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Ambient intelligence gains traction

Posted: 07 Feb 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:isscc? electronic system? circuit? system design? hdtv?

Future electronic systems will bring ambient intelligence into everyone's lives, adapting and responding to humans and objects, but not without extraordinary improvements in circuit and system design, an ISSCC keynoter said Monday (Feb. 4).

Fred Boekhorst, senior vice president of research at Philips (Eindhoven, The Netherlands), told an audience at the conference that power, die size and cost need to be pushed down dramatically for ambient-intelligent systems to become ubiquitous.

"In the near future, cars, offices and homes will have a distributed network of intelligent devices that provides information, communication and entertainment," he said. "These systems will adapt to the user in a context-aware fashion and will differ substantially from contemporary equipment."

The concept seems plausible enough: billions of tiny devices packed into hundreds of millions of systems handling any number of tasks. But Boekhorst cautioned that such systems will have to serve many masters at the same time, straining clever design techniques.

"At one end of the spectrum, low data rate sensor and actuator control signals form as low as 1bps or less," he said. "At the other end of the spectrum, there will be need to interface large HDTV displays with data rates as high as 5Gbps."

Ambient intelligence will require subsystems that span 9 orders of magnitude in bandwidth or computational load and 6 orders of magnitude in terms of allowable power dissipation, he added. Many will be required to trim power consumption to just 1005W, whereas a contemporary Bluetooth device now consumes at least 50mW, he noted.

And where Bluetooth designs now are targeting the magic $5 cost point, ambient-intelligent devices must scale to a few 10s of cents. "Within a five-year timescale, a bill of materials comprising 20 cents for the IC, 10 cents for the battery and 10 cents for the packaging seems plausible," he said.

Hum a few bars

So what kinds of systems is Boekhorst envisioning? Music retrieval and playing for one. Boekhorst sees a time in the not-too-distant future in which a DVD, thanks to increased density and better compression technologies, can hold thousands of songs. Paging through an index would be tedious, so accessing songs by humming is a consideration. That "search" mechanism is intuitive enough but is estimated to take 3 giga-ops (GOPS) computing power to search a database of 20,000 songs with a half-second response time.

Aspects of another application, 3D television, could take 10s of GOPS computational power.

Boekhorst envisions platform architectures with clusters of embedded processors and memories operating autonomously as subsystems, cooperating through an on-chip networkor networks-on-silicon.

The researcher said ambient-intelligent systems won't occur as a "Big Bang" but will gradually blend into our lives.

"The concept is attractive because it melds together computing, communications and consumer electronics, enabling new functionality that can stimulate further market growth," he said.

Brian Fuller

EE Times

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