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I’ll never forget covering a presentation that then-National Semiconductor CEO Brian Halla gave about a dozen years ago.
He talked of a time when electronics would be everywhere, taking in the analog world and converting that intake into useful data. In those post-911 days, he envisioned remote and even flying security cameras around structures like the Golden Gate Bridge. It was before drones took off and before the phrases "the Internet of Things" and "Internet of Everything" came to everyone’s lips.
It sounded a ways off to me—very much science fiction. Turns out it wasn’t. Qualcomm said last week that IoT is already a billion-dollar business for its silicon. That’s just one company.
It’s here, more or less and with it has come a much-needed conversation about how we design electronics systems in this new world. We are moving from a focus on the system to an understanding of how that system we’re designing fits into the larger world. And most importantly, we’re thinking not just about power and energy at the device level, but up and down the hierarchy of systems design.
This is because the IoT has unique requirements not only to conserve (or even harvest) energy but to be ready at a moment’s notice to act on something.
“Cognitive layering” (see nearby graphic) is probably the best description I’ve come across. Cadence IP Group CTO Chris Rowen has talked at length on the topic. Last fall, at a European event, he said in an interview with EE Times:
“System architects are responding to the demands of the flow of power and how we fit all the parts together, and you will see products coming out in the next few months that reflect this strategy. There is a huge range in the energy to move 64 bits of data. At the lowest scale there’s one transistor, at the other end of the spectrum is the cost in energy for 64 bits of dialogue with a server farm. In between, there’s disk access, register files, applications processors, and what you find is a scale of over 12 orders of magnitude in energy usage.”
As Rowen was describing this shift in design thinking, the IP Group R&D team was putting the finishing touches on a major part of the solution with an eye toward addressing these new design considerations: Tensilica Fusion DSP, announced last month.
Here, Rowen talks about the concept of cognitive layering:
And his colleagues Gerard Andrews and Larry Przywara expand on it in this whitepaper.
Turns out science fiction isn’t so much fiction if you think differently about your design challenges and act.
—CDNLive 2014: Follow the Data to Optimize System Design—Chris Rowen
—CDNLive 2015: Designing 'Always Alert' Devices for the Internet of Things (IoT)