The Roundtable - Interactive Intelligent Devices
Moderated by Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, the Roundtable is where industry players talk about market and industry trends. This month's question is: Now that today’s products must not only be intelligent, they must be interactive with users and fellow devices over a network. What do you feel the greatest challenge to the engineer is to achieve that functionality?
Rob Muñoz, Distinguished Engineer, LSI (www.lsi.com)
As communications networks take on ever growing workloads, the networking equipment industry is increasingly relying on multicore technology to scale up processing solutions based on general purpose CPUs. While multicore definitely is the way forward, it has to be done right. There’s often an implicit assumption that processing power scales very naturally from a single processor to multicore solutions, but you can’t just add CPU cores to boost performance.
The crux of the problem is the inherently difficult task of writing (or more likely rewriting) software that can effectively take advantage of conventional multicore processing in a scalable fashion. While a conventional multicore communications processor can be scaled to some extent to support stateless packet processing, modern communications networks increasingly require higher level protocol and application processing that tends to be stateful.
These are not new problems. There has been no shortage of efforts and money spent to find solutions. Without a solution, the multicore industry is on course to hit a wall. LSI offers smarter approaches to multicore communications processing like those offered by the Axxia Communications Processor family which addresses the scalability problem using an asymmetric multicore approach. This approach combines powerful conventional multicore processors with networking-optimized intelligent accelerator engines efficiently linked together by LSI’s Virtual Pipeline framework. The resulting approach is made even easier to use by C-programmable libraries that provide common packet and protocol processing functionality for wireless, wireline, and enterprise networking.
-Bob Potock, Director of Marketing - Americas, Altium (www.altium.com)
Building the “connected device” or “connected product” presents a unique set of challenges to a broad range of product designers. IDC estimates that there will be 15 billion connected products by 2015. That prediction suddenly moves connectivity from the competitive advantage column to the competitive requirement column.
Connectivity will touch all industries – not just hand-held devices where connectivity is better understood. Engineers designing a bathroom scale or a refrigerator will now need to be WiFi-literate so that their product can connect to the home WiFi.
The connectivity IP (WiFi, 3G) will take many product developers beyond their “product” expertise. The necessary IP will be combination of hardware and a software stack involving TCP/IP. This is not your hardware-centric peripheral like USB or SPI. The software component is significant.
Tool-chain based design flows do not easily support the connectivity IP necessary for the design. The connectivity IP will require the designer to cross tool-chain boundaries from PCB to FPGA to embedded software development. A platform-based design solution with intrinsic IP support would dramatically simplify the design process.
-Dave Lacinski, Wireless Connectivity Solutions, Texas Instruments (www.ti.com)
Processing performance is a major consideration, as developers must be able to execute application functions that require complex math while leaving enough headroom for networking capabilities. From a wireless connectivity perspective, the main challenge is RF coexistence. The connected world is growing each day thanks to the integration of various RF standards in devices – from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth® to ZigBee™, NFC, GPS and other technologies.
Fitted with their respective radios, devices need to manage their own network connections, while coexisting with other connected devices in close proximity that may be using the same frequency band or channels within a band. Engineers must develop hardware and software that intelligently allocate the right tasks to each radio and help connected devices talk with each other, instead of over each other to ensure uninterrupted, reliable user experiences. However, this coexistence challenge must be conquered in a way that does not drain battery life or add to the overall cost of the implementation, while still delivering the performance and power required to execute specific application tasks. In many applications, developers are also challenged to isolate their communication processor from high power.