 40 or 50 in your car, which shows that there are already many more embedded processors than PCs," said Su. "We see that trend accelerating, and we predict that there will be over 1,000 embedded devices per person by 2015. Our goal is to be the global leader in these embedded solutions — from sensors to processors."
Intelligent embedded processing will not be defined by engineering achievements like faster, smaller chips, but by changes in the way people live their lives, said Su. Embedded processing is "being embraced today by almost every segment of society — from children to the eldery."
"If you ask 'how will future of technology unfold over next 10 years,' the answer is that the biggest changes will come from changes in our lifestyles," said Su. "We must think beyond Moore's Law, to how we can differentiate our chips to bring Freescale into this equation."
Three trends Su pointed out in illustrating the "future according to Freescale" are: green energy, health-related electronics, and ubiquitous networking that Su calls "The Net Effect."
For instance, in the energy sector, smart energy consumption and production will force industry and consumers alike to embrace embedded processors and sensors that monitor usage and adjust distribution to match.
"Today our energy infrastructure is basically unchanged since the early 1900s, making conservation the only possible solution to energy needs," said Su. "But with embedded processors and sensors, we can go beyond conservation to sustainability, and support noble energy source that will modernize the utility industry with more intelligent distribution schemes."
By using sensors to monitor usage in real time, and communications to warn utilities of impending short-falls, alternative energy sources — such as local solar cells, wind turbines and ocean-wave generators — could be brought on-line to make grid failures a thing of the past, according to Su.
Regarding health, Su claims that sensors and embedded processors will let health care maintain wellness, by constantly monitoring patients and wirelessly informing medical personnel whenever improvements can be made.
"Today 70 percent of doctors don't even use electronic records, but still rely on paper files," said Su. "But with embedded processor and sensors, the medical data can be automatically gathered and analyzed by software."
Above all, the ubiquitous wireless network, according to Su, will increasingly define the character of all electronic innovations. For instance, wireless sensor networks will enable vehicles to sense and react to each other, evolving safety from reactive collision mitigation — like air bags — to active collision avoidance systems that automatically sense impending disasters and jerk the wheel out of your hand to prevent fender-benders before they happen.
"The Jetsons' lifestyle is closer to reality than we may think," said Su. "And the real revolutions will be out beyond 2015, when we take the network for granted so much that it will be invisible."
Su predicts that by 2015 core processors will be fabricated at 22 nanometers. Massively parallel computing systems will have evolved down to the personal device level. Systems on chip will have gone wafer scale. Processor and sensors will also include MEMS and optical devices, wireless connectivity and voice recognition.
"This is our chance to change everybody's lifestyle, and make the world a better place, thanks to technology," concluded Su.