Of course the biggest news story of 2020 was the Covid-19 pandemic, and electronic engineers followed the technology developments closely, from the development of ventilators to the impact on the supply chain. But it was a paper from a US research laboratory on the physics of sneezing that was the most read article of the year. High speed imaging that showed how far a sneeze reaches, with the implications for the transmission of Covid-19 in the early days of the pandemic.

The UK’s ventilator challenge was followed closely, along with a low cost ventilator design for global markets and new ways to tackle the virus, while new tests continue to be a strong area of interest all through the year.

ARM and Nvidia

The ARM acquisition has also been a key theme during the year as it was not a surprise. Various companies, including Cadence Design Systems and Samsung were considering their options through 2020 before Nvidia announced its intention to buy the UK-based IP developer from Softbank for $40bn. The deal, one of the largest in the industry in recent years, has highlighted considerable concerns about how IP is sourced, and driving significant interest in the RISC-V open source instruction set architecture.

Unlike ADI’s proposed acquisition of Maxim Integrated, the ARM-Nvidia deal is vulnerable to geopolitics and trade war negotiations, with the Chinese authorities reluctant to approve the deal in the face of Nvidia’s confidence and experience with the acquisition of Mellanox.

Machine learning and AI 

Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence has been a strong trend during the year. Facebook’s chief AI scientist was very forthright about the technology trends in Europe in a keynote speech at CEA-Leti in July. The issues of benchmarking and bias in AI frameworks as they move to the edge of the network are also key issues as the technology moves to more specialised devices.

5nm process technology and below 

Despite worries that Moore’s Law is struggling, there was plenty of interest in the roll out of the latest 5nm process technology at TSMC and its customers. With 3nm getting ready and moves to 2nm, there is plenty of drive for the next generation of chip technology.

Space systems

Space systems are also increasingly in vogue. Several low earth orbit satellite constellations are planned or launching to provide broadband, positioning or imaging capabilities, but the details of the SpaceX satellite servers were a highly popular article throughout the year. The bankruptcy of OneWeb and subsequent deal with the UK government, and new LEO constellations are driving new space technologies. 

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