As co-inventors of the programmable array logic (PAL) and co-founders and vice presidents of QuickLogic, John M. Birkner and Hua-Thye Chua express great concern about design issues.
For Chua, it's about getting it right the first time. "When I buy something and it doesn't work, I get really upset," he says. "The designer only has to design something once. The manufacturer has to do it a million times." Chua admits that there's a lot of pressure today to rapidly turn out new products. Even so, he still thinks there's some shoddy work around. "It's the responsibility of the designer to get it right."
One of Birkner's current concerns is security, which he believes will be a critical influence on future designs. "Security is pretty lax right now," Birkner says. "You can drive down Highway 101 here with your IEEE 802.11 wireless local-area network sniffer that you downloaded from the Internet. Someone comes online and about one-third of those are totally open—they don't even bother to lock it down. So, I think security will become a key aspect of design."
According to Birkner, "What's happening is that people are running down to Frye's Electronics \\[in Silicon Valley\\] to buy an access point, plugging it into their computer, but no one in the company knows it's hooked up. Everyone just starts talking. Everyone is enabled by wireless. It only takes $200 to $300 to be up and running, and you don't have to worry about sending any money to the phone company. You can imagine all kinds of applications for this. Let's say I want to monitor my water meter, or the water pump in my pool. I can now do that by remote control."
Complexity is another big issue. Birkner says that over the years, EDA tools have struggled to keep up with chips getting bigger, run times getting slower, and the complexity of revving up software becoming harder. "The whole tool flow is becoming more difficult and just to make a chip, any chip, is getting harder," he says.
Birkner notes that it's just too big a job now to start designing with a blank slate. "You can't build anything from scratch anymore. We have incorporated hard IP (intellectual property) onto our FPGAs with embedded standards products and that's bringing more complexity," he adds. "Now, we have to merge the C language software tool with our hardware design into one development environment."
Meanwhile, everything is shrinking. With this in mind, Birkner says, "The consumer is definitely in our radar sights. Why carry a notebook computer when you can put everything in a cell phone? We have to think about the consumer."