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Posts Tagged ‘Open Source’

How can the Chip Community Improve the Industry for IOT Designers?

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Meeting the 20 billion IOT devices prediction by 2020 will require the semiconductor industry to streamline its processes for up and coming chip designers.

By John Blyler, Editorial Director, IOT Embedded Systems

Part I of this article covered the difficulties in designing System-on-Chip (SOC) devices for the Internet-of-Things (IOT) market, as explained by Jim Bruister, CEO of SOC Solutions, during his talk at the inaugural REUSE event. In Part II, we will examine ways for the semiconductor and electronics industries to improve the development process for the next generation of IOT designers. — JB

Quotable  Quotes:

  • … the semiconductor community needs to market outside of its traditional channels, for example, to the “Field and Stream” or perhaps the “Sports Illustrated” communities.”
  • … licensing agreements represent a real problem for buyers especially those that must buy IP from multiple vendors.
  • … a general contractor type of person is needed for the emerging IOT design industry.
  • … (could) open source be used to get IOT designers started especially with FPGAs? 

How, then, do we improve as an industry to ensure success for IOT chip designers? Bruister believes there are 5 pieces that need to be in place. First among those is a proactive ecosystem, one that consists of more than just a few companies getting together and sharing their names on websites.

Secondly, the ecosystem must consist of IP providers, design houses and even the foundries whose goal is to offer real SOC reference designs for the IOT community.

Information marketing focused on the IoT business channels is the third needed item. Bruister emphasized that the semiconductor community needs to market outside of its traditional channels, for example, to the “Field and Stream” or perhaps the “Sports Illustrated” communities. The semiconductor world needs to reach out to those places where the next generation of SOC designers will live.

Fourthly, a general contractor type of position is needed in the IOT SOC ecosystem. By analogy, a general contractor is the person that helps you build a house. The general contractor has the experience and connections to bring in and coordinate the activities of the framer, electrician, plumber and others needed to build a house. The same type of person is need for IOT designers.

At this point in the presentation, an attendee from the audience noted the general contractor should probably own all of the tools for the “building of a house” analogy to work. Bruister looked at the problem differently, explaining that the general contractor for a house doesn’t typically own all the tools.

“I see the general contractor (for IOT design) more like a consultant that selects the design house and helps you pick the IP,” explained Bruister. There are design houses that play that role, but it’s not a smooth flow of activities from start to finish for doing an IOT design. That’s where I think a general contractor or coordinator could help.”

The last thing needed for improvement in the IOT design process was one stop shopping with a common licensing model. Today, there is no standard licensing model and there will probably never be one, said Bruister. But the licensing agreements represent a real problem for buyers especially those that must buy IP from multiple vendors. Current models take way too long to license the IP, get it in-house and evaluate the IP. There needs to be a consolidation on how IP is licensed. Bruister suggested a boiler plate IP license that could contain 90% of the common elements required in a license.

Bruister concluded by saying that the semiconductor industry needs to figure out a way to simplify the whole IOT design process. This statement prompted a question about the use of open source tools and IP as a possible solution. The questioner noted that open source could be used to get IOT designers started especially with FPGAs.

Bruister wondered if there were enough open source folks that would significantly help with the 20 billion predicted IOT devices by 2020. Nikos Zervas, CEO of CAST, who was in the audience, noted that relying on open source may be problematic with the millions of dollars involved in chip design. He question who would stand behind the open source tools in such a case.

But the questioner was persistent, saying that even major chip IP providers like ARM don’t pay for the blunders of the chip designer. He cited software as another example were nothing is really warranted, in his opinion.

Bruister tried to address the question by looking at the big picture. For the coming IOT design challenges, there will be one camp of providers who believe that one hundred different designs types will be good for all devices. The opposing camp will believe that each design situation will require some customization, e.g., to include energy harvesting capabilities, etc. Both groups will be large and vocal. The IOT device market will be so big that it will have lots variability.

“But the common thread is that it takes way too long to design IOT devices,” said Bruister. “There is no way we can reach that many devices with such a long design and long IP licensing processes. Expensive tools are always going to be an issue. I don’t think you can get away from that unless the big EDA vendors decide to go with a “pay as you design” model. They have resisted that for years.”

It may be difficult to simplify the process for less SOC experienced IOT designers, but we must try if the IOT market is to realize it’s potential.

OSCON Shows Breadth of Open Source Software

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

OSCON 2010, Portland OROregon has become synonymous with open source software development. Perhaps this is one reason why the O’Reilly conference moved back to Portland, OR, after a year’s hiatus to Silicon Valley. [See Mike Rogoway’s piece in the Oregonian: OSCON returns to Portland]

Whatever the reasons, the show boasted both a reasonably well sized exhibit hall as well as numerous technical sessions.

Unfortunately, I had only a few precious hours to spend at this year’s OSCON. Most of that time was spent talking to exhibitors on the show floor. Here are the results from my brief walking-man tour.

The first exhibitor you see once you enter the show floor is Intel.  Aside from pressing their Software Insight eMagazine, Intel did have a few engineers on hand to talk about specific topics. For example, I talked briefly with Sunil Suxena, Chief Architect for MeGoo – Intel’s Linux-based open source mobile operating system project. MeGoo resulted from the merging of Intel’s Moblin and Nokia’s Maemo development platforms. MeGoo supports both Intel’s Atom and ARM’s mobile processors.

Sunil was very helpful, answering my wide ranging questions. For example, I didn’t realize that Google’s Android – another Linux-based open source OS for mobile devices – uses Java as a development environment, where as MeGoo uses the QT (C++ based) platform.

As I continue my trek across the exhibit floor, I discovered a first time OSCON start-up called 2600Hz. This company caught my eye because of the phrase’s significance to the hacker community. You can read more about the history of the 2600 Hertz at Wikipedia . But the company 2600Hz deals with the world of cloud telephony. According to Darren Schreiber, the CEO and Co-Founder, his company provides open-source software that enables a fully functional user interface for VOIP projects. The key is its compatibility with FreeSWITCH, Asterisk and YATE switching libraries. Apparently, these libraries don’t normally play nicely together.

My next stop was to a non-profit group called “Code for America,” whose main mission is to encourage the uniform usage of open source software throughout local governments. This group, based in San Francisco, is planning to expand next year into several major cities, including Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Boulder and Seattle.

Qualcomm had a presence at OSCON, which was not surprising since Qualcomm’s BREW is a significant OS and development environment in the realm of mobile handset and devices. At this show, the company was highlighting their Qualcomm Innovation Center (QuIC) which supports the open source community to advance the wireless industry. From the center’s website: “Android, Chromium, Linux, Webkit and MeeGo projects are QuIC’s top open source priorities.”

Broadcom – a competitor to Qualcomm in wireless chipsets –  did not have a booth at OSCON.

Adding to the growing list of companies that provide an open source exploration and documentation tool suite is Palamida. In the re-awakening market for mergers and acquisitions (M&As) of software companies, it makes good business sense to document the versions and type of open source software that might be part of the overall corporate software code base.

Developing code is one things; managing the business process for open source and legacy code workflow is another. Joget is one company that automates this process with a life-cycle based workflow management tool.

Several companies at OSCON were looking for software programmers, from Amazon, the online book giant, to the social media maven embodied by Facebook and even a defense industry player, namely, Lockheed Martin. Add to this list an organization called “Girls in Tech,” sponsored by 24Notion. Girls in Tech is a non-profit social networking group focused “engagement, education and empowerment of like-minded, professional, intelligent and influential women in technology.”

All in all, my time on the exhibit floor opened my eyes to the variety of companies that work with or support the open source software movement. I only wish that I had time to attend a few of the keynotes and technical sessions.

Open Source Hardware and EDA tools

Monday, July 7th, 2008

Did you know there is an active open source CAD community? Not freeware or shareware CAD programs, which have been available for some time, but Open Source CAD community! Very cool site, with lots of applications for electronics design that include: schematic capture, bill of materials generation, netlisting, analog and digital simulation and PCB layout. The apps are released under the terms of the GNU General Public License.

[Interesting note: I started using GNU software back in 1995 with a lovely little program called “Ghostscript.? Anyone remember Ghostscript?]

BTW: Don’t get excited when you visit the Open Source CAD website and see the term gEDA. It doesn’t mean chip level design tools, as in Cadence-Mentor-Synopsys equivalent – just board-level tools. Which shouldn’t be surprising, since a quick surf over to Wiki reminds us of the true meaning of EDA:

Electronic design automation (EDA) is the category of tools for designing and producing electronic systems ranging from printed circuit boards (PCBs) to integrated circuits. This is sometimes referred to as ECAD (electronic computer-aided design) or just CAD.

Why am I mentioning this bit of trivia? To call everyone’s attention – especially local Portland Tech’ers – to the following presentation at next week’s Open Source Conference (OSCON):

Creating Open Source Electronic Hardware with Open Source Software?
Tom Anderson (Agilent Technologies)
11:35am – 12:20pm Friday, 07/25/2008
Tom Anderson works as a design automation scientist for Agilent Technologies. His current work project is to invent new circuit simulation capabilities for Agilent engineers. On his own time he builds electronics projects and is an author for MAKE magazine, and creates Open Source Hardware for Quaketronics.
See you there!