Meet Ashley Robinson

Ashley Robinson is a graduated UKESF Scholar (2011–14) who now works at UKESF Company Partner Graphcore. As a Scholar, Ashley was sponsored by Qualcomm and studied Electronic Engineering with Artificial Intelligence at the University of Southampton. In 2013, Ashley was named UKESF Scholar of the Year, and in 2018  he was shortlisted for the TechWorks Young Engineer of the Year Award.

1. Who inspired you get into Electronics? Was it a teacher, someone on TV or even a parent or relation?

When studying for my GCSEs I was lucky enough to attend a secondary school offering a GCSE in Design & Technology: Systems & Control. This course contained a relatively complex syllabus championed by an excellent teacher. He helped us design circuits and program microcontrollers with our little background knowledge enabling us to explore the creative aspects of engineering straight away. Moving on to sixth form I was again lucky to study at a college offering an Electronics A-level course, and was helped by some excellent teachers, in both Electronics and Computer Science, so my interest only grew. This all lead me to obtain a degree and career in Electronic Engineering.

2. How would you explain to young people what Electronics is and its importance?

We are surrounded by electronic devices. The human interfaces are familiar: screens, keyboards, speaker – these are all electronic components. The less familiar components are power supplies, processors, circuit boards – these are the components that make a huge difference in the performance of the device. The number crunching ability of the processor enables the user to run more advanced applications. A more efficient power supply allows battery-powered devices to run for days without charge.

Energy efficient designs cannot be more important than when tackling the climate emergency. Shaving milliwatts from a single design can be come megawatts when it is in the hands of a large number of people. This is just consumer electronics. The issue can be far greater in the commercial sector; this is our mission at Graphcore but on a huge scale.

3. What is the best thing about your job?

I am a Silicon Design Engineer at Graphcore. We accelerate machine intelligence with a new type of computer architecture. Apart from working on a cutting-edge technology using the most advanced process nodes, which currently hold the record for most transistors on a single integrated circuit, the job offers a wide range of disciplines where engineers are encouraged to experience as many as possible. I have had the fortune to work closely with verification, design for test, physical design and software. Inside and outside of the lab, with many different tools, pre- and post-silicon tape out.

4. What is exciting about Electronics at the moment?

An area where Electronics has been noticeably lagging behind software, but with good reason, is the open source tools and processes. I believe open source will become common in all engineering disciplines in the future but Electronics is next. This will be a major disruptor within Electronics and silicon design, lowering the barrier to entry in terms of cost and experience requirements. Small startups straight out of university can start spinning chips with little overheads, hopefully giving way to some wacky ideas. Open source tools are available for circuit synthesis, place/route and PCB design, not to mention many more and the list is continually growing.

5. Looking into your crystal ball, what is the next big trend for technology?

Artificial intelligence is continuing to grow, and demand shows no signs of stopping. I would also like to mention a non-obvious technology; this is driving. The requirement for large machines comprised of server towers with fast interconnects to run gigantic machine learning models, and the need for these massive bandwidths are forcing the industry away from copper. A common solution to wider area networking optical connectors are becoming standard place in server rooms over conventional cables. I believe on chip optoelectronics will also become much more common in chips designed not just for telecommunications.

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