Research creativity brings commercialization reward by improving circuit verification

Dr. Andreas Veneris and his research team

As computer chips have become more powerful and sophisticated over the past few decades, so too has the task of ensuring that they are ready to meet the needs of the various markets that they serve. And in the opinion of Dr. Andreas Veneris, supported by many technical industrial roadmaps and reports, more than half of the effort that goes into verifying a chip’s design is taken up with many different debugging measures, an activity that promises to become exponentially more demanding as the complexity of chips grows.

Veneris, a professor in the University of Toronto’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has been monitoring this aspect of the semiconductor industry for more than a decade. In 2006, he leveraged the university’s unique array of research expertise and intellectual property in this field to found Vennsa Technologies, a firm offering a suite of Electronic Design Automation tools that can transform the process of debugging.

Vennsa, headquartered in Toronto, and with offices in the U.S and Japan, offers a breakthrough in circuit debugging and error localization. Once verification fails, OnPoint™ uses Vennsa's proprietary technology to automatically analyze the design and identify the root cause of errors. It picks up where simulation and formal verification tools leave off by automatically solving each problem and by pointing to the exact lines of code where the failure can be fixed.

An automated solution relieves engineers of the mundane task of discovering and localizing bugs, enabling these skilled professionals to get on with the real work of resolving design problems that might have given rise to those bugs. And for the companies that employ those engineers, the results are appealing since it means getting more reliable products to waiting markets even more quickly.

Veneris credits CMC Microsystems with helping to create the critical mass of knowledge that led to the development of such a solution: “Instead of the university or academics paying a tremendous amount of money, CMC offered a platform of tools and technologies that helped mediate costs so they could make progress with their research.”

He adds that this is especially important to the emergence of a spin-off enterprise like Vennsa, which is aiming at a relatively small and specialized market. From an early point in his career in Canada, CMC provided Veneris with opportunities to interact with some of the key people and organizations in the microelectronics market. Such networking enhanced the incubation of the company within the University of Toronto, making for an efficient, cost-effective investment of people and resources.

Veneris finds his instincts as a researcher more than fulfilled as he found his way in business circles. “In the last five or six years, I’ve learned a lot about business, a lot about finance, a lot about economics,” he avows. “For me, that package provides the excitement.”

While Veneris will count himself as an academic investigator first, he acknowledges a profound desire to see his efforts migrate beyond the bounds of a university campus. “This is about where I came from,” he says, referring to his doctoral experiences in the 1990s at the University of Illinois at Urbana, where he took part in the public launch of a pioneering Internet multimedia company. “It’s about a desire to turn something from the laboratory into a product that serves the community.”

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