Tony Massimini is Semico's Chief of Technology.  See his bio here.

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Silicon Valley Comic Con: The Woz Delivers Fun and Technology

On March 18 to 20, 2016, the first ever Silicon Valley ComicCon (SVCC) (http://svcomiccon.com) was held in San Jose, CA. The event was the brainchild of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Stan Lee of Marvel Comics. This ComicCon, like those held in other cities, is a convention for comic books, science fiction and fantasy, TV and movies. These are usually tied in with comics, animation and gaming. Some of these conventions, such as the largest one in San Diego, CA, have become inundated with popular culture. However, it was Steve Wozniak’s goal to have more technology at SVCC, most appropriate for Silicon Valley. Some of you have read my past posts about San Diego’s ComicCon International. Going to a ComicCon gives me the opportunity to mix business and pleasure. Yes, I actually did go to San Jose on vacation. And, no, I was not in costume. I can honestly say that Steve Wozniak, known affectionately as the Woz, was as big a draw as any other figure appearing at SVCC; as big as Nathan Fillion, Michael J. Fox, Stan Lee or even … William Shatner. The Woz is highly regarded and respected in the high tech world. A native of San Jose, he wanted a show in the heart of Silicon Valley. So many scientists and engineers have been inspired by sci-fi. Most important for this event was the emphasis on technology in addition to entertainment. Quite often these go together. This was the first SVCC. Every event has growing pains.

Growing the Energy Harvesting Ecosystem

Whether it’s the Internet of Things, wearables, or industrial automation, many new devices and applications are portable and battery-operated. Wireless connectivity is required for connecting to the Internet. Today’s devices collect and transmit data from sensors, are always or almost always on and require power. The semiconductor industry has met the challenge to design devices for low power operation. Low-power microcontrollers and low-power RF are now available from many semiconductor vendors. But eventually batteries still run out of energy and have to be replaced or recharged.

The term energy harvesting, also known as power scavenging, is used to describe the creation of energy derived from a variety of external sources such as solar power, thermal energy, wind energy, kinetic energy or electromagnetic sources. Energy harvesters accumulate the wasted energy in a system, such as heat given off by motors or semiconductors, or the vibrations of motors or other moving objects. The basic technologies for generating energy are: mechanical vibration (kinetic energy), thermoelectric, solar (photovoltaic), and RF/Inductive.

AMD’s High Bandwidth Memory Opens Up Performance Path and New Market Opportunities

On June 16, 2015 at the E3 show AMD rolled out its high end graphics GPU, Fiji, which features its High Bandwidth Memory (HBM) on its high end desktop graphics cards, the Radeon R9 300 series.

AMD’s top of the line GPU, Radeon Fury X has 4 GB of HBM delivering up to 512 Gbits/sec of memory bandwidth (increase of 63% over previous generation), with 4,096 stream processors and 64 compute units up to 1.05 GHz. The 28nm Fury X is liquid cooled. AMD also introduced air-cooled models, Fury with 56 compute units operating at 1 GHz and the R9 Fury Nano. All of these GPUs use HBM.

AMD is touting HBM for its improved performance and power consumption compared to GDDR5. The memory technology was developed by SK Hynix. The resulting solution offers three times the performance per watt with 94% less PCB area. This enables a smaller graphics card for the Fury nano card.

The enabling technology for HBM is the 2.5D packaging technology.  AMD and SK Hynix partnered to define and develop the first complete specification and prototype. The technology employs through silicon vias (TSVs) and micro-bumps to connect one stacked DRAM to the next. The stacked die also connect via TSV and micro-bumps to a logic die which provides the PHY interface to the GPU. Up to 4 stacks surround the GPU on an interposer.

NXP Key Partnerships for IoT

NXP Key Partnerships for IoT

On May 5, 2015 NXP made two important announcements. NXP is partnering with Xiaomi to make smart home products.  In a separate announcement, Qualcomm will use NXP’s NFC and embedded secure element technology across the Snapdragon processor family.

Xiaomi is a fast growing Chinese consumer electronics firm. It is offering the Xiaomi Smart Home Suite which includes four wireless products: a motion sensor, door and window sensors, a wireless switching device for controlling appliances, and a multifunctional gateway that wirelessly links all the components together using ZigBee Wi-Fi interconnectivity.

Qualcomm and NXP are looking to expand NFC into new markets outside of smartphones, such as consumer electronics, automotive, home automation, smart appliances, personal computing and wearables.

Semico Spin

NXP has been deeply involved with the Internet of Things (IoT) since it first emerged. Partnering with Xiaomi will help develop the more effective Smart Home IoT.  Semico has forecasted that by 2020 there will be 36 billion connected devices worldwide. About half of these will be in smart home applications and the largest market will be in China. NXP is positioning itself for this trend.

NXP and Freescale Merging

The semiconductor industry continues to consolidate. Some mergers are stronger than others.  On March 1, 2015 it was announced that NXP and Freescale plan to combine forces.  Both companies have a significant presence in automotive and microcontrollers. Following this merger the new company would be the leader in automotive semiconductors and second in MCUs.  But does bigger mean better?

According to the NXP press release “Freescale shareholders will receive $6.25 in cash and 0.3521 of an NXP ordinary share for each Freescale common share held at the close of the transaction. The purchase price implies a total equity value for Freescale of approximately $11.8 billion.” If one were to include Freescale’s net debt, the total enterprise value is $16.7 billion. The transaction is expected to be completed by 2H 2015.

Both companies have comparable revenues. NXP’s gross revenues in 2014 were $5.6 billion while Freescale had $4.6 billion. The combined revenues are $10.2 billion.

Freescale Acquires Zenverge, Addresses the Video Internet of Things

On December 2, 2014 Freescale announced it had acquired Zenverge, a fabless chip vendor of advanced HD content processing.

Zenverge has transcoding technology that enables one media stream to be converted into multiple streams with different formats. This is optimized for specific internet connected devices or platforms.
Freescale has several technologies for IoT covering a broad range of applications in consumer, automotive, industrial and wearables. What has not been addressed is how the visual experience will play in IoT.

Zenverge’s technology offers a very efficient encoding and decoding scheme which offers fast response, reduced amount of memory required and power savings.  Additionally, Zenverge has proprietary security for sharing HD video content and other rich digital content.  The company has proprietary encryption/decryption technology and watermarking of data. Thus, it can validate the user, validate the data in another location and maintain this validation throughout the delivery system.

Sensor Fusion and New Sensor Interface Developments Open Up Innovation

Last week at the MEMS Executive Congress in Scottsdale, Arizona (Nov. 5-7, 2014) two separate announcements were made that will have long term impact on sensors. The MEMS Industry Group announced the first open source algorithm community for sensor fusion and the MIPI Alliance introduced a new sensor interface specification.

MIPI I3C

The I2C, also known as I Squared C, standard has been used extensively for sensor interface.  Many sensor hub controllers, mostly microcontrollers, use I2C for connecting to sensors.  But I2C has its limitations in terms of power, speed and scalability. SPI is another interface standard that is used for sensors, but this requires more pins. 

MIPI is addressing the interface fragmentation and scalability issues with a new sensor interface specification, MIPI I3C. As that name implies it is backward compatible with I2C. But the new standard provides data throughput capabilities comparable to SPI. According to MIPI “the name MIPI SenseWire℠ will be used to describe the application of I3C℠ in mobile devices and the use of the I3C interface for mobile devices connecting to a set of sensors, directly or indirectly.”

This new standard has been developed because of the steadily growing proliferation of sensors in smartphones. A new standard was needed that could be scalable. MIPI has developed I3C with the participation of sensor vendors and other companies in the mobile ecosystem.

Sensor Fusion in a State of Flux as Companies Fuse Together

There has been a great deal of activity among companies within the sensor fusion ecosystem.  Mergers and acquisitions are changing the competitive landscape. 

As a quick background, sensor fusion is the technology of combining data from multiple sensors and deriving intelligence from that data.  It is the foundation for motion tracking, navigation, context awareness, location based services, augmented reality and more.  It is the basis for future innovative applications.  The brains behind sensor fusion is in the algorithms.  This is usually embedded in a 32-bit microcontroller core or similarly powerful processing device, known as a sensor hub.

In May 2014, Fairchild announced the acquisition of Xsens the Dutch company known for motion tracking software.  Xsens has been doing motion tracking for film and other such applications.  It has modules with low cost consumer grade inertial motion MEMS sensors from STMicroelectronics.  At the time of the acquisition, Fairchild also announced that it would be bringing MEMS sensors to market soon as well.

Biosensors: Perspiration is a Good Thing

Those of us who live in warm climates understand how important it is to stay hydrated, especially in a place like Phoenix, Arizona.  We emphasize this starting with youth sports.  We remind visitors who want to enjoy hiking our beautiful state the importance of staying hydrated.  But many people are not aware about how quickly they can become dehydrated and find themselves in distress.

Staying hydrated has been a top concern in sports for many years.  During the recent National Basketball Association finals, Miami Heat star, Lebron James, was unable to finish one game due to severe leg cramps.  The FIFA World Cup is being held in Brazil under extreme heat and humid conditions.  In a rare move, FIFA is allowing water breaks during the game.  The time is added on as stoppage time.

A water break during the FIFA World Cup was used during the USA v Portugal match.  This Sunday during the Netherlands v Mexico match the referee called for a water break during both halves.  However, the water breaks were left to the discretion of the referee.  He bases his decision on the air temperature, relative humidity and his own subjective observation of the players. 

CES 2014: Is the Internet of Things Connecting With You?

Every year there are a great many innovations, gizmos and gadgets at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  There are some interesting and notable products.  There were various robots that clean your home.  Famibot had Ecovacs for your floor and a Winbot for your windows.  There were numerous smart watches and wearables for health, fitness and medical.  The activity trackers drew attention from many vendors, not only the well known Fitbit, Jawbone, Withings, Polar and Nike, but also Tractive which offers activity trackers for your pets.  Even your kitty and doggie need to stay in shape not just you.  The floor space for wearables appeared to be double that of last year’s CES.

One can find the usual devices at CES such as the next generation of 4K TVs including those that bend and curve.  A plethora of smartphones and accessories could be seen.  Are you concerned for your safety?  There is the Yellow Jacket stun-gun case for the iPhone 5.  There were plenty of notebook PCs and tablets on display.  Many of the notebooks were the convertible 2-in-1 designs.  Some have detachable keyboards so you have essentially an extra large tablet.  There were more notebook models with touch screens and motion sensors so they will be able to compete with tablets.  Qualcomm was showing off the next Snapdragon 805 that will ship later this year.  Intel demoed tablets with the next generation Baytrail Atom CPU.  These tablets are already on the market

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