Former ARM executives at helm of analog IP startup

Former ARM executives at helm of analog IP startup

Business news |
By Peter Clarke

Peter Hutton, a former executive vice president at ARM, is chairman. Tim Ramsdale, a former vice president of engineering and general manager of the imaging and vision business at ARM, is the CEO. However, even though the company was founded in August 2017, it is still saying very little about itself. A “de-cloaking” of the company is expected soon.

On a networking website for Cambridge, Agile Analog claims it to have design automation technology that will enable its engineers to design analog IP faster than the competition, to a higher quality, and on any silicon manufacturing process.

That brief statement does not say whether Agile Analog will be able to retarget different silicon manufacturing process easily, which would be a boon, or whether it will be able to address more exotic compound semiconductor manufacturing processes such as gallium-arsenide, silicon-carbide or gallium-nitride.

It is notable that “agile engineering” is a recognized approach to software development that is not yet often applied in hardware engineering. The “agile” approach favours fast delivery to the customer of working prototypes, together with rapid iteration and testing of multiple instantiations of the product. This contrasts to the more familiar project management approach that puts substantial requirements capture and set up phases up front followed by detailed design and concluding with test. The project only delivers at the end of the process and if it then requires an iteration this can be expensive in engineering time and missed market opportunities. Agile engineering is said to produce shorter development times and copes better with late changes in specification but it remains unclear as to whether this is where Agile Analog is adding value.

Agile Analog’s interest in the analog sector makes sense. While ARM may be a testament to the power of digital IP, that is now a market where the barriers to entry are lower and the competition is higher (see ARM, MIPS, Imagination lose IP market share). And this is mainly due to increasingly sophisticated and abstract EDA and software development tools.

Next: Automating analog circuit design

As a result there is a growing interest in how to automate analog design that, until now, has been seen as a highly-demanding activity and one that must be done at low levels of abstraction by skilled professionals.

A number of companies are emerging to address the analog IP market and reducing the time to characterized and performant IP would clearly be a market advantage. Startups in this area include Movellus Inc., Palma Ceia Semidesign Inc. and Thalia Ltd.

Agile Analog would appear to be the brainchild of leading shareholder and co-founder Michael Hulse, who serves the company as CTO.

On his LinkedIn page Hulse states that he has introduced technical innovations and commercial strategies to improve design productivity, design quality and schedule predictability in analogue, digital and mixed-signal integrated circuit engineering. So it is clear that productivity in design automation is his area of expertise.

In October 2013 Hulse was the founder of Anaic Ltd. but that company was acquired by the newly formed Agile Analog Ltd. in December 2017, suggesting that the technology behind Agile Analog may have a longer history. Anaic may or may not stand for analog IC. Prior to Anaic, Hulse was director of another company – IPICSi Ltd. – that appears to have had a focus on design productivity.

And before that Hulse was spent time as an engineer and engineering manager with STMicroelectronics, Standard Microsystems Corp., National Semiconductor and CSR Ltd. His five years at CSR included two as director of analog design automation.

With Agile Analog Hulse appears to have tapped into the ex- and current ARM network.

Chairman Peter Hutton is a former executive vice president at ARM who left the processor IP licensor in March 2017 and moved into consultancy and venture capital. Before joining ARM Hutton was at Wolfson Microelectronics and EDA company Cadence Design Systems.

CEO Ramsdale’s pedigree includes ARM and ten years at Broadcom, including six years as vice president of engineering. Prior to that he was a senior engineer at that well-known Cambridge proving ground Alphamosaic Ltd.

Next: Others of significance

Agile Analog also has on the board Mark Redford, ARM’s vice president of emerging technology, Eric Gunn, a former COO at Gold Standard Simulations and SureCore Ltd. and before that an account director for TSMC and European general manager for Global UniChip Corp.

Hutton spoke to eeNews Europe but with the caveat that the company is still in stealth mode and that not much could be said. He made the point that contemporary analog IP companies tend to be highly specialized but that what they do is essentially skilled manual engineering. “Why would you go into analog IP unless it is to offer a reasonably wide IP portfolio?” Hutton asked. He added: “I worked at Cadence in the 1980s and 1990s. It seems to me that analog EDA has not moved on much since when I was there.”

Agile Analog is hiring with openings listed on its website for a senior analog IC design engineer and senior software engineer.

Related links and articles:

News articles:

ARM agrees to be bought by Japan’s SoftBank

Thalia to offer analog schematic porting

Stata joins Intel in backing Movellus

ARM, MIPS, Imagination lose IP market share

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