Digital signal processors are the number-crunchers that make possible many of today's speedy, feature-rich products. These chips are becoming easier to use and are finding their way into new applications, says Texas Instruments' Mike Hames.
Design News: What is a digital signal processor?
Hames: A DSP is a specialized, high-performance microprocessor that numerically processes external signals to extract information, enhance it, compress it, or make decisions--fast. A DSP is typically at the heart of a mixed-signal embedded system that converts analog signals, such as light, sound, radio waves, or telephone signals, into digital ones and zeros for the intensive DSP number-crunching tasks.
Q: What applications are DSPs used in?
A: DSPs are found in a diverse set of applications because many types of real-world signals and systems can benefit from digital processing. DSPs are right at home in communications products such as high-speed modems, xDSL modems, digital wireless phones, and telephony infrastructure. Computer applications include PCs, multi-functional printers, faxes and scanners, and hard-disk drives. DSP is also growing fast in new consumer products such as digital video disks (DVD), digital cameras, feature phones, set-top boxes, and interactive pagers. Image processing in global positioning systems (GPS) and medical equipment such as MRI and ultrasound machines and even hearing aids are fueling the need for DSPs.
Q: I understand that digital motor control is a hot new area for DSP technology. Why?
A: DSPs are making electric motors quieter, more precise, and more energy efficient in applications ranging from home appliances to industrial automation systems. Other motor control examples include robotics and heating and ventilation systems. Also, complex industrial automation machines like those used in textile factories use multiple electric motors of various sizes that can be interconnected through a Controller Area Network (CAN). Thus, a DSP with an on-chip CAN controller facilitates bringing DSP efficiency to complex industrial automation. TI now offers such a DSP.
Q: What does the DSP do so well in these applications?
A: DSPs offer distinct advantages in any application where high-speed number crunching is needed. We tuned our DSP architectures to deliver performance and optimized power value that is as much as 10× better than general-purpose microcontrollers or microprocessors in these applications. In electronic power steering systems, a DSP can be programmed to exhibit light steering response at low speeds, and tight, sports-car-like response at highway speeds. In washing machines, a DSP-based adaptive motor control system adjusts motor speeds to reduce noise and increase energy efficiency.
Q: Why is this technology so critical today?
A: The digital revolution started by PCs and fueled by the Internet and digital wireless phones has created the digital consumer. They like the digital products they are buying today, and simply put they want more. Everywhere you look, the world is going digital, and digital signal processing is the engine of this revolution.
Q: What are you doing to make using DSPs easier?
A: As the world's leading DSP supplier, TI has worked to make DSPs easier to use since pioneering the market in 1982. Today, TI provides an integrated development environment called Code Composer StudioTM with easy-to-use graphical interfaces. In addition, the IT value web of systems software and hardware providers offers thousands of products to help speed your time to market. TI's System Level Solutions, such as motor control reference designs and motor control algorithm libraries also help reduce cycle time and development cost for certain DSP designs.
Q: What do you see happening with the technology in the next five years?
A: It seems like our customers' DSP appetite is insatiable--they continue to want more products that are faster, lower power, and easier to use. And that is what we will deliver. We've only just begun to scratch the surface of the diversity and volume of future applications that innovative engineers will invent based on DSP advances.
As worldwide DSP manager, Mike Hames is responsible for Texas Instruments' Digital Signal Processing (DSP) business, including strategic responsibility for DSP research and development. Since joining TI in 1980, Hames has held a number of positions in engineering, marketing, and management. In 1982, he was part of the team that introduced the TMS32010, TI's first device in the TMS320 family of DSPs. Hames holds a bachelors degree in electrical engineering from the University of Notre Dame and is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).