This guest blog is courtesy of Ranjit Adhikary, director of marketing at ClioSoft.
The Internet of Things was a term initially coined in the dot com era for a wireless network between self-configurable objects such as household appliances. People envisaged intelligent appliances that could track things like the amount of milk or vegetables in a refrigerator, automatically re-ordering from the shop when stock fell below a certain threshold. Over time, the term "Internet of Things" (IoT) has morphed to now describe a number of technologies that enable the Internet to communicate with the world of physical objects.
While the concept for the IoT evolved over a decade ago, it has only now started to make waves again. A number of factors such as the cost of the device, form factor, durability, process technologies, etc., helped in creating the sudden resurgence. Although the smartphone greatly revolutionized the usage of the Internet, one can argue that the resurgence of the IoT actually started with the automotive industry. Electric cars like those from Tesla started the trend by bringing in an array of objects that communicated with the Internet.
Recently, Tesla revealed that it can fix its cars "over the air," while they sit in owners' garages or driveways or in the parking lot at work, in largely the same manner as smartphones receive software upgrades. Devices in an automotive also had to be durable and had to be capable of facing extreme weather conditions. While the average life span of a consumer device, such as a smartphone, is about 21 months, the devices in the automotive industry had an average life span of 10 to 15 years.
To make the Internet of Things a reality, companies have now started looking at embedding short-range mobile transceivers into a wide array of additional gadgets and everyday items, enabling new forms of communication between people and things, and between things themselves. Equally important is the ability to detect changes in the physical status of things and record the changes in the environment. Wireless sensor technology has started to play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between the physical and virtual worlds, and enabling things to respond to changes in their physical environment.
From a SoC designer's perspective, Internet of Things means an increase in configurable mixed-signal designs. Since devices now must have a larger life span, they will need to have a software component associated with them that could be upgraded as the need arises over their life spans. Designs created will have a blend of analog, digital, and RF components and designers will use tools from different EDA companies to develop different components of the design. The design flow will increasingly become more complex and the handshake between the digital and analog designers in the course of creating mixed-signal designs has to become better. The emphasis on mixed-signal verification will only increase to ensure all corner cases are caught early on in the design cycle.
But with design teams spread across geographical boundaries, design collaboration is going to become an increasing challenge. The usage of hardware configuration systems such as the SOS design configuration platform from ClioSoft will continue to increase in order to improve design productivity. Release and derivative management will gain more importance since design companies will now have to keep better track of design versions, since customers may have different requirements. Given that lack of proper revision control is one of the major causes of chip failure, the emphasis on revision control will continue to increase.
As companies vie with each other in the global marketplace to introduce different types of Internet-ready objects, they will seek to differentiate themselves with functionality and reliability.
Semiconductor companies will be more challenged to keep track of the designs that go to the different customers and to ensure appropriate bug fixes are provided as needed. EDA companies on the other hand will seek to integrate their tools better with revision control software so as to ease the pain for designers and improve design productivity. From a data management standpoint, data from different tools will co-exist in a single design database. SOS from ClioSoft for example, is already integrated with the analog/mixed-signal tools from Cadence, Synopsys, Mentor Graphics, and Agilent.
The Internet has made it possible for companies to seek suppliers across the world. As a result, semiconductor companies continue to lay more stress on the design cost and will strive to keep it as low as possible. In order to keep the cost of designs low, there will be more emphasis on design reuse across companies. Stress will also be laid on creating a design hub where designers can browse through IPs, track issues, collaborate across remote centers on creating and maintaining IPs, and manage projects.
A designer's life was simpler in the absence of mobile devices and Internet, about 15 to 20 years back. Design flows were relatively simple and most design groups used to tape out one SoC a year. With the growing popularity of mobile devices, the marriages between those devices, the Internet and the software industry, to create the smartphone was a natural outcome aimed at increasing the size of the marketplace.
While the smartphone was intended to help people be more efficient, it has added increased complexity into the lives of designers. Design flows became more complex and so did collaboration with designers/design groups located in remote sites. And with IoT gaining momentum, one can only imagine how complex the designer's life is going to be.