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May 2009

Medical or Industrial USB 2.0 Voltage Isolation in a Drop-In Package

If you’ve ever been in a hospital bed, or seen a loved one in a hospital bed, hooked up to a cluster of electronic sensors; the thought has to have crossed your mind, “A person could get a bad electrical shock from one of those.”  Analog Devices has introduced a low cost solution to help keep that from happening. 

A just introduced Analog Devices device, part number ADuM4160, provides USB isolation in a single package.  Many pieces of medical equipment now have a USB cable connection to a PC.  To protect the patient, the medical equipment and the PC, the equipment and the PC should be electrically isolated on that USB connection.  Until now, that required an expensive USB cable with a built-in isolation module or circuit designed in-house and built into the equipment, something typically outside the company’s core design expertise. 

The new Analog Devices part is a drop-in solution that provides 5kV rms isolation at less than half the cost of the previous solutions.  It is fully USB 2.0 compliant for 1.5Mbps low speed and 12Mbps full speed applications.  Because it provides isolation in both directions, it protects the monitor as well as the patient.  This is especially important for defibrillation.  The patient must be unhooked from all medical devices before defibrillation shocks can begin.  The Analog Devices part provides an additional safeguard in case a mistake is made. 

Microchip Technology Low Sleep Power MCUs

Microchip Technology Inc. is introducing two 8-bit MCU families and one 16-bit family.  According to Microchip, these MCUs provide the world’s lowest sleep power, even lower than the already low sleep power figures for its existing nanoWatt XLP 8-bit and 16-bit MCU families.  The new MCUs can operate in a deep sleep mode using down to 20nA of current.  This deep sleep mode has been achieved by process improvements and by intelligently shutting down all functions that customers have indicated are not essential, while maintaining flexible wake sources that customers have indicated are essential:  a watchdog timer, a real time clock and calendar, a brown-out reset and others.  The watchdog timer operates at currents down to 400nA.  The real-time clock and calendar operates at currents down to 500nA. 

The new families of MCUs are ideal for battery-powered applications such as smoke detectors, utility meters or medical monitors where devices are queried from time to time for values with sleep time between queries.  The low power required in the deep sleep mode can extend battery life significantly.

RF and Analog Moving to Center Stage

The RFCMOS, BiCMOS, BCD and analog market is an area of the semiconductor industry that has never been viewed as mainstream.  These markets have traditionally depended on proprietary products and technologies which demand a significant investment of time and brain power.  Many companies shied away from this segment because it just wasn’t sexy enough, or they just didn’t have the requisite expertise to function in these markets.

At the 2009 TSMC Technology Forum in San Jose, the company announced a focused effort on the ‘more than Moore’ technologies such as RFCMOS, high voltage, BCD etc.  The company is going to focus a portion of their R&D budget on developing processes and support services on analog mixed signal products.  TSMC has traditionally focused on digital CMOS processes which serve a very broad market. 

Cadence Design Systems has been a major player in this market for some time and continues to place more emphasis on aiding mixed signal ASIC designers with better tools, IP and design services. 

Texas Instruments Takes a Shine to Luminary Micro.

On May 14, 2009 Texas Instruments announced it had acquired Luminary Micro, the leading supplier of ARM Cortex-M3 based microcontrollers.  The Stellaris family of Cortex-M3 MCUs will be added to TI’s product portfolio.

The entire Luminary Micro team in Austin, TX is joining TI.  The Stellaris family will become a brand name within TI.  The tools and support developed by Luminary Micro, such as StellarisWare, will be incorporated into TI’s programs.

Semico Spin

TI’s acquisition of Luminary Micro allows the company to leap frog its MCU roadmap.
The company is the largest supplier of ARM based products across several product types - MCUs, DSPs, applications processors and cell phone baseband chips.  ARM is also the fastest growing architecture in the 32-bit MCU segment.

TI has been shipping ARM 7 based MCUs (TMS470) for several years.  It did announce a Cortex R4 (TMS570) a few years ago.  However, this only began shipping in late 2008.  The TI ARM MCU roadmap has appeared stagnant for the last couple of years.  The Luminary acquisition changes this and puts TI back on the ARM MCU fast track.

ASIC Design Starts By Key Applications Revisited II

This report looks at the ASIC Design Start universe by 66 end applications broken down by the major SIA categories of Computer, Communications, Consumer, Transportation and Industrial. The design starts for each end application are further broken down by the specific ASIC product type by year for 2007 – 2012. In addition, this breakdown is given for the unit shipments for each end application.

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Auto Makers' Gamble: Gas or Electric

In the middle of a financial crisis, automobile makers worldwide are facing an enormous gamble.  While sales and profits are at a low point, they are being forced by events to invest in hybrid electric vehicles that have an unproven demand. 

Taxpayers are angry.  They believe that their tax money is being used to rescue car makers from problems caused by their own bad management.  They want the car companies to become leaner and more efficient; with lower pay, fewer retirement and health benefits for line workers and drastically reduced compensation for top-level executives.  At the same time, politicians and the public are pressing for green solutions.  Unfortunately, developing those solutions will take money, something that is in short supply at auto companies. 

There are several emerging technologies, gasoline direct injection, dual clutch transmissions and electronic valves for example, that together have the potential of improving the efficiency of gasoline engines by 15% to 25%.  The investment needed to incorporate those technologies is much less than the investment needed to develop hybrid electric cars.  The improved gasoline engine cars would be less expensive than hybrid electric cars; and the auto companies would make a profit on them, which may not be achievable for hybrid electric vehicles for five to ten years. 

MOST: A Better Automotive Infotainment Network Not Invented Here

Picking on US automakers today seems like piling on, but I have a beef.  Why do US companies always seem to be the last companies in the world to adopt new automotive electronic technologies?  There are many examples, but two will suffice.  In the mid nineties it was J1850 for multiplexing.  The world was moving toward the CAN bus, which originated in Europe.  While US auto manufacturers dithered over J1850, the CAN bus became universal.  Today, it is MOST (Media Oriented Systems Transport), an automotive infotainment network.  MOST also originated in Europe, developed by the  MOST Cooperation, which was founded by Audi, BMW, Daimler, Harman/Becker and SMSC, the core partners that now form the MOST steering committee.  The MOST Cooperation now includes 16 car makers and 80 suppliers.   

Fixing Fiats Again in the United States

Who could have imagined Chrysler Corp. being rescued by Fiat?  When Fiats last appeared in the US automobile market, they were viewed by most US drivers as quirky little cars from Italy with maintenance problems. 

I owned a Fiat 124 Sport Coupe during the late sixties.  For the time, it was a great car.  It had double overhead camshafts, four wheel disc brakes and a five speed transmission; features that few if any American cars had.  The car had a solid rear axle; but, because the axle was well located, that had no effect on the car’s excellent handling capabilities.  The engine would willingly rev well past its 7000 RPM limit if you let it.  I bought it because I wanted a sports car but had a family and needed something bigger.  It met my needs extremely well, but there were problems. 

The exhaust manifold gasket blew out at intervals between 5,000 and 10,000 miles.  The turn signals stopped working with about the same frequency, and then the steering column wiring harness had to be replaced.  The rear disc brake calipers slid on dissimilar materials and stopped working due to corrosion from electrolytic action when the car was driven on salted roads in the winter.  I was into working on cars then, so none of those things mattered to me. 

ASIC Design Starts: Changes in Industry Dynamics

The current global slowdown in economic conditions is having an adverse impact on the design start universe for ASICs. This can be seen in the slowing of design start activity towards the end of 2008 and forecast for all of 2009. Semico believes 2010 will see a recovery in design activity back to more historical norms. An in-depth perspective on these impacts is provided by showing a comparison between design starts for SoCs and all other types of ASICs and the continuing increase in SoC design costs.

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NAND Systems Applications: What Is Eating Up All The NAND?

NAND flash manufacturers, as well as their upstream and downstream vendors, have recently endured unprecedented market conditions. Semico Research’s most recent NAND flash report, “NAND Systems Applications, What’s Eating Up All The NAND?”, takes an in-depth look at recent impacts of the global recession on all segments of the NAND flash memory market, top-six NAND manufacturer technology updates, and provides invaluable system-wide forecasts.

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