What you will learn:
- How collaborative tools fit into the work ecosystem.
- The evolving energy technology space sparked by WBG semiconductors.
- The rise of edge computing and the cloud
The past few years have presented society with a myriad of challenges and developments, some good, some bad. Each community has been touched by current events, and each has had to meet the challenges in its own way. The electronic community has not been isolated from the events that swept the planet and has had to tackle these issues as well. The biggest advantage of overcoming these problems are the solutions created and their impact on the future.
The year 2022 promises nothing to anyone, and none of us can predict what will happen in the coming year. However, trends and technologies are creating new generation products and services that will positively impact the coming year and beyond. These include the maturation of collaborative tools, the increasing adoption of broadband semiconductors, and the expansion of intelligent systems in every powered device.
Continuous expansion of collaborative tools
Collaborative software and connectivity in laboratory tools are not new developments. These solutions have been around for years, but they have been used extensively by large, mainstream organizations and remote entrepreneurs. However, the pandemic situation has created a “perfect storm” for the adoption of collaborative tools. The need to work remotely has become a critical issue for many organizations, and they have turned to connected hardware and collaborative software to solve their telepresence issues. (Fig. 1).
The ability to work remotely is just one of the benefits of these tools, and the real benefits became evident once businesses started using them. Beyond simple communication and file exchange, these tools also create a more organized and integrated design environment that delivers benefits across the board. For example, modern collaborative design software tracks all the parts and components specified for a design, eliminating the need for an additional engineer just to create the bill of material for the project.
These and other force multipliers not only allow people to work together remotely, but also strengthen the design process by fully integrating and digitizing all elements in a way that provides a flexible real-time design ecosystem and able. When harnessed with smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 capabilities, these collaborative tools can enable iterative design, constantly tweaking a product during production to integrate and optimize every aspect that may be in an ongoing process.
The upshot of all of this is that collaborative hardware and software tools won’t be sidelined when people return to their desks, as the benefits of using them extend far beyond the ability to work remotely. A digital, integrated and optimized design, development and manufacturing process will continue to provide benefits to the electronics design industry long after the initial need for telepresence is gone.
Initiated by isolation, collaborative tools will continue to grow in functionality and capability, even as people work side by side again.
Broadband power will change the world
Wide band gap (WBG) semiconductors have seen a slow boil over the past few years as they slowly conquer the electronics engineering community. The significant performance advantages of gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC) products have been more or less outweighed by their novelty and additional cost compared to traditional silicon devices.
Using WGB devices as a replacement can also offer performance benefits. However, to take full advantage of the benefits, the power electronics must be redesigned, thus increasing the resistance to adoption.
This is another space where adoption has been affected by the pandemic, giving WBG devices yet another opportunity to show their mettle. The resulting supply chain disruption caused those with the resources to migrate their designs from legacy silicon to discrete WBG components to secure inventory. This led them to migrate their power electronics designs to more advanced topologies to take full advantage of the benefits of WBG.
The benefits of these new devices should not be taken lightly, as the large energy difference in WBG semiconductors between the top of the valence band and the bottom of the conduction band allows them to operate at higher voltages, temperatures and frequencies. These aspects not only improve power management capability, but can also have a direct impact on the performance of the systems involved. For example, the high switching frequency of GaN-based power supplies allows systems like LiDAR that rely on speed to thrive.
This migration from power electronics to WBG will not be made easier as the supply chain improves, as the benefits of GaN and SiC go far beyond their ability to simply replace silicon in a design. . Their performance benefits are so great that few who start using them go back to silicon unless their budget demands it. Even this pricing problem will subside as the availability of WBG continues to grow. 2022 could well be the year when silicon will be declared obsolete in electrical applications.
The cloud edge and its devices will get much smarter
Fortunately, the internet was there when the pandemic started, otherwise we would all have gone mad by now. (One wonders what people did when they were quarantined during the great flu epidemic.) The impact of quarantines on people and the growing importance of the internet in daily work and personal life have shifted the place of entertainment primarily to a vital part of our societal infrastructure, without which many today would not even be able to function. Social interactions have also become more dependent on telepresence.
Although the increase in the importance of the Internet in society has been affected by the pandemic, its growth and expansion into our lives was already underway and continues at a steady pace. The cloud and the Internet of Things (IoT) already existed and were on their way to higher levels of functionality and penetration, so the situation “just” sped up the process. Now, people’s work and social life revolve around the Internet and its avatars.
The biggest trend for the future of the internet is the continued evolution of advanced computing and more powerful IoT devices (Fig. 2). Migration of as much logical power from the central server to the application as close to the user or server as possible will continue until the industry reaches theoretical maximums. This evolutionary migration will continue to impact society in multiple ways for the foreseeable future.
Edge computing directly addresses several issues in the cloud, such as latency, bandwidth usage, and security. For example, in a security surveillance situation using facial recognition, performing first-level discrimination to pass the probabilities to central control instead of a broadband data stream saves everything from RF bandwidth. to response time. Or use a smart robotic hand to reduce the amount of control needed from the central logic, or perform sensor conditioning and fusion in a modular solution to reduce demands on the central processor.
All of these trends build on each other to create a more functional and efficient societal infrastructure, empowering and activating people and applications in new and interesting ways. Advanced connected design tools leveraging next-generation WBG power electronics, driving intelligent and versatile cutting-edge devices and systems, will continue to transform the way we live, work and recreate. These powerful trends not only help us cope with today’s reality, but they will accelerate us on the path to the future.