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A Brief History of ASTC and VLAB Works

A Brief History of ASTC and VLAB Works
by Paul McLellan on 10-24-2014 at 4:00 pm

 When I worked for VaST our engineering was in Sydney Australia. To my surprise there was another, entirely independent, group working on virtual platform modeling and tools in another place in Australia, in Adelaide. Is there something in the Fosters? They had originally been part of Motorola Corporate R&D and Software Group, servicing all the many segments of its semiconductor arm, SPS, but they incorporated as Australian Semiconductor Technology Company (ASTC) when SPS was spun out of Motorola as Freescale in 2005. Then in 2011 they also created the VLAB Works business outlet, essentially a complete virtual prototyping laboratory for accelerating embedded system design, hw/sw co-design, and embedded software development.

They have a mixture of EDA engineers, semiconductor designers, IP, embedded software and more. They have a lot of really innovative new internal technology, as is their premier virtual prototyping laboratory VLAB and its suite of tools and toolboxes, but typically they do business as turnkey projects to create, deploy and support complete virtual platforms to accelerate system design and embedded software development. They have close to 100 engineers and have completed over 200 projects. Everyone is an engineer, including management, with 50% of management and 25% of staff having PhDs, so it is a very deep and very experienced team, everyone with over 10 years of experience in these domains.

One area of ASTC focus, where they seem to be ahead of anyone else, is automotive grade MCU and ECU virtual platforms, very fast, accurate, integrated in the automotive flow solutions, where they support all the leading automotive microprocessors (not the usual ones used in, say, cellphones), the bus communication standards such as FlexRay and CAN, (which I thought was “car area network” for years but the C is a much more boring “controller”), LIN, SPI, Ethernet, and all others, and support of the right system simulators and analysis tools used in the industry such as Mathworks’ Matlab and Simulink, dSpace HILS/VEOS, Vector CANoe/CANalyzer.

For example, they can handle an entire closed loop ECU virtual system, including MCUs, ASICs, Interface electronics, and car motor and other plant models, running the Autosar operating system, running a mixture of tasks on multiple simulated CPUs and with a virtual console connected to control and observe, at real time speeds or much faster than real time,

Another focus area is platforms for mobile. Cell-phones have very short development cycles and if you wait until the hardware is available before you start to do the embedded software development you will be late. Reference boards used to be one solution but they are getting too slow. I once asked an engineering manager in Japan what they did while they were waiting for reference boards: “we pretend to program” he said.

Mobile requires an almost completely different set of models and interfaces from automotive (outside of automotive infotainment which is much closer to smartphone technology and does not have safety critical issues). They have undertaken complex operating system porting for mobile/multimedia and have operating system ready to run on new architectures (including new DSPs). The operating system will be ready to install immediately the silicon is available.

ASTC was born in Australia but has grown into a global company by attracting similarly experienced teams from around the world and is now a global company. For example, in 2007 they acquired the Motorola phone virtual prototyping team in Urbana-Champaign, IL, US, and later on added the key experts from the modem simulation organisation in Toulouse, France. They have offices across the world in US, Japan and Europe. And, yes, still in Australia too. The yellow stars are their offices, the red dots are their customer locations.

As a manager from a major European automotive Tier 1 business unit (outside Stuttgart I’m guessing) said:Deploying a VLAB MCU virtual prototype “enabled us to prepare our ECU software up to 6 months earlier and be ready for the winter season tests on time, rather than miss a whole year cycle of time to market!

Even by the comparatively glacial speed of automotive development, one year of time to market is huge.

VLAB Works’ website is here. Parent ASTC’s website is here.

More articles by Paul McLellan…

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