Last week I had the opportunity of speaking with Becky Oh, CEO of PNI Sensor Corporation. Those who follow this column know that in the last couple of years I have become interested in the MEMS industry. It all started during the GlobalPress 2011 event, when I listened to a few presentations from MEMS technology companies. This industry is very interesting on a number of dimensions: the semiconductor technology they use, the physics of the devices they produce, the amazing complexities of their micromachines, and the lack of integration tools from EDA companies.
PNI Sensor specializes in GeoMagnetic sensor technology. You can think of their sensors as extremely accurate silicon compasses. Their products are used in military, scientific, and consumer applications. You find them in your smart phone, orin your car just to mention a few application areas.
Ms. Oh told me that PNI Sensor has had to develop its own system level integration capabilities to combine their magnetometer and their own 9-axis sensor fusion algorithms, with accelerometers and gyros from other companies to produce a complete accurate motion sensing systems for consumer applications. Becky calls this SpacePoint Technology. She also told me that some of their largest customers prefer to do their own device integration to produce a motion sensing system. Too often these customers need PNI Sensor help because in the traditional engineering tendency to optimize everything, they design systems that do not work, since electronic engineers are not experts when it comes to magnetic fields. Just like there are few engineers that can design a leading edge power supply or an antenna, the area of magnetic fields is quite arcane.
It seems to me that EDA companies that think of themselves as producers of ESL tools are failing miserably in providing a complete solution. When I wrote or spoke about the lack of full system solution from the EDA industry I get told that it is the "E" in ESL that counts. Until someone disproves me, magnetism is an electronic physical effect, and thus is part of the "E".
The growth of the EDA market is not only slowing, it is in danger of becoming negative due to consolidations in the semiconductor industry and the significant growth of software role in system level devices. I am told that software margins are too low to be interesting. Tell that to Microsoft or Oracle, obviously they did not get the memo. It is all about algorithms, whether they are implemented in silicon, MEMS, or software. Developing a computer based environment that allows the proper integration of these three constituents is one of the possible expansion for EDA companies.