One of the biggest changes to happen to Computer Science and Engineering education in recent years is the introduction of System on Chip (SoC) Design as a central theme. As the Internet of Things (IoT) advances and, with it, an ever increasing array of sophisticated technologies have emerged. It is essential that students understand the fundamentals of SoC Design to prepare them for the real-world engineering challenges they encounter in the workplace. However, universities and colleges around the world can face challenges in cutting through the complexity and sometimes struggle with identifying the right practical examples to maximize learning.
To tackle these challenges head on, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Goa decided to hold a dedicated three-day specialist Faculty Development Program (FDP) workshop on 'Specification to SoC Design'. This workshop was held for key faculty, from engineering colleges across India. Several distinguished speakers in the field of microprocessors provided inputs, leading to the development of proof of concept and working prototype content, effectively combining conceptual and practical elements for students. This event was co-sponsored by Arm University Program and IIT Goa, with the support of Special Manpower Development Program-Chip to System Design (SMDP-C2SD) of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).
To learn more, we spoke to IIT Goa’s Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, Dr. Sharad Sinha, who spearheaded the workshop. He kindly explained the FDP process and benefits, as well as sharing some wider thoughts about how teaching is changing.
I have a B.Tech degree in Electronics & Communication Engineering from CUSAT, India, and completed my PhD in Computer Engineering at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore. I continued to work as a Research Scientist at NTU and taught and conducted research at other universities in both Hong Kong and Singapore.
When I returned to India, I took up the post of Assistant Professor at IIT Goa where I specialize in teaching computer science and engineering. I am a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering (IEEE) and have had several of my papers published.
It was a great opportunity to become the Organizing Chair for the Faculty Development Program (FDP) on SoC Design - it is an area I feel passionate about.
We invited faculty from premier institutions across India such as other IITs, National Institutes of Technology (NITs) and other specialist engineering colleges in India. Our goal was to strengthen both teaching and research in the area of SoC Design. SoC is a critical enabler to progress in a wide range of priority industries such as aerospace, healthcare and automotive.
There is a clear gap to address on the educational side. It is important to maintain an appropriate balance between technical and functional components of teaching. Along with my co-chair Apurva Varma, I facilitated group discussions to help focus and structure shareable course material relevant variously to BTech, MTech, and PhD levels. Our aim was to contribute to an emerging culture of semiconductor design in India. This should play a key part in a longer value change for the government’s “Make in India” initiative.
As our aim was to help cultivate a workforce that can undertake professional system design in the future, it was important to hold practical lab sessions. These sessions needed to focus on developing software for the target Arm microprocessors and associated hardware (specifically in this case with FPGA logic). That way, we could ideate a more hands-on approach to teaching processor architecture and SoC design related courses. Experience shows that students who get sufficient exposure to more advanced research and development, tend to be themselves inspired to work on innovative technology relevant to industrial application.
Interactivity was key. It was great to hear dialogue between some of the most renowned faculty members and industry leaders in the field in India. Naturally, attendees were well versed with the basics of hardware description languages, C, and assembly programming but brought different approaches to the table. Brainstorming ideas around SoC Design proved to be fruitful with excellent cross-pollination of skills and experience. For instance, several teaching faculty members from IIT Goa and other participating institutions were focused on the teaching aspects whereas others such as Dr. Akshay Visweswaran of Imec and Mr. Ish Dham of Arm brought a more industry-focus. Insights on the real-world use of these systems in industry enabled a deeper understanding of innovation in both the software and hardware aspects of contemporary SoC Design.
The FDP is a good example of how high-profile educational institutions, industry experts and the government can come together to pioneer new ways of working for the sake of education, research and development of specific technological innovation.
Embedded technology and SoC Design are progressing at an exponential rate across many key industries, demanding greater automation as well as of course more powerful, agile, and compact processing. Understanding the most recent developments in programming, architectural design, and R&D is extremely important for students today. Arm's introduction to its Cortex-A9 processor and Co-Design for SoC Design helped the faculty members contextualize advancements in Embedded Software development. Panelists helped to shed light on Wireless SoC Design, the Zynq Platform for SoC and provided hands-on sessions on the use of the Xilinx ZedBoard.
A side-benefit of collaboration of this nature is to increase the employability of students - semiconductor experience has never been more important in India. Thanks to access to advanced microprocessor kits and the pursuit of more modern and holistic learning journeys, students can show that what they have learned is relevant and applicable in the workplace. The sharp distinctions between teaching, learning, research, and industry are rightly breaking down. The times we live in necessitate hands-on experience with technology and multifaceted applications to create a good culture of chip design - and thereby a specialized workforce with diversified skills.
If you are interested in the resources used by IIT Goa at the FDP workshop, you can find more information on the latest Educational Kits along with other resources on our website:
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Excellent! Keep up the good work!