Little Conexant Makes a Big Noise

Telecom Company Turns its Attention to Games, Cars, and Tablets

by Jim Turley

Conexant is one of those companies that used to be big. Like Polaroid, Pan Am, Commodore, Westinghouse, or Life magazine, it carries a once-proud brand name that belies its current station. The company was spun off from mighty Rockwell International 15 years ago during the height of the networking boom, and it has steadily decimated itself since. A string of divestitures capped by a complete Chapter 11 reorganization two years ago have seen the one-time telecom darling reduced to a private firm with about $120 million in total sales.

That’s not to say that Conexant isn’t successful. And with over 300 employees drawing a paycheck, Conexant is no hole-in-the-wall outfit. But it’s not… y’know… a big deal.

 

Securing Your System with FPGAs

Microsemi Introduces FPGA-based Hardened PUFs

by Kevin Morris

Security used to be the purview of the select few - those working on defense projects, financial systems, or other “high-security” devices and platforms. Today, however, with IoT, wearables, connected cars, smartphones, tablets, and so forth, everything is connected to everything, and practically every device owned by every human on earth is able to make safety- and financially-critical transactions. That means security has become important in just about every system we design today.

Unfortunately, security has to be designed into our systems from the ground up. There’s no such thing as a padlock and chain we can throw on top of our existing system-level design to shore it up. And, for real security, we need features built into the hardware itself, rather than relying solely on software to keep the fort safe.

 

Driver’s Ed for FPGAs

Will Altera FPGAs Drive Your Future Audi?

by Kevin Morris

Letting go of the steering wheel for the first time will be a terrifying milestone for most drivers. As engineers, we have all known for years that self-driving and assisted-driving cars were coming, and as a group we have a unique appreciation for the myriad challenges - both technical and social - that lie between us and safer roads.

On the technical side, it is clear that a robust, safe self-driving system requires the aggregation of massive amounts of data from a diverse array of sensors, and the software that processes those inputs will be complex, performance-demanding, and in a high state of flux for many years. That means we need an unfortunate combination of massive sensor aggregation bandwidth, raw data processing, and algorithmic compute performance that can not easily be solved by any current combination of conventional processors and ASSPs.

 

More Indoor Location Services

Few-Centimeter and -Meter Accuracy from BeSpoon and CSR

by Bryon Moyer

We’ve talked before about the challenges of navigating indoors. It was a hard problem then; it remains a hard problem today, with numerous technological contributions coming here and there to help out. For the most part, there’s still no blockbuster new technology to put render all that has come before obsolete, but what follows is a look at a couple of recently-announced real-time location service (RTLS) approaches that continue to build on this pile of solutions.

Be the Spoon

We’ll start with a self-contained proprietary system. In fact, it’s so proprietary that it has its own phone, although, in reality, the phone is more of a development kit than a product. In fact, they announced three such kits a couple of months ago.

 

I Am tRoot

Elliptic Technologies Delivers Hardware Root of Trust

by Jim Turley

Sometimes even the circuit designer doesn’t know how the chip works. And that can be a good thing.

If you’re designing a chip or a system that includes security features, anti-tampering mechanisms, DRM protection, or defenses against DPA attacks, it’s probably better if you don’t know how it all works. That kind of stuff is mysterious. Secret. Black magic. And there are practitioners of these dark arts who are far more skilled than mortals like you or me. For they dwell in the deep places, apart from the rest, shunning the daylight and the company of men. And we call them Elliptic Technologies.

 

Five Ways to Detect

Different Approaches to Assessing the Environment

by Bryon Moyer

A couple of months ago, we took a look at one way of using MEMS cantilevers to detect gases. Our focus was on the optics used to read the status of the cantilevers, but, however detected, the use of cantilevers to measure concentrations of substances is common – at least in research papers.

Since then, this topic of detecting… something (officially called an “analyte”) has come up several times, each with a different twist or approach. So this week we follow up with variations and alternatives to the cantilever theme. They’re all different: one of the take-aways is that this cat can be skinned lots of different ways.

 

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Connected Cars and Saving the World Through IoT

by Amelia Dalton

Hold on tight ladies and gents! This week I'm flying down the IoT Highway, and I’m taking you with me. Our first stop is a little Consumer Electronics Show preview with Rob Valiton from Atmel. Rob and I discuss why low power MCUs will hold the key to the future of automotive innovation and how we can keep those pesky hackers out of our connected cars. Also this week, we look at how IoT Kickstarter campaign Khushi Baby hopes to make the world a much healthier place -- bridging the gap between healthcare workers and the communities they serve, one NFC-equipped necklace at a time.

 

Berkeley’s RISC-V Wants to Be Free

New RISC Processor for SoC Developers is Yours for the Taking

by Jim Turley

“There are two major products that came from Berkeley: LSD and Unix. We don't believe this to be a coincidence.”Jeremy S. Anderson.

Ready for some radical, left-field (not to say left-wing) thinking? Believe in free love, sharing, and open markets? Step right this way. We’ve got something for you.

Oh, goody. It’s another new microprocessor instruction set.

The great minds at the University of California at Berkeley (that’s “Cal” to insiders) have added a lot to our community over the years. Berkeley was the source of some early RISC processor research and the birthplace of Sun’s famous SPARC processor. And its Big Kahuna, Dr. David A. Patterson, PhD., is professor (and former chair) of Computer Science at Berkeley, as well as being an IEEE and ACM Fellow and recipient of the John von Neumann Medal. You may know him as the Patterson in Hennessy & Patterson, authors of the authoritative computer design bible. A real computer nerd, in other words.

 

Everything as a Service

Will People Stop Buying Electronics?

by Kevin Morris

It is always fascinating to follow trend lines, and then to extrapolate them out toward infinity to see what absurd conclusions you can reach. We do that a lot with Moore’s Law around here, and it’s pretty easy to come to absurd conclusions extrapolating on those particular exponentials.

Even with the absurdity disclaimer in place, however, it is interesting to look to the not-too-distant future implications of our most recent half-century of progress. Yes, the cost of a transistor has dropped to … so close to zero that we might want to finally just call it zero. In truth, most of the cost of designing a silicon chip today is the non-recurring engineering costs, not the cost of the silicon area. By the time you amortize all those huge expenses over your production run, the cost of the silicon area itself becomes pretty insignificant. In fact, silicon starts to look a lot more like software - where all of the cost is for development and the incremental cost of an additional copy is basically zero.

 

VISC Processor Secrets Revealed

Soft Machines Uses Combination of Tricks to Improve Performance

by Jim Turley

Still trying to juggle those flaming chainsaws? Splendid, because now we’re going to see how it’s done.

Last week we introduced Soft Machines and its VISC processor, a new CPU design that runs native ARM code even though it’s not an ARM processor. Soft Machines says VISC can also be tailored to run x86 code, Java code, or just about anything else the company decides is worthwhile. It’s a tabula rasa microprocessor: able to run just about anything you throw at it.

Its other major trick is that it can extract more single-thread performance out of a given binary program than any other CPU. And do so without expending a horrendous number of transistors or consuming planetary levels of energy. Let’s start with that part.

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