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Building in a virtual world

Are virtual systems prototypes the answer to truly reusable design platforms? By Linda Prowse Fosler.

When asked about the effectiveness of platform based design, one world wise and battle scarred engineering director said: “It’s just great…once you have a platform worth reusing.” When asked about the value of prototyping, the cynic added: “Given the amount a [hardware] prototype costs and where it comes in the schedule, I’d be better off just shipping the hardware.”
As the world of complex systems design continues to grapple with painful tradeoffs – the cost of development, functionality, usability, quality, time to market, robustness, power consumption and a host of other factors – the quiet revolutions of platform based design (pbd) and virtual systems prototyping (vsp) have been advancing from the fringe of early adopters to the mainstream of design.
In its simplest definition, pbd can be thought of as the canonisation of the informal architectural process used for decades by creative, but too busy hardware, software and mechanical engineers to create a new control system for a product. For years, they have begun new designs by reaching into their desks and pulling out the last, similar ‘good’ design to see how much could be reused.
Jean-Marc Chateau of ST Microelectronics has defined platform based design as: “…the creation of a stable microprocessor-based architecture that can be rapidly extended, customised for a range of applications, and delivered to customers for quick deployment.” The concept of a hardware pbd is improving time to market and reducing costs at ST, Nokia, Erickson, TI and many other organisations.

Linda Prowse Fosler

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