Semiconductors in the smart society: Next-generation connectivity @ The ConFab

June 5, 2012 — Day 2 of The ConFab, Solid State Technology’s invitation-only meeting of the semiconductor industry, opened in Las Vegas with Ali Sebt, CEO of Renesas Electronics America, delivering “Smart Society, the Sensing Era and Signal Chain.” Sebt addressed how the semiconductor industry can support this smart society emerging around us, and help it grow. Start with a focus on the complete signal chain — from analog to digital to low power to the software intelligence — and we’ll end up with the next generation of connectivity for a smarter world.

The trend toward “Smart Society” is emerging from the home and office to our cities and the grids that power them, Sebt said. “Smart” in this case refers to any object or place that is connected to the Internet, and is sometimes called the “Internet of Things.” We live in a world where people interact with their electronics more efficiently, more conveniently, more safely, and with greater intelligence and intuition, Sebt said, and we also pay close attention to energy consumption. From the era of stationary personal computers, we moved into an era of networked connectivity, with more focus on performance than energy consumption. As the mobile era emerges, and the Internet of Things grows, battery life and energy consumption are front of mind at tuned-in semiconductor companies.

Low-power ICs are the pillars on which Smart Society is built. Low-leakage transistors have been a focus at Renesas since the 1980s, Sebt notes, but today, the ability of our electronics to intelligently interpret the analog world is just as important.

A network of sensing elements helps make this possible. Sensor fusion combines pressure, light, directional, and other sensory inputs into meaningful capabilities for users. This network of smart detectors uses “The Signal Chain” to handle the analog-to-digital conversion, signal conditioning and digital control necessary to process sensed data and arrive at an intelligent decision. Sebt mentioned camera-integrated infrared occupancy sensors that can detect radiating body heat to assist emergency responders in visually obscured situations as just 1 example of the pervasive network of sensors enabling today’s society. Consider the smart home, wherein these IR occupancy sensors are combined with temperature and humidity sensors for comfort, air quality sensors alerting occupants to the presence of CO2 and volatile organic compounds, and light sensors for energy control and security. With intelligent control electronics, these sensors can be combined and networked for applications impossible as stand-alone devices. Microcontrollers make the sensors meaningful and efficient. Sebt developed this idea further with a discussion of commercial buildings, and considered other examples such as supporting electric vehicle batteries and smart energy metering for power generation and storage/distribution.

Sebt then turned his focus to security in the connected Smart Society. The minute you add connectivity to an embedded system, you expose that system to malicious hackers, unauthorized users, and denial-of-service attackers, he said. Immediately, authentication becomes a must-have feature.

Video interview with Ali Sebt and Solid State Technology chief editor Pete Singer

 

The ConFab sessions cover economic outlooks, technology trends, the foundry-fabless relationship, 3D packaging, and tool investments/obsolescence. Click on any of the keywords for a session preview or recap.

 And check out the Day 1 keynote’s salient points on the “virtual IDM” concept, from John Chen, PhD, VP of technology and foundry operations at Nvidia Corporation.

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