Chips And EDA: The Day After Tomorrow

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By Mike Gianfagna
Summer blockbuster movie season is in full swing, and there’s a lot of science fiction content musing about what the future will look like. That got me thinking about what a “Day After Tomorrow” movie that dealt with EDA and the semiconductor supply chain might look like. OK, no studio is going to pick up this story, I get it. But for those of us in this business, the prospects are both exciting and frightening…

The Era of Silicon Ubiquity
More and more of our everyday “stuff” has silicon intelligence. Sure, the cell phone you carry has more processing power than the computer you learned to program on in college (if you’re old enough). Your game console can run circles around early supercomputers. That’s impressive, but actually not the interesting part for our sci-fi movie. The excitement comes from the mundane actually. Thermostats that talk to each other, to you and weather reports on the Internet. Home automation systems that control music, light, door locks, intrusion alarms (and of course climate) all from a cell phone app. Eyeglasses that interface with the Internet and record what you see. Wearable sensors that transmit biometric data to your doctor.

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Collectively, all this has been referred to as the Internet of Things. Kind of an odd name, but certainly descriptive—or is it? This ubiquitous deployment of sensing and processing technology has been discussed in many places. One of my favorite discussions on the topic was presented at the recent Design Automation Conference by Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli, a true icon of our industry. If you have the time, check out his Thursday keynote—it’s entertaining and quite thought-provoking.

The trends predicted by Alberto (and many others) are that sensing and processing technology will find its way into just about everything. Our surroundings will be smart, and massively interconnected.

The Implications
What does all this mean? At one level, big money for all of us geeks in semiconductors and EDA. If you’re putting an extension on your home, you go to a place like Home Depot to buy sheetrock for the walls, tiles for the roof, and windows to let the light in. But what if all these building materials had silicon content? In our movie, all roof tiles now have solar cells, so every roof generates power. All sheetrock has temperature, humidity and pressure sensors that interface to smart thermostats and audio transducers that interface to the music and communication hub of the home.

What does the semiconductor supply chain look like now? It’s probably a lot bigger than is it today. How many design starts are occurring in this world? A lot more than today, which is probably good news for EDA, as well.

Before you get too euphoric, consider one more plot line for the movie—the one that gives it box office appeal. You laptop gets a virus today and you might lose a few files. What if your home automation system or your biometric sensors get a virus? Remember, all your home security is now controlled from a smart phone app, including the door locks. What could you lose now if you get hacked? You might recall this kind of thing was the central theme of the Terminator franchise. It seemed quite out there at the premiere. Not quite so far away today.

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In closing, I want to offer one more thought-provoking reference. The following video is about 5 minutes in length. It’s a glimpse into a world were sensors and smart displays are everywhere. Sure, it’s from Corning, so there’s corporate positioning going on. But after 30 seconds or so you will legitimately have seen the future:


—Mike Gianfagna is vice president of corporate marketing at Atrenta.


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