A View from the Top: A Virtual Prototyping Blog

 

Hyper-Integration, Multiprocessing and Software Enabling Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland at FTFDuring the technical keynote at the Freescale Technology Forum (FTF), Freescale’s CTO Lisa Su (or “Chief Geek” as she called herself) painted a vision of “Tomorrowland”. The “Jetson’s” lifestyle of connectivity and availability of pretty much everything on demand will be enabled by embedded intelligence using “behind the scenes” embedded systems. The key innovations to get us there will be hyper-integration, multiprocessing and software. Lisa Su called for a strong semiconductor and system-level ecosystem as the key enabler, stating that “we all have pieces of the puzzle” and need to collaborate.

FTF’s location Orlando seemed this June for me with my German roots to be like an uncomfortably hot assembly of amusement parks, hotels and conference centers loosely connected by swamps. Inspired by the theme parks Lisa Su opened her keynote with the music of “The Jetson’s” TV series. She cited as examples for a revolution in embedded intelligence RFID technology, OnStar and our beloved cell phones. These devices collect information, process it and connect with each other, often behind the scenes even without us knowing. With miniaturization she quite convincingly predicted 1000 embedded devices per person in 2015.

Lisa Su translated the effects of the three themes introduced by Rich Beyer the day before – “Going Green”, “Health and Safety” and “The Net Effect” – into “Sustainability”, “Wellness” and “The Invisible Network”. Required sustainability of distributed renewable energy sources will cause revolutionary changes in energy generation, its localization and distribution. Wellness will be enabled by “Telemedicine” allowing remote monitoring and even remote surgery. Explaining how the power of the network comes true especially when it is invisible, Lisa Su happily admitted how her Mom beat her to owning a Blackberry and now sometimes ignores her while checking email J She continued to paint a picture of the “Tomorrowland” amusement park in which we wirelessly can get information which rides have the shortest lines and which of our friends are also in the park without us knowing.

From my system-level perspective I was most interested in the key enablers mentioned during Lisa Su’s keynote. She called the first innovation “Hyper -integration”, which in her view needs to become an enabling technology at reasonable cost. With Hyper-integration systems are assembled from sensors, control and a combination of software and processors.

Multiprocessing was stated as the second key innovation. Starting from secure MP platforms like Freescale’s recently introduced QorIQ communications platform, Lisa Su foresees in 2015 massively parallel processing enabled by 22nm technology.

The third key enabling innovation – Software – could have been mentioned first. Lisa Su called for open APIs, OSs and interoperability enabling seamless integration of software and efficient re-compilation to different hardware platforms. Today’s run-time platforms will evolve into common software environments with code re-use. Concurrent development of hardware and software will be critical and the hiring of software expertise is today already one of the highest priorities.

In closing Lisa Su mentioned that the innovation and enablement for next generation electronics is “just at the beginning”. As successful example of incubation and innovation she pointed to Freescale’s ZigBee activities. A healthy ecosystem will be required to get us there, given that “we all have pieces of the puzzle”.

Not downplaying the importance which semiconductors play in all this, it was most impressive to me how consistently Freescale stressed the system-level aspects and collaboration issues. As an industry we cannot enable next generation electronics without substantial increases in design productivity using system-level methodologies, models and tools. And we will need to cover a broad spectrum here, from helping digital signal processing design teams to assess how their algorithms fit into systems to virtual platforms enabling collaboration between companies in the design chain ecosystem to more efficient software development and re-use.

We indeed do live in interesting times from a system-level perspective. I for one am happy to be here!

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