Adrienne Downey is Semico's Director of Technology.  See her bio here.

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Adrienne Downey's blog

iPhone 7 Announcement Inspires More Questions Than It Answers

Well, now we know all about the iPhone 7.  Having watched the announcement this morning, I am left with more questions than I had beforehand, however.  First and foremost, why does the iPhone 7/7 Plus not include iris recognition?  We’ve seen this feature added to several Android phones over the past year and a half or so.  I think it’s time for a premium phone like the iPhone to have this feature.  It was great that Apple inspired widespread use of fingerprint authentication on smartphones, but it’s time to catch up with iris recognition.  It is, after all, a more secure biometric method; if you’re interested in learning more about biometrics and sensors, Semico just released a report on the topic

3D Printing: What Does It Mean for the Semiconductor Industry?

Semico Research was pleased to host the 3D printing TechXPOT at SEMICON West 2016, in conjunction with SEMI.  We also hosted the inaugural 3D printing session at SEMICON West 2014.  What is striking is how much the 3D printing industry has changed in those two years.  In 2014, 3D printing was at the height of media attention; the major questions were when each home would have its own 3D printer.  In 2016, the conversation is much more focused on certain industries where 3D printing shines—namely, healthcare, automotive, and aerospace.  In 2014, we were just beginning to put plastics and metals in the same 3D printed object.  In 2016, the focus is now on refining those materials for conductivity and reducing design time and costs for PCBs. 

Capex Growing to a Record High in 2015

Semiconductor companies are spending more than ever to stay competitive.  In 2015, the total amount spent is forecast to be $68.7 billion, up 9% from 2014’s $63.3 billion.  This breaks the previous record set in 2011 at $63.8 billion, as shown in the following graph. 

Total Semiconductor Capital Expenditures, 2009-2015

2015-06 capex blog - total capex.png

Source:  Semico Research Corp.

The Top 15

Accounting for almost 90% of the total spending are fifteen companies.  The top fifteen companies stayed the same from 2014 to 2015, but their order did change somewhat.  The top five spenders are no surprise, with Samsung in the top spot, followed by TSMC.  What is unusual is Intel slipping into the third position.  To round out the top five, GLOBALFOUNDRIES and Hynix switched places as the foundry expects to increase spending 22% this year versus Hynix’s 5% increase.  In the top fifteen, the company with the largest increase is Sony, with a 207% increase to almost US$2 billion.  The bulk of this increase is to expand image sensor production capacity, but some will also be spent on camera module production capacity, a relatively new market for Sony.  Sony’s dollar increase is second only to Samsung’s, but this is partly due to the decline in value of the yen.

Are We Going to Kiss our Cables Goodbye?

Keyssa recently announced a new wireless technology:  Kiss Connectivity.  Kiss is a point-to-point technology (as in one centimeter apart) that enables devices to transfer or stream data at 6Gb/sec, which is faster than USB 3.0 5Gb/sec speed.  Keyssa promises the transfer of entire movies in seconds.  Picture NFC on some serious steroids and you’ve got it.  The table below shows where Kiss sits on the speed spectrum compared to some other popular connectivity technologies.

Connectivity comparison.png

Some big names in the electronics industries are behind this company.  The Chairman of the Board of Keyssa is Nest’s CEO Tony Fadell.  Keyssa is backed by Intel and Samsung, among other companies. 

If Kiss takes off, it will squash TransferJet’s chances of making much of a splash in the market; it has been struggling to make headway already.  Depending on how much it costs, and the security level it brings, it may make a dent in NFC’s market as well, but NFC is really suited for enabling things like smart cards, tickets, and hotel keys where small bits of data is being transferred, so the overlap there is not as great.  Pricing has not been announced yet for Kiss.

Printing Your Own Semiconductors

Much of the look and feel of today's PCs, tablets and smartphones was developed at PARC (Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center).  Is PARC now on the track of an innovation that could revolutionize semiconductor manufacturing?

With financing from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects), PARC has developed a method of programmable electrostatic assembly, inspired by xerography.  Tiny chiplets are produced and mixed into a solution-based “ink.”  The chiplets, which have an electrical charge pattern on them, are subjected to dynamic electric fields which are used to orient and position them with micron-level accuracy.  Once assembled, the chips are put onto a final substrate with interconnects.  The technology used is similar to laser printer technology, which is essentially the assembly of large numbers of micron-sized toner particles, a Xerox development from the 1970s.    The resulting circuits can be microprocessors, memory or any other desired semiconductor chip.  Although production quantities will not be feasible for several years, could this be leading to desktop printing of almost any semiconductor?

3D Printing: Can You Imagine the Possibilities?

3D printing is being used in many more applications than most people realize.  But the most exciting applications for 3D printing are the ones that haven’t even been conceived of yet.  It’s exciting to realize we are on the cusp of a manufacturing revolution that affects so many different industries already. 

If you have been to the movies lately, you’ve likely seen 3D printing in action.  Movies from “Iron Man” to “ParaNorman” used 3D printing, while Disney’s upcoming “Big Hero 6” features a main character designing and printing a robot armor suit.  What 3D printing has brought to Hollywood is the ability to quickly make designs for directors to approve, easily make iterative changes to the designs, add amazing detail, and create parts much more efficiently than doing it by hand. 

3D-Printed Glove Pieces for “Iron Man” 

Iron Man 2 costume

Source:  Fastcompany.com

3D-Printed Faces for “ParaNorman”

How 3D printing changed the face of 'Paranoman'

Source:  engadget.com

Cycloramic App's Success Proves MEMS are Attractive to Investors

In a recent episode, the Cycloramic app had the Shark Tank investors practically falling over each other trying to “win” the investment in Egos Ventures, the app’s developer.  If you’re a fan of the show (as I obviously am), you’ll know that that almost never happens. 

I first heard about Cycloramic, from--where else--a teenager.  It was at a friend’s family get-together at the holidays, and people were sitting around a table that must have been 12 feet long.  He showed how you can prop an iPhone 5 or 5S (but not the 5C, because of the contoured edge) on its end, fire up the app, and tell it to take a picture.  The app uses the phone’s ability to vibrate to rotate the phone 360 degrees, taking pictures as it goes along, and then stitching them together for one panoramic.  I was stunned by how well it worked, but thought it was mainly a cool party trick. 

A month later, the app’s Shark Tank episode airs and the app jumps to number one on the paid charts.  When the episode was filmed (June 2013), the app had ~600,000 downloads.  The app now tops more than 8 million downloads, with more occurring due to the show’s airing. 

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.

Ring of Fire Poses Risk to Semiconductor Manufacturing

There are hundreds of semiconductor fabs, spread all over the world. The trend over the past several years has been one of consolidation into several main manufacturing centers in the Asia/Pacific region, the United States, and Europe. Unfortunately for the industry, many of these fabs are located in areas prone to earthquakes. Some locations are also at an added risk of damage from tsunamis generated by earthquakes.

The northeast coast of Japan is a prime example; in March 2011, the region suffered a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that killed 15,883 people, injured over 6,000, and left almost 2,700 still missing. The disaster also caused seven meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The plant is still running on makeshift equipment and recently suffered a power outage that left four fuel storage pools without cooling water. In terms of damage to buildings, almost 130,000 buildings were completely leveled, and over a million others sustained some sort of damage. The amount of devastation was astounding, but the Japanese have done an amazing job of clearing away debris and recovering in the two years since, as illustrated by these photos posted at the Atlantic.

Activision, Disney, Hasbro Ignite New NFC Market

Hello, my name is Adrienne, and my son is a video game addict.  He’s only 8, but he loves games for iOS devices, the Wii, Xbox 360, and online Flash games.  But the game that has inspired the most “gotta-have-it” mania, and the most dollars leaving our pockets, has been Skylanders.  If you’re the parent of an 8-10 year old boy, you probably just groaned in sympathy as you read that last sentence.  If not, then here’s the short version of what has become Activision’s latest $1 billion game.

Skylanders is a video game that is playable on all the different platforms (with the appropriate software), but it’s the real-world collectible component that has really taken off.  Skylanders is played with a platform onto which a player can put their character, and that figure comes to life onscreen.   The platform has a wired or wireless connection to the game console, and the figure has an NFC connection to the platform.  Each figure remembers any points or achievements it earns, so that it can be taken to a friend’s house and played there.

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