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IP-Based Technology without Manuals?

Three events from TSMC, ARM and JAMA Software highlight the breadth and depth of IP development that (hopefully) results in manual-less consumer apps.

By John Blyler, Editorial Director, IP Systems

Three events from TSMC, ARM and JAMA Software highlight the breadth and depth of IP development that (hopefully) results in manual-less consumer apps.

A few week’s ago, I attended three shows –  Jama’s Software Product Delivery SummitTSMC’s Open Innovation Platform (OIP) and ARM’s Techcon. While each event was markedly different there was an unintentional common thread, i.e., all three dealt with the interplay between hardware and software IP systems – albeit on different levels of the supply chain.

Each of these shows characterized that interplay in different ways. For TSMC, it was a focus on deep semiconductor manufacturing-related IP. Conversely, Jama Software dealt with product delivery issues for which embedded hardware and application software played a major role. Embedded software on boards running the company’s flagship processors and ecosystem IP hardware peripherals was the focus at the ARM Techcon. Why are these various instantiations of IP important?

Let’s start with TSMC. Their Open Innovation Platform (OIP) event focused on, “the semiconductor design community, its ecosystem partners and TSMC’s IP, design implementation and design for manufacturing (DFM) capabilities, process technology and back-end services.” For simplification, this can be thought of as issues dealing with manufacturing hardware-software design and process IP. Software in this sense typically means synthesizable RTL code that involves EDA tools. That’s why the three main tracks at the event were appropriately labeled: EDA, IP, and EDA/IP.

The OIP event covered many aspects of manufacturing complex system-on-chips. Predictably, considerable time was devoted to leading-edge process node challenges, e.g., how designers must alter their design techniques to meet manufacturing realities. For example, Dr. Cliff Hou, VP of R&D at TSMC, talked about the need for color assignments during IP design for 10nm geometries. He mentioned the EDA tools would need to handle alignments in both horizontal and vertical directions, as well as color-aware routing optimization. It was noted that the earliest 10nm designs wouldn’t appear until 2015 – at the earliest.

What about existing process nodes? Is there any life left or challenges to be overcome for the majority of higher geometric chip designs?

Mike Muller, co-founder and CTO at ARM, answered this question with a single word, namely, the “Internet-of-Things (IoT).” Muller emphasized the growing importance of existing node designs to meet the cost and time-to-market needs of the IoT market. “The IOT will bring an unparalleled level of connectivity,” observed Muller. This means a diversity of analog sensor, mixed signal, power management, analog-digital converts (ADC), RF, wireless and more. But the technology for all of these embedded designs will need to have the difficulties abstracted away from the use, as ARM’s CEO Simon Segars mentioned in a later keynote. To drive this point home, Segars shared a great quote from “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe” author Douglas Adams:

“We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.How do you recognize something that is still technology? A good clue is if it comes with a manual.” – Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

How will the Internet-of-Things IP designers know if they are designing the right, manual-free, technology, i.e., designs that consumers will easily adopt? For that answer, I need to share the substance of the Jama Software, Product Delivery Summit. The goal of this summit was to evaluate the, “conversation and strategic importance of product delivery.” This was a fascinating event that’s I’ll cover in the coming week. But the most relevant contribution to the manual-free design of technology came from a presentation by Alberto Savoia, an Innovation Agitator. Savoia introduced the concept of “pretotyping” or pre-prototyping, at least in the commonly understood meaning of prototyping. Pretotpying is a way to ensure that you are, “building the Right IT before you build It right.”

“Ideas are really part of thought land,” said Savoia.  “Abstract ideas only get subjective feedback, which can be very dangerous.” That’s why system architects – especially in startups – need hard data early on in their projects or startups. Pretotyping is a way of getting that hard data as inexpensively as possible using techniques that date back to the early innovative days at IBM. This approach is of particular importance as 80% of the actual value of the IoT will come from the software application … “Half of this activity will be new start-ups. [ See, “Will IoT Break M2M Silos for Start-up Apps?”]

IP plays an ever-increasing role in product development and delivery, from software startups to embedded hardware-software systems back through semiconductor manufacturing challenges at both existing and leading edge process nodes.

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