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India’s teaching community contemplates SoC design

November 4, 2010 11 comments

The VLSI Society of India recently organized a two-day faculty development workshop on SoC design, — Train-the-Trainer program — on Oct. 30-31, 2010, at the Texas Instruments India office, in co-operation with PragaTI (TI India Technical University) and Visweswaraya Technological University (VTU).

Dr. C.P. Ravikumar, TI, addressing the teachers at the workshop.

Dr. C.P. Ravikumar, TI, addressing the teachers at the workshop on SoC design.

I am highly obliged and very grateful to the VLSI Society of India and Dr. C.P. Ravikumar, technical director, University Relations, Texas Instruments India, for extending an invitation. Here is a report on the workshop, which the VSI Secretariat and Dr. Ravikumar have been most kind to share.

System-on-chip (SoC) refers to the technological revolution, which allows semiconductor manufacturers to integrate electronic systems on the same chip. System-on-board, which has been the conventional implementation of electronic systems, uses semiconductor chips soldered onto printed circuit boards (PCBs) to realize system functionality.

Systems typically include sensors, analog frontend, digital processors, memories and peripherals. Thanks to the advances in VLSI technology, these sub-systems can be integrated on the same chip, reducing the footprint, cutting down the cost, improving the performance and power efficiency.

While the industry has adopted SoC design for many years, the academic community around the world (India not being an exception) has not caught up with the state-of-the-art. Electrical/electronics engineering departments continue to teach a course on VLSI design, where the level of design abstraction is device-level, transistor-level, or gate-level.

Register-transfer-level (RTL) design using hardware description languages is taught in some Masters’ programs, but colleges often do not have the lab infrastructure to carry out large design projects; very few Indian universities have tie-ups with foundry services to get samples. A semester is too short a time to complete a large project.

The complexity of modern-day design flow is not easy to impart in a single undergraduate course. Masters’ programs are particularly relevant in VLSI, but the M.Tech programs in the country languish due to several reasons.

Ground realities
“M.Tech programs do not attract top students who are highly motivated,” said a professor who attended the two-day faculty development program organized by VLSI Society of India. “Almost all undergraduate programs today have a course on VLSI technology and design. But since we get students from different backgrounds, they do not have the pre-requisites. So, a course on VLSI design at M.Tech level will have a significant overlap with an undergraduate course on VLSI design.”

“Faculty members need training,” said another teacher. “When a new course is introduced, significant time is needed for preparation.  Prescribed textbooks for a new course are often not available. Internet search for course materials often returns too much material and it is hard to decide what to use. Colleges that have autonomy can decide their own curriculum, but in a university setup, the faculty face a major challenge. We are evaluated on how well our students fare in the exams. Yet, our students have to face an exam made by a central committee.”

“Having a common exam poses many problems in setting up a relevant question paper. The format of the question paper is fixed. The students get a choice of answering five questions from a set of eight. Due to the common nature of the question paper, the questions tend to demand descriptive answers.”

Faculty development workshop on SoC design
About 30 faculty members interested in system-on-chip design took part in the faculty development workshop. The attendees came from about 25 different colleges from VTU, VIT University, and Anna University. The workshop was conducted in co-operation with the Viswesaraya Technological University (VTU) and sponsored by Texas Instruments, India.

The premise for the workshop was that a course on SoC design is required at the Masters’ level, since industrial practice has clearly moved in that direction. The RTL-to-layout flow, which continues to be relevant for IPs that constitute an SoC, aspects of SoC design, which relies on IP integration, are not covered in any course.

The workshop provided a forum for industry-academia interaction. Several professionals from the industry took part in the workshop and answered questions from the faculty members.  Read more…

VDAT 2010: Encourage Indian students to come up with product ideas and specs


Panel discussion on Electronic Design for Indian Markets – Challenges and Opportunities @ VDAT 2010.

Panel discussion on Electronic Design for Indian Markets – Challenges and Opportunities @ VDAT 2010.

I completely agree with headline! Yes, there is a pressing need to encourage our Indian students to develop their own product ideas and come up with the specifications as well. That will surely trigger off a new wave of product development in the country!

I am extremely grateful to the organizers of VDAT 2010, and specifically, to the VSI (VLSI Society of India) Secretariat for sharing these inputs on the panel discussion on electronic design for Indian markets, which was held during the VDAT 2010 event at Chitkara University Campus, Himachal Pradesh.

The panel discussion in VDAT 2010 focused on “Electronic Design for Indian Markets – Challenges and Opportunities.” Moderated by Dr. C.P. Ravikumar, secretary, VLSI Society of India, and technical director, University Relations, Texas Instruments India, the discussion intended to understand what the killer applications were for the Indian market, how the Indian markets were different from the world market, what the challenges of product design are, and whether the graduating engineers are ready to meet the challenges of product design.

The panelists included Saugat Sen, vice president R&D of Cadence Design Systems, Aninda Roy, senior design leader from Intel, and Prof. M. Balakrishnan of IIT Delhi.

Need to inculcate skill sets in students to meet challenges

“Not only cost and power, the issue of customer support and post-sale service will also be important in India when we target the bottom of the pyramid,” said Dr. Ravikumar. He felt that the dream of “Made in India, Made by India, Made for India” should drive the Indian electronics industry.

“We need to inculcate a number of skill sets into our graduating engineers to meet the challenge of electronic product design – board-level design and optimization, embedded software development are two areas that need immediate attention.”

He added: “Product design is a team effort. The Indian education system has traditionally not emphasized on team effort. We have rewarded individual effort and deeper understanding of building blocks and algorithms. In product design, which involves integration of building blocks to cut down design time, it may be necessary to take a black-box view of components and focus on system-level design issues.

“A change in the mindset and grading mechanism may be necessary if we have to encourage product design in the academic institutions. Over the years, electronic design kits have become affordable thanks to Moore’s law, and this should help the academic institutions enormously to set up innovation labs.” Read more…

VDAT 2010: Real, but ‘different’ opportunity in emerging markets — Jaswinder Ahuja, Cadence


Guests lighting the lamp at VDAT 2010, Chitkara University, Himachal Pradesh.

Guests lighting the lamp at VDAT 2010, Chitkara University, Himachal Pradesh.

The VLSI Design and Test Symposium 2010 (VDAT 2010) was held last week  (July 7-9) at the picturesque Chitkara University Campus, Himachal Pradesh, located 32 kms from Chandigarh.

VDAT is an annual activity of the VLSI Society of India, and was initiated to provide a discussion forum for Indian academicians and industry professionals working in the areas related to VLSI.

Delivering the keynote, Jaswinder Ahuja, corporate vice president and managing director, Cadence Design Systems India, said: “There is a “real” but “different” opportunity in the emerging markets. One would have to immerse himself/herself to understand the market better. India is also a great proxy for the emerging markets. It has the design expertise as well to address this market.

“The next 10-15 years present a unique window of opportunity to India entrepreneurs to play a leadership role in the global economic growth.”

Elaborating on the “real” but “different” opportunity in emerging markets, he added: “The base of the pyramid opportunity is very real. As per World Resources Institute, there are four billion people in the developing world representing a $5 trillion market opportunity who have real needs and aspirations but are under served.

“At least 700 million of these people are in India and represent a real business opportunity as well as an opportunity to “do good” and help include them into the formal economy and enable India to achieve its aspiration of 9-10 percent “inclusive” GDP growth. This requires business innovation and a different mind-set presenting a transformative opportunity to marry low cost, good quality, sustainability and profitability at the same time.”

India a great proxy for emerging markets!
India is also said to be a great proxy for the emerging markets. Ahuja explained: “India is many markets — urban, semi-urban and rural) in one and presents a broad spectrum of challenges that need to be overcome to be able to reach the 700 million people market opportunity.”

“If we can make something (product or service) work in India, we can make it work pretty much anywhere else in the developing world – whether it is financing, distribution, logistics, operating environment or anything else.”

Opportunity for Indian entrepreneurs to play leadership role
The next 10-15 years present a unique window of opportunity to India entrepreneurs to play a leadership role in the global economic growth.

According to Ahuja: “The markets of the future are in our backyard and we have among the best design talent in the world. If we can immerse ourselves in the market to understand the real needs and opportunities and then leverage our design expertise to build products for this market we will be best positioned to serve the next 4 billion consumers of the world.

“Indian entrepreneurs have an opportunity to play a leadership role in the global economic growth across sectors, but especially in electronics. No other country in the world has this unique convergence of circumstances. This opportunity is once in a lifetime and ours to lose if we do not create the right environment and framework to leverage it.” Read more…

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