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3 Ways to Create Better Connected Devices for the Internet of Things

By now we’ve all heard how the Internet of Things is going to dramatically change our world. Very soon too, we’ve been threatened loudly by the press. These days it is hard to visit a tech company’s website or attend a tech trade show without feeling “IoT” has been permanently etched into our retinas. But to date, the IoT has been mostly talk. We’re just now starting to see real changes in the semiconductor, EDA, and intellectual property (IP) markets. I believe these changes will accelerate as the IoT matures and I’d like to share with you what changes Codasip believes are coming from embedded processor IP vendors for connected devices of the IoT.

1. Build your own silicon.

Alan Kay gave a great talk in 1982 at the Creative Think seminar and his advice still holds true today. Why? It is because the leading products in any market are the ones that stand out via differentiation. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007 guess who he quoted on stage? Yep, Alan Kay. Here’s what Jobs had to say:

“Now, you know, one of the pioneers of our industry, Alan Kay, has had a lot of great quotes throughout the years. And I ran across one of them recently that explains how we look at this. Explains why we go about doing things the way we do, cause we love software. And here’s the quote: ‘People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware’.”1

If you want the embedded software you’ve written for your connected device to stand out from your competition, consider building your own silicon instead of using off-the-shelf components. And the good news is this – now you can. Semiconductor and EDA vendors have introduced manufacturing processes and design tools that have all the capabilities connected device designers require but with very affordable price tags. Mentor Graphics has a very informative white paper on the topic entitled “Addressing the Challenges of IoT Design”.2 BaySand also recently announced a new ASIC UltraShuttle program that provides prototyping and production services at 65 nm that are perfectly suited for IoT applications, are extremely affordable, and require only a few weeks turnaround time.3

If you’re serious about the IoT, then you can and should be building your own silicon.

2. Create your own embedded processor.

A very observant EDA marketing person asked me recently “If every SoC and ASIC design is different, why does every design group use the same embedded processor?”.

It wasn’t an easy question to answer because it does seem quite illogical. If electronic products are built upon application specific integrated circuits, then why aren’t those integrated circuits built with application specific embedded processors?

The reason is because historically it was very difficult, time consuming, and expensive to do so. Creating a custom embedded processor required a staff of experienced processor designers, a suite of very expensive EDA tools, and a development schedule of years not months. For developers of connected devices all of those requirements were unacceptable due to limitations in startup funding and the need to get IoT products to market quickly.

Thankfully, everything has changed with the introduction of Codix cores from Codasip. Developing an application specific processor now requires no special design expertise, extended schedules, extra risk, or higher costs than embedding a standard off-the-shelf embedded processor from ARM or other standard processor IP vendors. The advantages of an application specific embedded processor for a connected device are plentiful:

• Performance achieved by instruction set and architecture optimization, not from increasing clock frequency (higher power consumption) or utilizing an advanced semiconductor process (higher cost)

• Smaller silicon area (and therefore lower silicon cost)

• Less power consumption (longer battery life, improved thermal)

• Unique silicon security implementations (critical for the IoT!)

Codasip uniquely provides our customers with SW profiling tools that analyze the embedded SW they intend to execute on an application specific embedded processor. The automated profiling process optimizes the Codasip instruction set architecture (ISA) for their embedded SW, meeting performance requirements elegantly instead of via brute force means of increasing clock frequency and/or using smaller transistor geometries. The Codasip tools then produce a unique RTL implementation and all of the necessary components of the SDK to support SW development on their unique, application specific embedded processor designs.

Codix is an ideal solution for connected devices as you’ll have a differentiated product with a unique core, not the same embedded processor everyone else is using. And you’ll end up saving money as the total cost of ownership of a Codix core is far less than all standard embedded processors. Again, if you’re serious about the IoT, then you can and should be building your own application specific embedded processors.

3. Adopt RISC-V.

A tsunami is forming in the embedded processor industry and its name is RISC-V. At the annual RISC-V workshop held in July this year, attendance was limited due to seating restrictions. The company names on the attendee’s badges who were lucky to get event passes were incredibly impressive – Google, HPE, IBM, Microsoft, NVidia, Oracle, Qualcomm, AMD, et al. This is a development every IoT vendor needs to beware of.

Imagine this for just a minute. All the SW that your team is currently creating for your connected device is now independent of the embedded processor inside your ASIC. That’s correct – all the SW written to the RISC-V spec for connected devices will execute on any RISC-V compliant embedded processor. No longer will your SW be held captive by a supplier like ARM. For each new connected device design project, your team will have the luxury of selecting from a myriad of processor IP providers who are offering RISC-V compliant cores. And you won’t have to recompile your SW or modify device drivers or jump through any other porting hoops – it’s fully compliant across all RISC-V processor IP vendors. It doesn’t get much better than that!

So, if you’re serious about the IoT, then you can and should be building your connected devices to be compliant with the RISC-V standard. You won’t be disappointed.

About Karel Masarik
Dr. Karel Masarik is the CEO, CTO, and co-founder of Codasip, overseeing its technology development, strategic positioning, and commercial operations. Dr. Masarik has a PhD degree in Computer Science from the Brno University of Technology, in Brno, Czech Republic.

References
1. The Next Web: http://thenextweb.com/apple/2015/09/09/genius-annotated-with-genius/
2. Mentor Graphics: https://www.mentor.com/tannereda/resources/overview/addressing-the-challenges-of-iot-design-f05bfd11-5426-4d73-92d6-f60395b33085
3. BaySand website: http://www.baysand.com/solutions/mpw/ultrashuttle/
4. RISC-V Foundation: https://riscv.org/