The demand for semiconductor chips has exploded with the rise of technology consumption in the last couple of years. Semiconductor chips are used in every electronic device from smartphones, laptops, game consoles, to smart IoT appliances that we use everyday. The automotive industry also heavily relies on semiconductor chips, especially with increased production of electric cars and autonomous self-driving vehicles.
Semiconductor chips are like the nuts and bolts of our digital world: we use them every day but don’t often give them much thought. Chips are essential in powering modern day technology, which is why the global chip shortage can have a huge impact on our daily lives.
We have been in a severe global chip shortage since 2020. In fact, chip suppliers are finally catching up and increasing production to pre-pandemic levels, but the demand for chips has only increased since then. The fact that companies are still ramping up IoT production underlines that the silicon shortage will continue to be an issue in the coming years.
So what’s causing this chip shortage? And how can we navigate this global problem?
There are so many things that have to go right with a new IoT product before it can be sold to the public. For hardware developers, managing all of these variables and unknowns can be an overwhelming, daunting task. One of the most common and biggest barriers to product launch is the requirement to develop physical prototypes. Developers might waste precious time developing and testing each new prototype. Working with a digital twin can bring in significant time and cost savings.
In the world of technology, we often speak of hardware and software as two sides of the same coin. Hardware (the physical component of an electronic system) and software (the programs and applications installed on hardware) are very different, but still must work together to deliver the familiar products and services we use every day.
Since the invention of the very first computer, both hardware and software have played an integral part in technological innovation. We can’t build SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) products without powerful servers and data centers. Nor can we use our personal computers to their fullest potential without well-designed operating systems and software applications.
However, despite their symbiotic relationship, development tools for hardware and software have had very different evolutionary paths in recent years. While software development tools have become powerful, mobile, and accessible, professional hardware development tools remain largely stuck in the ’90s, with clunky GUIs, and hard-to-use interfaces.
Why is there a lack of innovation in hardware development tools, and why does that matter?
There’s a stark difference between software and hardware development and why people say dealing with hardware is hard. Not only is it more costly to achieve product market fit, but the hardware development process can take 4x longer than that of software development.
With software development, you can start coding immediately on your laptop after downloading the necessary applications. In contrast, the hardware development process requires coding the system, determining which components to purchase, connecting these components, and ensuring that the code runs correctly on these devices. On top of that, even if you were to determine which components to use, ordering parts can take weeks to months.
Our CEO, Jama Mohamed, recently had a conversation with Differential Ventures about his philosophy on the future of hardware and why he started building Sahara Cloud after spending 5 years helping hardware startups build their embedded systems as a consultant.
Below is an excerpt of the interview. Read the full version here.
Hi everyone, my name is Jama and I am the founder of Sahara Cloud. Our mission is to democratize hardware and make it more accessible to everyone through virtual prototyping.
I first started thinking about ways to improve the hardware development process when I was helping hardware startups build their embedded systems after graduating as an Electrical Engineer from Caltech. As we all know, building hardware is hard – Hardware is more expensive, slower to build, and harder to maintain – all because of the physical nature of hardware. There is a reason why there are 10x more software startups compared to hardware startups.