For various reasons, the hardware side of the tech business doesn't get much attention, or respect, these days - but that is going to change in a major way. Fifty billion devices will be going online soon, thanks to the Internet of Things, and new chip designs that are essentially all-in-one computers - with processing, communications, and functionality all onboard, in all shapes and sizes - will be needed to power them, according to Shmuel Barkan, director of Freescale Israel.
Semiconductors have long been a victim of commodification, with Far Eastern foundries churning out cheaper versions of what Intel, Freescale, TI, and other chip designers come up with - so in a very real sense, IoT is seen by many as the salvation of that business; the sheer demand for chips is likely to be enough to keep all the chip foundries pumping out product.
It's especially important for Freescale, which has had its ups and downs in recent years: thousands of employees have been laid off since 2010 as the company sought to pay down a huge debt accrued years earlier. And, according to some industry sources, NXP, the Dutch tech firm which is set to merge with Freescale later this year, is likely to lay off at least some employees as well, a common event when two large businesses come together.
Richard Clemmer, currently CEO of NXP and likely to become CEO of the merged company, at the time the merger was announced described it as "a transformative step in our objective to become the industry leader in high performance mixed signal solutions. The combination of NXP and Freescale creates an industry powerhouse focused on the high growth opportunities in the Smarter World. We fully expect to continue to significantly out-grow the overall market, drive world-class profitability and generate even more cash, which taken together will maximize value for both Freescale and NXP shareholders."
"Maximizing value" is the kind of talk that makes tech workers nervous, because it's often code for "you're next to go". Nevertheless, Barkan is optimistic: the company's long experience in producing embedded chips will serve it well in the IoT future.
Especially relevant, he said, is the company's experience in working with microcontrollers, "which regulate the interaction between the machine, and the communications systems, including wi-fi and Bluetooth, that connect them to the cloud." That's an advantage Freescale hopes to exploit.
To demonstrate its IoT chops, at a recent event in Tel Aviv Freescale showed off an oven that uses a new technology called 'volumetric cooking' to prepare food.
The Goji oven uses radio frequencies to regulate the cooking speed of the proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids that are the basis of all food, targeting each element and cooking it precisely as needed. The result is a perfectly cooked meal that is never burned, and an oven that can never over- or under-cook food, because the radio frequencies know when and how to target food, and when to stop targeting the parts that are done.
To prove the point, the Goji team inserted a whole salmon frozen into a block of ice into the Goji oven - pulling it out eight minutes later, and cracking open the still-frozen ice to reveal a perfectly cooked, steaming fish, with an internal temperature of 158 degrees fahrenheit, exactly what the cookbooks say should be the ideal temperature of baked salmon. The team got a standing ovation.
Needless to say, the oven is filled with Freescale chips - the only ones, said Barkan, that could power a device like this. "For us, innovation is developing technology to solve everyday problems and needs, like cooking and heating," he added.
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