PORTLAND, Ore. — Engineers qualified for complex systems-on-chip (SoCs) are increasingly scarce, especially in developing countries, but that may come to an end soon as a result of a joint program announced today by the Semiconductor Research Corp. (SRC) of Research Triangle, N.C., and startup Silicon Cloud International (SCI) of Singapore. By deploying electronic design automation (EDA) hardware and software in a private cloud accessible only to researchers and doctoral candidates at universities worldwide, SRC and SCI hope to grow a whole new crop of qualified SoC design engineers in developing countries worldwide.
"All of our programs have a major chip design component. For instance, SRC has funding now from Abu Dhabi to help improve their university system to meet the unique needs of companies that they want to recruit to come over to Abu Dhabi," Larry Sumney, president and CEO of SRC, told EE Times. "But companies won't come unless there are engineers there to hire, and our new program with SCI will fulfill that roll with its educational agenda."
Silicon Cloud International is a startup whose sole function is to provide developing countries with the hardware, software, and other necessary intellectual property from a private, internationally accessible cloud to be used exclusively to educate design engineers and facilitate coordinated research projects among professors worldwide.
Cloud-based virtual machines provide the EDA tools, design databases, intellectual property, workflows, and more to universities worldwide that only need thin-clients (Chromebox).
"There are several countries in the world -- Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brazil, Pakistan, Slovakia, Algeria, and many more -- that have identified chip design as part of their national agenda, as a vehicle to move the country's economy from manufacturing and assembly to a more knowledge-based economy that increases their per capita income and makes them a bigger player in the higher-paying portion of the semiconductor supply chain," Mojy Chian, CEO of SCI, told us.
What has recently intensified this interest, according to Chian, is the Internet of Things (IoT) because, as opposed to the mobile space, which is dominated by a few very large companies, IoT devices are much simpler and more suited to small startups. Plus, the IoT has a lot of local applications that create a lot of opportunity for developing countries to become much more involved in the design portion of the semiconductor supply chain.
"A lot of IoT applications are local, specific to a particular country. For instance, China cares a lot about monitoring, managing, and controlling air pollution; Malaysia cares a lot about how to control pests in palm trees; Slovakia cares a lot about a water pipeline that goes through their country -- detecting leaks and so on," says Chian. "All these countries and more want to be able to deal with these problems using electronics designed in their own country."
All these great hopes and desires depend on more and better chip designers coming out of their local university systems, a goal shared by SRC and SCI.
"We believe out partnership with SRC will enhance SCI's goals as well -- our relationship is complementary in many ways," notes Chian.
SCI's cloud services are unique, in that they not only provide instructional materials, but also allows users to open up adjacent windows and perform the computer aided design (CAD) functions described in the text -- run simulations, do layouts, and so on. The cloud hardware is virtualized on bare metal servers and runs all the popular EDA suites as a part of the programs EDA vendors already have with universities worldwide. All the user needs is a thin client called Chromebox.
The pilot program starts in August and runs through October after which SCI will be incorporating the suggestions made by the users in the three countries in which the pilot program will be run. SCI's business model is to get government grants to offer the program in those countries' universities. The full rollout of all SCI services is slated for July 2015.
— R. Colin Johnson, Advanced Technology Editor, EE Times