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Issue 1, 2013

Standards Column
Accelerating Innovation with Standards

It is often said that standards and innovation are at the opposite ends of the spectrum of creativity. Some boldly claim that standards stifle innovation, imply conformance to certain norms, and innovation occurs only when you break such norms and think “outside the box”. I disagree and would like to demonstrate my conviction by showing examples of how standards have not only enabled innovation, but also accelerated innovation.

Recently, I was one of the invited speakers at the International Conference on Connected Vehicles in Beijing, China. The emerging field of connected vehicles is very exciting. It holds awe-inspiring promise and benefits for the future of humanity, but produces a great many challenges for the transportation engineers of today. One of their greatest challenges is innovating within the existing transportation systems (legacy), which not only includes vehicles themselves, but also has to comply with the safety regulations among many national and international laws and policies. Add to this mix the complexities of a developing nation, such as India or China, where non-motorized vehicles, a large number of pedestrians, and even animals will share the road with the smart vehicles of the future, and the challenge becomes even greater.

Figure 1: Re-use via Standards

Several speakers in the Summit E: Standards for Connected Vehicles session were experts in their respective fields – standards in transportation engineering, communication engineering, public safety, etc. The topic of my talk was “Accelerating Innovation Through Standards”. I started with a simple example: connected vehicles need standards for wireless communication and we already have the IEEE 802.11 family of standards, which includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Zigbee, among others. After all, we need to communicate a message (in the form of data), not reinvent the protocol for such communication. Similarly, there are already mature standards for infotainment, GPS, battery charging and so on. There is an existing infrastructure and ecosystem available to the transportation industry that provides a solid foundation for future innovations to take place. For those who are only thinking about applying these concepts to automobiles, think about communication between high-speed trains to avoid head-on collisions or alerting the conductor of a vehicle stuck on the tracks of an approaching train. Vehicles of the future will be smarter and safer. If we think interdisciplinary engineering, and borrow successful concepts from many disciplines with well-established standards, we can invent new applications and solutions at a more rapid pace. We can accelerate innovation.

Closer to home, in the semiconductor and electronics design industry, we have seen a similar phenomenon with verification methodology. Some of you may be old enough to remember the debate when chip designers transitioned from schematic-based design entry to Hardware Description Languages-based design methodology. Through those debates, productivity improved, the ability to manage complexity grew, and the industry accepted HDL-based methodology. This is what made a standard (or three – VHDL, Verilog and SystemVerilog). At each stage, the innovators pushed the limits and developed solutions to new problems they encountered. For example, the original purpose of HDL (specifically, VHDL) was to document the design specification, but engineers started using it for simulation, whereas Verilog HDL was developed for (and implemented with) a simulator, but became more pervasive once Design Compiler® started synthesizing it, which lead to a significant improvement in the designer’s ability to manage large designs. In turn, Verilog HDL evolved, the design methodology evolved, and the notion of semiconductor Intellectual Property (IP) became entrenched. On the other side, verification methodology evolved from 1’s and 0’s, or vectors, to HDL-based testbenches, then to a base class library of verification objects. Many different approaches have culminated into Universal Verification Methodology (UVM) under the Accellera Systems Initiative. All of these innovations and progress in design and verification methodology are based on a standard, primarily SystemVerilog. Because of these types of standards, designers today can handle complex designs that were not even imagined five years ago. As we look to the near future, various design automation standards for verification methodology, low power, test, library cell modeling, etc. are all contributing to an accelerated innovation path.

Here are several other examples without going into much detail: the continued evolution of system-level design tools and methodologies are possible because the lower levels of design abstraction are isolated through standards, the migration/mapping of designs to newer semiconductor processes is accelerated because cell characterization is standardized in various data formats such as Liberty and ITF, and even higher level interfaces such as Universal Serial Bus (USB) have continued to see innovation as the preceding versions became ubiquitous for an increasing number of applications and gadgets. As one traces the history of innovations in an industry, it is easy to see the emergence of one or more standards that played a key role and influenced the direction of the innovations.

One final thought – standards are not static. Standards evolve as technology demands – sometimes even in anticipation of the demand. For example, look at IEEE 1800 SystemVerilog, which has already gone through standardization in 2005, revisions in 2009, and again in 2012. And let’s not forget that it was based on IEEE 1364, Verilog HDL, which had already gone through its own standardizations and revisions in 1995 and 1999. These enhancements to the standard continue to make the design and verification environment – the foundation for the innovators of electronics – stronger so that the innovators can focus on solving the more complex problems and continue to accelerate innovation.

Do you agree? Do you have examples of standards accelerating innovation you would like to share? I would be very interested in hearing from you.

More Information

About the Author
Yatin Trivedi is the Director of Standards and Interoperability Programs at Synopsys. He represents Synopsys on the Standards Board and the Standards Education Committee (SEC) of the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA), the Education Activities Board (EAB) of IEEE, the Board of Directors of IEEE Industry Standards and Technology Organization (IEEE-ISTO), and the Board of Directors of Accellera. He chairs the SEC and serves as the Editor-in-Chief of the Standards Education Committee eZine, vice chair of Design Automation Standards Committee (DASC), member of IEEE-SA's NesCom, AudCom and ICCom governance committees, and member of the Corporate Advisory Group (CAG). He manages interoperability initiatives as part of the corporate marketing and strategic alliances group and works closely with the Synopsys University program. Yatin is a Senior Member of the IEEE and serves as an ABET Evaluator.

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