Lattice Developer Event: Continuing to Lead in Low-Power FPGA Performance

December 11, 2023 / Ben Bajarin

At Lattice’s first developer event, the company continues to exercise its lead in mid to low range FPGAs with continued emphasis on low-power FPGA performance. Lattice Semiconductor estimates the amount of FPGAs to be deployed over the next 10 years to ~10B and their latest developer conference demonstrated how the company is well positioned to compete in the rapidly growing TAM for FPGAs.

Key Takeaways

  • Lattice introduced two new innovative mid-range FPGA device families built on the mid-range Lattice Avant™ platform – Lattice Avant-G and Lattice Avant-X, designed for general purpose and advanced connectivity
  • Increased capabilities in the software stack leading to more use cases supported
  • Highlight customer testimonials showcasing the need for low-power performant FPGAs

What’s Significant

FPGAs are well understood by hardware engineers and those deep in the semiconductor industry but less appreciated by the wider market. What makes them unique is they can be almost anything.  That makes them both interesting and challenging to understand. Lattice Semiconductor has navigated these waters by productizing their FPGAs into different segments, but more tactfully, developing specific software tools to better optimize their FPGA families for specific use cases. After attending the Lattice Developer day and discussions with Lattice customers on what problems they are solving with FPGAs, a few things stood out.

Security and Root of Trust

Lattice Semiconductor’s security demonstration with the Avant-X FPGA highlights a crucial advantage of FPGAs in defending against cyber threats – their ability to enable much faster secure boot processes compared to other solutions.

The reason boot time is so important for security is that the window between power-on and boot completion represents a vulnerability that hackers actively target to infiltrate systems. By taking control during the boot phase, before defenses are fully online, attackers can establish persistent footholds.

With an 85% reduction in time-to-boot over alternatives, the Avant-X makes the exposure window for pre-boot attacks milliseconds instead of seconds. This difference is monumental when defending against automated threats that strike in the blink of an eye. The brevity of the boot process severely limits the window of opportunity for hackers.

Moreover, the FPGA approach enhances security by enabling root of trust anchoring directly in immutable hardware. Rather than relying on easily modifiable software or firmware for launch integrity checks, the FPGA provides a hardware root of trust to authenticate boot code before execution. Tampering becomes extremely difficult.

The combination of blazing fast secure boot enabled by the reconfigurable hardware architecture with anchoring trust in the physical silicon fabric allows FPGAs to provide security on a completely different level compared to conventional embedded devices.

As cyberattacks grow more prevalent, securing devices at first power-on is no longer an option but a necessity. Lattice’s demo underscores why FPGAs are the future of embedded defense – their speed, adaptability and hardware-based trust mechanisms provide the last line of defense for critical systems across industries. The milliseconds saved during boot thanks to FPGAs could make the ultimate difference in thwarting the next major security breach.

Emphasizing Edge AI

One of the more compelling customer examples was from Nvidia showing how they are using Lattice FPGA for edge AI inference. The point is further emphasized by the economics shared by Nvidia, via their implementation with John Deere’s autonomous tractors, on the costs associated with generating data at the edge and moving to the cloud.  The below charts, from the vantage point of an autonomous system, show how costly it would be if that was not processed and inferecnced at the edge.

  • Data Ingestion = $0.0085/GB
  • Data Consumption = $0.0085/GB
  • Person/Vehicle Counting = $0.10 per min
  • Person/Face Blurring = $0.10 per min
  • PPE Detection = $0.10 per min
  • General Object Detection = $0.10 per min

This is a significant data point that underscores the importance of edge inference for AI. Concerns over the costs to deploy AI remain a top concern of many CIO/CSO and ITDMs and was confirmed in a recent survey we conducted with that cohort where 24% of ITDMs listed costs as a top concern related to deploying AI in their enterprise.

Sensor Fusion

As the world expands to more and more sensors being deployed that need to work harmoniously together to do everything from image detection, climate measurement, to a host of needs from autonomous vehicles.  Sensor fusion chips are going to become a much more important part of edge computing devices going forward.  There are a few key beneficiaries to FPGAs for sensor fusion, although this list is not exclusive to only FPGA benefits in sensor fusion.

  • High Compute Density – FPGAs offer a high compute density, meaning they can perform a large amount of processing within a limited space. This feature is crucial for sensor fusion, as numerous sensor data streams often need to be processed simultaneously.
  • Customization and Parallelization – Sensor fusion often requires custom processing algorithms that can run in parallel to make the best use of sensor data. FPGAs can be customized to execute specific tasks, which can be designed to operate in parallel. This capacity for customization and parallelization leads to more efficient and speedy computations.
  • Real-time Processing – Many sensor fusion applications, such as those in autonomous vehicles, drones, or robotic systems, require real-time processing to be effective. FPGAs can handle streaming data in real time without the latency often associated with general-purpose processors.

Expanding Software Capabilities Key to Unlocking FPGAs

Lattice Semiconductor’s expanded solution stacks highlight the growing importance of increased software layers to unlock the full potential of FPGAs. As FPGAs become more capable and widely adopted across industries, software plays a crucial role in making them more accessible, customizable, and powerful for a broader range of users and applications.

Lattice’s updates to their solution stacks in areas like AI, vision, security, and automation aim to accelerate development cycles and time-to-deployment for customers. The added software layers help simplify FPGA programming, provide optimized algorithms, interface with common standards, and integrate seamlessly with existing development environments.

These software advancements are key because, fundamentally, they software expansions tackle the complexity traditionally associated with FPGA development. They abstract away low-level hardware details with high-level APIs, pre-built modules, and out-of-the-box examples. This allows more developers to take advantage of FPGAs in their systems and harness their flexibility.

The benefits cascade down to shorter time-to-market for products, reduced maintenance overhead, and more flexibility to meet changing performance and functionality requirements via reprogrammability. It also allows organizations to consolidate multiple processing units with a single, adaptable FPGA platform.

As demands on edge hardware grow, the power of FPGAs is undeniable. However, fully harnessing that power depends just as much on intuitive, evolving software stacks that enable widespread innovation on top of reconfigurable silicon. Lattice’s latest solution stack upgrades provide a blueprint for delivering that critical combination.


Join the newsletter and stay up to date

Trusted by 80% of the top 10 Fortune 500 technology companies