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BlueSpec system determines circuitry and code for electronics designers

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December 12, 2011

Former graduate student Nirav Dave (left) and PhD student Myron King (right) were part of ...

Former graduate student Nirav Dave (left) and PhD student Myron King (right) were part of the MIT team that designed the BlueSpec extension

Although we may think of smartphones as being like tiny desktop computers, they do have at least one key difference - in order to save battery power, many of their functions are hardwired into highly-efficient dedicated processors, instead of taking the form of software. Because smartphones perform so many functions, however, not all of them can be hardwired. As a result, designers of mobile devices must decide which functions will be handled by software, and which by hardware. Computer scientists from MIT have recently devised a system that should make those designers' jobs a lot easier - if they're willing to adopt it.

Using current technology, problems can arise if a designer decides after the fact that it would be better to change a function from hardware to software, or vice-versa. Typically, doing so involves going back and spending a lot of time and energy reworking everything that they just did - that, or they go ahead with what they now know is a flawed design.

The new system is an extension of the existing BlueSpec chip-design language. Users start by specifying everything that they want their mobile device to do. They then decide which things should be handled by hardware and which by software, assign them as such, at which point the system automatically generates circuit diagrams or software code for each function. In the course of doing so, it often incorporates shortcuts that humans might not think of.

If the designer later decides to switch a function between hardware and software, however, the system will rejig all the associated circuits and codes accordingly - no more having to rework everything manually. It will also determine how to connect dedicated hardware to a device's general-purpose main processor, and will let designers know if they're trying to assign a function to hardware that can only work in software, or vice versa.

The MIT system may take some getting used to, however, as it requires designers to describe functions as sets of rules, instead of sequences of instructions.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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3 Comments

Novel idea, but wouldn't be profitable to the multibilllion tech companies. Why would they need to rejig everything when they can just design new ones and justify the launch of new models with more seemingly useless features? This goes against the want-this-that-throwaway-consumerism-culture endorsed by these mega comminication device businesses so it wouldn't be an ideal business move.

Companies wont adapt this because it wouldn't maximize profits, and negates the point of new models and marketing hype, puts too much freedom for independent users to rejig or cutomize it, so there wouldn't be a point in buying the newest shiniest models of the month.

SpaceBagels
12th December, 2011 @ 08:20 pm PST

I don't think this software is intended to allow the end users to rework their hardware. It's more of a CAD tool that would allow hardware/software developers to change their mind at any point in the design process. Once the circuit board is printed it's pretty well cemented in what it is capable of doing.

It would actually work the opposite of what you said. Tech companies would love this because now you will only have a week for your hardware to be considered new instead of the month you get now.

Bruce Kynoch
12th December, 2011 @ 10:19 pm PST

I agree with Bruce. This would accelerate the disposable mentality by reducing design costs and time. If companies were to use the resources that this freed up to refine the product more that would be a good thing, but I'm not going to hold my breath...

VirtualGathis
13th December, 2011 @ 08:15 am PST
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