A4A: Asynchronous design for analogue electronics

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering


Succinctly, this research is about developing and applying asynchronous design methods, which were traditionally focused on digital systems, to the analogue world.
Power management ICs, for example, are becoming an area of rapid growth in research - the size, performance and energy requirements, as well as the overall holistic nature of modern ICT system engineering, call for a much more radical innovation in power converter and controller design than ever before. The overall market value for power management ICs had sales revenue of USD 16.9 billion in 2012 and is forecast to rise to USD 26 billion by 2018 (forecast CAGR ca. 7%), with total shipments of analogue devices forecast to jump 14% in 2013 - total sales revenue USD 41 billion). While errors in digital (data) paths are becoming less critical thanks to techniques such as approximate computing and smarter quality of service management, analogue blocks are becoming much more of a weakest link in new ICT systems.
The design of analogue circuits must be functionally correct to avoid catastrophic failures that would affect the entire system. Besides the functional correctness of design, the efficiency of analogue circuits, particularly of the power converters themselves, is a problem as they are becoming a significant energy drain, particularly when the data processing parts are idle.
The scope of this project is focused on the new design methods and tools that will support the digital electronics which is underneath the analogue circuits. In contrast with the data processing digital hardware ("big digital"), this layer of logic, responsible for controlling analogue blocks, can be named "little digital".
The issue of provable correctness is lagging far behind in the current practice of analogue engineering compared to digital systems. Analogue design with "little digital" is largely done by analogue engineers without any formal steps from the specification to netlists. No synthesis tools are available.
The project's main goal is to develop a new digital design methodology to be integrated in the process of developing predominantly analogue systems or subsystems of larger ICT systems. This methodology will use asynchronous design principles, specifications, modelling and associated tool support that would be able to address the following four main criteria:
1) Robustness of the digital and the whole hybrid system solution. This will enable building systems that are speed-independent, i.e. operate according to specifications (without glitches and hazards) in a wide dynamic range of PVT variations.
2) Clarity of specifications. The new model underpinning will eliminate the current practice of ad hoc design of the analogue systems with non-existent specification for digital control. Due to the continuous nature of analogue signals, the models for asynchronous logic like Signal Transition Graphs (STGs) will need to be modified and made suitable for the use by analogue designers.
3) Compositional design. The novel models based on Conditional Partial Order Graphs (CPOGs) will address the multitude of modes occurred in analogue circuits and enable specification, synthesis and verification of complex hybrid systems.
4) Automation is crucial. It will eliminate the current practice of manual design of hybrid circuits and days of simulation to validate their correctness. The new asynchronous for analogue (A4A) tools will radically improve design productivity of analogue engineers by introducing automated synthesis and formal verification flow.
These criteria will essentially mark our research path with the signposts of what is significant to our aims, and where we expect to achieve measurable outcomes. They have been corroborated by our main industrial partner Dialog Semiconductor, who are willing to use asynchronous design in developing their analogue IP solutions for applications in Mobile Systems, Wireless Connectivity, Automotive and Industrial sectors.

Planned Impact

The scientific aims of the project support, apart from the main focus which is pushing EDA forward in spite of limitations such as the utilization wall, the development of techniques for electronic systems of both analogue and digital nature. Applications could be the enabling technologies for Mobile, Wireless Connectivity, Automotive etc. The transfer of results and skills to these areas will be carried out via our main industrial partner Dialog Semiconductor, who is providing a wide range of solutions to developers of next generation embedded systems. The costs of errors in analogue power electronics is phenomenally high and may effect anyone who uses embedded appliances, hence it is an important societal issue to improve the design processes.

This project brings together two areas of engineering, power electronics and digital systems design, which are traditionally separate, providing the opportunity to learn and to create systems that perform reliably and efficiently. This will create a common language for much needed systems engineers who work at the boundary of analogue and digital electronics with a significant leverage of EDA tools. Project staff will spend time at a leading multinational Dialog Semiconductor, providing the project team with manufacturing and additional research experience. The project will allow the project team to train up postdoc RAs and PhD students in most recent techniques, and it will underpin University teaching of important areas of microelectronic design and ultra-efficient power electronic control for a variety of applications. EDA tools developed in this project will significantly improve design productivity in analogue systems industry.

The developed techniques will enhance efficiency, operability and performance of microelectronics design which is currently challenging to modern electronics. The project will shed light on how to design analogue systems with asynchronous digital components, maintaining correctness and efficiency in power and performance. The developed methods will be presented to the wider community in an international workshop organized by the project. Throughout the project, courses and tutorials will be delivered at conferences, as is current practice by team members already (DATE 2013, DDECS 2010, ASYNC 2010). The first such dissemination tutorial for this project is planned for PATMOS'14. The PI will adopt new ideas in the modules involving asynchronous circuits that he teaches to MSc at Newcastle.

The market for electronics in the UK is substantial, with 14.4% of the European consumer electronics value [http://www.ukti.gov.uk/investintheuk/sectoropportunities/electronicsithardware.html]. Electronics is also the foundation of the ICT industry where the UK market is the largest in Europe valued at £140 billion and of the communications industry with a UK market value of £45 billion."The UK is home to 40% of Europe's electronics design industry" and the UK electronics design industry "directly contributes in excess of £16 billion to the UK GDP and provides direct employment for over 300,000 people in 12,000 companies" [same reference as above]. The UK is leading research and development in power and many-core architectures, with many applications in embedded systems and cyber-physical systems. Several UK companies, such as Dialog, although multinational, have significant and highly qualified workforce in the UK, particularly in power electronics and design methodologies. There are also UK SME's offering niche analogue solutions for creating on-chip sensors, monitors, etc. (e.g. Moortec).
This proposed research will enable UK industry to extend such niches into creating on-chip systems with analogue and mixed signal components, and development of EDA tools for this domain. Our collaboration with Dialog Semiconductors, among other planned disseminations to industry, will facilitate this bridge.


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Description There are interesting opportunities for applying asynchronous design in analog and mixed signal systems
Exploitation Route Dialog Semiconductor are supporting developments of our CAD software tools under Workcraft
Sectors Education,Electronics,Energy

URL https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/alexyakovlev/category/energetic-computing/
Description The collaboration with Dialog Semiconductor has been extended. Several more industrial tutorials have been given and discussions with the company representatives took place. Another industrial training course on Workcraft was given to Analog Devices in 2018
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Education,Electronics,Energy
Impact Types Economic

Description Asynchronous Design Automation 
Organisation Dialog Semiconductor
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Development of methodology, design flow and tools for asynchronous control of analog-mixed signal electronics
Collaborator Contribution Provision of R&D case studies and guidance on design methodologies and tools
Impact Research papers and tools.
Start Year 2014
Description Collaboration with Dialog Semiconductor 
Organisation Dialog Semiconductor
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Providing R&D and tool support for automated design of asynchronous circuits
Collaborator Contribution Supporting developments of both open source software and company service, funding a PhD scholarship at Newcastle
Impact Publications, software, training courses
Start Year 2015
Title Workcraft 
Description Workcraft is a flexible framework for the development of Interpreted Graph Models, including visual editing, (co-)simulation, synthesis and formal verification. These actions are carried out either directly or by mapping a model into a behaviourally equivalent model of a different type, usually a Petri net. With Workcraft, the user can design a system using the most appropriate formalism (or even different formalisms for the subsystems), while still utilising the power of Petri net analysis techniques. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2014 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact The applications of the Workcraft framework are wide-ranging: from modelling concurrent algorithms and biological systems to designing asynchronous electronic circuits and investigating crimes. This software is used in the semiconductor industry for designing consumer electronics (e.g. Dialog Semiconductor) and in the academia for teaching principles of modelling causality and concurrency (e.g. Newcastle University). Since 2014, there were 27 public releases of Workcraft software that were downloaded over 15,000 times from 3,500 unique IPs. 
URL https://workcraft.org
Description Blog on Energetic Computing 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This blog is intended to communicate my views on a number of topics around Energy-Modulated Computing, such as Energy-driven computing, Real Power Computing, Electromagnetism, Causality, Asynchronous Circuits and Systems etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017,2018,2019,2020
URL https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/alexyakovlev/
Description Interview to IET on the IET Achievement Award 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was awarded an Achievement Medal by IET and gave a brief interview expressing how my research impacts industry and academia.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://conferences.theiet.org/achievement/winners/achievement/achieve-medals-winners.cfm