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Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

DAC 2018: New venue, Fresh start, Great leadership

October 11th, 2017 by Peggy Aycinena

After two years in Austin, the Design Automation Conference is returning to San Francisco
for two good reasons: The City’s Moscone Convention Center has been thoroughly remodeled since DAC’s last visit in 2015 – enlarged, reworked, modernized – and the industries that fuel DAC – electronic design automation, system design, IP, and embedded systems – have a powerful and historic presence in Silicon Valley, a where place many in these disciplines work and live.

Hence June 2018 will witness a glamorous return to the Bay Area for DAC, and all its stakeholders, not the least being next year’s General Chair and Notre Dame CSE Professor, Dr. X. Sharon Hu.

In a recent phone call, Hu said it’s particularly exciting to be coming back to San Francisco, because the City is one of her favorite venues.

In preparation for DAC in 2018 and to similarly enhance anticipation for her Executive Committee – that group of hard-working volunteers who work the magic each year bringing DAC to fruition – Hu recently hosted a team building exercise here in 2017 in the just-reopened Moscone West portion of the massive complex. The group made sushi, and with pictures of the cook-off trending on Twitter, she laughed when I asked how it all went.

“It’s true,” she laughed, “we made sushi. My idea for this team-building activity was for everybody to cook something we could all eat together.

“It was a great team exercise. The EC is full of creative people. We are all creative, and all chipped in to cook something we could eat together. There were all sorts of ingredients,” she added, again laughing.

“Also, I wanted every member of the EC to look at the new venue, and to think about how we can really organize all of the activities at DAC in that venue. It was a good exercise for everyone to walk through the three floors of Moscone West and see how well everything is going to fit into that facility next year.”

Given the proximity to Silicon Valley, I asked Prof. Hu if she expected an up-tick in DAC attendance in 2018.

She said, “We’ve been away for 2 years, and everybody I’ve talked to is excited we’ll be back in San Francisco. We are definitely expecting to get a bigger draw. Also, I’ve been in Austin for DAC and other meetings multiple times in the last few years, so it’s good to be going somewhere different.”

“Although,” she said, chuckling, “in a couple of years, I’ll be missing Austin. It’s a beautiful city.”

Coming from Indiana and having to travel to DAC, no matter where it’s held, I asked Prof. Hu if there are other untested venue for DAC?

“I wish we could have the conference in Chicago someday,” she replied.

“But then, even more people would have to travel – the employees of the companies, the exhibitors, the designers. So yes, Chicago would be nice, but it’s not ideal.”

Focusing on 2018, I asked what will be spectacularly different about the 55th DAC.

Prof. Hu was quick to respond: “That’s a great question, because there are a couple of things we’re doing next year to get exciting activities to come to DAC.

“First, we really want to emphasize more of the system aspect of design. Traditionally, people have thought about DAC as a chip design conference, and about the tools for chip design.

“But over the years, it’s gradually been putting more and more emphasis on the system. For 2018, I want to make sure the system is highlighted.”

“To do that,” she continued, “we are going to have a System Design Contest. It will be a very exciting, year-long event leading up to DAC, where we will feature embedded-system implementations of neural network-based target tracking for drones.

“The participating teams will get a training data set provided by one of the contest sponsors, DJI – one of the most successful drone companies in the world, based in China – and the teams will also be given data sets for evaluating the performance of their designs.

Xilinx and Nvidia have agreed to be premier sponsors of the contest, with each company donating boards for free. The teams will use these boards to develop their neural networks.

“After the teams have been underway for a couple of months, we will start to publish the results through monthly postings on the DAC website to show the rankings of the different teams. The teams will be able to look to the website and see where they are in the rankings list.”

Prof. Hu said the final phase of the contest will take place next June: “The top three teams in each category at that point will be invited to attend DAC, the two categories being a Nvidia GPU platform-based design and a Xilinx FPGA platform-based design.

“Ultimately each category will have winner, but all six top teams will have a chance to do a demo at DAC and talk about their design.”

“All of this will be even more attractive,” Prof. Hu said with great enthusiasm, “because through the Xilinx and Nvidia sponsorship we are able to offer generous cash prize for the winners.”

“Will DAC invite any drone manufacturers to send a pilot to the conference to fly the drones as a culmination of the contest?” I asked.

Hu chuckled and said, “That’s a good question. We’re still working out what can be demo’ed at DAC, how to connect the systems to monitors and show it to the audience at the conference. The integration of everything is not a simple effort.

“Probably in a month or two we will know a lot more, but it would be really fun for people from the drone companies to come see the contest.”

I asked about other new initiatives for DAC in 2018.

“Yes,” Prof Hu said, “we also want to highlight the power of machine learning and AI to the design and automation industries. We will have featured sessions in these topic areas, and are inviting two types of contributions.

“One will address how machine learning and AI can be used to improve design, how they can make our EDA tools a whole lot better.

“The other aspect is, how can the hardware design [be configured] to accelerate machine and AI, to make them faster and more energy-efficient for our embedded-systems people and their companies.

“Again, this is using the design skills of the experts that come to DAC, and their efforts to improve the implementation of machine learning and AI in the embedded world.”

Seeking clarification, I asked: “How is machine learning any different from classic control system feedback, or traditional whack-a-mole in EDA that’s based on algorithmic optimizations?”

As a seasoned educator, Hu was happy to respond: “If you step back, what machine learning and AI really provide is a different way of using the data we [obtain] from system behavior.

“Yes, EDA people are very good at optimization, at coming up with very ingenious algorithms. But we have not really been using the data very effectively in some aspects of the process.

“There is a lot to learn from the machine learning and AI side of things, how we can use the data the design companies and the foundries have accumulated over the years.”

I asked if a company like PDF Solutions, therefore, would be asked to help craft that portion of DAC, given their 20+ years of experience extracting foundry information.

Hu replied, “Yes, PDF is a regular attendee at DAC and we could reach out to them and ask for a more active involvement there.”

Addressing other topics to be highlighted at the conference, Prof. Hu said, “I also want to mention we will continue to emphasize the security aspect of design as an important topic at DAC as well. So again next year, there will be a Hack-at-DAC event.

“The hope is to get some important industrial sponsors to provide real designs, and let the Hack-at-DAC contestants work to find the (security) bugs in the design and how to exploit them.”

“Is getting sponsors one of the toughest jobs of General Chair at DAC?” I asked.

Dr. Hu chuckled: “Well, yes, but so far we have scored in that area quite well. The EC is full of excellent people who do great outreach in this area.”

“One more thing to add,” she said, “is that DAC is making a concerted effort on outreach [geographically], particularly to Asia and especially China. We have a new Outreach Chair on the EC, Dr. Xin Li, who is a full professor at Duke University’s main campus and is leading a new program in applied physical sciences and engineering at Duke Kunshan University in China.”

Prof. Hu noted these types of outreach are an important part of growing DAC for the future.

“This is all well and good,” I commented, “but let’s back to the sushi thing. Will there be cooking classes at DAC?”

Prof. Hu laughed with gusto: “Cooking classes aren’t in the plans yet, but you never know.”

“Okay,” I said regretfully, “then what about the grad students. What’s going to bring them to DAC?”

Again the professor was enthused: “We will have the annual PhD forum, with ACM and IEEE leading that effort, plus we will continue to support the Richard Newton Young Student Fellow program.

Patrick Groeneveld is looking after that group, and working to make those awards have an even longer-lasting impact on the industry. We are in discussions about developing ways for the Newton Fellows to come back to DAC after receiving the support, and presenting on the results of their work.”

“I also want to highlight that DAC now has the ‘Under 40 Innovators‘ award, and we will continue that award in 2018. We want to encourage everyone to make nominations of the young people they know who have done high-impactful work in the field of design automation.”

In wrapping up our conversation, I asked Prof. Hu about the new company organizing the exhibits.

She responded, “Yes, Hall-Erickson is doing a great job. We are coordinating with them closely to compile a list of potential exhibitors, and will work with them in this area.

“Again, a lot of the outreach will be on the system side, and the embedded side. Together we will be reaching out aggressively to increase participation there.”

“This all sounds like so much work” I noted, “all these initiatives, contests, award programs, exhibitor outreach. Between DAC and your teaching, how are you holding up?”

Prof. Hu chuckled: “Well, all of our initiatives may not be complete by 2018, but all of these efforts have been started and are underway.

“Everybody on the EC is on-board with pushing the idea that DAC is no longer just an EDA conference. It’s a conference for chip design and system-level design, and embedded systems, and IP. All of these groups are important to DAC.”

“As far as how I am doing,” she chuckled again, “I guess I could complain that I need more time. It feels like I’m always buried under work, there’s so much going on. I’m always playing catch-up, but to be honest, this week is better than last week was.”

And after all the work is done and June arrives, what does the 2018 General Chair expect to enjoy the most at DAC in San Francisco?

Dr. Hu laughed one last time: “I have quite a few favorite things to do at DAC, and expect to do them all next year.

“The keynotes are always great, and something I look forward to. Also, I will definitely find time to attend some of the technical talks in my areas of research.

“Right now, I am working in several areas including embedded systems, things like low-power, real-time, embedded systems – for flying and controlling drones – that have stringent timing requirements.

“My active research also includes emerging devices beyond CMOS. Studying how we can use them for different applications, and in different architectures that can compete with CMOS at the application level.

“Both of these areas are very much related to the content at DAC, so attending the technical sessions is a great opportunity for me. And although I am not allowed to submit papers to DAC next year, after I am done serving as the general chair to the conference I will come back again as a contributor.”

“Of course,” Dr. Hu concluded, “the one of the most important aspects of DAC is networking with colleagues.

“I started going to DAC in 1991, and have been attending for over 25 years. The chance to see a lot of friends from all over the world is one of the great things about this conference, and why so many of us return year after year.

“Which is why I am grateful to the EC for making sure that the conference will come together in 2018. Next June in San Francisco will be very exciting for all of us, because of their hard work.”


Photo attribution …

Thank you to DAC Publicity Chair Michelle Clancy, Cayenne Communication, for the photo of the 2018 DAC Executive Committee’s recent sushi event in San Francisco. The photo was posted to Twitter on September 25th on @CayennePR.

2018 DAC General Chair Bio …

Xiaobo Sharon Hu
is a professor of CSE at the University of Notre Dame. She also holds a joint appointment in EE at Notre Dame. She received B.S. degree from Tianjin University, M.S. degree from Polytechnic University of New York, and Ph.D. degree from Purdue University.  She worked for General Motors Research Labs for almost 4 years before she started her academic career. Between 1993 and 1996, she was an assistant professor in ECE at Western Michigan University.

Her research interests include analysis and design of low power, real-time, and embedded systems, computing with emerging technologies, and computational medicine. She has published 200+ referreed papers in these areas and received numerous research grants from both the U.S. government agencies and private industry. She received the CAREER award from U.S. National Science Foundation in 1997, and the Best Paper Award from the ACM/IEEE Design Automation Conference in 2001 and from the IEEE Symposium on Nanoscale Architectures in 2009. Another paper of Prof. Hu’s was named one of “The Most Influential Papers of 10 Years Design, Automation, and Test in Europe Conference (DATE)”.

Dr. Hu is currently Associate Editor for ACM Transactions on Embedded Computing and General Chair of 2014 Design Automation Conference. She has served as Associate Editor for IEEE Transactions on VLSI and ACM Transactions on Design Automation of Electronic Systems, and as guest editor for several different journals/magazines, including the IEEE Computer Magazine and IEEE Transactions on Industrial Informatics.

Hu was the Technical Program Co-Chair of the 9th International Symposium on Hardware/Software Codesign (CODES’2001) and the General Co-Chair of the same conference in 2002. She also served, or is serving, on the program committee of a number of conferences such as DAC, ICCAD, DATE), IEEE RTSS, and IEEE RTAS, etc.

At the University of Notre Dame, Dr. Hu served as Director of Graduate Studies for 10 years in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, and was Senior Assistant Provost for ND International between 2012–2013. Currently, she is Associate Dean for Professional Development at the Graduate School.


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