Build A Low-Cost, Custom SoC In Just Weeks - Maker Faire

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We chatted with Ming Zhang, co-founder and CEO of zGlue, a company that is going to revolutionize access to smaller systems in a way that is much cheaper and faster than traditional SoCs while much smaller than discrete components on PCBs. Using what he refers to as a 2.5D chip stacking technology and a proprietary integration technology, you can fit processors, sensors, PMICs, communication devices, as well as passives so you can design an entire system on a chip in days, and then have it manufactured in weeks. With the reduced costs, now small businesses and makers can create small, low-power products that used to only be possible for companies with millions at their disposal.

We’ve been discussing doing a hardware project at CircuitBread/SwellFox that would benefit from this, so we’re planning on picking up a dev kit ourselves to see if this will be a good solution for us. If you want to learn more, go check out their site at http://www.zglue.com/ and they’re also allowing preorders of the zOrigin until the end of June 2018 here - https://www.crowdsupply.com/zglue/zor....

Ming: We have created a platform to allow everybody here to build a chip in weeks rather than years. Chips have always been built by bigger companies, Fortune 500 companies in years with millions of dollars. Now every one of us can do it in weeks.

Josh: Okay, so how have you made it go from years and millions of dollars to just a few weeks.

Ming: There’s three technical components to it. I probably won't bore you with a lot of details. Let me just focus on the key elements. The first part is to choose the elements carefully in terms of features, you can select features as off the shelf components, very quickly. The second step is to stack the features as components on the substrate. And the third one is to build a system. So everything can be done in minutes in the selection stage, and probably minutes in the stack phase and days in the build phase. That's fundamentally why it's fast. Normally SoC design manufacturing takes months and years because you have to design a very complicated layout and it goes through a complicated manufacturing process. None of that is relevant here. That's why it's fast.

Josh: And do you have any special technology that makes you unique in being able to do this?

Ming: There are three vectors of a technology portfolio that we have. One most important pieces is what we call a Smart Fabric. It's a programmable, active silicon interposer. I know there's a lot of technical jargon, but think of it as a Lego board that's really tiny, that's programmable and the reason why you want to have it is because you have one board that works with multiple designs. So that's fundamentally why you can have a really fast time to market because you don't have to actually manufacture it. That's the first piece. The second piece of the technology is a software that allows automatic generation of such a system, you don't want to draw a system manually based on the customer input every single time you get it. You want to be able to build 10, 100,000, 1,000,000 quickly – the only way is to have a software that does this. And the third piece is a database of all the components we have here of the chiplet’s components. It's a database that captures the information about the quality and the features of the blocks. So the three pieces together, the smart fabric, which is a programmable substrate, the software which is called zCAD, and then the chiplet database. Those three things together form the technology foundation for this to happen.

Josh: Excellent. So we have this right here. Is this a demonstration of what it actually looks like?

Ming: This is the real thing. Yes. This is absolutely a real demonstration of what happens here.

Josh: And I think this is a great way to see the scale on the screen, it looks very big. But as you can see, the final product is quite small, smaller than my finger.

Ming: It’s quite small, yeah. Typically, if you were to build it in a traditional module or technology, it would be several centimeters square, so probably four times, maybe six times bigger than this. This is really not just a chip. It's a meta chip or chip of chips that encompasses the entire system that was never possible before in a single form from a single chip.

Josh: And is this available right now?

Ming: This is available right now and we invite all of you to come to the Crowd Supply website to pre-order it.

Josh: Awesome Is there anything else you'd like to share with us about your product?

Ming: I think the vision we have is to enable and everyone here to be able to build a customized chip for your own product. You don't have to be one of the Fortune 500 companies. You don't have to have a million dollar budget. You don't have to wait for several years to have a chip in your hands. So you can do all of this on your own, with our technology, both hard and soft, and this is becoming real as we speak now.

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