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SIA’s January Release Corroborates Semico’s IPI Prediction

March 6th, 2014

On March 2, 2014 SIA announced that worldwide sales of semiconductors reached $26.3 billion for the month of January 2014, an increase of 8.8% from January 2013 when sales were $24.2 billion.  After adding in semiconductor sales from excluded companies such as Apple and Sandisk, that total is even higher, marking the industry’s highest-ever January sales total and the largest year-to-year increase in nearly three years.

These results are in-line with the Semico IPI index which has been projecting strong semiconductor revenue growth for the 1st and 2nd quarters of 2014.  The January results once again validate the predictive accuracy of IPI.  The Semico IPI index accurately predicted the industry turnaround point that occurred in February 2013 and predicted growth from Q2 2013 through Q2 2014.  Semico is projecting the 1st quarter of 2014 will increase by 0.9%, which, for a seasonally ‘down’ quarter, bodes well for the rest of 2014.

But what is specifically in store for the 2nd and 3rd quarter of 2014?   Samsung’s new Galaxy S5 will launch in April 2014 in the US.  If Apple follows their traditional pattern of new product releases, the iPhone 6 and a new tablet, possibly the iPad Air 2, are expected from them in the second half of 2014.  But new high-end smartphone and tablet models could cause consumers to postpone purchases in a wait-and-see approach in order to complete a thorough comparison shopping analysis.  Real growth is coming from mid-range and low-end smartphones selling in markets like China, Russia, and India.

The Semico IPI projects industry inflection points one year in advance.  Over the past 20 years, the IPI has accurately predicted the direction of semiconductor sales for every major disruption that has occurred in the industry.   Do you know if you’ll be looking at a bull or bear market next year?  Stay informed with our IPI Index and see which way the wind is blowing for the rest of 2014.

For more information, contact Rick Vogelei at (480) 435-8564 or email him at rickv@semico.com.

Semico’s Top 5 Technologies from CES

February 5th, 2014

As usual, this year’s CES was dauntingly huge.  There were thousands of products and over 150,000 people registered.  Semico sent in four fearless analysts to brave the chaos for you and below we’ve laid out five technologies we think you should pay attention to as game changers.

3D Printing

Over the past several months, Semico has been digging into the pros and cons of additive manufacturing, more commonly referred to as 3D printing.  The 3D printing companies represented at CES have convinced me that this is a revolutionary technology.  It’s my selection for best product at CES.

A 3D printer is not just a tool for prototypes or a mere plaything for the hobbyist.  3D printers will change our lives.  Need a new set of plates or bakeware, make it with 3D Systems’ CeraJet that works with ceramic materials.  Need a hearing aid?  Make it with envisionTEC’s DDSP System that uses TI’s DLP technology.  And this isn’t just for small items.  The Stratasys Objet1000 features a large build tray of 1000 x 800 x 500 mm (39.3 x 31.4 x 19.6 in.) capable of working with 14 different materials.  3DMonstr is a large, industrial-grade, quad-extruder 3D printer, with the capability of building an object up to 8 cubic ft.  3DMonster is currently on Kickstarter and has already surpassed its goal.

Before you jump into the market to buy one of these 3D printers, there is a lot to consider.  3D printers can work with a variety of materials such as polymers, paper, metals, ceramics and chocolate.  Yes, I said chocolate.  Revolutionary, right?  There are consumer models and professional models, a variety of printing resolutions down to 16 microns per layer, varying speeds and of course a range of prices.  But your printed product is only as good as your design software, which must be able to create accurate STL, OBJ, VRML, XYZ or other file formats  that are easily transferable to the printer.  3D scanners, such as 3D Systems’ iSense and Sense products, can capture real-life images that can be processed as a 3D-printable file.

3D printing is still far from being in every home and factory, but as the technology continues to improve, I believe the Star Trek replicator is at our fingertips.

Bosch Wireless Sensor Network

The Consumer Electronics Show 2014 in Las Vegas had numerous products designed for the Internet of Things (IoT).  The connected home was a theme for many companies.  A major feature for the connected home is smart lighting.  The connected smart home also includes security, door locks, energy management, appliances and other devices and services.

The IoT will require enabling products that tap into a broad spectrum of technologies.  It is not only individual gadgets but also a network to monitor, communicate and control different devices.

Prior to CES, Bosch announced the formation of a new company for the Internet of Things and Services, Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions GmbH.  It specializes in the development of networked sensors and actuators.  At CES2014 the new CEO, Dr. Thorsten Müller, showed off a wireless sensor node module with Bluetooth.  The WSN incorporates sensors from Bosch Sensortec.  Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions GmbH will sell complete modules to OEMs.  It will also supply any other RF that is desired.

I am selecting the Bosch WSN as my pick for best product at CES2014.  There are many products and devices performing various functions for the IoT.  Bosch is providing an important enabling technology that pulls together these various devices.  The WSN can be used for residential and commercial applications.

The Bosch WSN includes a 9-axis IMU (accelerometer, gyro and magnetometer), microphone and light sensor.  It has an ARM MCU and embeds Bosch’s sensor fusion algorithm.  The sensor fusion enables context awareness. The WSN is used for cloud based security.  Bosch considers its algorithm is a selling point.  In addition to context awareness, it enables lower power consumption.  It has a 2-year battery life with a CR123.

Bosch is approaching this market as the Internet of Things and Services (IoTS).  The IoT is more than individual connected devices.  The purpose is to develop a network in which businesses can deliver services to consumers.  The WSN and future products from Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions GmbH will help lay down a foundation for this development.

Bionics: Thought-Controlled Prosthetics

There are so many products at CES that it seems impossible to see them all during just one week.  Most of them are entertaining or show just a small increase in technological innovation, but a few can lay claim to being life-changing, which is exactly what thought-controlled prosthetics are.

This year, we had the pleasure of seeing a presentation by Dr. Levi Hargrove who works at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where his team has created the world’s first thought-controlled bionic leg in partnership with the DoD.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSO2lRquu7Y&feature=player_embedded

Sure, it’s a few million dollars, and not quite ready for the consumer market, but if CES is showing us what products are up and coming, then this is definitely a highlight.  Give it another five years, and maybe we’ll be seeing a bionic section right next to the 3D printing section.

Aging in Place: Pain Relief

This year CES had a whole (small) section devoted to the Aging in Place market they called the Silvers Summit.  I realized I had entered the zone when I looked up and saw I was surrounded by an elderly mob wearing AARP shirts.  There was one booth in particular they were all surrounding called the Neubac.

Now, the Neubac isn’t a particularly revolutionary product, but its solving a very pressing need: immediate and mobile back pain relief.  Most systems that use TENS Technology are bulky and have many pads and wires that make it hard to move around without looking like some sort of science experiment.  The Neubac though is subtle and it works: people who were getting demos were all trying to con the exhibitor to sell them a unit to use right then and there even though it was against CES rules.   That’s why I’m adding the Neubac to this list.

LED Lighting

LEDs were everywhere at CES this year.  Many of the smart home displays featured LED lighting as an integral part of an energy conscious, smart home.  One LED light vendor was different.  I visited Definity Digital booth, and although I would not vote their LED product as the best CES product, I view it as one of the most unique and creative use of this technology.

Light and heat have been essentials since the dawn of mankind.  Fire the primary source of light in prehistoric time was highly guarded and is one of the things that differentiate man from the animal kingdom.  Today, light is just as important but the quest has been without heat and LED is the best solution.  Definity Digital is creating a new niche, healthy lighting.  The company has adapted LED technology to take advantage of a recent scientific discovery regarding specific blue light and its effect on humans and animals. Scientists discovered receptors in our eyes that regulate the production of melatonin by stimulating the pineal gland.  Insomnia disrupts the lives of millions. In the U.S. 40% of women and 30% of men regularly suffer from insomnia.

Definity Digital use LED technology and patented filtering technology to manufacture bulbs that eliminate the wave length which interferes with the production of melatonin. This creates an environment for good melatonin production and enhanced sleep patterns.  The Good Night bulbs are perfect for bedrooms.  There’s also an Awake & Alert bulb with specifically calibrated blue light wave lengths which result in increased alertness and focus, ideal for workplaces, libraries, classrooms and fitness centers.

Can this technology be real?  Good Night bulbs use a patented technology filter to greatly reduce melatonin suppressing blue light, while delivering commercially acceptable color rendering. This technology is used by NASA and the International Space Station to enable astronauts to naturally manage their sleep rather than depending on chemical sleep aids.

What is also fascinating is that all animals have these receptors.  As an example, in sea turtles these receptors guide the turtles back to the ocean guided by the light from the full moon.  Artificial light near the coast confuse baby turtles causing them the go inland versus out to the ocean. Night bulbs from Definity Digital do not confuse baby sea turtles allowing nature and man to coexist.

So LED lights are not only green and smart, they can also be healthy.  But at almost $70 a bulb, I’ll be taking a melatonin supplement until the price comes down a bit.

What I Learned on the Way to the Semico Impact Conference: Focus on the IP Ecosystem

December 2nd, 2013

Rich Wawrzyniak, October 31, 2013

I had a very interesting discussion with Sundar Iyer, CEO of Memoir Systems, during a briefing they gave Semico on their just-released Pattern Aware Memory IP technology.

To briefly restate their announcement: Memoir has researched the different interactions between processors and memory in high-performance datacom systems and found that certain operations recur fairly often.  These operations roughly fall into four groupings: Counter Memory, Sequential Memory, Allocation Memory and Update Memory.  There are probably many more than these types, but Memoir is starting with these operations to begin with.

Memoir Systems is a 3rd party memory IP company and, as such, devotes its time to developing and introducing embedded memory IP to the market. In the case of this new product announcement, the memory IP they are introducing is tailored around the four functions mentioned above. In other words, their memory IP is now configured to better support these specific operations at the memory level and not through software at the processor level in the system. This has large implications for system performance and throughput.

One of the most pressing issues SoC designers and system architects face today is the growing problem of the processor–memory bottleneck.  Designers can keep adding more memory to increase system performance, but at diminishing returns, mostly because memory performance has not kept pace with processor performance over time.  New memory architectures have been introduced by discrete DRAM vendors.   Products such as synchronous DRAM, starting in the early1990s, evolving to double data rate (DDR) II, III, IV and beyond, help deal with this issue.

In the discrete memory world there is reluctance to ‘tinker’ with device architectures to fine-tune them to solve specific problems.  The old adage about DRAM being ‘cheap and dense like bricks’ is as true today as it was back in the 1980s.  In order to arrive at the absolute lowest device cost, discrete memories must be kept as similar to one another as possible, and this rules out having many different variants in the market at any one time. However, in the embedded memory world, this has less significance because this memory, by its embedded nature, is essentially custom every time a SoC designer crafts the design. This opens the door for a fair bit of fine-tuning by the designer to solve issues specific to the design.

While a better solution than using discrete memory, embedded memories up to this point have offered a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach with little differentiation possible unless the designer creates a custom design. This is possible, but at the cost of additional time and effort on the designer’s part. In essence, the designer must identify the new memory operations needed, add them to the design in the form of creating specific memory architectures to solve the problem and then create the software to manage them at the processor or operating system level. This is a considerable amount of work.

Enter Memoir Systems, who has taken this idea further by offering memory types already configured to perform certain types of system-level operations. This relieves the designer from needing to configure a memory solution to perform these functions. In addition, because the memory is created this way from the start, the need to create and run software operations through the processor to achieve the same results is removed from the design, providing a benefit to the designer.

This approach is very interesting because Memoir has identified several different types of memory-processor operations and has created memories that perform these functions in the normal course of their operation within the system – very innovative. And in addition, this approach can save designers and device architects a considerable amount of die area, producing tangible power savings while increasing device performance – again, very desirable.

In my opinion, further exploration of this type of solution could yield additional innovation in the way SoC designers construct their silicon solutions and allow completely different device architectures to be created from what we see in the market today.  This can have far-ranging impacts on the SoC design community in the long run and is another example of how the 3rd party IP market aids the SoC market and the larger semiconductor market – through innovative ideas made real using licensable IP.  The industry continues to benefit from their efforts, which benefit us all.

What I Learned on the Way to the Semico Impact Conference: Focus on the IP Ecosystem

November 13th, 2013

By Rich Wawrzyniak

I had a very interesting discussion with Sundar Iyer, CEO of Memoir Systems, during a briefing they gave Semico on their just-released Pattern Aware Memory IP technology.

To briefly restate their announcement: Memoir has researched the different interactions between processors and memory in high-performance datacom systems and found that certain operations recur fairly often.  These operations roughly fall into four groupings: Counter Memory, Sequential Memory, Allocation Memory and Update Memory.  There are probably many more than these types, but Memoir is starting with these operations to begin with.

Memoir Systems is a 3rd party memory IP company and, as such, devotes its time to developing and introducing embedded memory IP to the market. In the case of this new product announcement, the memory IP they are introducing is tailored around the four functions mentioned above. In other words, their memory IP is now configured to better support these specific operations at the memory level and not through software at the processor level in the system. This has large implications for system performance and throughput.

One of the most pressing issues SoC designers and system architects face today is the growing problem of the processor–memory bottleneck.  Designers can keep adding more memory to increase system performance, but at diminishing returns, mostly because memory performance has not kept pace with processor performance over time.  New memory architectures have been introduced by discrete DRAM vendors.   Products such as synchronous DRAM, starting in the early1990s, evolving to double data rate (DDR) II, III, IV and beyond, help deal with this issue.

In the discrete memory world there is reluctance to ‘tinker’ with device architectures to fine-tune them to solve specific problems.  The old adage about DRAM being ‘cheap and dense like bricks’ is as true today as it was back in the 1980s.  In order to arrive at the absolute lowest device cost, discrete memories must be kept as similar to one another as possible, and this rules out having many different variants in the market at any one time. However, in the embedded memory world, this has less significance because this memory, by its embedded nature, is essentially custom every time a SoC designer crafts the design. This opens the door for a fair bit of fine-tuning by the designer to solve issues specific to the design.

While a better solution than using discrete memory, embedded memories up to this point have offered a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach with little differentiation possible unless the designer creates a custom design. This is possible, but at the cost of additional time and effort on the designer’s part. In essence, the designer must identify the new memory operations needed, add them to the design in the form of creating specific memory architectures to solve the problem and then create the software to manage them at the processor or operating system level. This is a considerable amount of work.

Enter Memoir Systems, who has taken this idea further by offering memory types already configured to perform certain types of system-level operations. This relieves the designer from needing to configure a memory solution to perform these functions. In addition, because the memory is created this way from the start, the need to create and run software operations through the processor to achieve the same results is removed from the design, providing a benefit to the designer.

This approach is very interesting because Memoir has identified several different types of memory-processor operations and has created memories that perform these functions in the normal course of their operation within the system – very innovative. And in addition, this approach can save designers and device architects a considerable amount of die area, producing tangible power savings while increasing device performance – again, very desirable.

In my opinion, further exploration of this type of solution could yield additional innovation in the way SoC designers construct their silicon solutions and allow completely different device architectures to be created from what we see in the market today.  This can have far-ranging impacts on the SoC design community in the long run and is another example of how the 3rd party IP market aids the SoC market and the larger semiconductor market – through innovative ideas made real using licensable IP.  The industry continues to benefit from their efforts, which benefit us all.

IP Subsystems: Is It A Catalyst for Leading Edge Design Enablement

October 21st, 2013

by Jim Feldhan

The System-on-Chip (SoC) market has been successful because of the increasing use of 3rd Party Semiconductor Intellectual Property (SIP). SoC designers now look to move up a layer of abstraction to design with system level functionality in order to reduce the effort and cost associated with complex SoC designs. By doing so, SoC designers can add higher levels of system functionality and cutting-edge feature sets without needing to design these functions at the absolute lowest level of complexity.

The IP subsystem is a methodology designers are employing to infuse the right level of complexity and functionality to meet rapidly changing market requirements without experiencing a corresponding increase in design costs or design cycle time.

The market entry by Cadence, Synopsys, Sonics and Analog Bits over the past 12+ months marked a turning point in the IP subsystem era. Semico expects to see a competitive market for 3rd party IP subsystems in the follow areas:

  • Computing subsystems
  • Memory subsystems
  • Video subsystems
  • Communication subsystems
  • Multi Media subsystems
  • Storage subsystems
  • Audio subsystems
  • Security subsystems
  • System Resource Management subsystems

The changes being implemented in the SoC design methodology today reflect issues the industry has been grappling with for the last 5 – 6 years. Does an IP subsystem solve or mitigate some of the follow issues?

  • Rising design costs
  • Increasing design complexity
  • Shrinking market windows
  • Lengthening design cycle times
  • Rapidly changing market requirements
  • Escalating integration costs for SIP blocks
  • Software design costs exceeding silicon design costs

Semico believes they will help find new ways to develop fresh SoC solutions. The complexity confronting SoC designers at the monolithic silicon level today closely mirrors the complexity system designers were putting into their products at the discrete semiconductor level only a few short years ago. Where can we expect the IP subsystem market and the broader SoC market to evolve to over the next few years?

The advent of the IP subsystem market is a prime example of the trends that have driven the semiconductor industry from day one: evolution, integration and innovation. It is reasonable to expect these underlying market drivers will continue in force over the foreseeable future. It is entirely likely the pace of innovation will not stop and evolutionary forces will continue to ratchet up the progress of integration displayed by the new IP subsystem concept and the products it delivers to the market.

Semico is hosting a one-day conference on the IP Ecosystem in San Jose at the DoubleTree Hotel on Nov 6th, 2013. A panel discussion on the topic of Designing for New World Applications will delve into topics such as software, verification, and subsystems. Moderated by Mahesh Tirupattur of Analog Bits, the panel will explore design solutions for the future. Participants include Jason Polychronopoulos, Mentor Graphics, Warren Savage, IPextreme, Chris Rowen, Cadence, Suk Lee, TSMC.

If you’re interested in participating in this discussion, have something to add or just want to hear what others are doing, register for Semico’s IP Conference by using the following link http://tinyurl.com/kwundyd .

Proliferation of MEMS Sensors Equals Greater Awareness to “Things”

October 2nd, 2013

By Tony Massimini

The MEMS market is poised for significant growth thanks to major expansion of applications in smart phone and automotive. These two applications driving the increase use of MEMS sensors and actuators will further reduce cost and power while increasing performance, thus fostering new markets including health and fitness as well as home and building automation. Finally, the continuing growth of MEMS will provide new injection of growth in the slowing semiconductor market.

In 2013, Semico expects a total MEMS market of $16.8 B but by 2017 it will have expanded to $28.5 B, a 70 percent increase in a mere four years time. In 2011, 39 percent and 30 percent of all MEMS were being made for automotive and smart phone applications, respectively. Today, Semico expects 40 percent to be destined for smart phones and a mere 25 percent for automotive. Today’s smart phone will not only have the standard accelerometer, magnetometer, and gyroscope; it will also come with pressure sensor to provide altitude data—detailing the floor in a high rise of the user—as well as MEMS in one or more microphones, in the autofocus of the cameras and in SAW filters and resonant cavities in the radio of the phone.

All of these sensors are creating a need for a separate sensor hub processor, which has a 32-bit processing core for handling advanced algorithms. The most dominant solution today are standard microcontrollers. There are about 18 MCU vendors with ARM cores such as Freescale, STand others. The Atmel AVR MCU family has a significant presence. Other sensor hub solutions are emerging such as the integrated sensor hub in the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600/800 application processors, based on ARM core architecture and Intel’s upcoming Atom Merrifield CPU.

Other solutions are ASSPs such as ASIC, FPGA and specialized devices. Separate from the phone’s application processor, this sensor hub runs complex sensor fusion algorithms that provide data to the apps processor’s OS for distribution to the APIs. What might this fusion processor provide? Take the magnetometer in most cell phones as an example. In a building, reflections can produce false readings. By knowing where the phone is within a building the sensor fusion system can provide corrections for these anomalies.

Sensor fusion algorithms will begin to provide greater context awareness for the sensor reading thus enabling applications software to better anticipate a phone user’s needs and requirements. Detecting that a phone is no longer moving, the phone can be powered down to cut the large power consumption of the gyroscope, applications processor, as well as other elements of the smart phone that are not needed at that moment.

Whatever is developed for the phone will be applied to automotive and other consumer devices. In the car, sensor fusion will provide the kinds of context awareness that factors speed and radar responses to determine when to automatically apply brakes to avoid a collision. Context awareness in the phone can also help reduce power consumption. In consumer devices such as digital still and movie cameras, images can be tagged for exact geographic location and orientation in Cartesian space as well as time of day.
All the sensor technology developed for the automotive and smart phone markets can be applied in home and building automation as well as health and fitness applications. Semico believes that the sensor proliferation in homes could easily outstrip their application in industrial applications. Sensors can be applied in easily 70 different “things” within the home: lights, security and safety, heading and air conditions as well as appliances.

In health and fitness, sensors are being applied to enable an aging population to remain at home monitored by a range of vital sign monitors. These same types of monitors can provide performance data to enable the health conscious population to record their physical activity and provide feedback to optimize workout regimens. These sensors will also create additional demand for more capable smart phones, which will provide the sensor fusion function before relaying the data onto health care professionals or fitness coaches. In animal husbandry, these sensors will be used to monitor the health of livestock: to determine optimum breeding cycles, to detect unhealthy animals and determine which peers to cull and which to isolate to reduce the spread of disease.

As the number of sensors increase and enable an Internet of Things, there will be an increased demand for lower power interfaces, such as the low-energy Bluetooth, to create the sensor networks that will link these sensors to the Cloud. At the 2013 Sensors Expo in Chicago, the discussion included mesh networks that could move data node to node eventually reaching a central controller to add context to the raw data before moving it onto the Internet and eventually to the Cloud.

The MEMS sensor is at the center of an emerging new market of intelligent “things” that will provide users as well as inanimate objects such as automobiles a greater awareness of their surroundings. As the technology evolves, these sensors will become less expensive while providing greater sensitivity, thus opening up greater numbers of applications.