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Semico’s Top 5 Technologies from CES

As usual, this year’s CES was dauntingly huge.  There were thousands of products and over 150,000 people registered.  Semico sent in four fearless analysts to brave the chaos for you and below we’ve laid out five technologies we think you should pay attention to as game changers. 

3D Printing

Over the past several months, Semico has been digging into the pros and cons of additive manufacturing, more commonly referred to as 3D printing.  The 3D printing companies represented at CES have convinced me that this is a revolutionary technology.  It’s my selection for best product at CES. 

A 3D printer is not just a tool for prototypes or a mere plaything for the hobbyist.  3D printers will change our lives.  Need a new set of plates or bakeware, make it with 3D Systems’ CeraJet that works with ceramic materials.  Need a hearing aid?  Make it with envisionTEC’s DDSP System that uses TI’s DLP technology.  And this isn’t just for small items.  The Stratasys Objet1000 features a large build tray of 1000 x 800 x 500 mm (39.3 x 31.4 x 19.6 in.) capable of working with 14 different materials.  3DMonstr is a large, industrial-grade, quad-extruder 3D printer, with the capability of building an object up to 8 cubic ft.  3DMonster is currently on Kickstarter and has already surpassed its goal.   

The Healthcare Market is not Just a Mobile Semiconductor Fad

Semiconductor Intellectual Property (SIP) is facilitating tremendous growth in the semiconductor industry.  Jim Feldhan, President of Semico Research, delivered the kickoff address of the Semico IP Impact Conference, attended by over 150 people.

One of Feldhan’s key messages was that portability will continue to reshape technology and our lives.  Today, eight percent of resources are directed towards creating content while 91% are about using content.  This is especially prevalent in the mobile market, which surpassed the traditional computing market in 2008.  Tablets will outsell notebooks by the end of this year.  And, by 2017, Semico is projecting that the tablet and notebook form factors will become indistinguishable.

Another message was how the residential market will be impacted by the Internet of Things.  Today the average home has over 70 appliances and devices, which could be internet-connected in the future.  This will create an $18 billion market for internet-connected appliances in 2017 which will contain over $160 billion in semiconductors in those appliances.

Is the Internet of Things Driving Us Toward a Security Armageddon?

At the Semico Impact conference on November 6th, Kent Shimasaki of Infinitedge led a panel titled “Designing for New World Applications.” The panelists’ discussion revolved around system security and managing power efficiency. Panel participants included John O'Neill, Vice President of Marketing, Skyworks; Grant Pierce, CEO, Sonics; Ron Moore, Director of Strategic Accounts Marketing for PIPD, ARM; and Steve Singer, Director of Systems Engineering, Embedded Security Solutions, INSIDE Secure.

Mr. Shimasaki started things off by asking the panelists what are their customers’ biggest challenges in addressing the Internet of Things? Grant Pierce said that his customers look for the scalability of IP to support integration onto a single IC. With very personalized devices like wearables, you need to exploit every opportunity to extend battery life. For example, it’s not just delivering the most power efficient app, it also involves being able to control the total power budget of a device as it relates to the overall operation. Mr. Pierce said that security has to be raised to appropriate levels, depending on the device, to coincide with an application; the security level for a watch that tells you the time is vastly different from the security in a pacemaker.

Degrees of Freedom vs Axis

There are two common terms when describing sensors.  One is “degree of freedom” (DOF) and the other is “axis.”   They're often used synonymously, originating when accelerometers, vibration sensors and tilt sensors were first used in industrial and military applications for monitoring movement, such as a robotic arm or a space craft.  Yet, they don't mean the same thing.  Technically, a DoF is a parameter that determines the state of a physical system and it takes six numbers to characterize a movement. 

So, six degrees of freedom indicates the sensors track up and down, side to side, forward and backward, pitch, roll, and yaw.  A device can really only have a maximum of 6 DOF, because there are only 6 degrees of freedom in a 3D space.  When a company claims a higher DOF (like 9), they’re really implying a higher degree of accuracy within the linear and angular 3D space.

Which means the more accurate term when discussing sensors is "axis

The axis term refers to the X, Y, and Z axis, so a 1-axis sensor most likely goes up and down on a Y axis or side to side on a X axis.  A 3-axis sensor would track on all three axes.  A sensor platform that is said to have 9, 10, or 12-axes indicates that it tracks multiple data points along the X, Y, and Z axes. The number of axes a device is said to have can be as high as the developer wants - as long as each additional axis tracks data along one of the x, y, or z axes, it can be added on to the total. 

Sand9 Rolling Out MEMS Timing Solutions

About a year ago Sand9 was a startup just coming out of stealth mode.  Little was known other than it had innovative MEMS timing technology.  The company is starting to roll out product to market.  On September 3, 2013 Sand9 announced the TM061 and TM361 touted as the “First precision MEMS Timing products for the Internet of Things and Mobile.”  On November 18, 2013 the company announced the TM651 to meet the rigorous requirements for precision timing in communications infrastructure, industrial and military applications.

Sand9 is using a platform strategy for its product lines.  The two platforms are MR (MEMS Resonator) and TSMR(Temperature Sensing MEMS Resonator).  The first device offered for MR is the TM061.  The first one for TSMR is the TM361.

Sand9 implements a piezoelectric MEMS technology.  Traditional MEMS use electrostatic technology which has issues with performance and low power.  According to the company, its piezoelectric resonator architecture has higher performance and lower power.  The temperature detection and compensation in the TSMR is achieved by sandwiching a layer of Si (silicon) between two layers of SiO2 (silicon dioxide).  As the temperature increases SiO2 stiffens while Si softens.  The two layers compensate each other.

Microchip PIC32 Family Reaches New Levels of Performance and Integration

Microchip has announced an addition to its 32-bit MCU line of PIC32 called the PIC32MZ Embedded Connectivity (EC) family.  The PIC32 is based on the MIPS architecture.  The new PIC32MZ is Microchip’s first MCU to feature Imagination’s MIPS microAptiv™ core.

The microAptiv core adds 159 new DSP instructions that enable the execution of DSP algorithms at up to 75% fewer cycles than the PIC32MX families.  Microchip has tripled the performance over its previous generation reaching 330 DMIPS.  The microMIPS instruction set also enables improved code density for the PIC32MZ.

Microchip has integrated a large number of peripherals, mostly to support high speed connectivity: Hi-Speed USB, 10/100 Ethernet MAC, 2 CAN 2.0b modules, 6 UART, 6 SPI / I²S, 5 I²C™ and SQI (Serial Quad Interface).  The SQI supports high-speed interface to external Flash.  Integrated onto the PIC32MZ is up to 2MB of Live-Update Flash.  This is the Flash technology Microchip acquired with SST.

The PIC32MZ targets a broad range of applications which include automation (factory, building and home), consumer audio, automotive, security, power meters and cloud computing. 

Mobile Health Feeds Big Data

Healthcare has been changing in big ways.  These days, a good system can monitor a patient and then use that data to enact behavioral change for an entire society.  Changing society for the better is basically the end goal of Big Data.  

Big Data in healthcare means mining personal data that can be applied either to personal care or combined with large demographic segments to spot trends and improve care to either cure or manage disease and sickness or to change behavior in a positive way.  

For example, technology like Dexcom’s glucose monitor, watches blood sugar levels every five minutes for five days, and is approved by the FDA.  Since controlling sugar is so important, someone who is diabetic can now send complete data to their doctor.  This is something patients have never before been able to do.  This constant stream of data is “Big Data” in that, even if there isn’t a cure, disease and sickness can still be managed by understanding our smallest reactions to daily stimulus.  

This becomes predictive modeling, which means decreased health costs, and implies an upcoming data deluge.  It is possible to get a trillion GB of data for each individual.  The amount can be astronomical, and apps will need to sift through the data to get to the relevant and actionable data (Market Opportunity for new Tech).

A New Class of Data Center SoCs: John Koeter of Synopsys

John Koeter of Synopsys spoke at the Semico Impact Conference: Focus on the IP Ecosystem (November 6, 2013) about a new class of data center SoCs. Koeter is vice president of the Marketing Solutions Group at Synopsys. In this capacity he is responsible for the marketing of Synopsys' DesignWare® Intellectual Property (IP), Professional Services and System-Level Design products.

Koeter noted the trend of increasing internet traffic which is being driven by the mobile market. Globally, peak Internet traffic is expected to grow 3.5x from 2012 to 2017, a 29% CAGR. This will impact the IP world, as semiconductors are expected to meet the changing needs of the data centers. He foresees a major sea change in the data center. The trends are for software defined networks (SDN) and low power micro servers. Also, there will be improvements in the cost/performance ratio achieved through application acceleration with PCIe SSDs.

According to Koeter SDN will reach 35% penetration of the Ethernet switching by 2016. Data centers are moving away from proprietary solutions that are vendor specific. For semiconductor companies this represents $3.7 billion market for SDN and network infrastructure. New architectures are emerging to meet the needs of the data centers. The new semiconductor devices will be SDN-enabled switch ASSPs and SDN-enabled communication processors. Highly integrated processors for new micro servers which are focused on reducing power are necessary.

What I Learned on the Way to the Semico Impact Conference: Focus on the IP Ecosystem

I had a very interesting discussion with Sundar Iyer, CEO of Memoir Systems, during a briefing they gave Semico on their just-released Pattern Aware Memory IP technology.

To briefly restate their announcement: Memoir has researched the different interactions between processors and memory in high-performance datacom systems and found that certain operations recur fairly often.  These operations roughly fall into four groupings: Counter Memory, Sequential Memory, Allocation Memory and Update Memory.  There are probably many more than these types, but Memoir is starting with these operations to begin with.

Memoir Systems is a 3rd party memory IP company and, as such, devotes its time to developing and introducing embedded memory IP to the market. In the case of this new product announcement, the memory IP they are introducing is tailored around the four functions mentioned above. In other words, their memory IP is now configured to better support these specific operations at the memory level and not through software at the processor level in the system. This has large implications for system performance and throughput.

IP Ecosystem Solutions for Complex Systems

At the Semico Impact Conference: Focus on the IP Ecosystem, Mahesh Tirupattur, Executive Vice President, Analog Bits, challenged four panelists to an engaging discussion on their approach to IP Ecosystem Solutions for Complex Systems. Panel participants included Dan Kochpatcharin, Deputy Director, IP Portfolio Management, TSMC; Jason Polychronopoulos, Mentor Graphics; Chris Rowen, Cadence Fellow; and Warren Savage, President and CEO, IPextreme.

Tirupattur skillfully pulled both humorous and discriminating observations from the foundry perspective, the EDA perspective and both a large and small IP vendor.
The topic of the panel was the high cost and risk of integrating IP in today’s semiconductor product development. There’s a massive risk of product failure from choosing the wrong IP, the wrong supplier, the wrong fab, or the wrong process. A misstep means jobs could be on the line. Today, complex SoCs are not comprised of just one or two IP blocks, it’s a battalion of IP coming from a variety of sources. Dan Kochpatcharin of TSMC noted that at the 20nm node an average design has 12 unique IP blocks. That compares to an average of only eight at the 28nm node.

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