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January - 2000 - issue > Cover Feature
Your Future Is Smarter
Saturday, January 1, 2000

If Dockers galvanized Levi’s jeans into a multi-billion dollar global business, then the folks at Motorola creating an intelligent chip ingredient and christening it DigitalDNA have galvanized the world of embedded computing. It promises simplicity, ease and comfort — driving new technologies and spawning applications to make life a little simpler and as easy as getting into your faded blues.

DigitalDNA, the smart chip ingredient, was born of “Get Smart” — the spirit driving Motorola to go beyond mere line extension to focus on what consumers and corporations are demanding from technology. It’s a brand that represents Motorola’s semiconductor business. And like any brand, it represents a value proposition for the company’s customers. Its pitch: It’s the heart of smart. Its goal: Simplifying technology in a world deluged by products that are becoming technologically more complex. What is the heart of smart? It’s a technophile’s delight. Put intelligence in the product through the silicon, throw in video, data, speech, gestures, Internet connectivity, mobile/in-home flexibility, and voila! You have a formidable system-on-chip technology that’s sprinting towards a smarter tomorrow.

The Names Behind the Technology

Where did the ideas for intelligent embedded solutions come from? How did they congeal into a niche brand that makes today’s smart products work smarter? According to Hector de J. Ruiz, president of Motorola Semiconductor Products sector, “We believe that if we listen carefully to the consumer, we actually will be able to help our customers by creating better products for them. I believe that life has become unnecessarily complicated through technology — and I think DigitalDNA is the first attempt to simplify life and make it actually more valuable, better and more fun.” His role as captain of the ship is to crystallize this vision into workable solutions that can spell the difference between a shelf-sliding no-show and a brilliant must-have product like the five-ounce Motorola i1000plus cell phone that packs two-way audio, an Internet microbrowser, email, fax, and doubles as a wireless modem.

Spearheading Process Technology development for Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector, headquartered in Austin, is Padmasree Warrior, vice president and assistant director of DigitalDNA Laboratories. Warrior is instrumental in driving a leadership technology roadmap that leverages Motorola SPS as a premier system-on-a-chip provider and morphing technology innovations into customer-focused solutions. She has been directly responsible for driving two process technology platforms that provide DigitalDNA solutions from Motorola — the RSLDMR platform and the CMOS platform, a core market technology to build on for the other functionalities — and is also currently responsible for driving all of the process technology platforms. “This is really the foundation for the DigitalDNA solutions from Motorola. This is really the core process technology on which the design, software and everything else, is built upon. Generally what we are doing today is driving a platform methodology focusing on standardization,” she says.

The Roadmap

The vision is expansive and the marketing aggressive. Motorola’s more than 200 clients include Cisco systems, Nortel Networks and Lucent Technologies. With the advent of DigitalDNA, the company is positioned on two pillars: the communications pillar and the embedded solutions pillar. DigitalDNA has become crucial to the future of the company. In the automobile market, the company already owns 20 percent of the market for semiconductors. The opportunities are big and the customer strategy simple: combine customer intimacy with leadership embedded technology and uniquely position itself with complete embedded solutions.

Warrior, a Cornell University graduate with an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from IIT, New Delhi, is clear about the roadmap ahead for advancing the technology. “Basically, the way I see it is to primarily ensure that there is foresight in solving the technological challenges. We will be integrating many revolutionary new materials into the processes. Lithography and how we scale dimensions without the cost being astronomical is a challenge. That’s basically focusing on the foundation. The other primary challenge is to drive the foundation from a top-down system integration approach — once you have a process, how do you drive that process from top-down, looking at it from a systems point of view (in terms) of design and software. There will be more emphasis on system integration, system conditioning and design methodology.”

But leaving the nuts and bolts of technology aside, Warrior envisions life five years from now, with the impact of DigitalDNA, as having a lot more leverage of the system-on-chip concept. She believes it will be crucial in driving embedded technology, giving consumers products that are simple, intuitive and easy to use. In a word, smart. And that’s how, Warrior believes, technology will make life a lot easier.

Broad Spectrum

Before leaping into a technological séance, DigitalDNA’s widening impact in the embedded computing market should give overwrought day traders four things to live for; that is, the four core areas where the company is directing the DigitalDNA brand: Networking and Computing, Imaging and Entertainment, Wireless, and Transportation.

The network of the future will feature broadband radio highway networks with fiber optics connecting micro-cellular networks to a central station. If you’re a potential Sears Tower freefaller because of stock market birthing pains, look before you leap. Thanks to smart solutions that integrate phone calls with multimedia computing, you can make a quick call from your mobile and take a peek at how your pet is doing at home. Testing for this is already on in Japan, Korea and the UK. At the Georgia Institute of Technology, a project is underway to produce a fabric-based wearable computer that, when combined with a wireless modem, could have applications in telemedicine.

According to company sources, Motorola SPS is focused on being the leading supplier of networking embedded technology and intelligent communications controllers by building on the success of its MPC8260 (PowerQUICC II) chip. Palm Computing Inc., a 3Com company, has integrated the heart of smart into the Palm V Connected Organizer. Consumers can enter thousands of names, telephone numbers and notes, all of which can be backed up between the organizer and a PC or a Mac.

Drivers Wanted

The technology is also driving new digital standards in high-definition TV sets and standard definition wide-aspect ratio TVs. It powers converter boxes that allow analog TVs to receive digital signals and display images with near-digital quality. Consumers now also have the option of getting scaled versions of HDTV to be displayed on standard television receivers with “software control.” And making waves in the wireless market is Motorola’s own Unwired Planet’s microbrowser and messaging engine that makes it easy to use server-based applications, including “desktop Internet mail.”

Driving its success in the automobile market is the technology that makes it possible to combine an anti-theft system with Remote Keyless Entry (RKE). If you’re looking for a personalized driving experience, there’s the “smart” ignition key that allows drivers to have their own personalized key that would program functions like seat position, mirror setting, favorite radio station and drive characteristics. The “Radiance” solar car, designed by students from Canada’s Queen’s University, is another DigitalDNA recipient. Motorola’s MC 68HC912B32 chip powers the car’s telemetry system, enabling it to adjust quickly to changing climactic conditions.

About future areas of expansion, the company maintains that it will be determined by strategic marketing efforts. “We’re continuously on the lookout for places where DigitalDNA could be important. We have a team of people who are constantly searching for the next opportunity for the technology,” says Ruiz. About the plans for marketing this technology in India, he says, “Well, as a matter of fact, we, in the last three years opened two major design centers in India. And we expect to continue that, to be able to create this sort of technology.”

Toward an Integrated Lifestyle

Meanwhile, the company’s top execs really do put the simplify-your-life concept to work in their own lives. Warrior, for example, believes in spending time on the four aspects of life. For her, that is “everything that makes your life a whole — yourself, your family, your work and your community. And you have to treat each one of those with equal importance.” A Motorola vice president, this mother of a six-year-old uses technology to stay in touch with her family by videoconferencing on business trips. And she never misses a parent-teacher conference at her son’s school. She’s a role model to Indian professionals in the US and more importantly, an inspiration to Indian women seeking to carve a professional niche. Like the technology she spearheads, her approach to life and work is simple: “Leverage your uniqueness. I think Indian women bring a lot to the workforce. I think we tend to look more at the bigger picture, primarily because of the way Indian culture is. We tend to think of things more as a whole rather than as a sum of a few. And that brings in a great deal of value to the workforce. Use your uniqueness as an advantage rather than a disadvantage. The fact that you walk into a meeting and you’re probably the only woman — and most likely the only Indian woman — draws attention. People tend to look at you and remember you; they remember either that you have a strange name or that you look different. I tend to use that to my advantage.”

Warrior, who sees life as a seamless integration of family, community, self and work, owes her success in part to a personal belief system that thrives on giving in an increasingly selfish world. She comments, “[I have] the desire to contribute, the desire to feel like I have made an impact. The thing that I enjoy the most about my work is the interaction with people. I think technology seems almost secondary to that. It’s the contact with the people, it’s what I learn from everyday interactions with different kinds of people, the brilliance, the intelligence, feeling like you’re a part of it and you’re giving something back.” It’s a belief system that thrives on constructively impacting young minds, like lighting a lamp at her son’s school and talking about Diwali.

Unique Philosophy, Unique Brand

The people and the ideas driving the success of DigitalDNA share a common work philosophy: simplicity. For now, companies are grabbing the simplify-your-life technology, proving that the imagination is limitless. InfoCharms and its wearable line of computers aims at freeing you from the monotony of repetitive tasks like trade show blather while you network. Powered by DigitalDNA, the wearable systems are discreet pins with infrared transceivers that automatically capture information, like a name on a lapel, which saves you the trouble of trying to recollect whom you met at the show. The company is also moving into techno-fashion: You can please your teenage son by giving him a pair of hip-hop sneakers while reassuring yourself that you can track his whereabouts. And for the rest of the over-gratified Generation Z-ers, potential applications include toys that react to a child’s visual cues. According to the president and chairman of InfoCharms, Alex Lightman, wearables will start outselling mobile phones within five years … and never look back.

What will the topography of the information highway look like in the next couple of years? According to Ruiz, “We think there have been three ways of computing. Mainframe computing was the first, the personal computer was the second, and the third way is embedded computing, which is what DigitalDNA is. But the one application that I think is going to be the biggest one — bigger than any of these products, whether it’s in transportation or wireless — is the ability to think and link. And that’s why we believe it’s going to be the most significant application over the next decade. To be able to put DigitalDNA technology in a product that allows it to ‘think,’ in other words, be smart, and ‘link,’ link to other things, like an automobile that links to your home or office. And so we believe that this thinking and linking technology is very crucial for the DigitalDNA vision.”

The company believes that growing consumer demand will see users moving from a PC computing base to embedded systems, easing the transition to a phone-based portal to the Internet or a slick videoconferencing tool. The possibilities seem endless.

In the meantime, the company is focusing on maintaining its leadership in embedded technology, which boasts the ability to create architectural solutions instead of point solutions. For the consumer who wants to build a particular home entertainment solution at home and then extend that to his RV, an architectural solution can enhance this embedded leadership because the same architecture will allow the products to think and link back again. So, you could get your car to link back to your house. With DigitalDNA technology, the goal is to make all of your systems architecturally compatible. Explains Ruiz, “Think of it as Lego blocks. We believe we are creating a phenomenal array of Lego blocks that customers can build anything with, and that will serve consumer needs because we’re creating everything on an architectural strategy and (based) upon a chip methodology. And the key is the time to market, to be able to do it faster than anybody else is. So consumer demand for what I call ‘ubiquitouscon’ activity will drive a lot of the DigitalDNA applications.”

Within the next twenty years, the company projects technology enablers for new systems that will range from a fully integrated mobile office, lab-on-a-chip technology, quantum computers to molecular electronics that will facilitate true neural computing for intelligent communicators, controllers and assistants. As for Warrior’s contribution to forge the path: “My legacy would be to build a very strong technology organization that will continue to drive my vision for a leadership platform process technology.”

For those of us raring to get a glimpse of the future, and maybe even those who are yearning to get to the banks of immortality, the future may be closer than you think. For the rest, there’s always Thoreau’s Walden.

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