Full disclosure: I spent the first half of my life in Europe. I was born and raised in Austria, and earned my engineering and business degrees at government funded schools there. I worked more than 12 years in technical and business roles in Munich, covering all of Western Europe. If you can read some bias for Europe between the lines below, you are not mistaken.

Spending the first half of March in Europe confirmed what I was hoping for: European governments as well as all the companies and organizations I visited, clearly conveyed their commitment to semiconductors and supporting industries. They all recognize that semiconductors are essential for enabling European core industries – like industrial machinery, automotive, civilian and military planes and ships as well as smaller segments – to make their products smarter, easier to use and more competitive worldwide.

While I can’t publicize details about my company visits, I’ll gladly share my observations and impressions at DATE 2015 with you. As Francoise already reported last week, this year’s DATE was at the AlpExpo Center in Grenoble. For all of us who could resist climbing one of the snow-tipped mountains surrounding the gorgeous valley, DATE offered many sessions with useful and interesting technical content.

Out of the ten tutorials DATE 2015 offered on Monday, March 9, I chose “Automotive: Let’s kick start electric vehicles!”. Several automotive experts from industry and academia outlined in different ways why electric vehicles make sense and presented important data points, such as:

  • 10% of the world energy is consumed by passenger transportation.
  • 100 processors manage the engine, braking, suspension, entertainment and many other functions in a high-end car today.
  • A transition to a 48V supply is likely and very promising.
  • Solar sun roofs won’t capture enough energy, but solar garages do make a lot of sense.
  • Fast charging—80% in 10 to 15 minutes—is in high demand and will be offered widely.
  • 2 liters of gasoline contain about 20 kWh of energy.
  • The 85 kWh Tesla battery pack costs about $ 40k today.
  • The 8 battery modules in a BMW i3 cost $ 1715 each. Driving down battery cost and increasing driving range for electric vehicles is a big focus.

The chair and co-chair of DATE, Wolfgang Nebel and David Atienza, opened the plenary session on Tuesday morning. STMicro’s Laurent Remont gave the first keynote and emphasized the need to look beyond Moore’s Law. He talked about the importance of sensors and actuators as IoT (Internet of Things) success factors and also highlighted STMicro’s strength in the ultra-low power FD SOI technology.

Günther H. Oettinger, the European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, talked about – Industrie 4.0 and Horizon 20/20 – and outlined the importance of semiconductors for cars, trains and planes built in Europe and mentioned the EU’s commitment to help funding, with Euro 35 B, the necessary R & D efforts for IoT, 5G, autonomous driving and other major technologies for the more than 500M European citizens.

Having spent several years promoting the benefits of partially depleted SOI technology, I wanted to hear what the new generation – fully depleted SOI – can offer IC designers and their customers. Presenters from Globalfoundries, STMicro and CEA Leti updated me on Tuesday:

  •  28nm FD-SOI is in production,14nm is in development now, and 10nm will be next. For smaller feature sizes and even larger densities, nanowires are planned.
  • GF Dresden has now a capacity of >1M wafers per year and manufactures 28nm FD-SOI using single patterning. 28nm FD SOI offers speed and power equivalent to 20nm bulk, which requires double patterning. Racy IC and Europractice offer design and engineering support for FD SOI.
  • STMicro, another strong supporter of FD-SOI, currently has 18 active FD-SOI projects.
  • Good linearity, no doping equals much less variability, dual gate capability to control speed and leakage, as well as lower interconnect and gate capacitance were some of the technical benefits, versus bulk CMOS, the presenters emphasized. Last but not least, they claim to be cost-competitive with bulk CMOS.

On Tuesday afternoon the Executive Panel “Extending Moore’s Law and Heterogeneous Integration” gave me the opportunity to moderate and listen to what IMEC, Synopsys, TSMC and Xilinx think about this topic. I captured some key points:

  • Synopsys outlined their commitment to support ever smaller feature sizes and emphasized that strong partnerships and more collaboration are needed going forward.
  • IMEC pointed out that the current memory technologies (SRAM, DRAM, FLASH) make further shrinking very difficult, if not impossible. New technologies need to be developed and made production-worthy. ReRAM appears to be a good candidate to replace at least DRAM and FLASH.
  • TSMC showed their commitment to support the IoT market with ultra-low power processes and low-cost multi-die packaging technologies.
  • Xilinx also showed the benefits of multi-die ICs.

Wednesday was the “hot topic day”. IoT was the focus of most sessions. I had time to attend two morning sessions. In IoT applications I learned:

  • EPFL outlined the importance of IoT for reducing health-care cost and how it truly will revolutionize the prevention and treatment of ailments and diseases.
  • Bosch presented how IoT will impact automotive production facilities, improve product quality, inject smarts into future cars and enable IoT guided self-parking — just like the TV series “Night Rider” projected years ago.
  • Considering that, according to CEA Leti, people looking for a parking spot represent typically about 30% of city traffic, cars with built-in valet parking skills will be in very high demand.

In Platforms for IoT, I heard:

  • IoT is finally happening, because the enabling technologies are maturing and allow the IoT peripherals to communicate with data centers in the cloud.
  • People interested in this field should read Pandora’s Star.

The Monolithic 3D session on Thursday morning and the 3D Workshop, held on Friday, deserve a lot more attention than this already lengthy article allows. Please watch for a separate blog about these two interesting days at DATE, to be published shortly. ~ Herb

Herb Reiter

After more than 20 years in technical and business roles at semiconductor and EDA companies,…

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