When it comes to travelling long distances, Americans tend to rely on planes, while the Chinese and Europeans love their high speed rail. However, a new technology promises greater speed with lower fares, with fancy pods travelling in large tubes held at near-vacuum pressures. It goes by the name of Hyperloop.
In this age of headlines that use the b-word in place of nine zeros it’s easy to lose track, so you may be wondering, didn’t SoftBank just buy Arm? That was all the way back in July of 2016 to the tune of $32 billion. SoftBank is a holding company, so that deal didn’t ruffle any feathers, but this week’s move by Nvidia might.
Arm Limited is the company behind the ARM architecture, but they don’t actually produce the chips themselves, instead licensing them to other companies who pay a fee to use the core design and build their own chip around it. Nvidia licenses the ARM core for some of their chips, and with this deal they will be in a position to set terms for how their competitors may license the ARM core. The deal still needs regulatory approval so time will tell if this becomes a kink in the acquisition plan.
Chances are you know the Nvidia name for their role as purveyors of fine graphics cards. They got a major boost as the world ramped up Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency mining hardware which early on was mainly based on the heavy lifting of graphics processors. But the company also has their eye on the ongoing wave of hardware targeting AI applications like computer vision. Nvidia’s line of Jetson boards, marketed for “next-generation autonomous machines”, all feature ARM cores.
Assuming the deal goes through without a hitch, what will be the fallout? Your guess is as good ours. There is certainly a conflict of interest in a company who competes in the ARM market owning the Arm. But it’s impossible to say what efforts they will make to firewall those parts of the business. Some might predict a mass exodus from the ARM ecosystem in favor of an open standard like RISC-V, but that is unlikely in the near-term. Momentum is difficult to overcome — look at how long it took ARM to climb that mountain and it was primarily the advent of a new mobile ecosystem lacking an established dominant player that let ARM thrive.
To the open source community, thank-you for pointing out a new bitstream usage restriction in the Lattice Propel license. We are excited about the community’s engagement with Lattice devices and our intent is to not hinder the creation of innovative open source FPGA tools.
It’s refreshing then to see this announcement from Lattice Semiconductor. Even more so is the unexpected turn of speed with which they have done so, within a couple of days of it being discovered by the open-source community. We report depressingly often on boneheaded legal moves from corporations intent on curbing open source uses of their products. This announcement from Lattice removes what was an admonition opposing open source toolchains, can we hope that the company will continue yesterday’s gesture and build a more lasting relationship with the open source community?
The underlying point to this story is that in the world of electronics there has long been an understanding that hardware hackers drive product innovation which will later lead to more sales. Texas Instruments would for years supply samples of exotic semiconductors to impecunious students for one example, and maybe you have a base-model Rigol oscilloscope with a tacitly-approved software hack that gives it an extra 50MHz of bandwidth for another.
We can only congratulate Lattice on their recognition that open source use of their products is beneficial for them, and wish that some of the other companies triggering similar stories would see the world in the same way. Try interacting more with your open source fans; they know and love your hardware more than the average user and embracing that could mean a windfall for you down the road.
The topic of reverse engineering is highly contentious at best when it comes to software and hardware development. Ever since the configuration protocol (bitstream) for Lattice Semiconductor’s iCE40 FPGAs was published in 2015 through reverse engineering efforts, there has been a silent war between proponents of open bitstream protocols and FPGA manufacturers, with the Lattice ECP5’s bitstream format having been largely reverse-engineered at this point.
Most recently, it appears that Lattice has fired a fresh shot across the bow of the open source projects. A recently discovered addition to the Propel SDK, which contains tools to program and debug Lattice devices, specifically references bitstream reverse engineering. When logged in with an account on the company’s website the user must agree to the Lattice Propel License Agreement for Lattice Propel 1.0 prior to download. That document includes the following language:
In particular, no right is granted hereunder […] (3) for reverse engineering a bitstream format or other signaling protocol of any Lattice Semiconductor Corporation programmable logic device.
We’re trying to figure out whether Sonos was doing the right thing, and it’s getting to the point where we need pins, a corkboard, and string. Sonos had been increasing the functionality of its products and ran into a problem as they hit a technical wall. How would they keep the old speakers working with the new speakers? Their solution was completely bizarre to a lot of people.
First, none of the old speakers would receive updates anymore. Which is sad, but not unheard of. Next they mentioned that if you bought a new speaker and ran it on the same network as an old speaker, neither speaker would get updates. Which came off as a little hostile, punishing users for upgrading to newer products.
The final bit of weirdness was their solution for encouraging users to ditch their old products. They called it, “trading in for a 30% discount”, but it was something else entirely. If a user went into the system menu of an old device and selected to put it in “Recycle Mode” the discount would be activated on their account. Recycle Mode would then, within 30 days, brick the device. There was no way to cancel this, and once the device was bricked it wouldn’t come back. The user was then instructed to take the Sonos to a recycling center where it would be scrapped. Pictures soon began to surface of piles of bricked Sonos’s. There would be no chance to sell, repair, or otherwise keep alive what is still a fully functioning premium speaker system.
Why would a company do this to their customers and to themselves? Join me below for a guided tour of how the downsides of IoT ecosystem may have driven this choice.
Developing a product and getting it out there to build a business is really hard. Whether it’s a single person acting alone to push their passion to the public, or a giant corporation with vast resources, everyone has to go through the same basic steps, and everyone needs to screw those steps up in the same way.
The reality is that the whole process needs to involve lots of aspects in order to succeed; small teams fail by not considering or dedicating resources to all of those aspects, and large teams fail by not having enough communication between the teams working on those pieces. But in truth, it’s a balance of many aspects that unlock a chance at a successful product. It’s worth recognizing this balance and seeking it out in your own product development efforts, whether you’re a one-engineer juggernaut or a large, established company.
Back in October 2018, a bombshell rocked the tech industry when Bloomberg reported that some motherboards made by Supermicro had malicious components on them that were used to spy or interfere with the operation of the board, and that these motherboards were found on servers used by Amazon and Apple. We covered the event, looking at how it could work if it were true. Now seven months have passed, and it’s time to look at how things shook out.