Editor's Note: For more focused TIDC analysis on video, audio, DSP, analog and the problems designers face with IP, see the additional reports at the end of this feature.
DALLAS There's semiconductor gold to be found in medical, energy and safety apps, and Texas Instruments intends to go after it with a laser-sharp focus on low-power processing and advanced analog/mixed-signal building blocks. That was the clear signal given here at last week's Texas Instruments Developer Conference.
TIDC also shone a spotlight on developments in video and audio, and offered insight into how companies such as TI continue to wrestle issues related to intellectual property.
Whether deliberately or inadvertently, the conference also showed how Rich Templeton, TI's president and CEO, has followed through on a commitment he voiced last year to make his company more "nimble."
Templeton had made that promise against a backdrop of negative news driven by TI's falling share of Nokia's handset business, increasing competition from the likes of Marvell Semiconductor and lackluster sales of TI's DLP (digital light processor) technology.
In becoming more nimble over the past year, the company has moved away from its emphasis on digital signal "processors" to embrace digital signal "processing."
A clear indication of that shift was the announcement of the Omap 3 architecture, initial versions of which have no DSP cores. That move was supported by tool announcements from Greenhills and ARM.
In addition, TI has moved to strengthen its analog business and is now heading toward becoming a processor-agnostic provider of full-chain signal-processing building blocks.
In an interview after his closing keynote for the conference last Thursday, Templeton spoke not only about those changes and what they mean, but also on a range of broader issues, from Intel's latest handset play to DLP's market positioning to the iPhone's implications for high-end semiconductors.
In his keynote, Templeton laid out the financial incentives for following the medical and energy markets: "Fifteen percent of the [U.S.] GDP in 2007 was spent on health care," he said. "Five percent [of that] was spent in China--and that's growing."
The health care opportunity resides in providing better, lower-cost and more-available care, he said.
Meanwhile, the United States spent more than $4 trillion on energy last year. Energy is "the No. 1 economic and social limiter of this century," Templeton said.
Everyone's looking to semiconductors to solve problems in both the medical and energy sectors, he said.
In the area of safety, Templeton said, semiconductors have applicability in collision avoidance systems, biosensors and security analysis systems.
"This is as exciting a time as any for applications for DSP," Templeton said after his keynote. But he said TI isn't "religious" about DSPs. "Great architectures have different processing elements," he said, and some code just simply runs better on an ARM platform.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.