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More power to the people: Power follows the pattern of data evolution as the two often converge

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 11:05am

In his Tech Trends column, Chief Technologist Ahmad Bahai explains emerging technology trends that will change our world and the key innovations needed to make them a reality.

Thirty years ago, the way we all interacted with data began a seismic shift from centralized information that flowed from giant telecommunication and over-the-air broadcast companies to our wired telephones and televisions.

Now, the evolution of high-voltage power is following a similar trajectory.

We are seeing higher power conversion in smaller form factors. In our daily life, we see more and more demand on power efficiency, intelligence and footprint. There is now significant storage capacity in a mobile device’s battery, and it still struggles to keep up with our usage and expectations.

On a larger scale, we see data centers growing and consuming more than 70 megawatts of total power at any point in time – a significant amount of energy -- even as they idle and anticipate web-search clicks. In the automotive world, electric vehicles can run on an 800-volt battery supply while supporting 12-volt and 48-volt rails. This demands new power devices and highly efficient power conversion among different voltage domains.

Power is no longer available only from giant generation plants and distributed over miles of AC electric lines. You can harvest power from solar panels on your rooftop and then sell it back into the grid. A wall-mounted battery, charged daily from solar panels, can provide enough energy to free you from the electric grid. Even your electric car may someday serve as an energy-storage center.

And much like the way data has become decentralized, interconnected and able to be stored in a multitude of ways – from cloud-based servers to USB drives in your pocket – changes in the generation, storage, distribution and flow of power will have far-reaching effects on how we live our lives and do our work.

You might call it getting more power to the people.

But the relationship between data and power doesn’t stop with the similar ways they have evolved. Now they’re beginning to converge, in some applications, into the same media and be transferred together over next-generation USB connections and – embedded more deeply in our high-voltage applications – over isolation barriers in integrated chips.

These generational transformations are having a significant impact on innovation in the semiconductor industry.

Energy efficiency

We live in a power-hungry digital world. Every time we check our social media feeds, pay our bills, download a book or send an email, we tap into a large number of servers that sit in vast data centers.

Those servers require enormous amounts of electricity as they are anticipating or processing your clicks. The demand for the power that keeps them humming, that keeps growing numbers of electric and hybrid-electric vehicles on the road, and that energizes a rising electrification wave will continue to grow. Many of those innovations are still gleams in their inventors’ eyes.

And as these innovations increasingly become integral to our daily lives, our continually growing appetite for energy won’t be sustainable. The need to improve energy efficiency has become urgent.

Groundbreaking materials

Like data, power today moves in many directions. And converting high-voltage energy – from AC to DC, DC to DC, and DC to AC – requires efficient power-conversion modules. As the demand for power grows, those modules, in turn, require even more efficient, better-performing technologies that deliver high-voltage power under sometimes tough conditions.

That’s where advanced technologies such as gallium nitride, silicon carbide and silicon super junction will make a significant difference. These materials generate less heat than traditional silicon power devices, which means they transfer high-voltage power among multiple sources and convert from one source to another efficiently.

These groundbreaking technologies require complex circuit architectures and packaging technologies that are vastly different than the architectures that have formed the foundation of semiconductor development for generations. And while traditional CMOS technologies have generally followed Moore’s Law – doubling data transmission and processing rates every couple of years – these new materials deliver step-function improvement in high-voltage power density about every five to 10 years.  

These improvements are critical in a highly electrified world. Demand for higher power efficiency in battery operated systems is key as battery technology can hardly keep up with the emergence of new features. Also, improvements in power management are essential for applications such as the growing number of data centers that enable so many parts of our connected lives. The servers in those centers consume enormous amounts of electricity, and these semiconductor technologies will improve their efficiency by reducing the number of step-down power conversions.

In the automotive world, designers are incorporating more power-hungry, high-voltage electronics into vehicles every year. Interestingly enough, each 100 watts of power adds $5 in manufacturing costs, and automotive power is growing at 100 watts per year – even faster for electric vehicles. Advanced power devices gallium nitride and silicon carbide will play an increasingly important role in these circuits because of their ability to improve power density. With electric vehicles, for example, that means batteries get charged faster, hold a charge longer, go farther and run more high-voltage systems.

USB Type-C™ technology

Power and data are converging in next-generation USB Type-C connections that are changing the way we plug in to the technologies we use every day. For example, most notebook computers today incorporate several connections – for charging, displays, audio and more traditional USB interfaces.

USB Type-C, the connection that is becoming the new standard, consolidates all those data and power ports into one high-capacity line that you can plug in right side up or upside down.

Isolation barrier

Power and data are also converging in their journey over the isolation barrier used in high-voltage circuits for applications ranging from air-conditioning systems to factory automation. The need for isolated power is growing rapidly, and, while the capability to transfer data over that barrier has been available for several years, transferring power required a discrete transformer that took up valuable board space and created reliability problems.

But a new device – ISOW7841 – has solved that challenge by integrating multiple silicon die and a transformer into a single package that is 80 percent more efficient in power transfer and runs much quieter than other solutions on the market.

More semiconductor content

As our economy continues to grow, the technologies that operate our automobiles, data centers, factories, homes and the many other systems that improve our lives, in turn, will need to operate more efficiently.

And as power management technology becomes more critical for every electronic system, the pace of innovation will continue to increase and the number of semiconductors at the center of our digital lives will grow.

Perseverance embodied: From remedial math to doctoral student in applied mathematics

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 3:04am

By the time Angel Castillo was in eighth grade, he knew education was the key to his future and the way out of his circumstances. But Angel wasn’t always so sure of his path in life.

Now a doctoral student in applied mathematics at Tufts University, Angel became a ward of the state when he was 11. His parents had been incarcerated for drug use and violations, and his aunt stepped in and became his legal guardian.

Angel was given a small space – defined by  a 4-foot by 6-foot mat on the floor – in his aunt’s mobile home, which often had no electricity or running water. At the time, several of his cousins, who also lived there, had traded their school careers for gang membership or other pursuits.

“I was a real troublemaker in seventh grade,” Angel said. “I was failing math, and I didn’t pay attention or do my homework. But somehow my teachers at the time saw something in me – an aptitude. They began to work with me and gave me a chance.”

One of those teachers was Coach Bertha Chavana at Harwell Middle School. She met Angel in a math enrichment group designed for students who struggled in math. But when Bertha asked a question, Angel always seemed to know the answer. In fact, he barely let any of the other students reply. Feeling a bit puzzled, she told the principal and fellow teacher Yvonne Johnson that Angel didn’t belong in her class.

“Angel was walking down the hall one day, and I stopped him,” Bertha said. “I told him, ‘You’re pretty smart. I talked to the principal and Ms. Johnson about you, and I told them you don’t belong in our math class, you belong in a gifted and talented program.’ Well, Angel was really upset at first I’d been talking about him, and he kind of blew me off.”

Before she knew it, Angel was blossoming.

The definition of perseverance

Despite his home life, Angel was in school every day, ready to learn, said Yvonne, his physical education teacher in middle school.

“Angel never missed a day of school,” she said. “He was very introverted at first, but we found out he loved playing soccer, so we got him involved on the team. By eighth grade, Angel was passing classes. By the time he was in ninth grade, Angel was in the top 10 percent of his class. His GPA was more than 100 when he graduated, earning him a full ride to Texas A&M University.”

Yvonne observed Angel’s transformation and eventually became one of his most influential teachers. By the time Angel was in high school at Edinburgh High in Edinburgh, Tex., Yvonne had become the GEAR UP program teacher there,  guiding and assisting students in math and science programs and helping them plan for future education.

GEAR UP is short for “gaining early awareness and readiness for undergraduate programs.” It’s a discretionary grant program designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. GEAR UP provides grants to states, as well as partnerships to provide services at high-poverty middle schools and high schools. TI works with school districts across the country that receive the national GEAR UP grants to help provide a good foundation in STEM, providing hands-on technology such as calculators, development boards and software, as well as professional development, lesson plans and curriculum.

Angel took on leadership positions within GEAR UP and was selected as student ambassador for the Rio Grande Valley at the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP) in 2009.

“Angel spoke about success at the GEAR UP convention,” Yvonne said. “He said he kept hearing about success, but he’d never experienced it in his life and around his family. Once he determined exactly what it meant, he knew that’s what he wanted to be.

“Angel embodies perseverance,” Yvonne said. “Many kids teach you more than you teach them. In fact, Angel was instrumental in changing a lot of things I believed about education, and I’ve been teaching for 30 years. I like to remind students in tough circumstances that their situations could always be worse. There really are no excuses.”

Today, Angel charts his own course. Analytical research is ‘his thing,’ he says. He loves to dig deeply into problems, pour his heart and soul into his work and collaborate with team members at Texas A&M University, where he completed his undergraduate degree. Now a doctoral student at Tufts University, Angel is working on his Ph.D. in applied mathematics.

Find your anchor

Looking back on his struggles, Angel says the most important thing he did was to talk to people. A little bit of encouragement and inspiration can go a long way.

“Having conversations with other students, but especially key teachers is really important,” he said. “There is always someone who believes in you, even if it doesn’t seem like it. They held me accountable and believed in me – it gave me the responsibility to do well. They believed in me and invested so much time and energy into me. I didn’t want to disappoint them. Without this, I would not have had an anchor.”

Angel’s parting piece of advice for those facing difficult times is powerful in its simplicity:

“Oh, and never give up.” 

Multiple connected products and standards, 1 platform reshaping the Industrial IoT

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 8:41am

Picture the connected factory of the future. The factory floor hums with activity – motors spinning, robotic arms shifting about, equipment humming and vibrating with electricity. Everything the eye can see – and more – is connected electronically. This is the vision of the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

A multitude of data is being continually relayed from each machine to a remote server in the cloud and back – conveying a digital “mirror image” of each piece of equipment and its status – from the vibrations and noise produced to the temperature and humidity emitted. In the cloud, data analytics are applied to capture each machine’s “normal state” – and alert operators remotely if anything out of the ordinary occurs.

The connectivity needed to link the equipment in the industrial Internet of Things and relay information to the cloud could include Sub-1 GHz, Wi-Fi® network(s), and/or a local Bluetooth® low energy connection to help operators locate equipment in the factory using beacons, then connect directly to configure and service or operate the equipment.

“A system deploying all of these ‘connectivity standards’ would require three wireless technologies on top of any wired connections,” said Systems Engineer Roger Monk. “In the past, this would have required the engineers to develop three separate products, use three sets of tools, manage many sets of software dependencies, and climb a big learning curve.”

Moreover, they might have to go through the same process all over again if a new connectivity standard emerges later. It could slow or delay the pace of innovation for the IIoT.

But with our new SimpleLink™ microcontroller (MCU) platform – available now – the whole system can be built with one product family and easily configured for the required connectivity technology with a common software update mechanism, peripheral drivers and development environment.

The platform allows developers to use simple plug-ins to reuse 100 percent of the code already developed whenever the connectivity needs of an end product evolve. It is also possible to add another connectivity standard later with an additional plug-in. Watch this short video to see how it works. 

(Please visit the site to view this video)

“I see this platform as a game-changer,” said Ajinder Singh, general manager of building automation.

“From the development cycle that can now be shortened, to improving the ease of maintaining software, developers of industrial designs will see a lot of efficiencies."

Moreover, for a lot of our industrial customers, understanding and enabling products such as garage door opener or sprinkler systems across different connectivity standards is relatively a new journey that requires resources and additional skillset. SimpleLink offers an efficient, and highly scalable and sustainable platform that will make it easier for developers to adopt future connectivity standards into their products, thus shortening their development cycle.

The platform allows developers to use existing and future products across our Connected MCU portfolio – along with a cohesive software platform and a common set of tools.

The SimpleLink MCU platform is designed to protect developers’ software investments for equipment they are building today and in the future.

“For our customers, this solves the biggest challenge that engineers face when designing with connected microcontrollers. Adapting to a new connectivity standard previously meant starting the most time consuming and costly portion of the design – software – over. With SimpleLink MCU, that is no longer the case,” said Ray Upton, vice president and general manager of Connected MCU.

Innovators can now have more agile development cycles, spend less on development, get to market faster and expand their product offering more quickly. In this fast-growing market, the standards change rapidly, and this platform now offers unparalleled flexibility.

Often during early development stages, the processing performance, peripheral interfaces and wireless connectivity options needed for an application aren’t known until a significant proportion of the development work has been done, or until field trials and user feedback is received.

“With this platform, developers can start out quickly building first versions of their products on a solid base platform for testing, knowing that they will be able to easily innovate or differentiate, changing components as necessary without having to re-invest in software development for the new features,” Roger said. “Being able to adapt and push those decisions later in the product development has huge benefits for customers.”

Developers can use our cloud-based resource, dev.ti.com, to browse and rebuild example applications on the cloud server, then create application-specific projects to run on real hardware. We also offer an expanding online “SimpleLink Academy” with step-by-step guides targeted toward specific components.

“We’ve had customers quickly evaluate performance of algorithms or even cloud protocols using these tools without spending any time installing custom tools locally. They’ve even been able to share those ‘cloud’ projects with worldwide development teams,” said Roger.

From our SimpleLink MSP432™ MCUs to our Wi-Fi products, our SimpleLink portfolio streamlines our development platforms and makes it easier for our innovators to work across these platforms.

“We think about platforms in terms of new silicon and new features, but really when we step back and look at the problems we’re trying to solve, we’ve found that protecting our customers’ software investment is key,” said Ray.

The SimpleLink MCU platform is available today, recently launched at Embedded World.

To learn more about the platform, here are two related white papers:

Threading the needle: new op amp delivers exceptional precision, accuracy

Mon, 03/06/2017 - 8:29am

Precision affects every part of our lives – from ordering lunch meat at the deli to calibrating delicate lab equipment.

And a new high-precision operational amplifier – a circuit that magnifies tiny electric currents so that they can be measured and managed – offers an exceptional level of accuracy in industrial, automotive, medical, personal electronics, and test-and-measurement equipment.

“The performance on this device is so precise that it’s like measuring a dime on the Empire State Building,” said Richard Barthel, a systems engineer who worked on the team that developed the OPA388. “It takes something very small and gets it right on target.”

Operational amplifiers – or op amps – are links between sensors that measure analog signals such as pressure, temperature and flow and the digital brains behind technologies that are so integral to our everyday lives.

Sensors pick up analog signals from the environment around us that in many cases are measured in the millionths of a volt – too small to be useful for the circuits that convert them to digital signals. The job of op amps is to boost those signals to higher voltages that can then be measured, interpreted and managed by computers.

In that amplification process, any variation in the signal gets progressively more distorted as it works its way through the subsequent signal chain. That, in turn, affects the precision of the final measurements produced by a piece of equipment, said Ying Zhou, product marketing manager for the device.

Our zero-drift and zero-crossover technologies – which our newest op amp combines in one device for the first time – correct for any noise and errors in the signals and remove the need for designers to add discrete calibration circuits to the systems they create.

Combining these technologies will lead to improvements in the accuracy of measurements in applications ranging from electronic scales to heart-rate monitors and pressure sensors. For example, the device’s precision is beneficial for equipment such as:

  • Gauges used in CT scan machines. This medical equipment requires a smooth and consistent movement so the weight and weight distribution of patients can be measured precisely, a critical factor in accurate diagnosis and treatment.
  • Construction equipment. Contractors, civil engineers or other workers will be able to measure elevation and distance with pinpoint precision during building construction, which could increase structural integrity.
  • Weigh scales. Achieve more precise weight measurements – whether you’re ordering a few slices of lunch meat at a deli or checking the weight of a fully loaded semi-truck.
  • Medical lab equipment. Smaller equipment and more precise diagnoses could mean less time in the clinic and more accurate diagnoses for patients.

“Precision affects everybody,” Richard said. “The OPA388 takes very small measurements and gets them right on target with high accuracy and resolution. It threads the needle.”

If you are interested in learning more, read these TI Tech Notes regarding the features and benefits of zero-drift and zero-crossover technologies.

TI grant aims to narrow the income gap in Silicon Valley

Tue, 02/28/2017 - 10:39am

Buried under Silicon Valley’s prosperity lies a secret: poverty.

Pockets of poverty are scattered across the high-tech capital as many residents struggle to live in an expensive region. Persistent poverty can affect many generations of families and take a toll on the fabric of a community and business growth over the long term.

SparkPoint, a one-stop resource center, aims to help low-income people in Santa Clara County gain stable financial footing, thanks in large part to a $1 million grant from the Texas Instruments Foundation. The grant came from the TI Community Fund at Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

TIers from our Santa Clara office recently joined about 60 other people in San Jose to celebrate the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the center.

Located on the San Jose City College campus, SparkPoint San Jose is a partnership between United Way Bay Area and San Jose-Evergreen Community College District’s Workforce Institute.

“We know that the best way out of poverty is a good-paying job,” said Dave Heacock, TI senior vice president, during the ribbon cutting.

And “the best way to a good job is an education,” Dave said. “At TI, we believe strong companies must help build strong communities, and those strong communities in turn strengthen our companies.”

While Santa Clara County boasts the highest median household income ($96,310 in 2015) of nine Bay Area counties, about the same percentage of residents earn less than $35,000 a year as do over $200,000 a year.

When SparkPoint San Jose opens this spring, it will offer one-on-one career coaching, financial education, tax help and other services for free to any community college student or qualifying Santa Clara County lower-income resident to address the income gap.

Since United Way Bay Area opened the first SparkPoint in Oakland in 2009, the program has helped more than 24,000 Bay Area residents become more financially stable. Additionally, 83 percent of its clients have made progress toward their financial goals and 36 percent achieved a prosperity milestone (100 percent self-sufficient income, three months of living expenses saved, a credit score of 700+ or no revolving debt).

The success of the first SparkPoint center in the South Bay is important to TI because of its proximity to our Santa Clara and Sunnyvale offices.

“One of the criteria for our grants is to have proven programs,” said Andy Smith, executive director of the TI Foundation. “SparkPoint fits perfectly with our support of United Way across the country. The results showed a really great program that’s helped clients achieve financial self security.”

Victor Barrios, a 26-year-old student from South San Francisco, calls his experience with SparkPoint a “transformation.”

After his father left the family, Victor – then a teenager – felt lost, he said. He partied a lot, joined a gang and was in and out of juvenile hall and jail. He “wanted to make a change,” so at 21, he enrolled at the Bay Area’s Skyline College, but he struggled financially. A professor encouraged him to check out Skyline’s SparkPoint center, which helped him gain access to food stamps and save $200 a month.

Barrios completed two years at Skyline, and last month he enrolled at San Jose State University to study electrical engineering. He’s also taking advantage of SparkPoint’s food pantry and financial counseling.

“It helped me stay in school because I felt school was making everything harder,” Barrios said. “For me, it was monumental because I could have been lured back into the neighborhood and doing the wrong things.”

Debbie Budd, chancellor of San José-Evergreen Community College District, says “SparkPoint services mitigate economic disparities to improve educational access and outcomes.”

Despite being one of the nation’s wealthiest regions, nearly a quarter of Silicon Valley’s residents earn annual salaries at or below 200 percent of the national poverty level ($23,760 for one person or $48,600 for a family of four). Many residents struggle to live in an area with rents, home prices and the cost of living substantially higher than other parts of the country.

Santa Clara County’s poverty rate was 9.5 percent in 2015, but the rate was more than double that for people without a high school diploma.

“Less than 50 percent of students who enroll in community college in the state of California end up getting a degree,” Dave said. “These students are often working multiple jobs, taking care of their families, and many are deeply embedded in a cycle of generational poverty, and the odds are not in their favor.”

The San Jose center is the fourth SparkPoint located at a community college to address low graduation rates, said Randy Hyde, senior vice president of marketing for United Way Bay Area. If a community college student uses at least three SparkPoint services, their persistence rate (continued enrollment) is 97 percent vs. the average statewide rate of 50 percent, he said.

United Way Bay Area based SparkPoint on an Annie E. Casey Foundation model that showed offering multiple services under one roof led to better results.

TI and TIers have partnered with United Way Silicon Valley for many years, contributing over $400,000 a year through workplace campaigns and TI Foundation grants. When United Way of the Bay Area merged with United Way Silicon Valley in July, it was able to expand SparkPoint. “TI has demonstrated our commitment to the Silicon Valley area since we acquired National Semiconductor in 2011,” Andy said. “This grant is another sign of that.”

Breaking it down: Lesly Zamora shatters stereotypes with help from High-Tech High Heels, all-girls high school

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 9:00am

Seventeen-year-old Lesly Zamora can take apart and reassemble a computer tower in less than seven minutes.

It’s a skill she discovered after joining the Tech Girls Club at her high school last year.

“I like to destroy things,” she said with a smile, quickly adding, “but I can also fix them.”

Instilling a passion for technology in girls like Lesly is exactly what Dallas-based non-profit High-Tech High Heels aims to do. In partnership with the Communities Foundation of Texas, it provides funding to non-profits and offers grants designed to close the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by sparking and cultivating a love for these subjects in girls.

The Young Women’s Preparatory Network, which oversees Lesly’s all-girl public high school in Dallas, is a beneficiary of High-Tech High Heels. Lesly attends Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, which has an intense focus on leadership and STEM.

(Please visit the site to view this video)

“As a student of an all-girl school, I have been taught that women can make a difference in the world, and that is what I plan to do within the field of technology,” Lesly said. “Taking things apart is what I love to do. Not everything without a reason, but rather to know how things are put together and function as a whole.”

Lesly’s love of math stems from the fact that, “no matter what the situation, there will always be one correct answer, but there are many ways to solve the problem to find that answer,” she said.

“The interest that I have for science and math has grown immensely over the years,” she said. “Science amazes me because it explains how things are created.”

High-Tech High Heels, founded in 2001 by 30 TI women who wanted to make a difference in STEM, celebrated its fifteenth year in 2016. Building the pipeline of women in STEM continues to be as critical as it was when the organization was founded, said Heidi Means, its co-president and manager of our wafer manufacturing site in Sherman. Currently, women represent only 12 percent of the engineering workforce, and fewer than one in five engineering graduates is a woman, according to the white paper Women in STEM: Realizing the Potential.

“We believe the world will be a better place when there is a diverse, qualified workforce with more opportunities for women in STEM,” Heidi said. “Programs that High-Tech High Heels funds help young women to learn about STEM careers and become confident that they can excel in these fields. The gap for the STEM pipeline starts early; we support programs at middle school to high school levels to prepare young women to pursue STEM fields of study in college.”

“We’re all about closing the gender gap in STEM education and STEM fields,” said Ellen Barker, a board member of High-Tech High Heels and chief information officer at TI. Sixty percent of High-Tech High Heels’ board members are women who work at TI.

At TI, we believe in helping spark a love for STEM in today’s youth – and fanning the flame to help shape tomorrow’s innovators – like Lesly. One example of how we do this is the TI Foundation’s support of High-Tech High Heels and other organizations working to increase STEM learning among groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields, including women, Hispanics and African Americans.

Lynn McBee, CEO of Young Women’s Preparatory Network, stressed the importance of preparing more young women like Lesly to fill the STEM pipeline.

“That’s what Young Women’s Preparatory Network does – we get our girls in the game and arm them with what they need to persist, thrive and advocate for themselves in all aspects of life, especially their careers,” she said.

“Our girls are largely from economically disadvantaged families, and many will be the first in their families to attend college. We achieve 100 percent graduation from high school and 100 percent acceptance to college, with millions of dollars in scholarships.”

Young Women’s Preparatory Network works with school districts to operate its college preparatory schools. Its class of 2016 had 291 graduates who received a total of $41.9 million in academic and merit scholarships, Lynn said.

“The notion that women ‘don’t or can’t do science’ is totally inaccurate and to me, quite ridiculous,” said Lynn, who worked as a biochemist for 24 years before turning her attention full-time to preparing young women for careers in STEM and leadership.

Taking initiative to learn new things is a key focus at Irma Rangel, Lesly said. Her responsibilities in the Tech Girls Club include diagnosing and finding solutions for hardware and software problems.

Lesly interned at a computer engineering company last summer, and that experience made her “100 percent sure” that she will major in a technology field in college, she said. Her top three choices of universities are Texas Women's University, University of North Texas, and University of Texas at Dallas.

High-Tech High Heels supported Young Women’s Preparatory Network last year with $26,500 to help start an all-girl’s robotics club at Lesly’s school and to enable middle schoolers to attend a summer science camp at UTD.

Tech Trends: 4 key technology trends driving innovation in 2017

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 9:03am

In his Tech Trends column, Chief Technologist Ahmad Bahai explains emerging technology trends that will change our world and the key innovations needed to make them a reality.

The electrification tide is rising. Electronics are permeating every aspect of our lives. Everything around us is getting more intelligent, more connected – and therefore replete with semiconductor content.

Big data is getting bigger, personal electronics are getting more personable, and smart machines are getting, well, smarter.

In 2017, I see the following technology trends helping to steer the course of innovation. Some of these trends are carryovers from the prior year, but continue to be pervasive and increasingly important in the technology landscape.

1 - High voltage

The growth in high voltage is driven in part by the increasing popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs). Most major car companies are aggressively developing both EVs and HEVs, and the need for power drivers and charging stations will fuel the growth of high voltage power electronics.

Also, high voltage power will be necessary to power more robust data centers with the development and proliferation of 5G-enabled devices. We’ll talk more about this later –under smart buildings and smart cities. Off-line applications, such as smart and rapid chargers – dependent on high voltage power – are also showing signs of healthy growth.

Traditional power devices continue to experience a healthy growth.  More advanced power devices, such as gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC), show promising opportunities, though only when they become more affordable, by offering higher power density in a smaller footprint.

2 - Semi-autonomous systems

The automotive industry is embracing the latest electronic features at the pace of the consumer market. Even more telling is that the semiconductor content growth within cars continues to outpace automotive market growth since 2010. However, with automotive quality standards demanding higher reliability and longevity, innovation for next generation cars has prompted both new technical challenges and market promises. New complex advanced driver assistance (ADAS) systems will deploy multiple cameras, radar, LIDAR and ultrasound sensors for autonomous driving. Additionally, the EV/HEV market, which has driven innovation in power electronics, shows promising growth but still a small percentage of total market.

Another semi-autonomous system that will see growth this year is robots. Traditionally, robots have been used in industrial applications for some routine and precise applications. Robots are now finding roles in enterprise, education, the consumer market and in assembly lines working alongside people. Advanced control techniques, in conjunction with high performance motor drive and sensors, will be extensively utilized in modern robots.

Drones will also see expansion of professional applications. Their use in security, entertainment and survey services will grow this year. We will see advanced sensor systems and flight time improvements for many critical applications.

3 - Smart buildings and smart cities

Smart buildings and cities are adopting industrial internet technology at a faster pace than the rest of industry 4.0. More commercial and industrial buildings are adopting sensor networks for security, utility monitoring, water and air quality, and more.

Urbanization is accelerating globally. With higher concentrations of people in big cities, we cannot underestimate how critical it is to ensure energy efficiency, improved transportation quality, and better water and utility management. Cities are also deploying intelligent traffic monitoring and control, security systems, and intelligent utility monitoring at a faster pace.

As big data continues to grow, the demand for data – both wired and wireless – is growing exponentially. Video will contribute to about 60 percent of data traffic on networks, and mobile data is doubling every 15 months (Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2016–2021). The need for processing and moving massive amounts of data around buildings, factory floors, and inside cars or public transportation have pushed many aspects of the technology to its limits. The explosive growth of data in wireless networks has expedited the development of 5G radio infrastructure.

Data centers are also rapidly expanding. The implications of this trend manifest themselves in ultra-high speed interfaces up to 100Gbps, advance power management, and integrated radio units. Data analytics, in many cases real-time, is critical in many applications and has prompted new processor architectures. Machine learning accelerators for embedded processors and GPUs with special hardware features for artificial intelligence are utilized in many new applications.

4 - Personal electronics

The fast pace of personal electronics growth drives the development of innovations with increasing semiconductor content and differentiating features. Many of the personal device innovations will gradually enhance and emerge in automotive and industrial markets as well.

Devices around us are more powerful and omnipresent than before. Therefore, our interaction with machines is more frequent and evolving. While touch has been the dominant human machine interface, more native approaches that leverage speech, vision and gestures are emerging. Voice interface is increasingly more reliable and affordable for many consumer and automotive applications. Virtual and augmented reality started for entertainment and gaming – with dizzying effect – but have been evolving for many professional applications, such as flight simulation. Flexible electronics and display is finding applications in mobile and medical applications.

Keep an eye out for my columns this year – each diving deeper into these trends. We’ll discuss the technical challenges within each and how semiconductors are driving the technologies forward.

MSP430™ MCU, I heart you: How a community of innovators has formed around these little microcontrollers

Tue, 02/14/2017 - 1:05am

It’s not every day that a development board gets a marriage proposal. But when it comes to the MSP430™ MCU LaunchPad™ development kit, it’s just another day in the life of this little red rectangle of possibility that’s captured the hearts of makers everywhere.

This Valentine’s Day, we’re celebrating #MSP430Love and honoring all the students, makers, hobbyists – all the engineers the world over – who’ve used our little MCU or its development kit – the MSP430 LaunchPad kit – to learn, to build, to innovate.

The tale of love for MSP430 microcontrollers (MCUs) began – and flourished – on the internet. It all began with engineers going to the World Wide Web to get information and share ideas about designing and developing with our MSP430 ultra-low power MCU. From thousands of forum posts on our E2E (engineer-to-engineer) Community to videos about different designs to an entire website dedicated to the MCU, love was in the air.

For students, the flexibility and accessibility of the MSP430 MCU makes it ideal for engineering education. For makers, it’s at the heart of a host of DIY projects – from homemade 3D printers to LED light applications to robotic arms.

For instance, at a recent Maker Faire, one hobbyist used the MSP430 LaunchPad kit to make a robotic arm that, using a web interface, allowed users to paint on a computer, which the robotic arm could mirror on a separate paper.

Our MSP430 LaunchPad kit team often attends Maker Faires and other events to connect with enthusiasts and makers, said Adrian Fernandez, our MCU customer experience manager. The team uses feedback from makers to create new tools and resources within the MCU LaunchPad ecosystem.

Startups and Kickstarter projects often use MSP430 products at the core of their designs. For instance, the MSP430 LaunchPad was used to prototype mini-satellites for KickSat, which makes small, cube-shaped satellites to conduct experiments in space.

When the MSP430 LaunchPad development kit was first introduced in 2010, most development kits were priced between $100 and $1,000. So for innovators around the globe, its price tag – under $10 – was a thing of beauty. Adrian said the goal was to make it easier for anyone to use our tools for their projects.

Just a few months after the first LaunchPad development kit was released in 2010, Gerard Sequeira, an inventor and TI MCU LaunchPad kit user, created 43oh.com, which included a forum to help people discover new ways to use their MSP430 LaunchPad development kit and address any challenges they may face.

“There will always be competition in the low-power and connected-device space,” Gerard said. “A good development platform, a rich peripheral choice and support community is vital for device adoption. Early exposure to a controller in schools and universities is a must. It takes one student, who graduates to a developer, to select a controller that gets into millions of devices. The MSP430 MCU satisfies all the above.”

The support that TI provides to help developers get started makes MSP430 MCU attractive to users, said Dennis Eichmann, an MVP member of our E2E Community. Dennis has 6,000 posts on the forum – most of which are to help other members with MSP-related issues.

Launched in 2008, E2E boasts a community of over 250,000 engineers and experts across 200 countries. Many of these are highly active MSP E2E community members, and non-TIers, who choose to help thousands of members with MSP-related challenges in their free time.

“What I like most about the MSP430 MCU is the fact that you can easily switch between the different parts and families without being confronted with a new processor,” Dennis said.

The large volume of application notes and reference designs are also helpful in making designers feel comfortable using the MCU, Dennis said.

Over the years, we’ve also used feedback on MSP430 MCUs and LaunchPad kits from the E2E forum to create what has evolved into an ecosystem of engineering tools.

Inspiring the next generation of makers

Currently, about one third of all LaunchPad kits shipped go to university students, with competitively priced hardware and easy to use software and code examples being the driving factors.

“We believe so strongly in STEM – how can we get more engineers out there in the workplace?” Adrian said. “That raises the water level for everyone…Just the thought of having more technically, electronically savvy people, we can solve harder and harder problems.”

Are you a fan? Share your #MSP430Love in the comments or on social.

Drought in Africa inspires students to invent smart irrigation system using calculator, development board

Tue, 02/07/2017 - 11:01am

The worst drought to hit southern Africa in 35 years is only expected to worsen this year. 

Students in southern Africa are struggling to focus in class and, in some cases, unable to participate in sports. At Chidyamakondo high school in southern Zimbabwe, some of the reigning championship football teams’ best players have dropped out of school to help their families find food[i].

Nearly 10,000 miles away, students at Sachse High School near Dallas worked hand-in-hand with TI mentors on a potential solution to the drought ― a programmable smart water irrigation pump that could foster the growth of crops during a drought, allowing African students to return to school educations and eventually get back to normal life. Not only does the project help solve a real-world problem, but it offers Sachse students a unique opportunity to combine science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) into a single project with great impact.

From the classroom to the real-world 

The story begins with TI STEM Innovation manager Fred Fotsch. A 28-year teaching veteran, Fred knows firsthand that students are motivated by real-world experiences and now uses his experience to design curriculum using TI products.

“When I design lessons for the classroom, I like for them to have a real-world application,” Fred said. “I like them to be emotionally engaging and have a storyline so when students question, ‘Why do I need to know this,’ they have an answer. I can say, ‘Look, this is a real problem and these are real people.’ If you can find something that relates to a students’ world, then all the better.”

After reading about the drought in Africa in an article in The Guardian, Fred knew that while high school students in the states might not understand the pressing reality of a drought, they can empathize with being unable to attend school and play sports with their friends. It was the perfect making of not only a good lesson plan, but an opportunity to introduce students to hands-on STEM learning through real-world problem solving.

Changing the game

Coincidentally, Fred’s colleagues, Dave Santucci and Harshal S. Chhaya, were seeking to partner with local schools and educators to develop coding groups for students, using the brand-new TI-Innovator™ Hub, a classroom tool that introduces students to coding and engineering design to prepare them for the jobs of the future. In just 10 minutes of lessons, students are introduced to coding and programming.

(Please visit the site to view this video)

“Up until now, as we talked to educators and teachers, they all value STEM and they all have been told by their administrators they need to teach programming or coding, but they were trying to figure out how to take the next step. They really don’t know how to get involved with STEM projects,” Fred said. “The Innovator has made coding and programming accessible to teachers who aren’t necessarily experts in that field. Now, teachers can bring an authentic STEM experience to their classroom.” 

In early August, Fred, Harshal and Dave met with the team at Garland Independent School District, of which Sachse High School is a part. They shared how the Innovator could offer students new opportunities for coding and programming, all with an easy learning curve for teachers. As a result of that meeting, administrators from the school district informed the team that their students had an interest in integrating all STEM subjects and programming into a single project. But they wanted to do more than just program; they wanted to demonstrate to students how STEM skills can have a positive impact on the world.

Fred’s smart water irrigation idea was the perfect concept.

“We wanted to combine math, science and technology to show our kids how all those areas depend on each other.  It is important for our students to know how different professions—from agriculture to design—need to work together in today’s globalized society,” said Jasna Aliefendic, technology applications coordinator on behalf of the Garland school district. “The TI calculators are the perfect tools to bring programming to life. When Dave showed us the Innovator and explained what it can do, it was the selling point to further engage our students in computer science.”

School district officials worked quickly to create a coding club pilot program at Sachse High School. A team of TI mentors, University of Texas at Dallas graduate students, and Sachse teacher and club sponsor, Brian Torres, helped the students build sensors that would monitor factors such as light, temperature, humidity and more. Then, using the Innovator and TI-Nspire™ CX graphing calculators, the mentors explained how writing specific code enables the sensors to inform the program and eventually control the pump actuator based on the sensor reads, ensuring optimal conditions for irrigating land and growing crops amidst a drought.

“While we have been able to do data collection on our calculators for several years now, the TI-Innovator™ Hub adds to the capabilities a way to control objects like motors, pumps, lights, fans and speakers,” said Harshal Chhaya. “That’s brand-new functionality we didn’t have until the TI-Innovator was available. These capabilities were critical to our project because students could then control a pump, vary the speed of the pump and see water flowing – all controlled by a program that they wrote on their calculators.” 

The “ah-ha moment” 

Until now, the coding club, made up of about 18 high school students, had only ever coded on a computer. The new tool was a catalyst for students, helping them realize how their STEM skills could someday turn into careers that were solving real problems.

“Coding on a calculator was astonishing because up until now, I’d been coding on a bulky computer and now I’m coding on a skinny calculator,” said Nelson Flores, senior at Sachse High School. “It put everything in perspective. I realized how quickly technology is advancing and how we can continue to solve problems and help people by using technology.”

After about three days into the project, students tasted success. All of the sudden, the pump turned on for the first time and students got to see a direct result of their programming. For the first time, they understood how coding on a small calculator could have big results. 

“At first, we started with background concepts ― getting use to coding, using the sensors, etcetera,” said Dave Santucci. “Then one day, we got the pump going. Immediately, kids could hear the whirling sound of the pump turning on, and they were really excited about that — it was amazing! The club is scheduled from 2:45 to 3:45 p.m., and on this particular day, we looked up and noticed it was past 4 p.m. They were so engaged. A lot of times, when kids start to get this kind of exposure, they realize programming is something they can and even want to do with their careers.”

Growing the program

The program at Sachse has been so successful that the district hopes to implement the model in other schools. In fact, two middle schools have already launched coding clubs using the Innovator. 

“It’s not just curriculum that makes students successful. This project has helped our students develop empathy for people, especially children who are not as fortunate as they are. I think that’s a complete cycle—education, empathy, and social awareness connected through technology.” Jasna said.

Of course, implementing a smart water irrigation system in the real world is much more challenging than creating a prototype in the classroom. But this project has ignited a spark in students and helped them dream big about how they can use technology to change the world and improve lives.

Additional Resources:

[i] Source: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/apr/21/drought-southern-africa-heavy-toll-students-fainting-malawi-zimbabwe

 

One to Watch: Product marketer uses R&D experience, martial arts strategy to create win-wins

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 10:04am

In our ongoing series, “One to Watch,” we profile TIers who are making a difference through innovation or citizenship.

Ram Machness approaches the art and science of product marketing with the experience of a product developer, a knack for asking the right questions, and a unique strategy for creating win-win solutions drawn from the martial art of aikido.

“Product marketing is the link between entities such as customers, R&D, planning, sales, manufacturing, digital marketing, pricing and other groups,” he said. “It’s all about relationships and connecting people with our strategy.”

The inevitable tensions that emerge as a product strategy is developed are key to its success, he said.

“There is a purpose to conflict,” Ram said. “The job of marketing is to find the right balance. Each entity has a different point of view, and they are all right. The conflicts will always be there, and bringing these elements together in win-win solutions is art and science.”

Win-win thinking

As a student, Ram learned and taught aikido, which uses an opponent’s strength and energy to bring peaceful resolutions to situations involving conflict.

“Aikido is about win-win thinking,” he said. “It taught me to think about your interests and my interests and how we find common ground. It’s about channeling energy in a way that meets their agenda while aligning with our strategy. When you understand what the other person is thinking – understand the energy that he or she brings to the table − you can get things accomplished.

“This is especially true when you lead a marketing team,” he said. “It’s critical that everyone embrace the conflict and not ignore it. It’s easy to either lose your identity or be super-stubborn, but in both ways you will not move the needle.”

Truly understanding

The many experiences that have influenced Ram’s approach to product marketing – to finding that critical balance during the development of a product strategy − began with a high-school physics teacher who taught him the power of asking thorough questions.

“My teacher said that the first step in science – to go into depth, into knowledge, into real understanding − is to ask the right questions,” Ram said. “But he didn’t stop there. He taught us to evaluate and grade the answers. Are they good or bad? How do you know?”

The teacher also taught him how to truly hear – and understand – the perspectives of other people.

“He told us that unless you can articulate what the other parties are saying, you don’t understand them. You have to understand them in order assess whether they’re correct or incorrect or whether you disagree with them. Otherwise, you’re just mumbling.

“I find this useful when working with a customer, with the R&D department or even internally with the marketing team,” he said. “Asking the difficult questions at the beginning increases the chances you will end up with a good solution. While not asking can lead to bad ‘surprises’ down the road.”

Ram’s broad experiences since his early days in Tel Aviv – including serving in the Israeli military, managing research-and-development teams, moving to product management and managing marketing teams – built a solid foundation for his current role as director of marketing for wireless connectivity products for our company.

The technologies that Ram’s team defines – which connect “smart” systems through monitoring sensors, long-range wireless connectivity and the cloud − enable the management of home and building automation, utility metering, factory automation and medical monitoring with the click of an app.

Startup mentality

Like many other Israelis, Ram joined the Army after high school and was assigned to a unit responsible for real-time communications.

“Giving a 21-year-old the responsibility for such critical projects seems risky, but this is common in the Israeli Army,” he said. “That may be why there are so many startup companies in Israel. It requires management skills, out-of-the-box thinking and a system view of everything.”

After leaving the military at 26, he joined a startup company that developed hardware for remote-access servers. In those early days of Internet access, computers used dial-up modems to call servers over telephone lines.

“The company had a very good product, but there was no marketing machine behind it,” Ram said. “It was frustrating that we did a good job on the engineering side, but it was not successful because of a lack of marketing and product management.”

With an increased awareness about the importance of marketing, he shifted the direction of his career from product development to product management and marketing. After earning an MBA from Tel Aviv University, he joined our company as a product manager and later became marketing manager. A few years later, he transferred from Israel to Dallas.

“You can’t run a marketing team in a corporation as if it was a startup, so you have to find the balance between the speedy approach of a startup while following the process that enables you to leverage the amazing support functions that you have in TI.” 

Today, Ram continues drawing on lessons learned long ago from his high-school physics teacher, as a member of the Israeli Army, in product development – and as a student in the martial art of aikido – to lead a team that finds win-win solutions for our products strategies and, ultimately, our customers.

Solving drone makers’ design challenges

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 9:17am

Drones proved to be a key technology on the world’s biggest electronics stage, with more than 60 exhibitors at the CES demonstrating the technology.

From package delivery and aerial photography to security and surveillance monitoring and communication, drones are being used in a variety of ways. Yet two key challenges for drone developers remain: battery life and time of flight. As drone makers add capabilities such as direction and sensing – helping the flying robots avoid obstacles – the added weight can negatively impact the already-short battery life of the technology.

We are working to address some of the challenges facing drone developers with new reference designs that help extend both flight time and battery life for quadcopters and other non-military consumer and industrial drones used to deliver packages, provide surveillance or communicate and assist at long distances.

“Flight time continues to be top design challenge for recreational quadcopters and professional drones, especially those being used by companies for beyond visual line-of-sight operation. Delivery companies want drones with enhanced battery life, and are testing delivery of parcels with drones to see how far they can go,” said Stelios Kotakis, senior analyst of data transmission & managed services with IHS Markit. According to a recent IHS Markit study*, almost 50 percent of drones in the market have an estimated battery life of less than 30 minutes, 35 percent can fly between 31 and 60 minutes and the remaining 15 percent and less can fly more than an hour – all under ideal flying conditions without additional payload.

Here are a couple of the new drone reference designs and how they are used to create drones while improving some of the issues with flight time and battery life:

  • Breakthrough battery management for your drone: 2S1P Battery Management System (BMS) reference design transforms a drone’s battery pack into a smart diagnostic black box recorder that accurately monitors remaining capacity and protects the Li-Ion battery throughout its entire lifetime. Designers can use the drone BMS reference design to add gauging, protection, balancing and charging capabilities to any existing drone design and improve flight time.  The design also features a battery charge controller and a high-efficiency DC/DC converter to achieve high-efficiency power conversion efficiency.  It also leverages the fuel gauge to accurately measure remaining capacity over the entire life of the battery.
  • High-speed motor performance for propeller efficiency: The Sensorless High-Speed Field Oriented Control Reference Design for Drone Electronic Speed Control helps electronic speed controllers achieve the highest possible efficiency with performance for speeds more than 12,000 rpm (> 1.2kHz electrical), including fast-speed reversal capability for more stable roll movement. This means longer flight times and more smooth and stable performance.   

Your next drone design is a click away. Try our designs and let us know what you think. We’d love to see your latest designs!

Want more information?

Read the press release.

Check out our past blogs on drones:

One to Watch: First-generation American innovator says: ‘You have to want it’

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 9:50pm

In our ongoing series, ‘One to Watch,’ we profile TIers who are making a difference through innovation or citizenship.

David Jauregui’s internal drive and relentless curiosity took root at a young age as he watched his parents pursue the American dream.

Now an innovator with multiple patents and new product innovations to his name, David’s natural inquisitiveness and internal drive compels him to develop critical technologies for next-generation products and solve problems for customers and the industry. His involvement in the design and development of leading-edge power semiconductors has led to the creation of industry-leading products that drive innovation and improvements in cost and size. These new technology and product developments have been instrumental in enabling high-end computers, network routers, game consoles and mobile phones.

His achievements recently were recognized by the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers with a 2016 SHPE Technical Achievement Recognition Award (STAR) for corporate achievement. The award honors key contributors in the Hispanic community in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“David has a unique combination of talents,” said Steve Heiner, a product line manager in our Analog Power Products business. “He has a deep technical understanding. He looks at issues not only from the perspective of specific customers, but he’s also extremely strong and creative in how he thinks about solving industry-wide issues.”

David’s love for problem solving was cultivated by fixing toys as a boy and working on his car as a young man.

Today, he leads the advanced technology, system and applications, and test development teams for our Power MOSFET business. MOSFETs − metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors – are switches on a semiconductor device.

“David is very good at problem-solving,” said Jeff Sherman, strategic marketing manager. “He provides leadership to solve problems, comes up with the right answers and develops a vision regarding the technology needed to support next-generation products.”

Read how David created opportunities for himself and overcame the odds to build a career in technology innovation:

How were you introduced to engineering?

I grew up in a family where money was spent on three things: shelter, clothing and food. Everything else was a luxury.

When I was 7, I had a small remote-control toy car that stopped working. If I wanted to keep it, I had to find a way to make it work. So I took it apart and tried to figure out what was going on inside. It was just a loose wire and I got it running again, but I was hooked. From then on, when something broke or I wanted to get something to work better, I would take it apart and try to figure out how to fix or improve it.

In high school, I bought a car for $600. It was a bucket, but it was mine. Because it broke down so often, I had to learn to fix it. I also wanted to understand computers – either fix them, update them or get them to run faster.

Although I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have, math was a strong subject for me. It was easy. I could see the problems and understand the solution. Toward the end of high school, I realized I wanted to get into engineering.

How did your family influence your career?

My work ethic comes from my parents. I’m a first-generation American. My grandfather, my dad and other family members would go back and forth from Mexico to Southern California to work. My dad got married in Mexico and brought my mother back to the U.S. to stay. They started putting down roots here and eventually bought a house in the Los Angeles area and lived the American dream.

My dad went into the restaurant business. He started washing dishes and worked his way up to become the executive chef of a prime rib steakhouse. That was a great accomplishment for him. He has retired, but it certainly makes for good cooking when I go home. 

When I was growing up, if I needed money for something, I had to work for it. My first job – in third or fourth grade – was delivering a weekly newspaper in our community. I got paid a penny per paper. I’d deliver 700 papers and make $7. I thought it was great. I got my first real job, as a high school sophomore, at an auto-parts store.

What was your educational experience?

In school, I was on my own. My dad’s education went to eighth grade and my mom’s to third grade. They knew education was a key for future success, but if I wanted to get ahead or do well, it was up to me.

After graduating from high school, I went to ITT Technical Institute and earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. I worked full time as a test engineer at a semiconductor company during the day and went to school at night.

Over time, I got the bug to continue my education and got accepted to the University of Southern California for a master’s in engineering management. By that time, I was well into my career, had four kids and was traveling a lot. When I moved from Southern California to Pennsylvania for a new job at a startup company, I was able to complete the degree remotely.

Why is STEM important to you?

The whole point of a technology career is to utilize your strengths and know-how to drive change and innovation. The point of getting a degree is not just to do work. The objective is to be challenged mentally so you can realize your potential. A focus in STEM helps ensure that you’re always being challenged to be innovative.

The opportunities in the U.S. are endless, no matter what your background is. I’m a prime example of that. But you have to be internally driven to go out and find the opportunities. You have to want it. There’s a lot of support to help you achieve your goals, but it all starts with an internal drive.

One to Watch: First-generation American innovator says: ‘You have to want it’

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 9:50pm

In our ongoing series, ‘One to Watch,’ we profile TIers who are making a difference through innovation or citizenship.

David Jauregui’s internal drive and relentless curiosity took root at a young age as he watched his parents pursue the American dream.

Now an innovator with multiple patents and new product innovations to his name, David’s natural inquisitiveness and internal drive compels him to develop critical technologies for next-generation products and solve problems for customers and the industry. His involvement in the design and development of leading-edge power semiconductors has led to the creation of industry-leading products that drive innovation and improvements in cost and size. These new technology and product developments have been instrumental in enabling high-end computers, network routers, game consoles and mobile phones.

His achievements recently were recognized by the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers with a 2016 SHPE Technical Achievement Recognition Award (STAR) for corporate achievement. The award honors key contributors in the Hispanic community in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“David has a unique combination of talents,” said Steve Heiner, a product line manager in our Analog Power Products business. “He has a deep technical understanding. He looks at issues not only from the perspective of specific customers, but he’s also extremely strong and creative in how he thinks about solving industry-wide issues.”

David’s love for problem solving was cultivated by fixing toys as a boy and working on his car as a young man.

Today, he leads the advanced technology, system and applications, and test development teams for our Power MOSFET business. MOSFETs − metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors – are switches on a semiconductor device.

“David is very good at problem-solving,” said Jeff Sherman, strategic marketing manager. “He provides leadership to solve problems, comes up with the right answers and develops a vision regarding the technology needed to support next-generation products.”

Read how David created opportunities for himself and overcame the odds to build a career in technology innovation:

How were you introduced to engineering?

I grew up in a family where money was spent on three things: shelter, clothing and food. Everything else was a luxury.

When I was 7, I had a small remote-control toy car that stopped working. If I wanted to keep it, I had to find a way to make it work. So I took it apart and tried to figure out what was going on inside. It was just a loose wire and I got it running again, but I was hooked. From then on, when something broke or I wanted to get something to work better, I would take it apart and try to figure out how to fix or improve it.

In high school, I bought a car for $600. It was a bucket, but it was mine. Because it broke down so often, I had to learn to fix it. I also wanted to understand computers – either fix them, update them or get them to run faster.

Although I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have, math was a strong subject for me. It was easy. I could see the problems and understand the solution. Toward the end of high school, I realized I wanted to get into engineering.

How did your family influence your career?

My work ethic comes from my parents. I’m a first-generation American. My grandfather, my dad and other family members would go back and forth from Mexico to Southern California to work. My dad got married in Mexico and brought my mother back to the U.S. to stay. They started putting down roots here and eventually bought a house in the Los Angeles area and lived the American dream.

My dad went into the restaurant business. He started washing dishes and worked his way up to become the executive chef of a prime rib steakhouse. That was a great accomplishment for him. He has retired, but it certainly makes for good cooking when I go home. 

When I was growing up, if I needed money for something, I had to work for it. My first job – in third or fourth grade – was delivering a weekly newspaper in our community. I got paid a penny per paper. I’d deliver 700 papers and make $7. I thought it was great. I got my first real job, as a high school sophomore, at an auto-parts store.

What was your educational experience?

In school, I was on my own. My dad’s education went to eighth grade and my mom’s to third grade. They knew education was a key for future success, but if I wanted to get ahead or do well, it was up to me.

After graduating from high school, I went to ITT Technical Institute and earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. I worked full time as a test engineer at a semiconductor company during the day and went to school at night.

Over time, I got the bug to continue my education and got accepted to the University of Southern California for a master’s in engineering management. By that time, I was well into my career, had four kids and was traveling a lot. When I moved from Southern California to Pennsylvania for a new job at a startup company, I was able to complete the degree remotely.

Why is STEM important to you?

The whole point of a technology career is to utilize your strengths and know-how to drive change and innovation. The point of getting a degree is not just to do work. The objective is to be challenged mentally so you can realize your potential. A focus in STEM helps ensure that you’re always being challenged to be innovative.

The opportunities in the U.S. are endless, no matter what your background is. I’m a prime example of that. But you have to be internally driven to go out and find the opportunities. You have to want it. There’s a lot of support to help you achieve your goals, but it all starts with an internal drive.

DIY with TI: Maker lights up smart home innovations

Tue, 01/10/2017 - 9:37am

At TI, we celebrate the makers and hobbyists who enjoy creating and innovating on their own time. In our ongoing DIY with TI series, we share their incredible Do-It-Yourself inventions using TI technology.

One need not look far to find evidence of Johann Zipperer’s unrelenting fascination with electronics.

A stroll through his beautifully illuminated garden, for instance, hints at the years he spent designing and creating its 40-meter custom fence with built-in, remotely-adjustable LED lights.

A glance at his workshop reveals his homemade 3D printer, which he used to make custom tools to reconstruct his DIY smart home. As you enter his house, you’ll find his home’s touchscreen central control unit – integrated into a picture frame – hanging on the wall like an artistic masterpiece.

A garden fence like no other

Johann, who has worked as an engineer in our Freising, Germany office for the majority of his 25 years with TI, had long desired to develop an adaptable lighting system that would illuminate his garden without imposing upon neighboring properties. The project came together over several years.

In the first stage of the project, he designed and built a 40-meter fence made of stainless steel. He then added 17 posts with integrated LED lights spaced at 2.5-meter intervals, which were joined to the power supply via cabling built into the fencing.

With each fence post holding light actuators controlled by MSP430™ microcontrollers, the LEDs can be individually controlled to mix red, green and blue light signals and to adjust brightness and tone. For example, if there is snow on the ground, the lights can be adjusted to reduce glare; during a more festive season, the colors can be changed and brightened.

Johann initially designed the system to be controlled by a PC, but recently developed the framed touchscreen central control unit.

Through his work on the project, Johann has developed several new processes and has several patents pending. These include a method for transmitting data on top of a 230V power line for the lights and the use of a system bus and MSP430™ microcontroller for live modulation of the lights.

At home with 3D printing

Another project in Johann’s portfolio is a homemade 3D printer, which he uses to model and modify plastic components. He showcased this at our DIY with TI event in Freising in 2014.

Like the fence lighting system, the 3D printer makes use of MSP430™ microcontrollers, as well as distance sensors and switches for mechanical and optical pick-up.

One of the challenges in using the printer is selecting material that flows and sets in the right way, according to Johann. After some experimentation, he tends to use eco-friendly bioplastics, such as polylactide acid (PLA).

Johann has used the printer to construct non-standard tools. The need for this arose while he reconstructed his house – adding, among other things, a solar-thermal exchanger for heating and hot water. This required non-standard wrench sizes (42mm, 60mm and 65mm) for various tasks such as tightening a heater outlet or cutting a thread.

“Making your own wrenches is not rocket science,” Johann noted, although NASA is looking into similar manufacturing methods, he said with a smile.

Johann has also used the 3D printer to produce covers for fans installed around his home. The smart rooms in his house feature humidity and temperature sensors which work with MSP430™ microcontrollers to activate fans if needed. However, the fans presented aesthetic and practical issues – they didn’t look great, and the curtains would tend to get caught in them.

The solution: a grid cover to stop the curtains from getting caught and make the fans more attractive. Johann designed the covers – measuring 25 centimeters (about 10 inches), before constructing them with the printer.

Bringing a maker mindset to solve customers’ problems

Johann’s DIY projects allow him to look at engineering more broadly than his day-to-day work, he said, which, in turn, helps him bring a deeper understanding when solving our customer’s challenges. For instance, an understanding of fluid dynamics isn’t required in Johann’s daily work, but the knowledge he has gained on this topic through DIY projects could be helpful in developing the supporting technology for a water meter.

Johann takes pride in solving common problems with his DIY prowess – and he is committed to creating documentation and bills of material that can be shared so others can learn and draw from his projects. His appetite for invention doesn’t look to be abating anytime soon. We look forward to seeing what emerges from his workshop in the future.

Business-savvy CIO focuses on company growth, stays true to self

Tue, 01/03/2017 - 10:32am

The role of CIO in organizations is evolving from its early definition as a deep technologist who works behind the scenes to a leader with a depth of operations experience and an ability to build strong relationships and bridge gaps between IT and senior management.[i]

You could say Chief Information Officer Ellen Barker is the epitome of this trend. Having taken the role of vice president and CIO two years ago, she has already reorganized and reinvigorated the IT organization.

“It’s typical of TI to be forward-looking and become stronger over time,” Ellen said. “I grew up with TI. I’ve worked here my whole career. But to have a non-engineer lead an IT organization is certainly different.

“They brought me to this role to lead an organization to make an impact to TI.”

As the digital age continues to evolve and present new threats to companies’ information and revenue, the role of CIO has increased in importance and visibility within companies.

With more than 30 years of experience across finance, manufacturing and operations at TI – Ellen brings depth of understanding to the role, said Kevin March, our chief financial officer.

“By putting leaders with a broad business background into a technical organization like IT, you bring a balance,” he said.

Ellen also “spends more time listening than talking,” Kevin said, which is part of what makes her an effective leader.

“When you have a good listener, she can understand the capabilities and limitations of the technology while also understanding what matters most to the business, not just the neatest thing IT can do,” he said. “She is one of those unique people who can be very attentive and empathetic and also very influential at the same time.”

Ellen has learned a lot over the past two years on the job, she said.

“I really didn’t appreciate the breadth of what IT does until I began to dig deep into the team and our processes,” she said. “It’s really a different world, and a world not well understood at TI. So I advocate for us to strategically help the company win and grow.”

Early on in her role, Ellen began working to close gaps between the IT organization and senior leaders, which were due in part to a language barrier, she said. Technical language, that is.

“I’ve had to teach IT to speak a different language – one that resonates with business leaders,” said Ellen, who has recently won awards and accolades including D CEO Magazine’s CIO/CTO award and the Dallas Business Journal’s Women in Technology award.

Having started at TI as a business planner in 1984, Ellen said she never dreamed she would someday work in the C-suite of a multi-billion-dollar company. Over the course of her career, she has stayed true to two things that have helped as she has risen through the ranks: authenticity and patience.

“TI doesn’t want me to be anybody but myself,” she said. “I need to be true to the core ‘me’ or I am not going to be successful.”

One of the keys to success in her current role is problem-solving, Ellen said.

“The business doesn’t care about IT infrastructure – they just want to know how you can help them,” she said. “As a business partner, I need to understand what problem they are trying to solve.”

Ellen’s understanding of different elements of our business add tremendous value, said Vishal Mehra, chief architect in IT, as do her phenomenal relationships with business leaders.

“Her philosophy is pretty simple – transparency with the businesses,” Vishal said. “We take a complex problem, make it really simple, and she then pitches it to the businesses and explains the risks are and how to solve it in future.”

One tactic Ellen uses to increase knowledge in both directions is a monthly lunch-and-learn, in which different technical leaders throughout the IT organization meet with her to whiteboard a particular topic.

“It gives them an opportunity to take very technical subject matter and explain it in such a way that is meaningful for me, so I can then share it outside the IT organization,” she said. “It’s been really good for the team to get an audience they didn’t have before.”

Vishal said that when he first told technical staff leaders about the monthly meetings with the new CIO, they reacted with a mixture of surprise and intimidation.

“After the first two sessions, the energy within those teams was multiplied tenfold that a leader was so engaged and wanted to hear where the technology was headed. It was extremely motivating,” Vishal said. “Ellen is very much an ‘includer’ from a leadership perspective, and that plays very well with people. She lets lots of people into the discussion and the decisions. It is very easy for someone to work with her.”

Ellen’s authenticity helps build strong relationships, said Rodney Brown, who leads IT infrastructure and operations. Within a few weeks of her being in the CIO role, Rodney said he felt like he had known her his whole life.

“She just makes people feel comfortable,” he said. “One of the most beneficial things she has brought to the role is the relationships that she has with the senior leaders at TI. She has opened doors and created a conduit between IT leadership and business leadership.

“Our relationship with TI leadership is stronger than it’s ever been.”

Ellen is passionate about coaching and mentoring others and about helping prepare the next generation of innovators. She is on the board of High Tech High Heels, a nonprofit organization founded by TIers that works to attract more women to science, technology, engineering and math education.

Trusted confidant and counselor

While Ellen has worked hard to build relationships and give back, she’s made the most impact on her colleagues.

As a boss, Ellen has a lot of energy, and focuses it on improving the company – not just any one group, said Rafael Lizardi, TI controller, who reported to Ellen during his first role at TI.

“At the same time, she is very collaborative, and great at getting the best from people,” Rafael said. “That’s because people trust her and genuinely like working for her. She is always willing to spend extra time with people when they need her.

“I remember one time when I was struggling with a situation after I had left her group, and she spent a lot of time coaching and mentoring me to help me overcome those problems.”

For Krunali Patel, vice president and general manager in our Analog business, Ellen has been influential by being open and honest – even about difficult things. Krunali has never had a direct reporting relationship to Ellen, but reached out to her years ago to establish a mentor/ mentee relationship.

“I love how open Ellen is in talking about situations that may have been difficult or career-limiting,” Krunali said. “This has encouraged me to be more open about sharing my experiences. It’s amazing how much impact you can make by talking about experiences – and how you find that your learnings and experiences are truly valuable or helpful to others.”

Looking forward

The role of IT Services is critical to the organization – providing important tools that can improve the company’s execution and maximize growth. Under Ellen’s leadership, the IT organization will continue to align with the company-level strategy to build a stronger TI.

“I credit my ability to lead this large, global organization and the numerous IT accomplishments over the past two years to the great, talented IT workforce,” Ellen said. “I’m grateful to work with such a strong team.”


[i] CIO.com

Imagine the future of smart buildings

Tue, 12/13/2016 - 8:24am

Imagine the future of buildings, warehouses, airports, homes and factories. Imagine if they could be smart, connected, intuitively energy efficient and dynamically self-aware. Through advancements in the semiconductor industry, these scenarios are even closer than you think. Let’s take a look at a few scenarios and how semiconductor technology could help bring them to life.

Imagine a day where every pallet in a warehouse reports the weight, quality and the handling history of the load.

A smart warehouse will be able to offer awareness of the contents on each pallet and track load handling history of the entire inventory. Technologies including smart and connected tags are critical for tracking parts and optimization of supply management across the entire supply and manufacturing chain.  

Wireless connectivity is another critical element of tomorrow’s smart building and smart warehouse. Monitoring, control and tracking of machines and supplies require a scalable wireless mesh network. Also, real-time requirements of control loops have implications on the wireless network protocol. Asset tracking, an early application of wireless networks, has additional requirements such as range and locating features. Common to all these applications is the ultra-low power consumption of wireless nodes with adequate local processing power of which most applications require no battery replacement for the lifetime of a wireless node. To learn more about this technology, click here.

Imagine a day where every machine or valve in a building or a factory reports its state of health or any upcoming breakdown, or imagine a day where you can monitor a minor water leakage in faulty valves or track one micro amp of electricity waste from your outlets, all from the convenience of your smart phone.

Predictive maintenance is highly desirable in industrial and commercial facilities where down time of a machine can be costly and disruptive to the business. Availability of sensor technologies where several modalities of sensing can be combined with advance algorithms is paving the way to a more reliable and efficient operations of smart factories. A modern ultrasonic or electromagnetic flowmeter can detect any small variation of fluid or gas flow. So the loss of gas and fluid could be quickly detected and localized. Intelligent circuit breakers can report out the energy usage profile or any possible current leakage in the wiring. To learn more about predictive maintenance, read our latest whitepaper.

Imagine a day where smart glass on the window in an office building is a transparent solar panel and an “energy router” that optimizes energy usage.

Smart buildings will be able to optimize energy consumption through the use of efficient solar panels or other alternative energy sources such as a fuel cell combined with flow batteries. Efficient generation, consumption and storage of energy will contribute to significant energy cost savings without compromising quality or productivity. Smart buildings will also draw their energy supply from a combination of grid electricity and alternative energy sources, combined with large-capacity energy storage facilities which require frequent energy conversion.  

To save energy, the efficiency of conversion and load awareness is critical. High performance converters and inverters require efficient high voltage power transistors and intelligent drivers/controllers. AC/DC energy conversion from the grid to storage, DC/AC energy inversion from storage, or solar panels to AC load have benefited from smart power solutions with digital control loops. New devices promise a high-efficiency bi-directional energy conversion. In the future, buildings will have “energy routers” that can direct all forms of energy from various sources to different loads, much similar to what data routers  are doing for uploading and downloading of data. To learn more about this technology, click here.

Finally, imagine a day where a smart office building rapidly adjusts heat, light, ventilation, meeting room space and audio visual needs according to the occupancy pattern. A day where glass surfaces in the building can come to life as part of a roaming display.

Semiconductor advances in sensing have already started deploying in smart buildings and allow ambient-aware buildings to track and direct resources dynamically. Occupancy sensors, thermal and chemical sensors, vision sensors, flow metering and many others are becoming more widely used in modern commercial facilities. Security and safety are also significantly enhanced in a smart building. The deployment of connected vision sensors including cameras, ultrasonic, optical and radar sensors leave very few dark corners in a smart building. Also, advanced gas and thermal sensors can track and analyze hazardous chemicals or leaks, enabling the detection of hotspots or hazardous leaks accurately.

There are thousands of connected sensors in a typical smart building facility that have to connect and work in harmony to provide reliable monitoring and control. While some higher power sensors are connected via Ethernet, a larger deployment requires a complementary wireless sensor network. To learn more about this technology, click here.

A confluence of innovations in big data processing, ultra-low power wireless mesh networks, embedded sensor technology, low power energy management and other analog and embedded processing electronics have expedited emergence of smart buildings.

Higher levels of safety, security, productivity, and quality are reasons many developers of these buildings are adopting innovative technologies today . . .  to make tomorrow’s smart building a living reality.

Top 3 takeaways to expect from our 50th year at CES

Mon, 12/12/2016 - 8:36am

Self-driving cars, next-generation displays and connectivity everywhere – these are not wishes of the future any longer. Texas Instruments (TI) is making those dreams realities, and this year we celebrate 50 years of showcasing revolutionary products made to inspire designers at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES).  We continue to push the technology envelope on designers’ next-generation products and help bring the future to life.

This year will be no exception. Designers will be inspired by TI’s cutting-edge semiconductor technology and system-level expertise in automotive and consumer electronics. Here are the top 3 things you should take away from the show:

1. Get inspired about the future – live at CES or virtually via Facebook Live

  • What’s next for displays in automotive and consumer electronics? Find out from DLP® Products SVP and GM Kent Novak at CES. He will discuss the future of MEMS-based displays and provide an overview of the display market today, the demand for more colorful, sharper and brighter displays and how this need is being addressed by technology for end applications spanning wearables to automotive heads up display (HUD). See Kent speak live on January 5 from 9 to 10 a.m. at the Venetian as part of the MEMS and Sensors Industry Group conference track.
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) is projected to be a multi-trillion dollar industry. Connected devices are coming to market at a staggering rate. Developers, manufacturers and innovators come together to discuss future trends, consumer demand and meeting expectations for the IoT. Learn more by attending a panel covering this very subject on January 7 from 9 to 10 a.m. at the Las Vegas Convention Center (N256).  The panel will include TI’s GM of Wireless Connectivity Solutions Mattias Lange.
  • Not at CES or can’t make the speaking sessions? Tune in to our Facebook Live discussions throughout the show to learn more about the future of displays, hear from our customers and TI experts about enabling a connected life and what’s next for automotive technology.

2. Experience the exciting new dimension of automotive

  • Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS)with surround view, camera mirror systems and driver monitoring applications are advancing as consumers are demanding more. Check out how TI’s family of TDA processors are enabling the future development of these designs.
  • Head-up display (HUD) technology enhances driver visibility by offering the widest field-of-view and the ability to display information regardless of weather, temperature or polarization. Experience how augmented reality with DLP® technology is benefiting drivers and OEMs.
  • Immersive audio quality is vital for rich in-vehicle audio experience and is also an important facet for driver notifications and telematics. TI audio products help provide dynamic quality without eating up space or power for automotive applications, as well as home entertainment and personal electronics.

3. Connect your lifestyle in new ways

  • TI’s USB Type-C and Power Delivery 3.0 controller, one of the CES Innovation Award Honorees for 2017, is the industry’s smallest and enables a single connector to move power and data to and from personal electronic devices.
  • Cloud connectivity is growing, and developers continue to find new ways to connect consumers to the cloud. TI will demonstrate technologies making it easier for developers to design cloud-sensing applications for home, building and factory automation applications.
  • Low power AND connectivity are vitally important. From 3D time-of-flight capability for robotics and building automation, to energy harvesting and innovations in battery management that extend flight time for drones, TI will show applications of technology to connect at the lowest power possible.

We hope to see you there! Find us at Las Vegas Convention Center (N115). If you’re not attending in person, follow us at CES on Twitter @TXInstruments or on Facebook and Instagram @TXInstruments