Less Spaghetti; More Asparagus, Says NXP CTO

Spaghetti or Asparagus? NXP reckons we’re moving from spaghetti-like electronics systems design to asparagus-like systems design.

“Systems have become very complex. In terms of the architectural challenge it is phenomenal”, says Rene Penning de Vries, CTO of NXP, “there’s a tendency, from the old days, to have solutions that are spaghetti-like – where everything is working with each other. We need more to go to solutions that are more asparagus-like – from absolutely inter-tangled, to weakly-cobbled systems.”

“So the idea is to create a sub-system in multi-media, in connectivity, and make that sub-system self-contained and correct. The integration to bigger entities is still a challenge, but a challenge of direction, and not a challenge to the content of the sub-system itself, ” adds de Vries. “It’s about plug and play”, says de Vries, “we want in a chip to be able to decide: Yes I need high quality multimedia, and to have a kind of tool-box which allows you to pick that function, and integrate it in a chip, including the drivers, plus the software. Without the obligation for it to reach to everything the moment you have put it together.”

“We see the challenge in almost every aspect of our business”, continues de Vries, “in cellular, because that’s s where all those things are getting together, but also in automotive. The car as a system is getting is so complex that it is getting almost to the point of being unpredictable if an aspect is changed in the system.” “Very high quality cars went through a lot of concerns and a lot of quality issues when a new level of electronics was introduced in a system”, adds de Vries, “in a car, there is a big desire to have weakly-cobbled systems, systems that are only remotely dependent on each other. If something goes wrong with the navigation, you don’t want it to have interference with any of the other characteristics in a car.” “Also in a car you need weakly cobbled systems, systems that are only remotely dependent on each other. If something goes wrong with the navigation you don’t want it to affect the other parts of the car. It’s like a PC. You want to add a function to a PC without it affecting the rest of the system.”

“It’s going to be more complex”, concludes de Vries, “so the question is: How do we manage complexity? By bringing it back to manageable parts. And a manageable part, in my view, is a sub-system that is either a connectivity module, or a computing module, or a multi-media module.”


One comment

  1. Asparagus isn’t my favorite vegetable, but I like the analogy. The interview underscores the hellishly difficult challenge inherent in systems design — something that led to the demise of an ambitious program in the US to develop a new generation of spy satellites, recently chronicled in the excellent 11/07 NYT article — Death of a Spy Satellite Program: “Another factor was a decline of American expertise in systems engineering, the science and art of managing complex engineering to weigh risks, gauge feasibility, test components and ensure that the pieces come together smoothly….”

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