‘System on a chip’ technology shapes distributed intelligence

By Mark T. Hoske, CONTROL ENGINEERING October 1, 1999

I ncreasing interest in intellectual property (IP) core and SOC (system on chip) technologies promise to radically change how industrial computer boards-such as VME, CompactPCI, and others-are designed, says John Rynearson, technical director, VMEbus International Trade Association (VITA, Scottsdale, Ariz.).

Among areas of influence will be development of distributed intelligence modules. ‘SOC technology will allow for the distribution of complex processing algorithms into silicon along with other vital system parts. This will allow the system designer the choice between putting ‘programs’ into software or burning them into hardware.

‘As a result, the system designer will face the challenge of figuring out how to partition the system to best meet application requirements and cost constraints. Interface costs are typically reduced and optimal performance and reliability are achieved when decisions are made at the lowest level possible. SOC will give the system designer a new tool to apply this methodology,’ Mr. Rynearson says.

Traditionally, it was typical to transfer all sensor information to a central computer for processing and then send command information back to actuators, such as valves or switches. Now it is much more common for processes to be controlled by a network of processors constructed in a hierarchical fashion, where lower-level functions are controlled at the first level of sensor-controller interface, he explains. SOC technology will allow this methodology to further evolve so more sophisticated and complex control algorithms can be implemented at lower and lower levels.

‘One can image that future control systems will more closely resemble actions of the human body which constantly carries out a mix of low-level autonomous control functions while at the same time regulating and directing the overall higher level functioning of the organism.’

Putting systems on a chip is still in its infancy, Mr. Rynearson says. Future developments ‘depend heavily on cooperation among IP core vendors and SOC tool developers with general agreement in the industry on interface standards.’ Putting systems on chips will revolutionize board design and enable further evolution of distributed intelligence in process control systems, he adds.

E-mail mhoske@cahners.com