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Industry News

Stefan Rusu PhotoWelcome to the SSCS Industry News, where we will bring you the latest trends in semiconductor design and manufacturing, as well as applications for our products. We hope you will find this useful as an SSCS member. We are looking forward for your feedback at feedback@sscs.org.

Stefan Rusu, Intel

Guest Essay

Marcel Pelgrom Photo

Stepping out of line
Marcel Pelgrom
Eindhoven, The Netherlands

Every vintner is eager to get a good review from Robert Parker   - a leading US wine critic widely published in newsletters and books --   as it directly doubles the commercial value of his inventory. Since Mr. Parker loves the scent of wood in wine, a lot of vintners add oak chips to the ripening process. So the taste of a single critic sets off a dreary convergence in an industry that would otherwise welcome multiple fantastic tastes.

Indeed, diversity is drastically diminishing in many fields, including electronic design and research.

Software solutions by their flexibility would seem to defy this statement. Yet in industry, standardization has become a necessity.

Although governmental funding agencies want to contribute to the progress of humanity, they face parliamentary scrutiny. Consequently, they look for research programs that run around in identical application domain circles: energy, health, security, and communication.  All over the world, research groups in the field of micro-electronics align to these programs, and university program directors present the same sales-pitches as a result (neglecting challenging alternative application domains like instrumentation, aerospace, defense, and agriculture).

At the circuit level, funding realities translate into a zillion microscopic variations of the same RF chain, the same interface optimization and energy scavenging schemes; the same kind of sensor and detection algorithms with 0.05 dB improved performance.  In the face of such convergence, fundamental novelty is scarce and "figure-of-merit" discussions dominate the technical committees of conferences, not to mention the conferences where feature sessions concentrate on figure-of-merits.  -- Wouldn't it be better to have at least some sessions with papers on "breakthroughs in search of an application" or an award for the wildest idea?

Given the technological and economic limitations of CMOS technology lying ahead, it is time to rethink converging mechanisms, especially in the places where innovation starts: the university research centers. While hundreds of IC groups battle for one mm2 in a standard CMOS process, dozens of university cleanrooms are waiting for some bright, crazy ideas that implement and explore the unexpected.

Many crucial inventions have not followed a precooked strategy: The invention of the CD was not planned by funding agencies. Nobody ever drafted a roadmap for the first microprocessor. Many breakthroughs come from "serendipity," a nice term indicating that tinkering around in science sometimes results in completely unexpected and very useful solutions.

Really fresh ideas come from people who seem to go in the wrong direction.

Let them diverge; they might come back with some real novelty. After all, diversity is fun, requires brain power and courage, and is essential for progress.

Industry News

Antenna-on-a-chip promises faster light processing with silicon photonics
Solid State Technology - 11/19/2012 - Researchers from Rice University say they have developed a micron-scale spatial light modulator (SLM) built on SOI that runs orders-of-magnitude faster than its siblings used in sensing and imaging devices. The "antenna-on-a-chip for light modulation," developed with backing from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, is described in Nature's Scientific Reports.

ISSCC: Samsung big.little, but no Intel, Nvidia CPUs
Electronic Engineering Times - 11/18/2012 - Samsung will describe the first mobile applications processor to use ARM’s big.little concept at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in February. That's one of only a few major new microprocessor disclosures at the semiconductor industry's premier conference where Intel’s Haswell and Nvidia’s Project Denver parts are noticeably absent. However, both Intel and Nvidia will deliver papers on new chip-to-chip links that may provide an oblique view on their future processor plans.

Intel CEO Otellini retiring; is there a strategic shift?
Solid State Technology – 11/21/2012 - Longtime Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) CEO Paul Otellini has announced he will retire in May 2013 after nearly 40 years at the company and only the fifth CEO in the company's 45-year history. The chip-making giant says it will consider both internal and external candidates for the job.

Silicon Carbide Logic Circuits Work at Blistering Temperatures
IEEE Spectrum - 11/21/2012 - Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have pushed heat-resistant integrated logic circuits to a record 550 °C, a notch hotter than in NASA’s tests of integrated circuits. Conventional silicon circuits break down beyond 350 °C, but the ability to get sensor information from high-temperature environments, such as inside a jet engine or in a deep oil well, could improve efficiency and save millions of dollars—not to mention provide capabilities for space missions to extreme locations like Venus. Research into silicon carbide logic ICs could move signal processing and control closer to the point of sensing, thereby removing the need for long wires, which could fail, or cooling contraptions, which complicate systems.

Exclusive: Global Foundries eyes future IPO
Electronic Engineering Times - 11/16/2012 – Global Foundries could stage an initial public offering (IPO) once the foundry chip manufacturer achieves profitability, according to Mike Noonen, Global Foundries' executive vice president of worldwide marketing and sales. Global Foundries expects to be profitable by 2015, and not to require additional funding from its parent, Advanced Technology Investment Company (ATIC).