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.

 

New Processor Promises It All

Soft Machines’ VISC Processor Takes an Unorthodox Approach

by Jim Turley

Excuse me while I juggle these flaming chainsaws. While riding a unicycle on a tightrope crossing over Niagara Falls. Blindfolded. Challenging enough for ya?

That’s essentially what a new company called Soft Machines is attempting. It’s a new firm with an entirely new microprocessor design that is taking on the two toughest challenges in the business: how to increase performance while reducing power, and how to run programs written for other processors. Oh, and they’re competing with ARM for embedded RISC processor cores. And then they’ll be taking on Intel and AMD with x86 processors. Challenging enough for ya?

It’s not every day you get to see a brand new microprocessor company. What do you think this is – 1998? Yet Soft Machines thinks it’s cracked the secret code to making embedded processors that are both fast and small, quick yet power-efficient, new yet totally compatible with existing binary code.

 

Managing Encryption

HCC Embedded Strikes Efficiency/Freedom Balance

by Bryon Moyer

We humans are funny creatures. When it comes to how we organize ourselves, we like for someone to be in charge. But we don’t want them to be too much in charge. Exactly how that balance is set is a point of constant friction around the world, and there’s no one right setpoint for everyone or every culture.

System design inherits this ambivalence. We don’t want chaos, but we want maximal individual freedom and flexibility. So we want standards, but not too many. And we like reference designs, but we want to be able to customize them and make them our own.

It’s all about adding value: we all want to build something that’s uniquely us. From a business standpoint, we’re hoping that “that special something” will excite customers and become a sales differentiator. But, while we want to put our custom touches on it, we don’t want to develop everything from scratch, and we tend to eschew redundancy as being inefficient (unless it’s a requirement for safety purposes, in which case we go along begrudgingly).

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