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How often do you have to charge your electronic devices? What is often an annoying problem for consumers is an even more vexing challenge for the engineers who design wearable devices. A panel of engineers explored ways to close the power gap for wearable devices during a discussion Wednesday, Dec. 2, at the Front-End Design Summit held at Cadence’s San Jose headquarters.
On the panel were:
Pictured on the panel, from left to right: Anthony Hill, Fred Jen, Leah Clark, and Jay Roy.
One of the themes that emerged from the discussion is that designers need to take a big-picture approach when they are examining power management techniques. Wearables are primarily analog devices, developed on older process nodes. As Hill noted, from a system design perspective, engineers have to think about the software but also packaging solutions and the older technology that they will integrate into the overall design. Jen pointed out that if engineers focus on more digital-oriented techniques, like clock gating, then they won’t be able to solve all of their power problems.
Looking at the Big Picture
Cost of techniques is another important consideration, noted Clark. As a digital designer, she said that she often looks at ways to save power on a block, such as by lowering voltage, using near-threshold computing, tapping into voltage scaling, or looking at power gating to shut off a block if it is not needed. But each of these techniques come with a cost. Often, you need to bring in a regulator and/or a resistor—these take up real estate on the chip. Near-threshold computing increases system-level complexity. “Look outside your block and work from the system level down to save power,” said Clark. “We can’t just be digital designers anymore, we have to think about all these things.”
Hill pointed out that research is being done on new power-saving technologies, such as alternative chemistry batteries, where batteries are laid atop chips. Clark noted that engineers need to look at analog power-management tools and see how they can fit in the digital world, rather than the other way around, which results in inaccurate UPF or CPF files.
Roy noted that from an electronic design automation (EDA) perspective, the projected growth of Internet of Things (IoT) devices (50 billion things connected to the Internet over the next 5 years) is good news for the industry. “From an EDA perspective, it’s very exciting that this is one area that is growing. EDA will certainly have (a role) to play,” he said.
For an overall report of the Front-End Design Summit, read the post here from Paul McLellan, editor of the Breakfast Bytes blog and MC at the summit.