ARM TechCon, the Aftermath
Gabe Moretti, Senior Editor
A couple of weeks ago I attended my first ARM TechCon. Having spent the first 32 years of my professional life developing EDA tools to support the design and development of leading edge semiconductor devices, I have concentrated my editorial career in following that sector of the EDA industry. ARM TechCon has been a pleasant surprise. I came face to face with a totally new segment of EDA, one as interesting as what I have been familiar with.
It is true that my segment of EDA has supported ARM in creating those CPUs and MCUs that make the conference possible. But that is beside the point. Here is an industry segment whose customers are builders of systems that very often become the final products, and thus very price sensitive. They are systems integrators, embedded software developers creating both system and application specific modules.
To be sure there were some EDA vendors on the exhibit floor that one finds at DAC as well. Cadence, Mentor, and Synopsys were there, and I even knew some of the people at both the Cadence and Mentor booths. Ansys, Sonics and Kilopass were also exhibiting. All three serve this market in very direct ways: Ansys is a very diversified company, while both Sonics and especially Kilopass offer products that become parts of an electronic product directly. Imperas was exhibiting and shared the opinion that the conference was more in tone with their products than DAC is. I am sure I left some companies who also exhibit at DAC out of this list, but the newness of the topics I was dealing with kept me quite busy and away from the floor.
I spoke with Altium a company I knew for its PCB design tools. They were showing instead their Tasking products, tools that support the development of embedded systems. A totally new to me side of the company.
The conference really caters to the “Makers”: that set of developers that use less expensive tools to integrate components in a system. This is really where IoT becomes real, where you see MEMS on a mini PCB, where mixed signal designs are the norm. On the exhibit floor you could order a drone, or win a number of development boards supporting ARM based systems ready to help you develop the app that will make you famous and probably rich.
One of the peculiarities of conferences exhibit floors like this one or DAC is that vendors have people, usually attractive young ladies, that ask to swipe your badge as you walk from one booth to another. In spite of the fact that my badge prominently said that I was with the press, those ladies insisted on swiping my badge and I am too shy to offend them. And thus, a UPS truck pulled up to the house just a couple of hours ago, and after signing for it, I was handed a package I did not expect. Inside there was a ST Micro STRM32 F7 Discovery development board. After getting over the confusion of what I should do with it, I read the directions which were quite simple. So, maybe I will try to develop the ultimate app, or set the house on fire, whichever comes first. See, for those of you who do not know, I am a computer scientist, not an electronic engineer, so short circuits are a possibility, not a rarity.
It was good to see DAC exhibitors on the floor of ARM TechCon, hopefully not just because it was the politically correct thing to do, but because they truly are considering Makers to be a viable customer base.