Editor's note: The story below was originally developed for the December issue of EE Times Confidential, EE Times’ subscription-only intelligence report. You can read the full story by signing up for EE Times Confidential at www.eetimesconfidential.com:
Processor guru rethinks multicore
There was no shortage of engineers who made meaningful contributions to the electronics industry in 2010. The following admittedly subjective list includes a handful of people who we believe stood out this year across the many industries we track.
We begin with Chuck Moore of Advanced Micro Devices, who led the work on Bulldozer, one of the two X86 cores that AMD announced this year. Bulldozer and its companion Bobcat were the first new AMD X86 designs to be crafted from the ground up in a decade, and they will likely be key ingredients in AMD processors for the next 10 years.
Bulldozer takes the novel approach of packing two integer execution pipelines and one shared floating-point unit in a core than can retire four instructions in a clock cycle and run at up to 2.3 GHz. It is essentially a bet that such two-headed cores can outperform cores from archrival Intel that run two threads across one integer unit.
Moore also rolled out a technical strategy for how AMD can differentiate itself in the ways it stitches the new cores together with graphics processing blocks into heterogeneous multicore processors. The strategy involves, among other things, extensions to the PCI Express interconnect to allow tunneling of cache-coherent HyperTransport links between the X86 and graphics cores.
The proof in the pudding will come next year, when processors using the cores start shipping. But on paper, the former designer of the IBM Power4 gets gold stars for out-of-the-box thinking.
The Droid Man
Iqbal Arshad, the man behind the Motorola Droid, helped turn around one of the most storied companies in the mobile communications business, and it wasn’t easy. Indeed colleagues gave the project the code name Mission: Impossible.
Arshad was responsible for delivering hardware and software for Motorola’s smartphone products. The goal with the Droid was to leverage the wildly popular Google Android software to create a smartphone that would rival the Apple iPhone and help pull Moto out of an eight-year slide.
“It was based on a brand-new system design with a complete new manufacturing and supply chain,” Arshad says.
The use of Android forced engineers to write all the driver code, and the small package brought a need for new tools. “We just could not use [separate electrical and mechanical design tools], because of the tight form factor specifications, so we came out with our own custom tools,” says Arshad. “We had to develop our advanced simulation routines using standard tools, as well as custom tools for mechanical, board and thermal requirements.”
The tools helped deliver the thinnest possible keyboard, a 13.7-mm interface in a forged aluminum package that uses nonassist sliders for the capacitive touch front keys on a proprietary board. The payoff: Moto expects to sell 14 million of the handsets in 2010.
Tesla CTO in the driver's seat
We asked serial entrepreneur Atiq Raza whom he would nominate. His answer was unequivocal.
"The most outstanding and impactful electronic engineer and engineering manager of this decade in cleantech is J.B. Straubel, CTO of Tesla. His contributions will one day touch people across this planet, irrespective of how commercially successful Tesla is as a car company. Ironically, the contributions are not scientific but in electronic engineering, relating to the management of the battery systems and the design of the entire vehicle."
Electric vehicles are Straubel's passion. He built a custom electric bicycle and an electric Porsche 944 that set a world EV racing. Before coming to Tesla, he invented a hybrid electric propulsion concept that was licensed to Boeing and a hybrid electric drive train based on a microturbine and a high-speed flywheel.
Besides his work designing the battery pack for the Tesla Roadster, Wired Magazine recounted a 2009 story of how Straubel led a small team that in five days crafted a special battery pack that would fit into a Daimler Smart car. The resulting EV made such an impression on visiting Daimler execs that they struck a partnership with Tesla.
Now, Tesla is working on its first sedan, the Model S, expected to hit the market in 2012. The company acquired for a song a former Toyota manufacturing plant where it and Tesla-powered Toyota RAV4s will be made, so Straubel has his work cut out for him.