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NI CEO Sounds Call for Platform-based Design at DAC 2013

Comments(2)Filed under: EDA, DAC, Cadence CEO, Design Automation Conference, semiconductors, DAC 2013, iPad, electronics, iPhone, embedded systems, mobile, LabView, National Instruments, platform design, James TruchardAUSTIN, Texas-"To platform or not to platform, that is the question."

That indeed was the Shakespearean choice that National Instruments co-founder and CEO James Truchard offered in his keynote this week at the 50th Design Automation Conference.

Aside from turning a noun into a verb ("to platform"), few in our industry would argue with Truchard's question. That is, the quickening pace of innovation, increasing technology specialization and advancing electronics-systems complexity requires abstraction. It requires higher level perches and platforms from which to fight tomorrow's technology battles. The alternative is much slower design cycles, less-profitable (or profit-free) products.

"It's about abstraction," Truchard told the audience here at the Austin Convention Center. "We believe abstraction is critical if you want to do these ever more complex systems."

Up a level

That abstraction varies, whether it's at the chip level (think DSP or, say, ARM processor) or the board level (think Arduino) or consumer solution (think iOS/Android).

Truchard offered an example:

"One of my favorites that I like to talk about is the bagpipe tuner. Whoever was ... doing that customized bagpipe tuner now discovers they have a $24.95 competitor that runs on the iPhone. So this is truly revolutionizing the way many, many designs are being done, moving to a software-based approach."

At NI, the company has pushed up the abstraction chain in the past four decades as it serves the instrumentation and control-systems markets. Its LabView graphical programming platform helps engineers scale from design to test and from small to large systems. 

NI adheres to the "V" design model used in the automotive and aerospace industries, where development and test--each starting apart on one arm of the "V"--gradually join at implementation.

Said Truchard:

"You got different levels, starting with system-level design, modeling and analysis, and then component design. And then on the other side is system-level test, and we're putting a lot of focus on this cyber physical testing, hardware in the loop, and protocol-aware test, where you implement the protocol that the chip uses internally. This is where good cooperation with chip-design tools can be very helpful to share chip IP across this process."

Evolution, not revolution

It's an evolution, to be sure. In Truchard's eyes, it began in the 1980s when designers relied on individual instruments and test devices to today where companies like NI leverage increasingly cost-effective hardware platforms with software--flexible and constantly evolving--to lift engineering productivity as designers move up the abstraction ladder.

"Today's engineers will design hardware and software that go into system-level platforms including systems on a chip, or they'll use them," Truchard said. "In either case, they have to know and understand system-level design."

And while he closed his keynote with the "to platform" question, Truchard had already answered it.

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