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Mixed-signal IC design: Forecasts for 2016

Posted: 08 Jan 2016 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IC design? IoT? automotive? Moore's Law? MCU?

Enhancements in automotive and Internet of Things (IoT) devices continue to drive the complexity of today's mixed-signal designs, considerably challenging mixed-signal verification. As such, engineers need solutions that span from transistors to chips to systems, and they also need better ways to improve productivity.

This article will examine the key trends, challenges, and emerging solutions in mixed-signal system design enablement, focusing on mixed-signal verification.

Taking a system-level view of automotive design

Nearly 85 per cent of SoC design starts are mixed-signal designs, according to IBS, and many of them also require low power consumption. Automotive designs provide a good illustration of an industry where engineers are facing more system-level design challenges. In years past, a typical automotive design would have simple microcontrollers and a single sensor. Now, particularly with the rise of autonomous driving, infotainment systems and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), vehicles have multiple sensors and MCUs that may need to talk to each other.

At the device level, these chips must be simulated, and verified that they can operate reliably under extreme environmental conditions. At the system level, the vehicle must be designed so that it will respond to all of the sensor inputs safely. For example, engineers must ensure that sensor data can be aggregated and analysed to present an accurate picture of what is happening, whether the vehicle needs to detect a jaywalking pedestrian or an errant lane change by another car. IP, design tools, and other components in the supply chain must be certified to meet vehicle functional safety standards such as ISO 26262.

Automotive power

Power hasn't been a big concern in automotive design, as the vehicle battery has generally been sufficient to provide the power needed by in-vehicle electronics. However, cars now commonly contain hundreds of sensors, feature in-vehicle connectivity via wireless protocols, and also boast redundant sensors and systems for reliability. More low-power design techniques need to be incorporated to reduce the total power consumption of the electronic system. The power distribution system, particularly for electric cars, might at some point require a redesign in order to provide enough power to accommodate all of these sources.

One surprising trend that is underway for the automotive industry is a shift to advanced-node SoCs. Larger process nodes have long been sufficient for automotive SoC designs. However, since automotive sensors are aggregating so much more data these days, powerful processors are needed to analyse this data and make real-time determinations. What's more, the volume of data is likely to grow, future cars will probably need to be able to communicate with other cars, for example. Advanced-node chips would provide the processing speeds to support this.

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