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Seen, Heard, And Experienced On The Show Floor

Demonstrations, conversations, and hands-on technical activities provided plenty of insights at this year’s DesignCon 2020.

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the official beginning of DesignCon. The show’s pedigree evolved from earlier roadshow’s and events by the pre-eminent design, test and measurement company known back then as Hewlett-Packard. As in the past, this year’s event provided presentations by experts, technical sessions and panels by peers, and useful demonstrations of design and measurement systems. Equally valuable were the conversations heard between sessions, in the hallways and on the exhibition floor. And that’s not including the hand’s on experiences using actual hardware and software. What follows is a sampling of all that DesignCon 2020 had to offer including trends, technical insights and general happenings. Look for more in-depth coverage of some of the show’s major technical sessions in the coming weeks.

Seen and Experienced on the Floor

Here's just some of the things I observed and participated in on the show floor. 

Image source: DesignCon 2020 - SiSoft / John Blyler

The Doctor is in the House

You meet some of the most interesting experts at DesignCon. Kenneth Wyatt, Principal Consultant at Wyatt Technical Services, may look like a crazed doctor, but he’s exactly the expert you want to fix your signal integrity (SI) and power integrity (PI) design issues. You meet some of the most interesting experts at DesignCon. Kenneth Wyatt, Principal Consultant at Wyatt Technical Services, may look like a crazed doctor, but he’s exactly the expert you want to fix your signal integrity (SI) and power integrity (PI) design issues. Wyatt presented both a tutorial – entitled “Radiated Emissions: Debugging & Pre-Compliance Testing” – and a shorten-version of the same later at the Chiphead theater, both at this year’s show.

Hats Off (or on) for Si-Soft

Brightly flashing hats were quite a sight as I rounded the corner into the Hyatt Regency lobby adjacent to DeisgnCon. Apparently, this was an annual event sponsored by Signal Integrity Software (Si-Soft). Doug Burns, VP and Director of Consulting and Support at SiSoft, was handing out the LED-ringed hats to appreciative customers and extra-curious bystanders. The company supplies Electronic Design Automation (EDA) simulation software, methodology training and consulting services for system-level high-speed design such as multi-Gigabit serial links, integrated signal integrity, and timing and crosstalk analysis.

Image source: DesignCon 2020 - Keysight / John Blyler

Keysight Care-bot

One of the first things I came across on floor was this “care-bot” at the Keysight booth. She (it?) was very friendly, talking with me, taking my picture and even dancing. After a bit of research, I discovered that the robot is a rental from From their website, I learned that the Furo-D robot is 5'3" with a 32" touchscreen. The robot moves around via joystick and can be programmed to speak and interact with attendees. Cool, but not very autonomous for a robot – at least, not yet. (BTW: The robot did draw my attention many of  Keysight’s demos which I’ll be covering in my product roundup article.)

Hands-on The Factory Floor

Nothing to see here – just an editor building a cool “Pong” game. Autodesk had this great factory experience on the show floor where attendees would put together and assembly their own one-dimensional “Pong” Game. Everything was designed and manufactured for this experience using Autodesk’s Fusion 360, which is an integrated CAE (electronics), CAM (board), mechanical design (packaging) – all in one package. It was a blast!

My personal thanks to Autodesk’s Jonathan Odom, the Community Manager made this event and its success a reality and Joel (with the headset) who was continuously and graciously fixing all for the mistakes make by attends in assembling their game boards.

Image source: DesignCon 2020 – Teledyne LeCroy / John Blyler

Open Source S-Parameters

As I stopped at Teledyne LeCroy booth to see their highlights for the show, I met the companies VP of Advanced Technology Development, Peter J. Pupalaikis. He has just published a book through Cambridge University on, “S-Parameters for Signal Integrity.” Some of you my still remember S-parameters from math and circuit theory as a way to describe electrical behavior in electrical systems when stimuli is introduced. What makes Peter’s book unique is the accompaning open-source software, which provides a welcome alternative to existing proprietary software. Not surprisingly, Teledyne LeCroy offers scattering parameter (S-parameter) measurement systems to further aid designers and testers.

Ghost(s) in the Machine?

The ghostly images on the display screen were just the IR pictures of anyone that walked by the VSI Labs booth. The company focuses on AV technologies in the automotive space. Sara Sargent, their Engineering Project Manager, spoke on the Chiphead Theater about the key building blocks of automated vehicles and was part of the “Women & Minorities in STEM” panel.

Image source: DesignCon 2020 – John Blyler

Chip Head 25 years!

DesignCon celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. No wonder the Chiphead guy was so excited. Suzanne Deffree, Brand Director, Intelligent Systems & Design at Informa Markets Advanced Manufacturing Group, summed it up this way: “As I’m standing here looking at all of you, I think less about the history of DesignCon but more about what makes this event so long-lived. And it’s you guys! There are incredible engineers and companies that come back to DesignCon year after year to learn, share information and to grow knowledge that will help engineers move forward. That is what make DesignCon worth attending year after year. So let’s raise our glasses for a toast to DeisgnCon’s 25th anniversary and to the next 25 years!”


“Demos? You want demos? Look around - just in this area you’ll find demos on high-speed I/O interconnects, thermal bridges, solderless connections, PAM4 error analysis and systems, the latest DDR5 memory, PCI - 5 receivers, signal integrity (SI) and power integrity (PI) measurements and debug, , 28G PHYs and MACs, open source S-Parameter tools, PCB boards and connectors of every type and function ….”

  -- Overheard between a vendor and a group of attendees

“With the exception of most of the high-speed designers who attend DesignCon, I’m finding that many product designers in small to mid-sized companies are still getting their PC board stack-up and layout wrong for reduced EMI. What may have worked a couple decades ago is unacceptable with today’s high-speed clocks. This is especially problematic for mixed digital and RF/wireless designs, because the broadband EMI from on-board DC-DC converters and general digital bus noise can couple and affect the sensitivity of LTE cellular and GPS receivers.”

  -- Kenneth Wyatt, Principal Consultant, Wyatt Technical Services

“For us, the signal bandwidth in the copper wires or fiber optics isn’t that big of a deal. Of course, more is always better. But for us, it’s the interconnect that is the challenge. It’s how customers will access the data. This requires more intelligent, smarter storage systems. Plus the earlier processing and partitioning of the data, either at the sensor, the edge or eventually the cloud. Data design is becoming more important throughout the process, which means more emulation and prototyping of the hardware and software.”

  -- Juergen Jaeger, Senior Product Director, Cadence Design

“It’s easy to become so focused on bleeding edge technology that you miss the broader market. What I mean is that,  sometimes designers get tripped up not by the harder, state-of-the-art stuff but by neglecting the common stuff. For example, a fairly generic I/O modeling tool can be used for design analysis, trade-off studies and verification that will identify basic design issues without requiring sophisticated signal integrity (SI) and power integrity (PI) expertise.”

-- Todd Westerhoff, High-Speed Design Product Marketing, Electronic Board Systems, Mentor Graphics

“Data design is becoming as critical as device design.”

  -- Chris Cheng, Distinguished Technologist, HP Enterprise

“The first myth about silicon photonics is that it’s low cost. It isn’t once you’ve accounted for everything. What is important for data center optics are cheap laser(s), signal-to-noise systems and cheap assembly. Silicon photonics isn’t any of those things.”

  -- Chris Cole, VP, Systems Engineering at Luminous Computing

“Memory works differently on quantum computers. Observing (reading) classical bits from memory or storage in traditional computers does not change them. However, observing qubits in quantum computers destroys their superposition, i.e., that act of measuring the qubit destroys it.”

  --Daniel D. Stancil, Alcoa Distinguished Professor and Head of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at North Carolina State University.

“Our teams are focused on traditional-quantum hybrid architectures, in a way analogous to today’s hybrid gasoline (traditional) and electric (modern) cars. The hybrid architecture in servers is an attempt to bridge the gap between traditional processing and future technology, i.e., by using the best of our conventional computing architectures with emerging quantum tech.

  -- Matt Reagor, Director of Engineering at Rigetti

“Future security design will have failure reporting, where your devices will phone home or work to tell you there are being attacked. This is one of the seven properties of highly security devices.”

  -- Warren Savage, Visiting Researcher, Applied Research Laboratory for Intelligence and Security, University of Maryland

Image source: DesignCon 2020 – Teledyne LeCroy / John Blyler

“On a perfectly clear night away from any city lights, the human eye – our first detector - can see about 5k stars. Compare that with the most advanced telescope called the MAVIS telescope being built in Chile, which will see over 7 million objects in our solar system.”

  -- Zaheer Ali, Senior Manager for the USRA Science and Mission Operations, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)

John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

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