GENERAL APPLICATION PROCESSING
FLEXIBLE SYSTEM ARCHITECTURE
Nature of the Product
The FSA is a very adaptable, modular computer design (or "architecture") able to be fabricated as various types of microprocessing components and computing systems.
The Flexible System Architecture can operate as: a stand-alone computer, a parallel processing element, or a platform for System-on-Chip (SOC) and other ASIC development. This flexibility can be applied to tasks ranging from simple appliance control to supercomputing.
The greatest number of its likely applications will be as a stand-alone microprocessor or controller in either the consumer or industrial areas:
Consumer: Home energy controllers, Electronic note pads, Cellular phones, Toys, Video games, Personal computer peripherals and coprocessors
Industrial: Robotics, Process controllers, Digital Signal Processing, Wired & wireless Communications, Network & systems controller/router, Automotive controllers, Defense electronics
|Executive Summary 2002 Update|
Here is perhaps the hottest potential niche for the FSA: Network Processing.
Silicon computing is still doubling in speed every two years or so, but nevertheless can't keep up with the amazing bit rate (forget giga, think tera) increases in the fiber optic networks linking our world together. Yet that data still needs to be formatted, compressed, encrypted and/or switched to get where it's going.
Because of this mismatch between "control plane" and "data plane," most of the control circuitry is still being expensively custom designed. For a very good overview of this situation, see: Software: the Achilles' heel of network processors?, an article from the April 2002 issue of EDN.
There's a need for a non-custom solution with rapid design cycles, fast processing speed, inherent parallelism, and a small silicon (or GaAs?) footprint: The Flexible System Architecture. A need, and an opportunity...
Another timely product to create using this architecture might be an ultra-fast Java engine. Hitching a ride on Java would also greatly reduce the burden of creating system software and applications for it.
When a product in the above categories needs to be even smarter or faster, units can be ganged into parallel processing systems, or specialized circuits can be added to the basic design. These options also open up more complex application possibilities:
Parallel processing: Scientific calculation, Weather forecasting, Speech recognition/translation, Handwriting recognition, Face recognition, Virtual reality, and Network Processing
Custom development: Entry into the ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) market, Emulation of other architectures, Research in new architectures and algorithms
While it is to be hoped the FSA will find market share in areas now occupied by traditional computer designs, higher profit will be achieved when it breaks new ground due to its unique features.
Sales and Company Growth
There are several sales areas which can be addressed by this technology or its offshoots. A quick list:
Create and market a standard microprocessor, initially farming out actual fabrication of it to a silicon foundry
Sell or lease development systems associated with the micro family
Write programs to run on the micros in end-users' products
Design custom circuits to add intelligence to end-users' products
Actually manufacture the microprocessor family
Develop and manufacture consumer/industrial end-products
No complex, programmable integrated circuit gets sold without an accompanying development system. In order to make "smarter" end products like those described above, the micro that's contained in them must run some sort of program. The development system makes it easy to write such programs; in fact, they would be practically impossible to write otherwise.
Interestingly enough, this same system must be developed as an engineering tool in order to create the microprocessor in the first place, so two very different marketable items are produced at the same time by the original startup.
Many OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) lack the personnel or expertise to use a development system to write the programs they need, so they hire outside help. This creates an opportunity: The same engineers who developed the architecture and its tools can go to work writing the programs and/or designing custom logic for customers.
Thus, the startup company or division evolves from a design center into a high-tech, high-ticket service organization. This can create a cash flow which will help the bottom line while waiting for microprocessor sales to grow, and will allow for further refinement of both the micro family and the development system to increase their competitive advantages.
When sales become large enough, the original company can build a fab line and keep all the profit from its microprocessor and ASIC sales. Finally, the company can conceivably spin off a subsidiary to develop unique end products in the consumer and industrial sectors.
Thus, marketing a micro family is not limited to the chips themselves. Over the short range, a minimum package ready to sell would include the following:
An integrated circuit built around the basic architecture
A software development system consisting of:An easily ported simulator of the IC which featuresResponsive technical support for all of the aboveA graphics displayA symbolic assembler
A user-friendly monitor
A symbolic debugger
High-class documentation for all of the above
Size of Market; Growth of Market Potential
Being a "do-anything" design, the Flexible System Architecture can be applied across the whole spectrum of digital technology; its potential market growth IS the market growth of computer technology in general. Since this is a summary, this section will primarily focus on its most likely initial market, the $12 billion* microcontroller market.
One interesting fact about this market is how wide open it is. For example, it can be contrasted with the $19 billion* market for high-end microprocessors, in which the top ten companies control 98% of the market share - no great surprise when number one Intel has 80% all by itself.
On the other hand, the microcontroller market is almost as large, yet the top ten companies leave 17.1% unclaimed, and the number one company, Motorola, only has 18%. Even a 1% penetration of this volatile, easier to enter market would yield a $120 million company or division, supporting nearly 600 employees.
Two other hot areas are ASIC development and PC add-in boards. IBM reports an estimate predicting the ASIC market will reach nearly $40 billion by the year 2001 (source: www.chips.ibm.com). The PC card market is harder to get a handle on, as such products have value added beyond the cost of their semiconductor components. Nevertheless, a board product reaching even a small percentage of the PCs on all desktops would show a huge payoff.
The semiconductor industry as a whole has followed an average growth rate of 17% per year since 1959. As large as it is, it is still prone to cycles. After an amazing 41.7% increase in 1995 to a world wide total of $144.4 billion**, it has been more or less flat since then.
In the Semiconductor Industry Association's midyear 1998 report, SIA President George Scalise says: "But with Internet use doubling every 100 days, and Internet commerce about to explode, we can already see the beginnings of the next growth cycle for semiconductors and consumer electronics. The new growth cycle will be driven by more versatile microprocessors, digital signal processors, systems-on-a-chip, communications and networking devices, and the popularity of new consumer products such as digital cameras and digital video discs."
In every single area mentioned, the FSA can have a direct impact.
*source: "World Market Share Reporter 1997 - 98," values
rounded up to the nearest billion
**source: World Semiconductor Trade Statistics organization of the Semiconductor Industry Association
Selected Specific Competition
Microcontrollers: These companies have a market share of 5% or more: Motorola, NEC, Hitachi, Texas Instruments, Intel, Mitsubishi, Lucent, and Philips
Application Specific Integrated Circuits: LSI Logic, IBM, Motorola, NEC, Lucent, VLSI Technology, Integrated Device Technology
Network Computers (the Java connection): Oracle, Tektronix (the NC200 series)
Proprietary Advantages: In April 1998, a Provisional Patent Application covering the full architecture and specific internal circuits was filed with the U.S. PTO. This protection was reinstated in August 1999 for another year. In addition, the instruction set should be copyrightable.
Competitive Advantages: Here is a quick list of the general advantages the FSA can provide to those looking to create the next generations of intelligent products:
Faster product design cycles
Lower system development costs
Lower system manufacturing costs
Lower cost of final products
Final products run faster
Final products use less power
Possible to provide more options to the system designer
Easier to modify and upgrade products
Easier to repair products
Products can be extremely miniaturized
Possible to provide more options to the end user
Architecture should be superior in attacking currently intractable computing problems
In most cases, a company looking to travel from initial idea to final product will be in a race with their competition. Therefore, the most important item on the above list is probably "Faster design cycles." This architecture and its attendant development system will have several inherent advantages in turning a product from idea to market more cheaply and efficiently than competing alternatives, yet allowing creation of an innovative and superior end-product.
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