Nov 25, 2014

Verdi: Not Just for Debug Anymore

posted by Bryon Moyer

There’s a bit of repositioning going on in EDA-land. It involves Synopsys’s popular Verdi tool, acquired through the SpringSoft purchase. Conceived as a flexible debug tool, it also has an open scripting environment that gives engineers access to data in the fast signal database (FSDB) file. With that capability, folks have been bolting analysis utilities onto Verdi for a while on an ad hoc basis.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed at Synopsys, and they’re now in the process of repositioning Verdi: it’s not just for debug anymore. While it obviously still includes debug in its expanded portfolio, Synopsys is adding features that don’t necessarily fit the debug profile.

One of those is Verdi Coverage. This is intended to help build and track a verification plan that is tightly synchronized with the design requirements. This concept might be familiar to any of you that have seen similar tools in the software space from companies like LDRA.

The assumption here is that verification tests spring from requirements. (If it’s not required, then why are you testing it?) And all requirements should be documented in a requirements document. Verdi Coverage lets you tie tests to requirements and tick off coverage at the requirements level.

Where this can be particularly helpful is when requirements change. Yeah, it’s a thing; it happens. Who knew. Verdi Coverage tracks the requirements documents and can notice when changes occur. This allows you to go in and modify the verification plan accordingly, if needed.

How do they do that? They rely on the PDF file format for the document. Best practice is to use an outline structure in that document. They capture the text from the document, along with some meta-information about where the text is to be found.

And when the document changes? How can they pinpoint the changes? Diff technology. Off the shelf, actually. Apparently the ability to diff two files has gotten pretty good these days. (It’s not as easy as you might think: as soon as one thing changes, then everything after it might seem different unless you can identify the type and scope of the change and then get back on track with unchanged text.) The important thing is this: there’s no special formatting you need to do so that this will work. Write a well-organized, well-structured document (so that a human can process it well) and Verdi Coverage will be able to handle it.

Far from being a debug thing, this becomes a planning tool up front, creating a specific link between requirements and the elements of the verification plan. It applies across verification technologies (formal, simulation, etc.). As long as the requirements document is being kept up to date, there’s no reason for the verification plan to get out of synch with it.

You can find out more in their release.

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Nov 20, 2014

Two Weeks of MEMS and Sensors

posted by Bryon Moyer


The last couple weeks have involved two events with sensors center-stage. The MEMS Executive Congress is a confab of executives from the MEMS industry (and some non-MEMS companies), put on by the MEMS Industry Group (MIG). It’s been around for years.

TSensors, by contrast, started last year as a push by MEMS luminary Janusz Bryzek to identify and eliminate roadblocks to achieving sensor volumes in the trillions (the “T” in “TSensors” is for “trillion.”) While the MIG event tends to involve a conventional conference pace (hopefully with unconventional new ideas), TSensors involves two days of rapid-fire presentations (18 minutes to present, 2 minutes of questions… the timer is ticking!).

I learned lots of new things at both events, and I’ll be rolling out details over time. But, backing up a level, I wanted to take note of the tone taken in particular by TSensors.

The TSensors theme was “Abundance,” leveraging the popular book by Peter Diamandis. First of all, the tone of the book (which I’ll freely admit I haven’t read myself) is said to be highly optimistic – a refreshing take in a time when things don’t always feel like they’re going well.

But the other thing that I came away with was a renewed sense of engineering doing things that help the world. Frankly, some of the goals – like access by all to health care – might be viewed as problematic in some corners. Be that as it may, it felt good to think about the impact of our work on real people.

It’s not like money left the equation; heck, one of the repeated themes was the need to reduce sensor costs so that we can do these things while still rewarding folks for their innovations; it won’t work otherwise. But the difference was that the money, while necessary and important, wasn’t the be-all end-all goal in and of itself. It’s an enabler, not the final result.

Whether the bean counters strip all the hippie-dippy crap by the time this turns from PowerPoint to a business plan remains to be seen. But it’s good to look around occasionally and notice that we do some good work.

And there’s lots more good work to be done.

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Nov 18, 2014

Wireless Power: Making Actual Product

posted by Bryon Moyer


Things have been a bit quiet on the wireless power front, but occasionally I’ll become aware of a new player and will dig in to find out how they work. In particular, given that there are now two main competing resonant (e-field) charging standards, it’s interesting to learn where the various players stand.

As a quick review, the two standards are Qi, at a lower frequency (200 kHz) building off of its existing inductive charging market, and Rezence, at a higher frequency (6.78 MHz), which is a newcomer.

The latest company I ran across was PowerSquare, who announced their technology this past summer. These guys help illustrate how this market is playing out. Some companies, like WiTricity, are firmly allied with a standard (in their case,

Rezence). They develop the basic technology and then license it to companies building actual charging stations. Most of the companies and standards groups I’ve talked with in the past were of this variety.

PowerSquare is not: they’re in the next tier of companies trying to establish a retail brand. As such, their focus isn’t on evangelizing one or another technology; their focus is on selling chargers. So PowerSquare isn’t allied with one or the other approach; they’re going to use what’s available and what works and what’s cost effective.

In this case, their current products leverage the Qi standard. Why? Because that’s what’s there now. In fact, they’re not even doing the newer e-field resonant thing – that’s not ready yet (or wasn’t when they assembled their product). So they use the old inductive (m-field-oriented) approach.

They have, however, adopted some of the techniques we’ve discussed before, creating a pad with an array of coils so that you can put a phone anywhere on it or charge multiple phones at once. So, while they get “x” and “y” positioning flexibility, what they don’t get with that approach is increased “z” spacing: the phone still has to be on the pad, close to the coils. You can’t mount the pad under a table or counter – the resonant approach would be needed for that.

Looking forward, PowerSquare CEO Pavan Pudipeddi sees plusses and minuses for both evolving standards. The biggest thing Qi has going for it is momentum: its legacy helps propel it forward. They already have working technology, albeit inductive, so, even though they’re getting their resonant approach squared away, there’s less pressure because they’ve already got something to sell.

That legacy is also a challenge for Qi, because they’re all about backward-compatibility. So decisions from the past affect the future; that could feel like baggage at some point.

Rezence, on the other hand, has in its favor support from some heavy-hitting companies: Intel, Samsung, and Qualcomm among them. Their challenge is that this technology is new, and there’s intense pressure to get product out the door to establish some traction. In particular, Mr. Pudipeddi wasn’t aware of any uptake of the Rezence technology in phone designs as of when we spoke. (That could have changed by now.)

The first Rezence-based product is expected by the end of the year, however, so the battle will be fully joined at that point. And PowerSquare will continue to use whichever versions of whichever technology hold the most promise for selling units at the retail level.

You can read PowerSquare’s technology announcement here.

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