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CTO Interview: Mohamed Kassem of efabless

CTO Interview: Mohamed Kassem of efabless
by Daniel Nenni on 12-26-2016 at 7:00 am

 Tell us about your personal vision for efabless
You recall that efabless is building a community of analog and mixed signal designers and providing the crowdsourcing platform that lets them (1) create and market their own new designs and (2) respond to customer requests for on-demand IP and ICs. I see us at the forefront of bringing open innovation and open source to the world of semiconductors and electronics in general.

I think that we are entering an era of countless new smart hardware products, each with its own specific form and function, that will require a whole new way of designing and developing a product – one that embraces the long-tail economics theme with sell less of more products and no prior knowledge of the “killer app”. A community-centered development model is an effective way to bring new innovative solutions to market under the constraints of countless customers and applications. In this world, customers and designers embrace a new risk/reward sharing mode.

Basically, I wanted to build on my past experience with smartphone evolution when I was at TI and adapt the open innovation and community collaboration processes that are so successful in software and inject them into electronics creation. This wave started with the evolution of the smart phone where almost everything was customized to fit in an unprecedented fusion of functions and utilities in an object that sits in the palm of your hand or fits in your pocket. What we see in the IoT world is essentially taking functions of the smartphone (or more), and adapting them for specific applications or markets.

After leaving TI, I spent several years learning from a variety of sources about community-based product development in the software world. I wanted to understand what worked and what didn’t work. I met with innovators in the open source, crowdsource and hardware worlds refining the vision and laying a strong foundation for it to become a reality. Along the way, I met Mike Wishart (our CEO) who had a very similar vision and together we have built a great team to pursue our dream.

Please remind our readers about your recent design challenge with X-FAB and let us know how it is going?
We announced our first customer engagement with X-FAB Silicon Foundries, on November 29. In this project, we are using a design challenge format to engage the community to deliver an ultra-low power band gap IP with restricted process technology options. We and X-FAB chose the challenge process as a tool to educate our community about the X-FAB value proposition and to meet specific innovation and design execution goals.

In thischallenge, all designs that meet the spec can be sold through our marketplace and the three designs with the lowest power consumption will split cash prizes totaling $15,000. X-FAB benefits because its customers will have access to multiple varieties of band gaps and more designers become familiar with their superior analog technology.

On the other side of the coin, our community members benefit through access to X-FAB customers and by retaining the rights to their IPs. It is a unique model for design enablement. It is important to highlight that the prize amount does not represent a sale price of the IP. The designer will set the sale and licensing terms once the IP is in our marketplace.

The punch line is that things are going very well. As of December 20, we had 80 active “solvers”, far more than even we expected. The effect on our overall community has also been very positive. We now have over 900 community members from more than 30 countries, up from about 600 at the time of challenge launch.

How are the next steps in the challenge?
As I said, we launched the challenge on November 29, and people are hard at work. Schematic submissions are due on January 16. The submission process is actually very interesting and showcases a unique capability of efabless. When the designer completes the band gap design, he or she submits the design through an automated verify-to-spec process.

In this process, we highlight where each design passes or fails and specifically show the full spectrum of conditions for each parameter and how the design complied or did not. Once the design is finished, simulated and completed to the designer’s satisfaction, it is submitted for final entry and we can then automatically and quickly confirm compliance with specs and rank order all of the entries by the challenge metric, lowest power.

We will announce the three finalists on the January 20[SUP]th[/SUP]. In order to qualify for the final prizes the designs need to proceed through layout which is due on February 20. We recognize that not all designers may want to complete layout, so finalists can request that efabless complete layout for them, in which case, efabless will retain $1,500 of the prizes.

We would encourage all designers, regardless of whether they make the finals or not, to continue through layout of a finished design. All designs that successfully do so will be made available to X-FAB customers through the X-FAB IP Portal and through our marketplace.

Tell us about your marketplace.
The efabless marketplace is unique as it is not limited to just offering the customer IP search and referral. Because it is integrated with our design platform, our marketplace allows the customer to access the available IP immediately as an integrator without exposing the design proprietary information. From the designer’s perspective, our marketplace enables them to “showcase” their IP differentiation right on the platform while protecting their proprietary information.

Today we offer the X-FAB Analog IP blocks library for its 350 nm process. That’s above and beyond the complete foundation IP. Going forward we will include IP for other nodes and IP from established IP vendors and foundries.

As we move through February, you will see us expand the features and functions of the marketplace to include more IP’s as well as options to bring in existing IP’s or verified open source IP to showcase community members and the IP that they define and design on our site. We will offer user profiles that includes badges and IP ratings earned and derived through our platform. Both users and IP will be searchable by customers looking for off the shelf and custom solutions.

Customers and community members will be able to access this library of IP, and incorporate various IPs in designs and simulate them before buying. Our “try before you buy” concept is a part of our value added to customers, IP vendors and community members and is a valuable element of lowering the constraints to semiconductor innovation.

Other than the great turnout; any surprises?
I don’t know that I would call it a surprise but I am thrilled with how engaged our community has been with their feedback. We encourage and have received lots of questions and comments through our “help” request tab. We have found that community members are actually chiming in during our webinars to share experiences and help one another as questions come up. Webinar and support – community style. Very cool. We will be taking all of the feedback and adding them to our “Knowledge Base” part of the site. Keep in mind that we will be learning a lot more from (and about) community dynamics as we run more challenges.

Let me probe again on “what next”
You should expect to see additional challenges after we get into the New Year. These will include an efabless-defined sponsored challenge series with cash prizes, “points” and badges for work-based recognition. These challenges will be structured to a) grow the community and b) to further enrich our IP library offering.

We also want to encourage the community to search the X-FAB portal and identify areas of opportunity for new IPs. We will be seeking out similar opportunities for the benefit of the community but we are firm believers that the community is the best source of true insight and creativity.

Final thoughts?
I appreciate your support and am excited about your additional awards of $500 apiece for winners that are SemiWiki subscribers as of the first of the year. Happy New Years to you, Dan, and to the SemiWiki community.

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