A View from the Top: A Virtual Prototyping Blog


Who Knows System-Level Design Best?

Earlier this week I had the pleasure attending the Freescale Technology Forum (FTF). I was there to present on the Synopsys AUTOSAR activities, but was able to get a front row seat during Rich Beyer’s key note. I must say, the first FTF key note back as a public company after their IPO in may, left me nothing less but impressed. It also made me think about who really owns the system-level knowledge these days.


Rich Beyer’s key note opened with a brief video history lesson of former Motorola and Freescale devices, to a heart-beat-like sound track, somewhat reminding of the drums in the Terminator soundtrack. Rich opened with a discussion of challenges presented by us – the end users. Specifically he talked about the internet of things, connected intelligence, devices which adapt to our needs, have all our data in a cloud and even predict what we may want to adapt to us users. In most segments Freescale’s customers were present as well – if not live on stage, then at least via videos.

The chips Freescale develops were always present somehow, but the main event was always their use in end applications. The five “Global Diamond Sponsors” were all embedded software companies: ENEA, Greenheils, Mentor Embedded, QNX and Wind River, testimony to the fact that hardware and software are getting closer.

Five key areas were presented on in more detail:

  • Smart Mobile: Here it was all about tablets, cell phones and smart devices which are so easy to use “that my mom could use them”. The new quad-core Freescale i.MX6 series based on ARM Cortex A9 was demonstrated – about one week after silicon samples were back from the fab.
  • Networking: This area was all about the infrastructure development. Which capital investment becoming almost unmanageable in this area, the new Alcatel Lucent lightRadio™ (one node in Rich;s hand above) was introduced, apparently distributing the towered basestations into  much smaller array of devices, reducing power and offering major savings for operators.
  • Medical: Freescale presented a very cool combination of sensors – installed under the bed and measuring heart rate and turns – with apps on a tablet bringing all your medical data together and then communicating with the doctor via a robot user interface
  • Smart Energy: Fujitsu announced a partnership with Freescale around the energy network in Japan, essentially monitoring the network to optimize energy consumption
  • Automotive: A triple zero is a good thing in automotive! Freescale outlined a roadmap how to get to zero defects, zero emission and zero fatalities. Apps are involved as well – together with GM Freescale demonstrated apps for the Volt – switching it on and off, pre-conditioning the cockpit and sending information from Google Maps automatically to the guidance system in the car.

In all the areas it strongly looked to me that Freescale as semiconductor company has actually more system-level knowledge than I ever expected – hence the title of this post. It is very clear that the design chain from IP Providers, Semiconductors to Integrators and OEMs is undergoing fundamental changes. With IP Providers heading towards sub-systems and Semiconductor Providers taking on more system responsibility, it will be interesting to see how the design chain will look five years from now!

One thing is clear: Embedded software and system-level design together with tools and methodologies enabling them, will be a key enabler to facilitate whatever changes are ahead.

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