Newer Tools Let You Do More than Just Electronics
Welcome to autumn. It’s usually a busy season – although the activity typically starts more with the onset of September and the resumption of school than with the equinox. But it also comes on the heels of a quiet season, even in the overworked US.
And EDA has seemed moderately quiet. So I started looking around to see what I might have been missing, and I’m not sure there’s a lot. But it did get me musing on why things might be quiet for the moment as well as what fills the gap – which gets to the topic of what qualifies as EDA. It’s more than you might think.
At the risk of being obviously over-simple, the legions of coders in EDA-land are doing one of two things: building new technologies or improving on old ones. The new technology category might include support for FinFETs or multi-patterning or the design kits for the latest silicon node. The improvement side of the tree is where performance and capacity and usability are juiced up – all in the name of productivity, of course.
The Cadence of IoT and the Sound of a Single Atom
The music is loud, the rhythm - infectious, but it's the backbeat that has us tapping our toes and coming back for more. We're all jamming to the same IoT tune, but what keeps the cadence in 4/4 time? My guest this week is Phil Callahan from Silicon Labs and we discuss this dance called IoT, from the internet infrastructure laying down its chord progression to the super cool demo solos Silicon Labs will be showing at this year's X-fest. Also this week, we check out another musical melody that has finally revealed...the sound of a single atom.
What Does the Future Hold for the Semiconductor Industry?
When I looked at the forecasts from London-based analysis company Future Horizons this time last year (Malcolmy: Entrails, Crystal Balls and Spreadsheets), I saw that they predicted that, while short-term (through 2014) sales volumes were set to increase, the long-term future of the industry was looking a little less than rosy. A year on, the picture Malcolm Penn, the MD of Future Horizons, is painting is much the same, with the pessimism for the long term even more marked.
First - the good news: Penn has revised upwards his forecast for the number of ICs shipping. His downside forecast shows growth of 9.8% and his upside predicts growth of 11.2%. For 2015 he is going for 15% growth, perhaps more.
Foundation Aims to Prevent MIPS Fragmentation
If a microprocessor is nothing but a machine that executes software, then it’s probably important to make sure that all of the machines are compatible with all of the software. That’s a lot harder than it sounds.
Some CPU families have a long and storied history of binary compatibility. Intel’s x86 architecture comes to mind, because of its slavish devotion to binary compatibility dating back to the 1970s. Love it or hate it, at least you know that every x86 processor ever made will run any x86 program ever written. It’s a huge burden to bear, lugging all of that ‘70s-era baggage around, but it’s also one of the architecture’s greatest strengths.
From Artisan to Arduino at World Maker Faire
We walk past a small booth at the 2014 World Maker Faire, and a young boy, perhaps eight or nine years old, jumps out to get our attention. He is so excited we can barely understand what he is saying. He wants us to see his sneakers - adorned with an array of LEDs giving a high-energy light show that would make any grade-schooler envious. He explains that he programmed the lights himself. He is ecstatic, and his enthusiasm radiates into the crowd. “Can I sign you up? Can I sign you up?” He pulls up a registration form on a laptop computer. We have no idea what he wants us to sign up for.
A look inside the sneakers reveals an Arduino board with its obligatory Atmel AVR microcontroller. Sitting on the table nearby is another laptop - running a kid-friendly drag-and-drop programming interface that allows kids to write code to create their own shoe-wear lighting spectacular. You want blinky shoes? You gotta program them first. It’s gonna be FUN!
A Tribology Triumph
The world has seen a ton of MEMS devices built in the last few years. Of course, MEMS technology has been around for decades, but it’s really been the ability to fabricate cheaply, coupled with high-volume applications, that has driven the more recent surge.
While MEMS devices have historically been built out of many different substances, the “fabricate cheaply” thing comes partly from the ability to use silicon – either etching the pieces out of the wafer (bulk micro-machining) or depositing films onto silicon and etching those (surface micro-machining).
I never noticed this, but it turns out that, as nice as silicon can be, there are certain kinds of mechanical interactions you don’t really see. You see bending, expansion/shrinkage, movement in proximity (like interdigitated fingers), and vibration, for instance, but we never get to see any hot silicon-on-silicon action. You know, where one part literally slides across another or rotates in contact with a surface or rubs in some other way. Largely because, well, it would be too hot. Among other problems.