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Design For Context And Its Impact On EDA

Advances in computing and connectivity are transforming industries from consumer electronics to aerospace and defense.

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At the recent CEO panel, Ed Sperling used the term “Design for Context” as one of the key trends, identifying what others have referred to as “domain specific” or “workload specific.” The term struck a chord with me, as I see it in many customer meetings across various industry verticals in the context of a specific industry driving requirements for tools and IP. Undoubtedly, semiconductor design is undergoing a renaissance phase, leading to some industry pundits referring to us as being in the “roaring twenties.” Across most industries, the transformation to a digital world is visible to us almost everywhere we look. And in this context, most aspects are referred to in “hyperlatives,” with system companies becoming “hyperscalers” in a “hyperconnected” world.

Today, product managers can interact with audiences more directly, immediately. My team and I did so in several ways over the last year, with customer surveys and LinkedIn polls like the one below.

These immediate results closely matched an international set of consumer panels we used in our study with Northstar, “Hyperconnectivity and You, a Roadmap for the Consumer Experience.” More than 3000 consumers from the U.S., Germany, U.K., China, and Israel saw mobile, health, consumer, industrial, and military activities most impacted in this study.

Established sectors, like the aerospace/defense domain, talk about the need for digital transformation. They realize the need to modernize development processes that seem outdated compared to already state-of-the-art techniques in consumer electronics, where missing key events like Christmas or a consumer electronics show can mean the difference between the life and death of companies. I also often hear about the industrial internet of things (IIoT) that transforms and optimizes how the industrial domain develops, manufactures, and maintains our day-to-day consumer goods.

We experience the health industry’s digital transformation daily when checking our latest cholesterol levels on our apps, interacting digitally with our doctors, and getting notifications of potential infectious exposures. Behind the scenes, medical staff simulates processes and the impact of surgeries using digital representations of hospitals and factual medical information of us, the consumers.

The automotive industry is undergoing a substantial transformation from a world primarily dominated by mechanical engineering to a digital world that seemingly shortens development cycles and makes our cars safer and more convenient. New car buyers have come to expect a user experience in which our vehicle knows better than us when to visit the dealership for maintenance.

The mobile industry keeps delivering mind-boggling advances to Millenials and Baby Boomers but is considered normal for Gen Z and the upcoming Gen Alpha. Having to bag our mobile devices during events to prevent digital copies of protected intellectual property of actors, comedians, and musicians from being smuggled out of venues quickly exposes our dependency on or even addiction to them.

Some other polls we recently held give further insight into what we sometimes refer to as “horizontals” that span specific industry “verticals.” These are technologies like AI/ML, 5G/6G, security, safety, and digital twinning:

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) transform the consumer industry. We gamify our day-to-day lives with step counting to compete amongst friends and families. We take games on the road into augmented realities, like how some of my family experienced Paris a couple of years back more through Pokémon Go than the real world. And we now discuss the emergence of even more deeply virtualized digital experiences like the Metaverse. Using digital representations of supply chains, we now have a real shot at limiting or even eliminating food waste.

Advances in computing and connectivity are the key enablers of the transformations above. Their associated industry sectors are less obviously visible to consumers like you and me. The computing industry has already had at least four distinct waves from mainframes through computers in every home, the internet connecting them, followed by the most recent decade of mobile computing and the cloud.

The networking/comms industry simultaneously talks about 6G while currently rolling out its fifth-generation network. It has evolved from the first generation of voice-centered brick phones that only business people like Gordon Gecko would use, through 2G networks opening up to voice-only consumer devices. 2G also enabled texting on non-QWERTY keyboards, which is just as foreign to Gen Z as turntables and mix-tapes. 3G was business-centric again, with Blackberry transforming email, and 4G and 4G/LTE brought the mobile internet to consumers. Today, 5G is addressing a blend of consumer and business requirements. Experts expect its evolution towards 6G to unlock the communication needs for truly immersive virtual reality, for digital replicas often referred to as “digital twins,” free-viewpoint mobile TV, and high-fidelity mobile holograms.

While the hyperscaling of computing and communication, combined with advances in artificial intelligence in machine learning (AI/ML), enables a bright future for consumers, it does not come without challenges and questions regarding sustainability. Advances in electronic design automation (EDA), computational software, and semiconductor technology were critical to keeping the growth of energy consumption of data centers at “only” 6% from 2010 to 2018 while, in return, delivering six times more workloads, ten times more internet traffic, and twenty-five times more storage. And our polls seem to confirm that we engineers are on the hook to help with sustainability:

We live in fascinating times, and “design for context” in electronics will be at the core of life-changing transformations.



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