National Semiconductor’s (www.national.com) CEO, Brian Halla, spoke today at a press conference on the eve of electronica 2008 in Munich about the future of technology and National Semiconductor’s role in it. He spoke about the power of convergence, the importance of analog, and the Next Big Thing.
Brian pointed out that analog is not only where the real world lives; it is also immune from Moore’s law in that circuit size and density is not a factor in analog performance. In addition, the intense pressure for low-power circuits and energy-efficient operation can be addressed very effectively in the analog realm. The challenges lie in system integration and education to adopt and apply the latest in analog signal and power management technologies and integrate them properly with the digital side of the house.
National Semiconductor’s PowerWise technology family is focused on the concept of “Analog to Information” where the entire processing chain is moved to the analog domain. The example Brain gave was their LMV1089 audio chip which uses analog far-field noise suppression in real time to perform the same noise reduction as a digital circuit but with only 10% of the power consumption (http://www.national.com/pf/LM/LMV1089.html).
Brian stated that the current trend is towards more integrated systems that improve the quality of life, in areas such as alternate energy, health care, safety, and productivity. The explosion of technology has followed a roller-coaster curve, with every new application area creating both new growth and a subsequent bust, followed by consolidation of the disruptive technologies involved. This is then followed in turn by the development of the next generation of new technologies, which causes the cycle to repeat. According to him, we are poised at the beginning of a new cycle based in consumer-driven applications integrating all the precious technological advances.
From the 70’s to the 80’s the dominant meme was Man talking to a Machine. In the 80’s began the trend of Man talking to 2 Machines, then more and more and more. Now we are at the point where Machines talk to Machines in the service of Man. Ubiquitous computing, driven by portable electronics and integrated devices such as smart phones, will be the face of the future.
One major area of development is in Solar Power, which is plagued by poor performance due to solar shading. Even if only one panel of a solar array is in shade, the entire assembly can fall in power output by as much as 75% or more. Since solar panels are connected in serial strings, a solar array suffers from the same problem that a 6-cell flashlight with one bad battery does when one of them is in the shade.
National Semiconductor has recently released a product to directly address this need, the SolarMagic module. This device can isolate a bad panel from the rest, and feed its reduced output into the system without affecting neighboring panels, increasing overall efficiency of the array by as much as 30%. This technology can also be used in multiple-battery arrays in the exact same way, isolating bad cells while still allowing them to contribute to the system’s total power output.
The next step may be integrating the electric car and the smart house in an energy-management system that uses the vehicle battery for storage. This is still a ways in the future, as it will rely on battery “supercharging” technology to charge a battery in a very short time.