Jinwen Xiao is the engineering director for microcontroller (MCU) and wireless products at Silicon Labs where she leads the circuit design team developing the next generation of energy-friendly, ARM-based 32-bit MCUs, wireless transceivers, and wireless SoC devices for Internet of Things applications. During her nearly 10-year career at Silicon Labs, she has advanced from MCU design engineer to her current design engineering director position. Previously she has worked in design engineering roles at VIMicro, Spreadtrum Communications, and National Semiconductor. Xiao holds 15 patents with 6 patents pending. She has a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California at Berkley and a BS in Electrical and Power Engineering from Tsinghua University.
What are the largest obstacles to innovation in the embedded realm, and how should those challenges be solved?
Time to market is becoming increasingly important in many areas including the embedded realm. Faced with time constraints, some engineers are inclined to make "safe" choices in circuit design rather than investing time to explore innovative ways to bring more benefits to the design beyond classic methods. While there is no way to get around today's emphasis on time to market, being a "smart" thinker is helpful in encouraging innovation in a time-limited execution environment. In particular, understanding "hard" and "soft" constraints and identifying bottlenecks and situations that contribute to simplification will make room for innovation, thus helping designers stay ahead of competition.
How do you stay on the leading edge of innovation, rather than just following the embedded crowd?
Innovation is the lifeblood of a technology company. Designers must have a high sense of urgency in today's competitive environment and keep pushing the boundaries that lead to innovation. Working for a leading-edge technology company like Silicon Labs helps too since a high percentage of employees are innovators, and mutual inspiration leads to better ideas.
How do you recognize when a new technology or application is one your company should invest/innovate in, versus a technology that will experience fast burnout?
New technologies and ideas emerge from creative minds from around the world. Those ideas that find ways into real-life applications will have a longer lifetime, particularly those that provide superior performance and/or efficiency enhancements, significant cost reduction, and breakthroughs in bottleneck issues, connecting the dots between multiple product lines or enabling new applications for mass markets. Identifying the practicality of a new technology, idea, or design method is the key to deciding if the company should invest and innovate.
In the next 5 years, which embedded technologies, applications, markets, and geographic areas present the most interesting opportunities?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is hot topic, and many industry experts consider the IoT to be the next big thing in the embedded computing industry. Technologies related to home automation, smart energy, transportation, multimedia access to social networks, wearable computing, and personal health are key application areas that will drive IoT revenue growth. Many IoT-connected devices will be battery operated, therefore requiring low-energy design considerations for both hardware and software. Low-energy processors, peripherals, radios, and overall system optimization will present exciting opportunities for innovation on the hardware and software front.