Enabling Creepy… and Cool

Movidius Camera Processor Helps Drones As Well As Doctors

by Jim Turley

Video surveillance, CCTV, camera-toting drones, cellphone video, stoplight cameras – they’re everywhere! It seems as though no public space isn’t being recorded, filed, uploaded, and possibly analyzed for malfeasance. The common factor in all these scenarios is digital cameras.

And what do all digital cameras need? Lots of storage, lots of bandwidth, and lots of processing power. Grabbing frame after frame of unrefined, uncompressed video isn’t interesting. You need to massage the video before it’s useful. That means some combination of white balance, edge detection, smoothing, compressing, artefact reduction, and possibly image recognition. That’s a lot of work on a lot of pixels, in very little time.

 

From the Cradle to the Cloud

Education Meets High Tech

by Amelia Dalton

This week Fish Fry is all about technological innovation in education. From kindergarten to college, from Malaysia to Texas, we look into recent technological advances that aim to even the educational playing field in the United States and across the globe. My first guest is Scott McDonald (Rorke Global Solutions). Scott unveils Rorke’s new digital learning system and discusses with me how Rorke was motivated to break ground on this high tech education revolution. (We also throw in some basketball trash talk.) Keeping with our education theme, Silicon Cloud International CEO Mojy Chian joins Fish Fry to explore the future of cloud computing and how Silicon Cloud International's educational cloud centers hope to create a whole new generation of chip designers.

 

FPGA-Prototyping Simplified

Cadence Rolls New Protium Platform

by Kevin Morris

System on Chip (SoC) design today is an incredibly complicated collaborative endeavor. By applying the label “System” to the chips we design, we enter a realm of complex, interdisciplinary interactions that span realms like analog, digital, communications, semiconductor process, and - with increasing dominance - software. Since the first SoCs rolled out a mere decade or so ago, the composition of design teams has shifted notably, with the percentage of cubicles occupied by software developers increasing much more rapidly than those of any of the other engineering disciplines. In most SoC projects today, software development is the critical path, and the other components of the project are merely speed bumps in the software development spiral.

 

An Irregular Street Scene

Plasma-Therm Proposes Plasma Dicing

by Bryon Moyer

A silicon wafer will always be patterned with a perfect grid of rectangular dice. It’s so obvious that you even have to think about it. From the very first wafer you saw in school to whatever you’re working with today, they’ve all looked like a well-planned city with edge-to-edge streets.

But did you ever wonder what would happen if you didn’t lay a wafer out that way? Plasma-Therm presented some alternative ideas at the recent MEPTEC MEMS Technology Symposium, suggesting that breaking the rules can have some benefits – although, as always, there are tradeoffs. I should caution that these are largely conceptual ideas that need further vetting, although ON Semiconductor has done some implementation, confirming net benefits for the dice they worked with.

 

chipKITs™ and JPEGs

IP in Space and Open Source Board Buildin’

by Amelia Dalton

It's time to break out the sparklers, an arc welder or two, and your best space suit - Fish Fry is here to celebrate! We're ringing in Fish Fry's 100th podcast episode with an ode to two of our favorite subjects: open source embedded system development and photos from from the Mars Rover. First up, Marc McComb (Microchip) introduces us to the chipKIT™ Platform. Marc and I jump feet first into the chipKIT™ platform ecosystem and check out what this open source platform is all about. Also this week, Fish Fry welcomes Nikos Zervas, of COO CAST, Inc. Nikos brings us some interesting details about how CAST IP found itself in the Mars Rover and (with the help of CAST's JPEG Encoder IP) why our view of the Red Planet will never be the same.

We're giving away five PIXI kits (courtesy of Maxim Integrated Products) but you'll have to listen to the podcast to find out how to enter to win!

 

Crossbar RRAM Tweaks Nonvolatile Memory

Unique Resistive Technology Set to Challenge NAND Flash

by Jim Turley

I gotta say, memory chips are boring.

And that’s coming from a guy who lives and works in the chip business. Sure, I can get all excited about microprocessor chips. I can generally keep my eyes open through a discussion of interface chips. I’ve even been known to nod occasionally when the topic turns to cryptography chips. But memory? Give me some toothpicks for my eyelids.

But out in the real world of non-technical humanoids, “memory chip” is about the only semiconductor-related phrase that average people know. They pick it up from TV, movies, and science-fiction shows, I assume, and are given to understand that “memory banks” are something the bad guys hack. Those old enough to remember watching 2001: A Space Odyssey recall that HAL’s memory was stored in something that looked like clear-glass audio cassette cases. Sigh.

 

Let’s Get Small, v3.0

New MEMS Accelerometers from mCube are World’s Smallest

by Jim Turley

Most startups have no product. This one has shipped 60 million products before coming out of stealth mode.

Say hello to mCube, probably the most successful chipmaker you’ve never heard of. In keeping with the company’s low profile, mCube makes little bitty motion sensors. Accelerometers, magnetometers, and even teensy gyroscopes. Most of those little chips have been sold to Chinese cellphone makers, but the company hopes that its fortunes will soon change.

Cellphones are just the beginning, says mCube CEO Ben Lee. The real volume is in the “Internet of Moving Things (IoMT).” (Oh, good, another marketing initialism. At least they’ve got that part of the startup strategy figured out.)

 

When Intel Buys Altera

Will FPGAs Take Over the Data Center?

by Kevin Morris

At the Gigaom Structure 2014 event last week, Intel’s Diane Bryant announced that Intel is “integrating [Intel’s] industry-leading Xeon processor with a coherent FPGA in a single package, socket compatible to [the] standard Xeon E5 processor offerings.” Bryant continues, saying that the FPGA will provide Intel customers “a programmable, high performance coherent acceleration capability to turbo-charge their algorithms” and that industry benchmarks indicate that FPGA-based accelerators can deliver >10x performance gains, with an Intel-claimed 2x additional performance, thanks to a low-latency coherent interface between the FPGA and the processor.

If we did our math right, Intel is implying that an FPGA could boost the speed of a server-based application by somewhere in the range of 20x.

 

Surround-By-Cobalt

Applied Materials Introduces a New Metal

by Bryon Moyer

Metal has always been a bit messy. Even in the old days, when we laid metal lines over the rough terrain that resulted from various deposited layers and etch steps, step coverage was an issue when the metal didn’t conform well to those ups and downs.

Of course, what with the development of dual-damascene processes with chemical-mechanical polishing (CMP), we’ve eliminated all that topography, and metal has been smooth sailing ever since. More or less. (I know – tell that to the yield guy…)

But those days are coming to an end with the increasingly tight dimensions of the nodes below 28 nm. Voids are starting to raise their heads again, as Applied Materials (AMAT) describes it. In fact, when it comes to vias, voids are already an issue that has been made more tolerable by the use of redundant vias – two where one might theoretically do. That improves the chances that at least one of the two vias will have good, clean connectivity between metal layers.

 

Is the Classic Design Chain Broken?

Or Is It Just Another Step in Evolution?

by Dick Selwood

It used to be so simple. A group of chip designers would sit around drinking coffee and gently mulling things over when one would say, "You know what would be really cool? If we add a backward splurge feature to the K11 widget, it would allow users to do some awesome things."

After a bit of engineering discussion, the sales team would go off and chat to a few friendly customers, come back and say, "They aren't against it." After this, management would buy into the project. When the device was launched, the marketing team would make a lot of noise about user input and then the company would sit back and wait for orders. Sometimes they came, sometimes they didn't.

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