Dream Fellowship: Energy-Modulated Computing

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Electrical, Electronic & Computer Eng


This is both a unique opportunity and a challenge for me as I set my aims at identifying a coherent set of problems to work on after this Fellowship. Such challenges are sometimes associated with searching not only for solutions to what we don't know, but also for the things we don't know that we don't know. My main area has for years been electronic systems engineering. By thinking and engaging creative processes in this area, it is first of all important to see where calls for creativity originate. Obviously, these calls come from real life, from the needs of society and industries where electronics is enabling technology. Focusing further, such calls can be found in the links and synergies between the pivotal areas of ICT, which increasingly share common values and criteria: quality of service, usability, cost-efficiency, performance, dependability, and how they interact with the provision of resources. Semiconductor technology permits formidable concentration of electronic devices and electrical power on small areas of a silicon die. At the same time, engineering processes, involving software and hardware, can no longer sustain this growth; they require the design and test processes to be much more resource-conscious. Green, energy-frugal, power-proportional are qualities of computer systems that people begin to use now. Numerous examples bring up the issue of resource and energy-awareness into computing and electronics. From the energy supply perspective, battery life, energy harvesting, power control and regulation are changing systems engineering practices. From the energy consumption viewpoint, the high end of the spectrum is occupied by mammoth data plants (e.g. Google plant in Oregon was estimated to require 103MWatt of power, enough to supply every home in Newcastle). In the middle, there are many-core chips, such as Intel's 48-core SCC, consuming between 25-125W. The low end of the spectrum is systems that interface to biological organisms, where power constraints are at the level of microwatts. Over the years system design methodologies developed completely relying on feature scaling and availability of as many resources as needed in order to satisfy their performance appetites. However, architecting systems solely on the principles of hierarchy and object-orientation, without proper account of underlying resources often leads to inefficiency, likewise does the full decentralisation of control and distribution of resources on principles of local optima.

One of the important achievements of this fellowship could be obtaining an evolutionary roadmap for electronic system design which is "modulated" by the energy aspect. In working towards this goal, I will think about issues involving energy characterisation of components and devices of different functionality and nature, interplay between energy and dependability, power constraints and quality of service, an idea of "energetic effort" for design criteria, possible role of game-theoretic approaches in resource-driven computing and various modelling and meta-modelling techniques, as well as design automation issues.
The other two important achievements would be: knowledge-transfer routes for providing industry with new design paradigms, methodologies and tools for energy-frugal systems, as well as mechanisms for enthusing a new generation of your researchers about creativity.

Planned Impact

The main impact on both academic and industrial communities will be in spreading vision that resource awareness is fundamental in desgining future computer systems, and energy oplays the key role in that. This aspect will also directly and indirectly contribute to the impact-driven EPSRC strategic areas: Digital economy, Energy, Global Uncertainties, Living with Environmental Change, Next generation of Healthcare.

Another important form of impact will be through spreading creativity in research, again to academics and practitioners.

In electronic system design, bold creativity may not be easily manifested because the evolution of this area strongly depends on progress in materials and devices and at the same time on the requirements coming from applications. System design is therefore "sandwiched" between these two layers of technological and economic drive, and its creativity is often hidden from the global perception. This sometimes results in the misleading trivialization of system design as a discipline that "simply" maps functional specifications to configurations of known components. This narrow view contributes to the fact that grant proposals in the area of system design are often regarded by others as insufficiently adventurous. It is often underestimated that system design is actually multifaceted, can be full of creativity, and that its innovation is paramount for the success of all developments in ICT.
In the context of this fellowship I see the importance of cultural changes that need to be encouraged amongst my colleagues and research assistants, in order to help them realise their potential, raise the profile of their research, attract more funding and better students. The areas and methods of developing creativity that I am going to promote come from my own experience: (1) searching for analogies in adjacent disciplines (e.g. graph theory, control theory, mathematical programming), in different disciplines, such as biology, architecture, economics, and of course, in real-life; (2) working with examples and case studies, coming from industry, from other research groups, from papers and books; (3) building bridges and links between theories, techniques, models and expression forms; extending frontiers of problem domains, breaking barriers between different "compartments" within one discipline; thinking holistically.
With the chosen direction of thinking, both from the viewpoint of a particular design paradigm as well as in the broader perspective of the evolution of system design and engineering methodologies, I believe I should be able to construct interesting energy-related scenarios which will enable me in promoting creativity by means of examples.
I will continue using brainstorming meetings, seminars, task groups (involving circuit design, model development, software tools, commercialisation opportunities), inviting speakers with high creativity track records, people from industry, other domains of knowledge (e.g. Greenstreet from UBC, Cortadella from UPC Barcelona, Rozenberg from Leiden University, Marchal from IMEC).
Interdisciplinarity is an important tool in promoting creativity. There are numerous examples of how researchers in analogue and digital electronics have boosted their creativity by starting to work on challenging problems in biomedical applications. For example, building a piece of technology innovation for medical research or patient use will increasingly involve creation of systems with mixed functionality, such as power supply, sensors, data processing, control, communications. In the past, designing along such functionalities meant designing sub-systems, albeit, connected but still not to the level that is required today by the demands for miniaturization, limited budgets of energy supply, tight data coupling, strict safety and security requirements. Promoting holistic approach will thus be essential.
Description There has been an important scientific links established between energy flux (Poynting Vector, Heaviside Signals) and computing.
Exploitation Route These ideas can be used to establish a new form of computing - Electromagnetic Computing
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy,Environment

URL https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsta.2017.0449
Description There has been several important involvements with industry and research organisations in the last year. Yakovlev gave a talk on the automation of asynchronous design for little digital electronics as part of analogue and mixed signal systems at an UK NMI event in May 2016, and then a 3 hour tutorial at IEEE conference ICECS'16 in Monaco in December 2016. Yakovlev also gave a talk on Power-Compute Codesign at the ARM Research Summit in Cambridge in September 2016.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Electronics
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 This is a self powered voltage sensor, which can be used in energy harvesting systems and power constrained systems. 
IP Reference US9121871 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2015
Licensed No
Impact It has led to new types of sensing in power constrained systems. This patent is likely to be included in portfolio of a planned spinout in the field of pervasive and energy-autonomous AI hardware.
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