Electronic Design

Next-Gen Chips Propel Summer Design Sizzle

With the semiconductor market forecast calling for growth in the second half of the year, this summer has been prime time for leading chip vendors to present their visions for the coming wave. Hearing the latest at events hosted by LSI Logic, Freescale, and Philips, I was awestruck by the number of new features engineered into the next generation of chips.

Chip manufacturers strive to create platforms that provide maximum flexibility and creativity. You unleash your creativity as you dream up ways to incorporate the new chips. Forget the summer reading list—there are some hot new chips to check out!

LSI Logic's platform ASIC solution lets designers exercise this creativity while taking advantage of standardized functions built into the various preconfigured chip "slices." At a media event announcing 90-nm RapidChip platform ASICs, LSI cited military electronics as a "rejuvenated" customer segment. Military designers had been priced out of the full-custom ASIC market given the relatively small number of chips they typically require.

Don Tuite's cover story on military aerospace projects offers choice examples of how designers are taking advantage of today's more flexible chips—and also how these designers are creatively repurposing commercial off-the-shelf processors (p. 47). For example, Don explores how chips designed for motion control in washing machines ended up in the SkySat surveillance balloons.

Additionally, LSI showcased how its latest DoMiNo media processors address the challenges of "transcoding," or working with multiple video standards, translating from one format to the next. With LSI's latest dual-encoding processors, designers can create products that transcode for media portability or for the ability to record video in multiple formats simultaneously—for instance, recording one HD version for play on the HDTV and saving a standard-definition (SD) version for play on a portable video player.

Freescale's Technology Forum in Orlando last month was super, bringing together customers, strategic partners, and technical specialists for three days of education, idea sharing, and partying. I got to hear about the company's latest processors and the trend to multiple serializer-deserializer communications options on a single chip, which William Wong covers in depth in his Technology Report on MCUs on page 57.

I also caught the latest in some of my favorite areas of technology, including sensors and mesh networks. Roger Allan had recently covered Freescale's three-axis acceleration sensor in a Leapfrog (ED Online 10221), and it was fun to sit in a hands-on lab with engineers as they tried out the development kit in a session run by the product development team. If you're working with sensors, you'll want to read Roger's Tech Report on page 65 to get up to speed.

Another cool session from Millennial Net, one of Freescale's strategic partners, included audience participation in a 100-node self-forming wireless sensor network. Everybody in the room switched on their own battery-powered LED node, and the firefly-like fun began!

Mesh networks are generating a torrent of applications. Millennial Net says its highest-volume apps are in medical systems for monitoring patient vital signs. The company also is rolling out applications for INNCOM (www.inncom.com) for centralized control of guestroom climate control, security, and services.

The Freescale event was a great chance for me to network with some of you readers too, and I'm happy to report that you're generally optimistic about design opportunities. Of course, it's easy to be upbeat when you're a guest at Freescale's party at the Hard Rock Cafe with the Barenaked Ladies on stage!

A couple of EEs are seeing offshoring recede. Outsourcing can engender quality-control problems, problems these EEs are being brought in to solve. Multinational corporations continue to move toward integrated, global design teams, where the "best of breed" of global technology sets can be chosen a la carte and incorporated into new products with features tailored to localized markets.

One of my personal technology picks for the future is near-field communications, and I got an update from Philips' Tariq Shahab. NFC brings contactless smart-card financial transactions to cell phones. What's more, the convergence of video and audio processing in phones is opening new horizons for NFC.

With members such as Microsoft, MasterCard, and Visa joining the NFC Forum (www.nfc-forum.org), potential applications include automated vending, ticketing, and media-content purchase. The forum is exploring NFC to enable digital rights management and the setup and security of disparate devices in today's connected consumer environment. NFC chips in store displays, promotional posters at movie theaters, and so on also can trigger streaming video or audio related to the product promotion.

The major credit card companies are rolling out the reader infrastructure for contactless smart cards. And retailers like McDonald's are installing readers, often as modular add-ons to current credit card readers. The NFC payment vision is really gaining momentum.

TAGS: Freescale
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