Chinese Embedded Design Contest Offers Insight

Reviewing the list of first-, second, and third-place winners reveals the technology direction of China’s university/industrial embedded-development community.

By John Blyler, Editorial Director

In recent years, many have speculated about the trends in China’s home-grown technology and related global-patent problems. Few real insights have emerged. According to the often-cited 2011 Financial Times Alphaville report:

“… we suspect that these data mostly just tell the typical story of China’s rise up the technology value chain and its use of industrial policy to accelerate growth on the back of already-existing technologies.”

Perhaps another way to gauge the direction of China’s internal technology is by looking at designs coming out of the country’s university-industrial complex.
Although admittedly biased, one place to start is the annual Intel Cup Undergraduate Electronic Design Contest – Embedded System Design Invitational. The bi-yearly event was initiated by the Chinese government, hosted by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and has been solely sponsored by Intel Corp. since 2002.

The contest provides an opportunity for undergraduate students to design a working system based on an assigned Intel embedded platform over a period of three months. Each team consists of three members and a faculty mentor.

This year’s winning project was a Chinese sign-language translation system that helps deaf individuals communicate with the hearing world.
What do the runner-up projects tell us about the direction of Chinese technology? Unfortunately, not much. As you can see from the list of first-, second-, and third-place winners (see Appendix), most designs seem typical of embedded projects in the U.S. and Europe. Perhaps more telling was the interesting wording and specific topical focus of various projects, such as the following:

• Fresh Food Every Day from Intel ATOM-Processor Icebox
• Fairy in the car
• Prison On Fire – A monitoring system based on the “Internet of things” and video-analysis technology
• Happy Chess Player

The list of university-Intel partnered projects seems little different from similar contests held in other parts of the world. This seems to confirm the findings of the earlier analysis by the Financial Times.

Still, this similarity verifies the universal importance of embedded applications in the medical, automotive, and consumer markets. For semiconductor intellectual-property (IP) system-on-a-chip (SoC) designers, this emphasizes the importance of designing chips that easily integrate with board-level hardware and software. The march toward system-level design (e.g., Cadence’s EDA360 approach) continues!

blyler_john John Blyler is the editorial director of Extension Media, which publishes Chip Design and Embedded Intel® Solutions magazine, plus over 36 EECatalog Engineers’ Guides in vertical market areas.