Sophie: Out of this world ...

SAME Forum 2009

by Peggy Aycinena

You may think you know France, but until you have been to Sophia Antipolis, you really do not understand the organizational culture and technical ecosystem of the country. And even if you've been to Sophia Antipolis, it's still a bit hard to describe.

Located approximately 700 kilometers southeast of Paris (425 miles) in the beautiful Côte d'Azur region, just 7 kilometers inland and uphill from the blue, blue Mediterranean and jet-setting enclaves of Antibes and Cannes, Sophia Antipolis is one part Silicon Valley, one part 1960’s La Défense-style planned community, and one part lush and magical island.

The place is a creation of the French Government – the brainchild, specifically, of Senator Pierre Laffitte, who in the 1960's proposed the idea of establishing a Science & Technology Park in the virgin lands just inland from Antibes and Cannes that would rival other great R&D centers in the world, especially Silicon Valley emerging just then as an epicenter of semiconductor-based innovation.

Laffitte combined his wife’s name, Sophie Glikman-Toumarkine, with the Greek word for wisdom, Sophia, and the name of the original 6th-century BCE Greek colony of Antipolis (modern-day Antibes), to come up with a name for the place. Today, locals affectionately refer to Sophia Antipolis simply as Sophie.

Situated on a softly undulating massive perched above the water, Sophie benefits from the artistic and historic heritage of the area. The fact that 1300 companies, 35,000 employees, and 2 universities (University of Nice & CERAM) occupy dozens of clusters of low-lying buildings nestled among the 9 square miles of rolling hills in Sophia Antipolis – obscured by the forests and contours of the land – is a surprise. The fact that two Pablo Picasso Museums are located nearby in Vallauris and Antibes, however, is not.

Picasso resided in Vallauris between the late 1940s and mid-1950s, adding his mystique to the place. Combine Picasso with the perfectly preserved 16th-century village of Valbonne, the fragrance mecca of lavender-scented Grasse, and the beauty of Antibes and Cannes, and you’ll know why so many tourists are milling about in that part of the Côte d'Azur.

Tourists, however, are not milling about in Sophia Antipolis. They miss it completely by driving on the D2 from Nice to Valbonne and Grasse, or the A8 from Nice to Antibes and Cannes. Only by traveling the less-traveled D103 does one reach the heart of Sophia Antipolis, the largest Science & Technology Park in Europe.

The companies with R&D facilities in Sophia Antipolis make up a Who's Who of Global Tech Companies. They include, but are not limited to, Accenture, Activeeon, Actys, Air France, Alcatel, ANT, ARM, ASK, Azura Networks, Broadcom, Cadence, Centillium, Cisco, CRE Tech, CSR, EASII IC, ELC, Elsys Design, Europe Tech, Dassault Systems, Hitachi, IBUS, ILOG, Insight SiP, InfoTerra, Intel, Kolpi, Mentor Graphics, Nortel Networks, Oracle, Orange Labs, RF Magic, Sonics, STMicro, Synopsys, Texas Instruments, Thales, Xilinx, Wipro, and Verisign.

In addition to these players, there are a host of other companies representing environmental science, solar and alternative energy solutions, marine science, aeronautics, oodles of software companies, and a large range of IT technologies.

Working across this broad range of specialties, and interacting with each other in a way that few other tech centers in the world can match, the people who work in the Silicon Valley of Southern France enjoy working conditions that would be the envy of everyone in the San Francisco Bay Area, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. The food is great, wine is consumed in appropriate amounts at lunch, and the weather is, by definition, more Mediterranean than that of Northern California.

sophia antipolis

I was delighted to be in Sophie last September long enough to see this special place – unique, secluded, and not of this world. Unless you’ve been there, Sophie is just a bit hard to describe.


Not Lost in Translation ...

Consider yourself fairly warned: Sophia Antipolis is a thoroughly French kind of a place, and if you don't speak the native language you will be at a disadvantage – even when attending the annual, all-in-English Sophia Antipolis MicroElectronics Forum, SAME .

Honored to have been invited to moderate the opening panel at SAME 2009 on September 22nd, I was distressed to find that following the 45-minute Intel keynote and my 90-minute panel, seven additional speakers addressed the audience in quick succession before lunch, exclusively in French.

I do not speak French (inexcusable, I know), but I'm familiar enough with Romance Languages to have caught the drift of what these folks were saying: "Congratulations! Sophia Antipolis is crucial to the well-being of France. Innovation and creativity and technology are all happening in spades in Sophia Antipolis. We are lucky to have this confluence of bright young minds and experienced researchers gracing us with their presence here in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Region. Keep up the great work!"

I did not receive a list of those speakers who appeared unannounced at SAME that morning, and could not locate such a list on the SAME Forum website after the fact. But I would wager a fine glass of wine that those seven pre-lunch speakers represented more than one of the following associations featured in the SAME Forum 2009 program:

* French Riviera Chamber of Commerce & Industry (CCI)

* SAME Association (Sophia Antipolis MicroElectronics)

* Conseil Général des Alpes-Maritimes

* Région Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur [PACA]

* Secured Communicating Solutions Cluster [SCS]

* Communauté d'Agglomération Sophia Antipolis [CASA]

* Nice Côte d'Azur

* Association for Research on Components & Secured Integrated Systems [ARCSIS]

* PACA Integrated Microelectronics Center [CIM PACA]


* Telecom Valley

* Team Côte d'Azur

* Ville de Nice

The impression these speakers left with me was quite profound, above and beyond the fact that I couldn't understand a thing they said. By historical precedence, some societies are driven to progress through top-down motivation, while others are propelled forward by momentum generated at the grass-roots level. France, in my opinion, falls into the former category.

The speakers on stage on September 22nd at SAME 2009 clearly articulated the gestalt that says a society's best served by walking forward through organizational consensus. Given that gestalt, the fact that lay-offs had occurred in Sophia Antipolis in the months prior to SAME 2009 – the first ever in the 40-year history of the Science Park – was shocking.

Boom/bust employment cycles have long characterized other high-tech epicenters such as California's Silicon Valley, but have never been the norm in France. Not surprisingly, those laid off in Sophia Antipolis in the summer of 2009 were employees of non-French companies working in the area. The lay-offs were badly received, from what I heard, and seemed to add credence to the philosophy:

All-for-One and One-for-All is the only way a civilized society behaves.

Had I been able to understand the bureaucrats speaking just before lunch at SAME 2009 on September 22nd, I'm sure I would have heard them say much the same thing.


SAME Forum 2009 ...

Now that I've convinced you that Sophia Antipolis is all about pristine isolation, let me affect the exact opposite stance. SAME Forum is as international a conference as any in high-tech, simply by the nature of the content of the discussions that go on there.

What is particularly regional about wireless technology, test equipment, open platforms for prototyping software-defined radio, smart grid controllers, PLLs, SoC and FPGA design platform IP, transceiver power estimation, energy efficient multi-core architecture, modeling embedded systems, the design of mobile devices, formal verification, or the dynamics of high-tech start-ups?

I ask this, because some weeks after returning to Silicon Valley from Southern France, I mentioned to a well-known EDA colleague that I had attended the annual Sophia Antipolis Microelectronics Forum in September. His response was dismissive: “Really? I hear that's just a regional boutique conference.”

Let me respond in kind: “Really? Could you be more provincial or un-informed?”

SAME Forum 2009 entertained over 800 attendees, included two days of intense technical sessions, various tutorials, two keynotes, multiple panel discussions, 25 lively exhibitor booths, and the co-located SAFA Annual Workshop on Formal Techniques. If those stats warrant dismissiveness, no one need bother attend DVCon, ISQED, or ICCAD going forward. It’s my impression that any of those conference organizers would consider their event a great success to have 800 people in attendance.

The focus at SAME 2009, the 12th annual edition, was Wireless Technology in Daily Life. The 2009 General Chair was Cadence's Jacques-Olivier Piednoir. The General Chair for Communication and Organization was Synopsys' legendary Pierre Bricaud, who authored with Michael Keating the seminal text: Reuse Methodology Manual for SoC Design.

[Editor's Note: I had to go all the way to France to learn why Bricaud speaks English like a Texan; born to a French family, he spent his childhood in The Lone Star State where his father was employed for many years. Pierre now lives and works in Sophie.]

The SAME 2009 Executive Committee also included Texas Instrument's Yves Leduc as General Chair of the Technical Committee, SAME's Anne Claire Desneulin as Forum Project Manager, and CCI's Hervé Zekri.

Pierre Bricaud's Communication Committee included ARM's Pascal Peru, ASK's Claire Boyer, AUSY's Richard Kotliar, Dassault's Estelle Fernandez, IBM's Jean-Marc Lecorce, Infineon's Stephan Klingler, Insight SiP's Marc Vodovar, LEAT's Jean-Pierre Damiano, Polytech'Nice-Sophia's Gilles Jacquemod, SAME's Sophie Lutgen, ST's Hugues Dailliez, Team Cote d'Azur's Catherine Gentil and Jean-Francois Chapperon, Dominique Juge, and EDA's own International Man of Mystery, Fred Santamaria.

Yves Leduc's Technical Committee included ARM's Pierre Broyer, Cadence's Olivier Omedes and Gabriele Zarri, CSR's Stéphane Boudaud, Demtech's Jean Demartini, Entropic's Lorenzo Carpineto, Galaxystem's Rob Mathews, Ikanos' Olivier Metayer, Infineon's Michel Collura, Mentor's Thomas Delaye, Polytech'Nice-Sophia's William Tatinian, Scaleo's Pascal Jullien, ST's Xavier Duperthuy, Studiel's Jean Bernardoni, Synopsys' Emanuele Irrera and Guillaume Thomas, Telecom ParisTech's Sophie Coudert and Rabea Ameur-Boulifa, and Wipro's Jérôme Vanthournout. The Technical Committee chose 38 papers from the 180+ abstracts submitted to be presented at the Forum.


Tuesday - September 22nd ...

The opening keynote for the conference was held in the main auditorium of the CICA Building, and was presented by Intel's Kevin O'Donovan. Per the printed program, the keynote was to have be given by Intel's Edgar Auslander. It turned out, however, that September 22nd was the also Day #1 for the Intel Developers' Forum way across the globe in San Francisco; Auslander couldn't be in two places at once.

O'Donovan, an Irishman residing permanently in Sophie, did the honors instead. He was unable, he told his audience, to announce his company's September 22nd news during the SAME keynote, as IDF opened in San Francisco a full 9 hours after O'Donovan's talk in Sophia Antipolis and Intel's news was embargoed until then.

Had he been in the same time zone as IDF, O'Donovan would have conveyed this Intel announcement: “The next breakthrough in semiconductor process technology [packs] more features and performance onto a single chip, [with] the world’s first demonstration of working 22-nanometer test circuits, [thus validating] that Moore's Law continues well.”

It was good news, indeed, to learn (eventually that day) that, per Intel, Moore's Edict was still in force. Surely no one in San Francisco or Sophia Antipolis doubted then or now, however, that technology challenges will continue unabated even if Moore's March does slow to a crawl.

Embargoed news aside, at SAME 2009 it fell to O'Donovan to cheer on Intel's uber-vision of a massively connected Wireless World. His talk, full of buoyant Intel images, provided a spirited pre-amble to the 2 days of tech talk that unfolded at SAME following his remarks – starting with the panel I moderated in the next hour, which featured:

* Patrick Sure, Transport Business Manager Transport, ASK
* Vincent Boisard, SCS
* Franck Boudinet, Manager for Sensor Solutions, IBM
* Kevin O’Donovan, Strategic Marketing Manager, Intel
* Benoît Derat, President, Field Imaging

Benoît Derat spoke to the matter of EMF exposure and related safety issues, given the growing prevalence of wireless devices in our daily lives. He noted that more than 25,000 articles have been published over the last 30 years addressing research into the adverse health effects of EMF exposure, and possible protective strategies in response. He also described various IEEE and IEC compliance standards that are working towards quantifying the amounts of exposure deemed to be safe.

Franck Boudinet observed that through a convergence of smart instruments the world is clearly becoming more interconnected, and “all things are becoming intelligent.” But, he argued, this vision of ubiquitous connectivity is easier said than done.

The capturing, collection, filtering, aggregation and correlation of data is no small task, per Boudinet, and requires a well-managed, distributed-device infrastructure if the full business and technology potential of massive connectivity is going to be realized, not to mention the “secure sharing of information within and outside [business] enterprises and public organizations.”

Boudinet added that standards such as EPC [Electronic Product Code] and EPCIS [EPC Information Service] are critical to reigning in counterfeit information out on The Cloud, while also promoting full-enablement of global markets.

Kevin O’Donovan reiterated the optimistic Intel view of a highly connected world, previously detailed in his keynote, and predicted there would be 15 billion interconnected devices in the world by 2015, serving needs as diverse as power distribution, point-of-sale, entertainment, communication, manufacturing, medical care, and transportation.

He noted that “Spending Smart in the Future” would be based on a massively interconnected web of wireless wonders. He also enumerated concerns that would emerge at the same time: energy consumption, an increased carbon footprint for humankind, security and privacy issues, regulations, standards, and social acceptance, just to name a few.

Following the presentations of the 5 panelists, we enjoyed a lively discussion (read “debate”) about whether it's a Brave New World we're entering with all of this, or more of a new-fangled Orwellian Hell. We discussed the mix of societal and technical questions posed on my slides:

* Where will we bury billions of discarded wireless devices?

* Are there privacy issues related to Body Area Networks & full medical disclosure?

* Are we safe, if all of our information is in The Cloud?

* Who will monitor & maintain our data?

* Will it be illegal to go off the grid?

* Are device physics or design productivity inhibiting a fully Wireless World?

* Do wireless devices cause health issues?

* What does Mobile Power look like?

* What does the Smart Home look like?

* What does the Smart Factory look like?

* Can we prevent Operator Error in a Wireless World?

* And the Ultimate Question … Is Ubiquitous Connectivity inevitable?

The gentlemen on my panel had a host of inspired and informed comments on all of this. I wish I could tell you we came up with definite answers to all of the questions, but of course we did not. Too many technical issues to be sorted out, and too many as-yet-unpredictable human reactions to a quickly-evolving world to make predictions with 100% accuracy. Only time will tell ...

Following our lively panel, as mentioned earlier, the French political ecosystem had the stage for 45 minutes. Then it was lunch, followed by a marvelous panel discussion wrestling with the nuances of high-tech start-up dynamics, a discussion of state-of-the art circuit design, and a compelling presentation from InfoTerra about the latest technologies related to global mapping. That presentation alone was worth the price of admission to SAME 2009.

Of course, these were only the afternoon presentations I attended on September 22nd in Sophie. There were other sessions going on simultaneously, but like Intel's Edgar Auslander, I could not be in 2 places at once. Additionally, many substantive conversations were going on in the various Exhibitor Booths out on the show floor.

At the end of Day #1 of SAME 2009, the attendees made their way by bus or car to the SAME Dinner Party, located approximately a kilometer away in a different cluster of buildings. The music, cocktails, dinner and entertainment were grand – particularly the Trivia Contest that pitted the various teams, table-by-table, against each other, testing the knowledge of the highly educated SAME 2009 attendees. You can see the questions posed in the contest, by clicking here:

SAME 2009 Trivia Contest

Food and fun aside, the highlight of the SAME 2009 Dinner Party for me was an invitation from Pierre Bricaud to present a set of brief comments the following morning at the conclusion of his Executive Panel discussing the Sophia Antipolis Wireless Ecosystem.

I accepted his invitation, made an early night of the Party, and headed back to my hotel [wonderful accommodations at the AccorHotel Sophia Country Club] to gather my thoughts and prepare my slides.


Wednesday - September 23rd ...

Day #2 at SAME 2009 began with a detailed keynote from Frederic Mallet, Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis. Having written several lengthy articles in the past about UML and its relevance to system modeling, I was delighted to be able to hear Professor Mallet's technical address on this topic.

Pierre Bricaud's panel followed straightaway after the keynote, and his speakers – ARM's Pascal Peru, Infineon's Stephan Klingler, ST's Dan Rabinovitz, TI's Pierre Garnier, and LEAT/CREMA's Christian Pichot – each spoke in detail about the various technical contributions from their respective organizations in the area of wireless connectivity.

Pichot's final admonishment to his audience that decisions regarding technical initiatives in Sophia Antipolis needed to be coordinated across various industry and governmental agencies was a fascinating segue, for me at least, to my brief comments at the close of Bricaud's panel.

My slides presented a short, unconventional history of the development of Silicon Valley in Northern California:

sophia antipolis panel

On the canvas of a young state that enjoyed a wealth of farm land, good weather, and an educated, albeit transient, population – institutions like Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley contributed to technical developments from R&D organizations such as NASA, and innovative companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Fairchild, Intel, Apple, Oracle, SUN, Yahoo, Google, YouTube, and Facebook, which were enabled in no small measures by out-of-the box thinkers like Steve Jobs, and initiatives such as SPICE, Open Source Software, the EDA industry, the iPod and iPhone.

I noted the things that define the Silicon Valley Ecosystem include great universities, transient populations, innovative technologies, a respect for hardware and software, lawyers who understand the complexities of protecting intellectual property, a network of daring investors, and a host of companies who simultaneously cooperate and compete. I added that this list of features is not unique to Silicon Valley, but could be used to describe Sophia Antipolis, as well.

I ended by suggesting that a feature that is somewhat unique to Silicon Valley is the freedom to try something new, the freedom to fail at that 'something' without compromising the freedom to try again, to fail again, to try again, to fail again, to try again, to fail again, etc.

My comments on this topic prompted ST's Dan Rabinovitz to second the notion of freedom-to-fail as an imperative in an innovative technical ecosystem. Referencing earlier speakers, Rabinovitz warned that top-down controls that pick and choose which innovations will be allowed to flourish are counter-intuitive to an environment that's open to creativity and new ideas.

It was all a pretty delicate conversation, from my point of view, standing at the podium as an outsider with only a last-minute invitation to participate. Appropriately at that point, Pierre Bricaud graciously thanked me for my comments, I returned to my seat in the audience, and he allowed his panelists to make their closing remarks before the session drew to a close.

Quite exhausted, I hopped into my rental car and enjoyed lunch elsewhere in Sophie, away from the rigors of SAME. I returned an hour later to attend the final sessions of SAME 2009, in particular the tutorial on Antennas for Small Communicating Devices, a lot of delicious technical content being delivered up during this session.

The shadows were growing long when SAME 2009 wrapped up later that afternoon out on the expansive patio of the CICA Complex. The SAME Conference Committee presented a number of scholarships to local high school and college students with promising futures in engineering, as the entire population of conference attendees enjoyed a fabulous spread of beautifully presented hors d'ourves and wines.

At that point, I knew it was time to leave, however. In the closing hour of SAME Forum in Sophia Antipolis, it was hard to miss the fact that, even though the official language of the technical sessions was English, the official language of the Social Hour was distinctly French.

sophia antipolis sundown

I admired as I departed, however, the obvious sense of community and camaraderie enjoyed by the many attendees at the Forum. This is clearly a close-knit community of contributors; people who know each other well and have enjoyed working together for a number of years.

I challenge anyone in Silicon Valley – innovative mindset, notwithstanding – to show me any event that is warmer or more full of long-standing friendships between intellectual peers than the one I observed there on the patio of CICA on September 23rd, as the lovely French sun set on yet another edition of SAME Forum.

To my new acquaintances at Sophie, I say, “Bien cuit!”


Concluding thoughts ...

Then there's the map: There's no room for a grid pattern when you're laying out a technology park on forested hills. The beauty and irregular nature of the geography in Sophia Antipolis, no doubt, fosters a form of innovation all its own among the tens of thousands who work there.

It's easy to get lost along the byways of Sophie, but then isn't that what thinking-out-of-the-box is all about? Getting lost within a problem and finding your way out through an elegant solution.


French connections ...

* French Riviera Chamber of Commerce & Industry (CCI), “participates in the development of the French Riviera and its companies through [various] activities: services for setting up and financing companies, economic intel on commercial performance, fostering of international and IT sector development, the CERAM Business School [“has built a reputation for savoir faire in Hi-tech Entrepreneurship], and management of the ports of Nice, Villefranche, Cannes, and Golfe Juan.”

* SAME Association (Sophia Antipolis MicroElectronics), founded in 2004, “provides players in the Riviera's microelectronics sector with the opportunity to develop and promote this excellence center in advanced electronic circuit design.”

* Le Conseil General Des Alpes-Maritimes, created over 200 years ago, is “a decision making and executive political institution … involved in economic development, supporting the establishment of innovative companies and growth of excellence areas.”

* The Region Provence Alpes-Cotes D'Azur is “one of the international poles of excellence in the field of microelectronic design: the Secured Communicating Solutions Cluster [SCS] is gathering research, universities, and companies for innovation and emergence of a new value chain.”

[Note: 71 Competitive Clusters were set up by the French Government, with 8 Competitive clusters located in the Alpes-Maritimes, including the SCS Cluster which is “endorsed by world-class industry leaders, academics, small and medium enterprises and start-ups, [with the goal] to stimulate innovation through collaborative projects grouped by theme, making it easier to monitor, coordinate and optimize project developments: Mobility, Identity, Traceability, and Connectivity, Security and Communication.]

* Communaute D'Agglomeration Sophia Antipolis [CASA] “decided from its inception [in 2001] to enter into a collective reflection about its territory's future … at its heart lies the political desire … to encourage development only to the extent that it is beneficial to the fulfillment of people living or working in the region, and to the enrichment of their common heritage.”

* Nice Cote d'Azur is “in charge of specific competencies … and helps companies, promotes business development, and attracts new companies … with the aim of boosting new economic dynamics guaranteeing long-term sustainable economic development.”

* Association for the Research on Components and Secured Integrated Systems [ARCSIS] is “in charge of developing, strengthening and promoting the microelectronics and communicating objects in the Provence-Alps-Riviera Region. [It] also manages a major collaborative R&D program: CIM PACA, which groups together the microelectronic community around 3 interconnected platforms: Design, Characterization, and Micro-Packs.

* IEEE which “gathers 39 technical societies dealing with electricity, electronics, automation, computers and information technologies … with IEEE CAS an active society among the different chapters in the France section.”

* Telecom Valley, created in 1991, is “a non-profit business-driven association [with] headquarters in Sophia Antipolis, the largest Science Park in Europe. [With] over 100 companies and institutions … it forms a unique public/private partnership (start-ups, small businesses, international corporations, research and higher education centers, standardization bodies and regional authorities) representing roughly 15,000 employees.”

* Team Cote d'Azur, created in 1983, is “the promotion and economic development agency of the Cote d'Azur Nice Sophia Antipolis Region, and is a joint initiative of the Alpes-Maritimes county council and the French Riviera Chamber of Commerce and Industry.”

* Ville de Nice issued a commendation: “Nice is happy to lend its support for the SAME Association, which contributed to the organization of the DATE Conference in Nice in April 2009, and to the SAME Forum from 22-23 September 2009 in Sophia-Antipolis. I thank the SAME Association for strengthening the reputation of dynamics made in Nice and the Cote d'Azur.”

March 4, 2010


Print Version

Peggy Aycinena owns and operates EDA Confidential:

Copyright (c) 2010, Peggy Aycinena. All rights reserved.