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Low-Power Atmosic Technologies' Bluetooth 5.0 Chip

Many IoT (Internet of Things) applications will be untethered, not connected by physical wires for power or communications. They will use batteries, and battery life will be critical. Atmosic Technologies, a Bay Area startup of ultra-low power wireless for the IoT, has developed a chip ideally suited for these applications. 

This week, Atmosic Technologies launched the M2 and M3 series, touting it as the industry’s lowest-power wireless Bluetooth 5.0 chips. It offers improved battery life in three ways. First, the chip was designed from the ground up to be a low-power chip. It has intrinsic design features that offer five to 10 times more battery life than other Bluetooth 5.0 chips. Second, it has on-demand receiving. The chip can be in a sleep mode until it receives a Bluetooth signal including specific codes to wake it up. That feature can improve battery life by up to 100 times. Third, it includes an RF Power Harvesting Section. By harvesting RF energy, the chip offers what can be essentially infinite battery life. The chip can use any of these three methods of battery life improvement on its own or in any combination. 

AI Accelerating Discovery

In early April 2018, the Materials Research Society held their spring meeting and exhibit at the Phoenix, Arizona convention center.  With over 110 symposium presentations, it was difficult to select which sessions to attend.  But one forum caught my eye, “AI for Materials Development”.  These days AI seems to be everywhere.  
 
As we all speculate about the impact of AI on autonomous driving and the next killer app, Carla Gomes, Professor of Computer Science and director of the Institute for Computational Sustainability at Cornell University, is focusing on large-scale constraint-based reasoning.  She pointed out that AI still can’t compete with good ol’ human common sense.  Human reasoning and inference planning are still lacking in most AI systems.  One of the key fundamentals of AI is building a neural network that resembles the human brain.  Even with the advancements of 7nm silicon technology, this is a daunting task, not to mention the complexities of software algorithms to mimic the human thought and decision process.
 
But in the world of materials development, AI excels.  By integrating material experimentation and AI, the discovery of new materials and the application of materials in the real world is progressing at an accelerated pace.  AI is capable of developing the hypotheses and—along with robotics—is following through with new scientific discovery. 
 

Foundry Roadmaps: Real Solutions, or Just Hedging?

Major semiconductor foundries have revealed their advanced technology roadmaps for the next few years.  They’re all investing billions of dollars into the development of process technologies and packaging options.  The number of alternatives has been described as ‘dizzying’.  How can all the foundries remain profitable?  How does the customer decide which ‘route’ to take? 
 

For the twenty-year period from the mid-1980s through the mid-2000s, process technology nodes were relatively easy to segment.  Semico forecasted wafer demand into very clear process technology categories.  Starting with the 45/40nm node in 2007, the two major logic manufacturers (Intel and TSMC) along with competing foundries began taking different paths.  But the paths were still relatively clear.  Intel rolled out their 45nm technology, and then TSMC rolled out their 40nm process.  The foundries began to focus on low-power processes first.  Then they followed up with their high-performance process several months to a quarter later.

Today, in addition to the number of different nodes, the challenge includes Intel’s claim that their 10nm process is comparable to the 7nm offered by other foundries. Semico believes the matching of product needs with process performance and cost will dictate market acceptance, not the marketing claims of technology-naming convention.  

Best Practices for Power Management in SoCs Today

Interview with a Power Management Architect
 
by Richard Wawrzyniak: Principal Analyst; ASIC and SoC
Semico Research Corp.
 
Dynamic Power Management has become a 'must-have' in Systems-on-a-Chip (SoC) design today because of tightening power budgets and rising transistor counts. These increases mainly stem from evolving market requirements for more device functionality and richer feature sets being made available to meet changing market requirements. The semiconductor industry has responded with a plethora of different solutions to these issues.
 
Semico Research Corp. conducted an interview with Jawad Haj-Yihia, a Power Management Architect formerly of Intel Corp. in Israel.
 
The following article represents key aspects of that interview delving into many of the issues that confront Power Management Architects in the industry today.
 
Market Requirements Drive Power and Energy Targets
 
Today, there is a constant evolution in market requirements for silicon solutions targeted at mobile applications. This is primarily driven by user demands for more functionality while delivering greater ease-of-use to the end user. All these advanced features and increased functionality come at a price; greater power consumption and rising device complexity.
 

Impact Of Rising SoC Design Costs On Innovation

(Originally published at semiengineering.com)

If there is one truism in the semiconductor market, it is that rising costs will impact unit demand at some point if they continue long enough. The subject of this blog deals not with device ASPs; but rather with rising SoC design costs, and their effect on the number of designs at the advanced nodes. Even though the mechanism governing each set of numbers is different (device ASPs vs. design costs), the overall impact can be similar. In this case, the number of design starts is impacted by the climate of rising design costs.

Following are a few of Semico’s findings.

Will Higher Production Costs Hamper IoT Growth?

No question, 2017 is expected to be a good year for the semiconductor industry.  Semiconductor revenues for 2017 are expected to increase over 9% this year.  A 6% increase in unit sales, as well as higher average selling prices for memory products, will help drive the revenue growth rate to its highest level since 2010.  Wafer demand is forecast to grow by almost 8%.  The higher revenue growth compared to units and wafer demand is a welcome change compared to the last two years.  But there are a couple clouds on the horizon.
 
The strong unit growth over the past several years has been at the expense of falling average selling prices.  New MEMS and sensor products, the driving forces behind IoT, have experienced steep declines in ASPs.  The industry is very familiar with the declines in DRAM cost per bit and how that drives increased applications and demand for memory.  Comparing MEMS and sensor ASP declines to that of DRAM, there is a close correlation between the two.  In fact, between 2010 and 2016 sensor ASPs fell faster than DRAM cost per bit over the same timeframe. 

Mature Technology: It's Where the Action Is

Semico Research has just released a mature technology market research study.  Wait!  Mature technologies?  Aren’t those fabs trailing-edge technology, old hat, passé?  They may use older technology, but there’s a lot of action there now. 

For many years, semiconductor manufacturing has tended to migrate from older fabs to newer fabs in a predictable manner.  Leading-edge semiconductors such as processors and memory migrated to leading-edge fabs.  ASICs and other integrated circuits migrated to the second-generation fabs just vacated by the leading-edge parts.  Discretes and other trailing-edge devices migrated to the third-generation fabs.  Older fabs were decommissioned.  That pattern ended several generations ago.  The reasons are complex.  It involves economics, diverging memory and logic technologies, new applications which require low power, and market dynamics which include company consolidation.

CES Technology in the Driver’s Seat

What a show! Not sure if it’s the weekend attraction of Las Vegas, but CES managed to retain the crowds through Saturday.  Most booths were bustling with curious attendees trying to get a better understanding of the new products and underlying technologies. Once again, the automotive section was quite busy with autonomous driving and electrification of vehicles front and center. While Level 5 autonomous driving is still several years away from reality, all manufacturers are equipping cars with some type of enhanced driving autonomy or assisted driving. In the Ford booth we saw the Ford Lincoln (pictured below) equipped as an autonomous driving car.

The first thing one might notice is that the radar, lidar, and other electronics are nicely incorporated into the body, unlike what you would see in the Google car. The current generation of autonomous driving electronics is quite bulky. It’s somewhat analogous to the mainframes from the ‘70s, when one computer required a large dedicated room.  Clearly, miniaturization needs to happen on the automotive side as the picture below shows the trunk completely packed with electronics.  It looks like we could barely fit one bag of groceries into the trunk. 

Increasing Lithium Ion Safety with Semiconductors

As the world’s devices get smaller and lighter with increasing power requirements, we need batteries that can provide more power for more time. Modern lithium ion batteries are reaching incredible energy densities enabling devices and vehicles to be more efficient than ever before. All energy storage devices have some risk, however these high energy densities come with increased danger. The dangers of lithium ion batteries have garnered national media attention with the explosions of Samsung smartphones, “hoverboards”, e-cigarettes, and other consumer electronic devices. While manufacturing error contributes to battery failure, many cases of battery explosions are the result of insufficient battery management technology built into the device.
 
Previous generations of portable devices and vehicles have used nickel cadmium, nickel hydride, or lead acid batteries. These chemistries are inherently less volatile than lithium chemistry packs and do not require constant monitoring. Lithium battery packs are much more finicky, requiring protection from overcharge, over-discharge, temperature, and physical shock. While all batteries can be damaged by these factors, lithium ion batteries become volatile and will overheat, catch fire, and explode.
 

Debate in the Desert on MEMS Capacity

The MEMS and sensor market continues to be a hotbed for innovation, new opportunities and, as with most new frontiers, there are also some disparate views on market dynamics and strategies.  All this was evident at the 2016 MSIG Executive Congress last week in Scottsdale, Arizona. 
 
First, I’ll cover the pioneering and fun subjects.  In addition to the Technology Showcase demos and member presentations there were a couple of “outside-the-box” topics such as 3D-printed cars.  Co-create was the buzzword on Day 2 and was used by Local Motors General Manager, Philip Rayer, as he showed off several 3D-printed vehicle designs which reduce manufacturing time while integrating a totally digital process and open sourcing options such as an OS battery management system.  The company is co-creating an autonomous, electric car with partners such as IBM Watson, Siemens, NXP and Meridian.  Rayer challenged the audience to consolidate the MEMS and sensors into a simplified suite of assemblies and reduce the wiring necessary. 
 
Figure:  Local Motors Strati 3D-Printed Car

Source:  Local Motors
 

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