2/17/2004 - IMEC, Europe's largest independent microelectronics and nanotechnology research center, has conceived a new "Double Y" design methodology that facilitates the implementation of multi-functional devices supporting an entire application domain. IMEC's approach adds an "inverted Y" on top of the conventional Y-chart approach, which has been commonly used to implement hardware-software co-design.
Although generally accepted as the design methodology for system-on-chip development, the conventional Y-chart approach is not sufficient for the creation of future flexible architectures. The current Y-chart method visualizes the concurrent development of a dedicated architecture and a single application. From this application code and architecture, the design is implemented in silicon by using compilation, synthesis and place-and-route. Specific techniques using this Y-chart approach are hardware/software co-design; mixed-signal co-design; and design of real-time operating systems and middleware.
However, due to technological and economical issues, designs have to become application-domain specific instead of application specific to amortize the growing non-recurring engineering cost over a large volume. In addition, products become multi-functional offering a wider variety of services. Just as the mobile phone has evolved to include a camera, global-positioning-system navigation, an MP-3 player, a game console, and other functions, so designers will need the tools to cost-efficiently create complex and demanding multi-functional systems.
A "Double Y" approach is required to develop a just-enough flexible architecture that can be used for a domain of applications. To this end, the abstraction level of embedded system design needs to be at a higher level than current methodologies in which only a single application and a dedicated architecture for it are co-designed.
In the Double-Y chart approach, the left side of the top Y optimizes the application code so that it can run on a flexible architecture. This aspect of the design approach is called software washing since it will transform a high-level application description (mostly generated without considering the right implementation issues) into a cleaned multi-threaded description, well-prepared for implementation on embedded systems (using the standard Y-chart approach). For example, memory usage and data access requirements will be adapted to the architecture. The right side of the top Y deals with the design of a "just enough flexible" architecture that can efficiently handle the complete domain of applications. The type and number of building blocks (ie, processors, accelerators, fine-and-coarse-grain FPGAs, etc) the required communication, the fixed and programmable network, and so on, will be determined. This is the input (optimally specified for a range of applications) that is needed by the standard Y-chart approach to start from this architectural information to final implementation.
Once the code of the application domain and the flexible architecture characteristics are determined, system houses can map their specific applications following the conventional Y-chart method onto the flexible architecture, thereby co-designing the application refinement, the middleware layer controlling the runtime flexibility, and freezing the remaining architectural design-time flexibility.
IMEC's design technology (www.imec.be/reconfigurable; www.imec.be/design) research targets several aspects of the Double-Y approach. For example, IMEC's data transfer and storage exploration (DTSE) methodology and task-concurrency management currently being combined with quality-of-experience concepts, support the left side of the top Y. Research on communication, memory and power-efficient flexible processor architecture contributes to the right side of the top Y. IMEC's hardware/software co-design methodology OCAPI and research on RTOS, middleware and compiler techniques for coarse grain arrays target the design steps of the bottom Y.
"IMEC has a long track record in the development of innovative design technologies which contributed already to this Double-Y approach," said Rudy Lauwereins, Vice President Design Technology for Integrated Information and Communication Systems IMEC. "Several of these methodologies are now being used by the industry via spin-off companies such as CoWare, PowerEscape andTarget Compiler Technologies.
To implement the Double-Y approach, companies ranging from compiler houses, RTOS vendors, place-and-route, verification, hardware/software co-design companies (such as CoWare) to software-washing suppliers (such as PowerEscape for data and memory optimization within application threads) have to collaborate. The new Double-Y approach requires strong interaction between many companies at different points in the value chain, which will lead to the advent of industrial communities.
"CoWare continues to make aggressive investments in System Level Design," said Karl Van Rompaey, CTO, CoWare, Inc.. "By partnering with leading research institutes such as IMEC on these types of future design technologies, we can balance product development and research efforts very effectively and ensure we are providing a constant stream of breakthrough technology for our customers."
According to IMEC, the Double-Y methodology will allow design of architectures that are flexible enough to implement an application domain, while amortizing the growing non-recurring engineering cost over a larger volume.
IMEC is a world-leading independent research center in nanoelectronics and nanotechnology. Its research focuses on the next-generation of chips and systems, and on the enabling technologies for ambient intelligence. IMEC's research bridges the gap between fundamental research at universities and technology development in industry. Its unique balance of processing and system know-how, intellectual property portfolio, state-of-the-art infrastructure and a strong network of companies, universities and research institutes worldwide, positions IMEC as a key partner with which to develop and improve technologies for future systems.
IMEC is headquartered in Leuven, Belgium and has representatives in the US, China and Japan. Its staff of more than 1300 people includes over 380 industrial residents and guest researchers. In 2003, its revenues were EUR 145 million. Further information on IMEC can be found on www.imec.be.
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