Viewpoints: 2016 outlook

Test will be front and center for semiconductors in 2016-2017

By Michel Villemain, CEO, Presto Engineering, Inc.

Over time test has become accepted as second nature for semiconductor manufacturers: it needs to be done, it has a known value, it is considered a separate step to bringing a product to market, and it is clearly business as usual. However, the semiconductor industry is once again evolving and several new themes will vastly change the view of test, how it is perceived, implemented, and the value it brings.

The first major change coming is the new 5G communications standard that promises to provide greater data transmission rates and speed. To reach this next plateau, the industry will need to adopt higher, millimeter-wave frequency designs to handle bandwidth, and thus it will be confronted with testing devices in the +30GHz range. This is nothing new since small volume demand already exists for applications like point-to-point cellular communications. However, the real challenge will come when the industry needs to run high volume as new infrastructure coming on line outpaces the know-how required to support it.

Second is the Internet-of-things (IoT) market. This new and clever monolithic term is really a great way to consolidate applications linked by common characteristics, notably the ability to “sense” the real world, to “analyze” the sensed data both locally and remotely, make intelligent decisions, and be connected to the Internet/Cloud for data crunching. Success in IoT will come from using known technologies and building blocks to solve a new class of use cases. Much of this sensing and gathering of data can involve intrusion control, management of critical processes, and/or personal data-all of which need to be protected.

Securing IoT products will require a combination of solutions including secure Internet access, secure software stacks, and product/hardware security via secure elements. In recent years, professional security hackers have shown that there are numerous ways to enter a system and take control of it. For example, test access ports, USB’s and other backdoors are an open opportunity for malevolent hackers. So, as one of the best ways to secure an IoT system for more sensitive devices, the industry is likely to take a proven page from the payment system world by injecting unique secure codes into semiconductors.

The IoT will also call for more complete systems (SOC’s, SIP’s). The mixing of sensing, local computation, storage, and transmission – “all in one” – promises to challenge testing strategies as there is a lack of analog test standardization, now commonly found in digital devices.

With driver-assisted/self-driving automobiles, ADAS/AD (advanced driver assistance systems, automated driving), the automotive industry is turning to the aerospace world for inspiration. Redundancy is a critical element to insure both safety and quality, and engineers will be faced with multicore designs both for logic and storage involving totally new testing strategies for BIST and traditional external verification.

In summary, test needs to get ready for change — and this is good because it signals the coming of many new and exciting products in 2016-17.


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