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Chips, Boards and Beyond – Modeling Hardware and Software

By John Blyler, Chief Content Officer

Modeling experts from ASTC/VLAB Works, ARM and The Mathworks debates prototyping systems fast and accurate enough to test code and simulate hardware.

A panel of global system modeling experts debates the challenges in prototyping the entire electronic system – from system-on-chip (SoC) and board domains to the entire physical system. How do engineers make the prototype fast and accurate enough to test code: abstraction, accelerators, or hardware in the loop? When are these techniques most necessary? These are just some of the questions addressed by Jay Yantchev of ASTC/VLAB Works; Barry Spotts of ARM; and Arun Mulpur of The Mathworks. Carole Dunn of Mentor Graphics is the panel’s chair. John Blyler of Extension Media will be the moderator. What follows is a position statement from the panelist in preparation for this discussion. – JB

Panel Title: “Performance Strategies for System Virtual Prototypes

Panelist Responses:

Spotts: It is important to enable the virtual platforms capabilities of a full system. Of course, we are working with taking care of our subsystem part of that potentially larger system. We are looking at a variety of techniques to keep development running at 100 Mhz on the virtual platforms. One should note that the virtual platform is different between mobile and automotive domains in terms of communication between devices in cars and components on a board. Regardless, we do have integration with virtual platforms with hardware emulation and there are techniques to use to speed up simulation at the expense of cycle accuracy.

One key question that should be addressed is the necessary accuracy of virtual platforms in automotive from the differing standpoint of customers and standards.

Yantchev: There are several interesting components to this topic, but first let’s clarify a few questions. Is the focus on the System-on-Chip (SoC), as in “SoC virtual prototyping?” Or it the focus on the software that will run on that SoC, where one may use any suitable software virtual prototyping for testing that SW – but may be not use a SoC virtual prototype?

“Hardware-in-the-Loop” usually means using SoC or ECU physical hardware instead of the SoC virtual prototype. Is the SoC hardware-in-the-loop or is it test bench hardware-in-the-loop, e.g, plant/equipment hardware or even FPGA hardware-in-the-loop for select SoC subsystems? The answer to these questions will help focus the overall discussion.

Mulpur: System virtual prototypes are increasingly a mix – not just of hardware and software, but also of digital, control, and analog components integrated with many different sensors and actuators. So, it is unlikely – even impossible – that a single approach would allow engineers to handle the breadth of functionality, integration, and speed of simulation needed for effective and useful virtual prototypes. Clearly it is all of the above.

Even with such a broad definition of virtual prototyping (see above), in isolation, virtual prototyping alone will not be able to address the overall software-hardware design, prototyping, integration, verification, and validation of the embedded / SoC systems on board an automobile. Further, as Vehicle-to-Road and Vehicle-to-Vehicle technologies mature, the network aspects of the overall automobile-as-a-system will gain a few additional levels of complexity.

System virtual prototyping – when complemented and integrated with Model-Based Design, the traditional EDA workflows for FPGA and ASIC implementations, and Test and Measurement equipment – could provide a scalable and integrated approach.

Concerning mobile computing systems, the need for virtual prototyping is “now.” As mentioned earlier, this is already happening. Several semiconductor, consumer electronics, and communication devices companies are already evaluating and beginning to use the same virtual prototyping techniques. This makes sense because both these industries are utilizing similar technologies and solving similar electronics, embedded systems, and connectivity problems.

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