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Well, the title is a little facetious, but given all the recent acquisitions in the 3rd Party IP market, it may certainly feel like that to some people. You can relax, there are still plenty of IP vendors left in the market and that won’t change anytime soon.
So what is going on?
To read the rest of this article, check out our new blog hosted at Semico.com.
May 15th, 2013 | Posted in General by Rich Wawrzyniak| - No Comments »
There are hundreds of semiconductor fabs, spread all over the world. The trend over the past several years has been one of consolidation into several main manufacturing centers in the Asia/Pacific region, the United States, and Europe. Unfortunately for the industry, many of these fabs are located in areas prone to earthquakes. Some locations are also at an added risk of damage from tsunamis generated by earthquakes.
The northeast coast of Japan is a prime example; in March 2011, the region suffered a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that killed 15,883 people, injured over 6,000, and left almost 2,700 still missing. The disaster also caused seven meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The plant is still running on makeshift equipment and recently suffered a power outage that left four fuel storage pools without cooling water. In terms of damage to buildings, almost 130,000 buildings were completely leveled, and over a million others sustained some sort of damage. The amount of devastation was astounding, but the Japanese have done an amazing job of clearing away debris and recovering in the two years since, as illustrated by these photos posted at the Atlantic.
The “Ring of Fire” is an area of high seismic activity that extends from southeast of Australia north along the Pacific coast of Asia, crosses south of Alaska, and then continues south along the Pacific coast of North, Central and South America. According to Wikipedia, 90% of the world’s earthquakes occur along the “Ring of Fire.” Another 5-6% of the world’s earthquakes occur along the Alpide Belt, which starts along the west coast of Indonesia, continues across the Himalayas, through the Mediterranean, and out into the Atlantic.
Figure: Ring of Fire Map
Semico Research considers fabs in Japan, Taiwan, and the west coast of the United States to be in the high-risk areas for earthquake activity. Thirty-nine percent of all fabs are in these high-risk areas, with another 22% in moderate-risk locations. In terms of capacity, 31% is in the high-risk areas, with another 36% in moderate-risk areas.
Recent quakes in Taiwan include a 6.5-magnitude temblor on March 4 that damaged some quartz furnace tubes and affected several thousand wafers. On March 27, a 6.1-magnitude earthquake shook buildings and caused damage to several DRAM manufacturers in Taiwan. TSMC briefly evacuated two fabs, one in Hsinchu and the other in Taichung. Operations were not affected at TSMC or UMC. According to the head of Taiwan’s Seismology Center, this quake (along with two past quakes) may indicate the presence of a “blind” fault, or one as yet undetected. The fault could be more than 100km long, capable of producing a 7.0-magnitude or higher earthquake, and the potential for significant damage. Taiwan is a key manufacturing center for the semiconductor industry, with two large foundries and most of their manufacturing capacity located on the island.
So far, the benefits of location in terms of convenience and labor costs has outweighed the risks of being in the danger zone for earthquakes and tsunamis. Semiconductor fab building techniques help minimize risk of damage from earthquakes. But it still makes sense to try to diversify manufacturing locations, and the supply chain as well, to minimize risk. For example, Intel has done an admirable job of spreading its fabs around the world, although its main R&D centers are on the west coast of the United States. Intel has fabs in Arizona and New Mexico, which are not prone to natural disasters of any kind. Its fabs in Ireland and Israel are also stable locations. The Dalian, China fab is located on a peninsula that would be more at risk of flooding from typhoons or tsunamis.
May 7th, 2013 | Posted in General by Adrienne Downey| - No Comments »
Last week while traveling in the Bay Area, I forgot my GPS so I used my iPhone 4s to guide me around. My rental car came with a Microsoft SYNC USB connection, so I thought I’d have no problems using my phone with the car system. I plugged in my phone, input my next destination and was on my way. Not quite.
MapQuest audio was not working. I had to unplug the phone from the car to hear the turn by turn navigation. The iPhone 4s uses an A-GPS or assisted GPS and has an integrated digital compass, providing additional directional information. But for some reason, the mapping application was continually re-calculating. I was on the route, but the navigation system thought I was somewhere else!
I drove to the ISQED SensorsCon Conference and Becky Oh, President and CEO of PNI Sensors provided some great insight on sensors and the real world. Nine-axis sensing is common today. The combination of a gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetic sensors provide the tracking data to determine up and down, side to side, and back and forth movements. Sensors can register how fast we’re moving, which direction we’re facing, and turning radius.
But sensors are far from infallible. How closely it follows our real movement and how quickly sensors can react to movement determine how accurate and responsive a system can be. Noise and outside disturbances can throw off the sensors’ ability to accurately collect data. The gyroscope, which measures the yaw, pitch and roll, and rotational rates, can suffer from gyro bias. The accelerometer which measures pitch and roll, gravity, velocity, and provides an absolute reference can, be affected by noise. A magnetometer measures yaw, heading and also provides an absolute reference but can be thrown off by magnetic disturbance. There can be a lot of magnetic disturbance in a car due to the metal of the vehicle and various sources of electromagnetic interference.
PNI Sensors specializes in magnetometers and algorithms for sensor fusion. The company has done a lot of testing and comparisons to improve the operation of magnetometers in sensor fusion devices. The two magnetic sensors available today are the Hall effect and Magneto-inductive magnetic sensors. The Hall effect “compass” sensor is the most widely deployed because it offers low power, low cost and a small size. However, these devices can be noisy and have low resolution. Magneto-inductive magnetic sensors are low power, low cost, and provide good resolution with less noise, but unfortunately it’s just not small enough.
Sensor fusion may not be perfect, yet. But companies like PNI are working on improving accuracy and performance. There are still a lot of other issues that need fixing. For example, when the map function was running, the iPhone doubled as a great hand warmer. Next will be improving the interoperability of the car’s infotainment system and the smartphone.
Joanne Itow, Managing Director
March 12th, 2013 | Posted in General by Joanne Itow| - 1 Comment »
So have you seen what DARPA is up to lately? They appear to be giving robots cinder blocks to throw around willynilly.
Take a look at how BigDog has evolved over time. It can take some abuse.
Is the BigDog too much for you? How about the LittleDog. Cute, and isn’t throwing large boulders at us. I like it.
March 12th, 2013 | Posted in General by Michell Prunty| - No Comments »
On February 25th, 2012, Altera and Intel announced an agreement to build next-generation, high performance FPGAs on Intel’s 14nm Tri-Gate technology. This is significant because Altera has used TSMC as their sole foundry for years. Altera has never before been swayed by price or lured away by the promise of technology. But, as the saying goes, “never say never”. As of today Altera has two foundry relationships.
This announcement comes less than a week after Achronix announced the successful rollout of their Speedster 22i which is being built using Intel’s 22nm Tri-Gate technology. Achronix used TSMC for their 65nm and 40nm product development. It was somewhat of a risk, but Achronix left the TSMC technology track at 40nm, skipped 32/28nm and went straight to Intel for their 22nm Tri-Gate technology. Was Altera watching in envy?
During TSMC’s Q4 2012 financial conference call, Morris Chang, TSMC’s CEO, was asked at what technology node and for which end markets does TSMC view Intel as becoming a more fierce competitor? Morris Chang is not new to this business. He stated that he already viewed Intel as a fierce competitor.
Altera isn’t TSMC’s biggest customer. And of course, this was an announcement to build product. We still have to wait and see how long it takes for a product to actually rollout. But from a marketing standpoint, this is a big coup for Intel. As I mentioned in my analysis in the February Semico IPI Report and in a blog on SemiMD, the big foundries have to go after the big volume customers because the fabs have to be filled. Intel has the luxury of concentrating on a few small volume customers since it can use its own products to test the technology and fill its fabs.
What’s the saying? Good things come in threes. Should we keep our eyes out for another announcement involving Intel some time soon?
To receive a copy of the February Semico IPI Report with a more in-depth look at the foundry landscape, contact Rick Vogelei at firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 26th, 2013 | Posted in General by Joanne Itow| - 1 Comment »
Hello, my name is Adrienne, and my son is a video game addict. He’s only 8, but he loves games for iOS devices, the Wii, Xbox 360, and online Flash games. But the game that has inspired the most “gotta-have-it” mania, and the most dollars leaving our pockets, has been Skylanders. If you’re the parent of an 8-10 year old boy, you probably just groaned in sympathy as you read that last sentence. If not, then here’s the short version of what has become Activision’s latest $1 billion game.
Skylanders is a video game that is playable on all the different platforms (with the appropriate software), but it’s the real-world collectible component that has really taken off. Skylanders is played with a platform onto which a player can put their character, and that figure comes to life onscreen. The platform has a wired or wireless connection to the game console, and the figure has an NFC connection to the platform. Each figure remembers any points or achievements it earns, so that it can be taken to a friend’s house and played there.
Skylanders has taken the “toys to life” category to a whole new level. It passed the $1 billion worldwide retail sales mark in 15 months, with half of those sales in the U.S. alone. Activision has sold 100 million Skylanders units, encompassing software, individual characters, and three-packs. In fact, Skylanders is outselling standard action figure toys now. These things are highly collectible, even though they sell for $9 to $15 each. Skylanders was released initially in the fall of 2011, and they have settled into an annual update schedule. Skylanders Giants was the first update, with some characters lighting up when placed on the “portal of power”. The next update will be fall of 2013, with “Swap Force” introducing characters that have two pieces which can be mixed and matched to create different character combinations.
The popularity of Skylanders has inspired other companies to join the market. In June, Disney will release “Disney Infinity” which will be very similar to Skylanders, playable on all consoles and mobile devices. Disney’s advantage is its extensive catalog of characters and story lines to draw from. Part of the game will allow players to place a character from one world into another (such as putting Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean” into the “Incredibles” world). This offers extremely compelling game play, and has already fired up the imagination of my son so much that this game is the number one thing he wants for a birthday present.
Major toy company Hasbro is jumping in the market with a similar toy that will work only with mobile devices, both Android and iOS. The characters are based on the B-Daman marble battling line from Hasbro. The player scans the figure using an app on their mobile device, which brings the character into the digital game.
Semico believes that this trend will continue with video games as more physical characters and cards become companion devices to video games and apps across all platforms. Moreover, NFC has the potential to see huge growth in the toy industry as it adds an intuitive “cause and effect” capability that even toddlers can grasp to virtually anything, and it’s inexpensive as well. Remember that the Wii U already has NFC built into it, and Nintendo is working on games that will incorporate NFC in cards or toys to go along with the game.
This trend will go beyond toys and video games as well to rewards programs, marketing and branding programs. Flomio is a company that produces 3D printed objects with embedded NFC tags. They have made NFC 3D printables for the gaming company, Plow Games, creating sticky marketing campaigns for brands like Audi and Klondike. Players collect points, build out their cloud profiles, and the games identify them wherever they go. This could be the next generation of “Happy Meal Toys” from McDonalds.
NFC is an exciting technology because it enables so many new user experiences, like Skylanders, that are proving to be very lucrative for the companies that utilize it. Semico believes NFC has a bright future ahead of it, and has recently released a study on NFC. For more information, contact Rick Vogelei at email@example.com.
February 26th, 2013 | Posted in General by Adrienne Downey| - 1 Comment »
At CES Toshiba announced the industry’s first microUSB Adaptor Module for the TransferJet standard. Production will begin March 2013 and will be targeted for smart phones, tablets, and the PC peripheral market.
The astounding thing about TransferJet is that it can transfer a one-minute HD movie in about three seconds, and it takes about two minutes to transfer a full DVD sized movie. At CES they had a few demos showcasing how easy TransferJet is to use between tablets, smart phones, cameras, and notebooks. Basically, you simply pick the data you want to transfer, tap the two devices together (after each device gives permission), and voila. Done. It really does take just a few moments before you’re able to watch the video on a completely new device.
The rate of transfer is about 375Mbps, which is about 8X faster than WiFi, and about 1000x times better than NFC. For security and functional reasons, the data transfer only works up to 5 centimeters before the devices are disconnected. The farther the devices are from one another, the slower the transfer speed.
Semico recently released an NFC report and had this to say about TransferJet:
“TransferJet is a close proximity wireless technology with the ability to transfer large files between two devices. It has a very high data rate; it takes less than 2 seconds to transfer 100MB, and less than 2 minutes to transfer a DVD. TransferJet uses inductive coupling, similar to NFC, to make the connection. The same chip is used in both the sending and the receiving devices. Unlike NFC, TransferJet does not incorporate a Secure Element chip, so it is not going to be used for payment applications. The technology is being targeted at transferring and streaming media files between cell phones and TVs, cameras and printers, or computer to computer.
“Toshiba and Sony are currently manufacturing TransferJet chips. Sony and Epson have released a few products with TransferJet, but it is a new technology that has yet to gain much traction. However, the TransferJet Consortium has demonstrated prototypes that integrate TransferJet, wireless charging and NFC in one device.”
And of course, Toshiba did indicate that their roadmap does include plans for integrated NFC and TransferJet into their Free-Positioning Wireless Charger, which they also demoed at CES.
Previously, wireless chargers could only charge one device per coil, and the position of your smart phone had to be exact. Toshiba is now offering a chipset with a 2-coil transmitter that enables two smart phones to charge at once in any position. This means you and your friend can just toss your phones onto the table at work, and they’ll automatically start charging.
We’re finally at the point where we can start abandoning all those wires we have laying around our offices and living rooms. I don’t know about you, but I have two boxes full of “just in case” wires sitting in a corner that I can’t wait to ditch.
January 23rd, 2013 | Posted in General by Michell Prunty| - 1 Comment »
As expected, the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nev., was dominated by gadgets. Touchscreens and inertial motion were key features for many devices and applications. Many of these gadgets, such as those for fitness and wellness, are intended to be used with smartphones, tablets, and PCs, usually connected wirelessly via Bluetooth or WiFi. The smartphone seemed to be the platform of choice for accessing devices via apps.
How significant is the growth of MEMS sensors in consumer electronics? The MEMS Industry Group held a half-day technical session Tuesday morning. There were panels discussing Indoor Navigation, Digital Displays, and MEMS for sound and signal quality. Klaus Meder, president, Bosch Automotive Electronics, gave the keynote at this session. Bosch has been the leader in automotive MEMS. With the growth of MEMS in consumer electronics, Bosch is increasing its focus on the sector. Bosch sees the main drivers for MEMS as magnetometers, gyroscopes, accelerometers, pressure, and microphones. In the future, humidity may become another important MEMS sensor.
Meder sees three waves for MEMS. The first wave has been automotive. We are currently in the second wave of consumer electronics (CE). The third wave will be driven by industrial. He includes in industrial building controls, the connected home, building integration (including HVAC), white goods, and the connected car. The Internet of Things (IoT), which many companies are talking about, would be in this third wave.
The product vendors did not talk much about the sensors themselves. However, I spoke with the MEMS vendors that were there. Many of the products featured sensors from InvenSense, Kionix, Freescale, PNI Sensor, and STMicroelectronics. ST discussed wireless sensors for fitness and wearables, including Nike Fuelband. This includes MCU+ gyro+ battery charger. The companies providing the software and intelligence for these sensor systems were there as well, namely Sensor Platforms, Kionix, and PNI Sensor.
The sensors are being implemented in more devices, but they will need contextual awareness to become truly useful. This is what the software offers. In its separate demo room, Texas Instruments presented several of these wearable health and fitness devices. These used TI’s standard MCUs working with MEMS sensors from several different vendors.
Many of the devices shown at CES provide motion tracking for navigation and location-based services, or for medical applications, fitness, and health. For the most part, these are wearable devices. There was of course quite a bit of gaming. My colleague has reported on her experience with a shooting game featuring PNI Sensor’s technology. There were games that feature augmented reality. Some of these used motion tracking sensors for devices, such as Sphero.
Other games used gesture tracking to put you or an avatar into the game. XSens used many sensors made by ST for its motion capture technology. While the demo shown was for commercial applications, one can see how XSens may find its way into more consumer-type applications in the future.
Better imaging is always a big deal at CES. I had meetings with TI and Microvision about their pico projectors. ST had a pre-CES meeting where they demonstrated the recent acquisition of bTendo pico projector. They are all supplying or will be supplying the micro-mirror and control IC to OEMs and sub-contractors who will customize their own modules. These are all very impressive products. Currently, the penetration rate for pico projectors in smartphones is in the low single digit percentages. The integrated pico projector adds roughly $50 to $100 to the retail price of a similar model smartphone.
I seem to recall just over 10 years ago when cameras started to appear in cellphones that this was also the same price differential. All the pico projector vendors showed improved imaging and lower power. This feature looks to be at the nascent stage. In his keynote at the MEMS technical session, Meder of Bosch indicated that the company is also developing micro mirrors.
The pico projectors are also being integrated into tablets and notebook PCs. There are smartphone accessories and portable table top versions. The MEMS pico projector vendors are constantly working on improving performance, power consumption, and price to enable greater adoption. Innovation continues in this area. In its hospitality suite, Microvision demoed some of its new products. The company showed a pico projector with a receiver that detects reflected light. Using a shiny pointer, one can touch an area on a projected image for interaction. Thus, it is a virtual touchscreen on a projection. Both TI and Microvision demoed heads up displays for future automotive applications.
Touch has become an important feature for many products, not just smartphones and tablets. More notebooks with touch are coming on the market to compete with these devices. New touch technology was presented at CES. Atmel has a touchscreen film that is flexible and can actually be rolled up. This allows it to conform to different surfaces such as kiosks with curved edges and the contours of a car’s center console. Corning announced a more flexible Gorilla Glass. One can easily see how these two products can work together.
ST has a controller that can detect more than one finger, even a finger wearing a thick glove. One advantage is that the controller can detect a finger just hovering over the touchscreen without any touch. More gesture detection and eye-tracking technologies were featured in concept vehicles.
CES 2013 showcased many interesting devices and applications using sensors and MEMS. But this is just the beginning. As MEMS continue to be implemented, more innovation will occur.
January 21st, 2013 | Posted in General by Tony Massimini| - No Comments »
I’d love to give an unbiased review of SpacePoint, PNI’s 9-axis motion tracker module for games, but I can’t. At CES they were demoing their motion tracking module with a gun controller and a first person shooter custom game. They put that controller in my hands, and as I leaned forward, my avatar moved forward. As I leaned backward, my avatar moved backward. The pointing technology was accurate, and very responsive. I was in love almost immediately.
See, their pointer technology is the most accurate I’ve experienced for a pointer controller. I could point the controller in an intuitive manner, and it aimed at and hit the right targets with little drift. Given a bit more practice, I doubt there would be any drift at all, a hypothesis I’m more than willing to test out (was that too strong of a hint?).
But this is basically tech that anyone will be able to pick up and use accurately. Their demo included a gun controller with a joystick next to the trigger to make looking around within the game environment super easy and intuitive. Forward and backward movements are done by slightly leaning forward or backward, something that anyone could easily take to.
I can see something like this being very popular with friends who want to play Halo together, and I hope someone in the future makes a controller like this that could work with Tribes (a flying game).
The software likely can easily handle two pointers in a split screen method, though any more than that and you would probably want a multiscreen layout, which works pretty well for team play (Wouldn’t want the opposing team to see your strategy or hiding spots).
We probably won’t see PNI’s take on a gun controller for Nintendo any time soon, but maybe by the end of this year we’ll see something on the market with one of the new Android consoles, and by 2014 maybe we might see something for the next gen Xbox or PS4.
Their development module, called the SpacePoint Scout, includes a 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis geomagnetic sensor, and a 3-axis gyroscope along with their sensor fusion algorithm. And if you’ve played with the Nintendo Wii U GamePad, then you’ve experienced the same geomagnetic sensor the SpacePoint Scout comes with. PNI claims it has 15 times the resolution and 16 times less noise than other magnetic sensors on the market today.
Semico has a large portfolio of MEMS reports, including our recent Sensor Fusion report that discusses PNI Sensor Corp.
-Michell Prunty, Analyst