Applications: the new driver

Date:   Monday , January 05, 2009

Applications are the new drivers in integrated circuit and VLSI design related research. Just consider the three major game console players: Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. While Microsoft and Sony's console are more advanced compared to Nintendo, it is the later that has emerged as the winner. This is because it create a new compelling game interaction (application) and thus is more fun to play with.

Increasingly, in VLSI design research, it is becoming important to identify applications with potential and use them to drive design. Research in this space today is about leveraging technology to solve application needs.

There are three areas, specific to emerging economies, which hold immense potential: healthcare, given the low level of healthcare access that citizens have, energy, to power growth, and entertainment. Focusing on applications for these verticals will be an important area of research.

One must not construe my point about focusing on applications as a total disregard for technology. Both are important from the research and design perspective, but the balance between the two has changed. While in the 70s, when I began my career, we would be happy to make anything work on a piece of silicon, today applications have become more important.

In this regard, let me also point out that different countries have different demands. And while products created around these demands might get replicated in other countries; they might also not find a need there. Take for instance healthcare. In a country like the U.S, where healthcare is quite advanced companies are looking at building devices that make the quality of care even better. But in emerging economies, where access to healthcare is low, there might be a need to low-end devices that could give health related feedback to people and more information about their health and diagnosis to provide greater access to care.

The author is a Professor, Dept. of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Stanford University.