A View from the Top: A Virtual Prototyping Blog

Archive for 2013


When I Grow Up, I Want To Be A Software Programmer

To keep up with the continuous introduction of new gadgets and capabilities in our smartphones, cars, houses and stores, it is clear that we need more software programmers. That is why multiple companies are coming up with new and innovative ways to introduce people — especially children — to programming. To lure them, the makers of these programming products try to mask the programming aspect as much as possible under a layer of “fun;” whether it is having children design their own video game by mapping a maze and placing down obstacles, create a story through the drag and drop of graphic tiles in order to animate an object or build genuine robots with Legos and program them to interact with their environment.

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Where Dragons Roam

For more than half a year now, I am living with two dragons at home. Luckily from the outside they look just like regular children, so we didn’t have to upgrade our house. But we have to remind our little dragons to switch to human languages when they talk to us.

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Halloween Is Going Mobile

With the end of October around the corner, my children are frantically thinking about what they want to dress up as for Halloween. It is interesting to see how both of them chose a costume that has something to do with a mobile video game: my daughter will be dressing up as a red angry bird while my son wants to go as a wizard, where he is using clash of clans as the example of what a wizard should look like.

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What Type Of Insurance Do You Have?

With the software development effort now accounting for roughly half of the overall SoC development cost, any delay on the software availability side can have a big impact on the SoC availability. As one engineer of a major semiconductor vendor expressed to me: “The SoC hardware is typically only available a couple of weeks before we want to announce and demonstrate it at a major show like CES. If we then still have to do any software development or validation, we are in trouble.”

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Simple Concepts Can Lead to Big Improvements

As I am just back from vacation, it is an ideal time to reflect on where we are with virtual prototyping and VDKs (Virtualizer Development Kits). For over a year now we have been developing reference VDKs based on ARM’s Versatile Express board. And it has really made a difference in how we engage with customers. Although we of course always had demos, which were similar to these reference VDKs, having a product quality deliverable that can be used out-of-the-box with software developers makes a big difference. It has helped with the adoption of VDKs at multiple companies across industries and geographies. With only minor additions, or sometimes even no additions, software developers at these customers have been able to bootstrap their device driver, boot code and OS code bring up. On top of that VDKs are helping companies across the supply chain to enable early software development. Semiconductor companies can quickly assemble a VDK for the relevant part of their SoC (depending on the software task) and develop their specific hardware dependent software like e.g. device drivers for all the interface IP of the SoC. System companies can then receive that VDK from their semiconductor vendor and bring up their unique software content without having to wait for board availability. Just recently a company in one part of the world licensed our VDK for ARM big.LITTLE processing. They are in the process of doing some minor customizations to tune the VDK towards their specific SoC. This is possible as they only have to care about the pieces which are relevant for the software that they and their customer want to bring up. Once the relevant drivers are developed and validated, they plan to ship the VDK with their software customization to their systems company customer on the other side of the world. That customer also just licensed our VDK technology to ramp up on the key debug and analysis capabilities that VDKs offer and will be instantly ready to start bring up of their customized OS. By adopting the virtual prototyping methodology and leveraging our reference VDKs these companies are able to significantly accelerate the schedule of their software availability and in the process, improve quality as the software and hardware are tested together before the hardware is completely fixed. This parallel effortresults in the software and hardware being better be tuned for each other.

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Drafting For First Place

I am a big fan of professional cycling events, and nothing can beat the Tour de France. Every year the best riders from around the world gather for what looks like an impossible task: This year they have to ride 3,404 kilometers (2,115 miles) in three weeks including five hill stages and six mountain stages. After completing that entire distance, all that separates the first rider, who earns the yellow jersey, and the second is a couple of minutes. Sometimes it is even measured in just a few seconds.

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A team is only as strong as its captain

Last week I was in Cambridge, UK. Although the weather wasn’t great, which seems to be pretty standard every time I visit, it actually didn’t rain a whole lot which was a victory in itself. On one of the evenings I was eating with some colleagues at a restaurant overlooking Parker’s Piece, a 25-acre square of grass near the center of Cambridge. Frequent visitors of Cambridge probably know the place I am talking about. Although the place is regarded as the birthplace of the rules of Association Football (at least according to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parker’s_Piece), it was actually a bunch of high school children playing cricket that got our attention. Given that my colleagues were from the UK, it was the ideal time to learn more about the rules of this “mysterious” game. I can’t say that I now consider myself a cricket expert, but it was fun to learn and actually see many aspects of the game.

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Software, From Zero To Hero

As the amount of software in electronics applications across many markets, from mobile phones to automotive hybrid systems continues to grow, it is interesting to see how people portray this new found dependency on software availability. I recently saw a presentation slide with the title: software delays products. Well, I guess that is one way of looking at it, but it is a rather pessimistic view. Or like the saying goes, the glass is half empty. If you see software as the “necessary evil” that stands between you and your product release, I guess it is hard to take a step back and realize the true value of software as a key differentiator of new product releases. Although the SoC and the device are still important, people identify their products more and more through the software running on the device. A mobile phone is foremost identified as an Android, iOS or Windows phone. Even in cars, the amount of software apps is growing rapidly and is seen by car manufacturers as a key differentiator against the competition. Actually almost every function in the car is starting to be controlled by microprocessors. Although the car magazines that I read aren’t so fond of this “drive-by-wire” evolution, but that is an entirely different story. Getting back to our beloved OSes, software apps and the internet of things; why fight this change from hardware to software-centric devices? Rather embrace the importance of software and plan appropriately to ensure that software development is not an afterthought but done alongside the hardware development. This also means that software teams need to invest in the right tools and methodology. Enabling earlier software development, before the hardware is available, of course requires an alternative method.

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Waiting for white smoke

Last month we were all waiting for white smoke to emerge from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. I am of course talking about the election of the new pope. I couldn’t help but see a parallel with how software developers are anxiously waiting for their software to run correctly and finally get past the series of seemingly never ending bugs (black smoke). While software might never be bug free, seeing the right functionality for a particular use case is a good feeling.

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Network software bring up, earlier with virtual prototypes

Network software bring up, earlier with virtual prototypes

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