DATE 2015: Great Ideas in Grenoble
November 27th, 2014 by Peggy Aycinena
A recent early morning phone call to Germany to speak with DATE 2015 General Chair Wolfgang Nebel re-enforced the idea that it’s going to be a lot of fun next March in Grenoble, if your idea of fun is new ideas and exploring frontiers.
Dr. Nebel said the conference is deep into its evolution away from being a pure EDA conference with associated exhibition, and is moving instead towards being a conference focused on applications of embedded systems and microelectronics. DATE 2015 is set to reflect that change by showcasing two special-topic days, one about IoT and one about medical applications.
“This IoT thing’s been around for a long time,” I said impolitely, “but suddenly it’s got a trendy name as if it’s just been discovered. What do you think we’ll be calling it in 5 years?”
Dr. Nebel chuckled and said politely, “That requires one to be very speculative. Perhaps by then, it will be a completely connected world and we won’t need a name at all, the concept will be so ubiquitous?”
I asked which topics would be included in the special day on medical applications.
Dr. Nebel responded, “There will be sessions looking at drivers for health-care innovation in three different areas. The first will be wearable computing for medical applications, meaning sensors that people will carry around with them as part of their clothing or directly attached to their bodies. These devices present challenges of energy supply and other such things. The second area will be implantable devices into the human body, and the third area will be diagnostics supported by medical devices.”
“Would you want to wear a wearable medical device that tracks your vital signs 24×7?” I asked impolitely. “Don’t you think it would be an incredible intrusion into your private life?”
Dr. Nebel said politely, “If this device would help with my safety, I would not mind wearing it.”
But he also acknowledged the challenges to society and the privacy issues that surround such things, especially when sensitive health information might be made available to one’s insurance company without permissions.
“These issues of trust and security and privacy,” Dr. Nebel said, “will also be discussed during the special day at DATE on medical applications.
“Clearly a lot depends on the technical implications of what we come up with in the future to protect our privacy. Then it will become a balance between what information we give away, and if it would give a price reduction [for our premiums] if the information were passed to our insurance companies. Certainly some people are more sensitive to problems in this area than others.”
“But if you consider as well, for what small return people give away their privacy data today,” Dr. Nebel continued, “when you get your bonus card at the super market, for instance. We are not ever so concerned about that, about the store [discovering] our buying patterns. It seems when there is enough benefit to the user, people are prepared to disclose their data.
“From my point of view, it is a societal challenge not to exploit the privacy of people who are in need, or put them under such pressure that they are forced to reduce their privacy requirements just to get help [from public agencies].”
I agreed with Dr. Nebel and then turned the conversation to his own work at the OFFIS-Institute for Computer Science associated with the campus of the University of Oldenburg where he teaches.
He said, “I am working on EDA, system-level design, embedded-system design, hardware/software optimization, design space exploration with a particular consideration of power consumption, robustness and aging devices.”
I laughed and said that just about covers everything at DATE, or DAC for that matter.
Dr. Nebel also chuckled and said, “Yes, but there is one function on a device that may be the most important. At my office at the Research Institute, we are specialist in handling the safety aspects and reliability of IC’s.
“Of course, we are not a for-profit organization, but a large research institute instead. We have 280 employees, including some 70 scientists working on embedded system design at different levels of abstraction. We have quite a large group addressing the topic, running a lot of projects in parallel.”
I asked, “How does the funding model at the Research Institute work, compared to imec for example?”
Dr. Nebel replied, “Well, imec has a very focused area of research. They have very large investments in semiconductor infrastructure and in production lines. We don’t have that kind of infrastructure at our institute. Also, imec is mostly paid by industry contracts. Large fabs have their processes developed with imec, for instance.
“We are funded partly by governments, with 25 percent as basic funding from our province in Northern Germany. The rest comes in through contract research with the European Commission, or the Federal Government, or projects done in cooperation with industry, but strictly on a project-by-project basis. It is my perception that [compared to imec], we are a little less bound to concrete public/private funding.”
Having handled that compare/contrast so graciously, I then asked Dr. Nebel to articulate what he perceived to be the differences between DATE and DAC.
He responded, “At first glance, the differences are not that big. Both DAC and DATE have the research conference and they have their shrinking exhibitions, although perhaps DATE is shrinking more quickly than DAC.
“However, we have received a lot of paper submissions for 2015, and it is interesting that the single largest contribution [geographically] is from the United States, so perhaps the difference between the two conferences is [reflected] in the difference between the American and European research ecosystems.
“In Europe, we have the European Commission, with the one objective being to bring together people from the member states of the EU, to enforce communication, cooperation and synergy between different nations. If we apply for a project grant from the Commission, we have to bring together at least three different member states or companies from three different member states [to qualify for the grant].
“This policy enforces cross-national cooperation and is one of the major sources of funding for research in Europe at all universities or research institutes in the EU, so we are very much incentivized to participate in these types of cooperative projects.”
“And,” Dr. Nebel continued, “these projects always involve industrial participation, most of them targeted at having some real impact on the economy. The research in Europe is very much focused along the interests of participating companies. In microelectronics, that includes IP vendors, tool vendors, OEMs for automotive, medical applications companies, industrial fabrication companies, and Tier 1 companies like Bosch or Conti.
“This has created a very interesting and powerful network of cooperation between all of these players, and it has offered us more than 600 cooperation partners from all over Europe. We all know each other well, and bring together our different competencies to [attack a problem].”
“I don’t know if there is any sort of comparable system of organized research cooperation in the U.S.” he said courteously, and then said no more.
Listening to Dr. Nebel, and looking back over my many visits to DATE, it occurred to me that DATE is truly a place of ideas, with no small measure of courtesy included in the mix as well.
Pound for pound, DATE may be far more about the joy of ideas and the collegiality of shared efforts, and far less about the wielding of power between political factions that so often roils around at DAC. That’s how I would describe the differences, but happily, you can attend both and decide for yourself.
General Chair Wofgang Nebel …
Dr. Nebel studied electrical engineering at the University of Hannover, and earned his PhD in computer science at the University of Kaiserslautern. From 1987 to 1993, he worked as a software developer, later as project manager and finally, as head of the CAD software development at Philips Semiconductors in Hamburg.
He was appointed to the Chair of Integrated Circuit Design at the Department of Computer Science of the University of Oldenburg in 1993, from 1996 to 1998 was Dean of the Faculty of computer science, and in the years 2001 and 2002 was Vice President of the University of Oldenburg.
Since 1998, Dr. Nebel has been a member of the three-member Board of OFFIS Institute for Computer Science, an institute of the University of Oldenburg. Since June 2005, he has also been Chairman of the Board of OFFIS.
Dr. Nebel teaches and does research in the fields of new design methods and tools for embedded systems, with a special interest in new technologies to reduce energy consumption and increase robustness in information and communication systems. He has published 200+ papers, is co-founder of several startups in IT and is a Fellow of the IEEE.
Tags: DATE 2015, European Commission, Imec, OFFIS Institute of Computer Science, Wolfgang Nebel