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SAN FRANCISCO—Can engineers use what Silicon Valley hath wrought to create a virtual Silicon Valley for the rest of the world?
That was the intriguing question before panelists Wednesday, June 10 here at the 52nd Design Automation Conference.
Moderator Lucio Lanza of LanzaTech Ventures and winner of the 2014 Phil Kaufman Award took the concept of the Internet of Things and raised the question of whether the IoT can be leveraged to allow people to create and live in their own technology “valleys” without having to move to California. The panel dived into technology requirements and challenges, moral and cultural considerations, and other issues during its hour on the DAC Pavilion stage.
“Can we transfer the (Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial) spirit so people can see (benefits) from their own culture?” Lanza asked.
Alessandro Cremonesi, Group Vice President and General Manager of ST Microelectronics’ Advanced Systems Technology, said the technology is well established to serve as the foundations.
The smartphone industry, for example, has driven engineers to improve and optimize all sorts of technologies, from sensors and power to wireless and computing power.
“This has given life to new objects,” Cremonesi said. He added that this enablement will create major opportunities for smaller companies because there are lower barriers to product creation and fewer barriers to create new services that leverage an open infrastructure. Also, there are sufficient standards in place for market expansion, but not enough to allow domination by a few large players.
And for these smaller companies, the ones who succeed will have “to know how to make beautiful things,” he added.
By that Cremonesi was referring to “craftsmen” with local styles, tastes, and traditions that “know how to do things but don’t know how to bring electronics to things.”
“It’s an opportunity for the semiconductor industry to service this market,” he added.
And that will happen only with a carefully considered approach on how to allocate compute resources based on data, according to Chris Rowen, Cadence IP Group CTO.
Following the data gives device and systems designs a clear idea of the energy profile and compute requirements from the edge device all the way up to the cloud, Rowen said. The edge device, for example, may be consuming tens of mW of power on sensing and other activities, while the server farm may be consuming many watts of power. But that server farm may be consuming that many watts of power for a brief period of time, while the edge device may be constantly active or nearly constantly active, Rowen said.
“Going a distance costs you, and it fundamentally changes how you think about data,” he said. “You have to think about what are you going to do locally where it's relatively cheap.”
The other important consideration in IoT design enablement is to think about the purpose of the compute device. Some—higher up the network chain—function as general-purpose compute engines acting on a variety of different applications. At the other end of the spectrum, the edge devices require specialized design with unique power and compute considerations to act on specialized software. To do that requires a different processor-design paradigm.
The best analogy, Rowen said, is to consider the difference between mammals — general purpose and limited in number — to insects, highly specialized and vastly numerous.
“The biggest change will take place in ‘insect’ chip design,” Rowen said. “It holds the potential to revolutionize things in EDA, IP, and the semiconductor world, but change is required to make it easier.”
If Rowen and Cremonesi sketched out the electronics enablement of this virtual Silicon Valley, Louise Kehoe, longtime Financial Times and Economist editor now with Kodak, sounded notes of caution.
There are elements of innovation that are secret and some can’t be shipped around the Internet, which blunts the effect of innovation in that context, she noted. But perhaps more importantly, “one cultural issue is the fear of failure.”
In the real Silicon Valley, failure is a badge of honor, but in other parts of the world, less so. Failure carries a stigma.
“I haven’t figured out how that (the Valley’s embrace of failure) can be transmitted via the Internet,” she said.
—Q&A: Kaufman Award Winner Lucio Lanza Helps Launch Innovative EDA Companies
—CDNLive 2014: Follow the Data to Optimize System Design--Chris Rowen