DARPA's new initiative
BY DR. PHIL GARROU, Contributing Editor
Earlier this year, DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office (MTO) announced a new Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI) “to open pathways for far-reaching improvements in electronics performance well beyond the limits of traditional scaling.” Key to the ERI will hopefully be new collab- orations among the commercial electronics community, defense industrial base, university researchers, and the DoD. The DoD proposed FY 2018 budget reportedly includes a $75 million allocation for DARPA in support of this, initiative. It is reported that in total we are looking at a $200,000MM program.
The program will focus on the development of new materials for devices, new architectures for integrating those devices into circuits, and software and hardware designs for using these circuits. The program seeks to achieve continued improvements in electronics performance without the benefit of traditional scaling. Bill Chappell, director of DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office (MTO), which will lead the program, announced
“For nearly seventy years, the United States has enjoyed the economic and security advantages that have come from national leadership in electronics innovation.....If we want to remain out front, we need to foment an electronics revolution that does not depend on traditional methods of achieving progress. That’s the point of this new initiative – to embrace progress through circuit specialization and to wrangle the complexity of the next phase of advances, which will have broad implications on both commercial and national defense interests.” He continued: “We need to break away from tradition and embrace the kinds of innovations that the new initiative is all about...”
The chip research effort will complement the recently created Joint University Microelectronics Program (JUMP), an electronics research effort co-funded by DARPA and SRC (Semiconductor Research Corporation). Among the chip makers contributing to JUMP are IBM, Intel Corp., Micron Technology and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. SRC members and DARPA are expected to kick in more than $150 million for the five-year project. Focus areas include high-frequency sensor networks, distributed and cognitive computing along with intelligent memory and storage.
The materials portion of the ERI initiative will explore the use of unconventional materials to increase circuit performance without requiring smaller transistors. Although silicon is used for most of the circuits manufactured today, other materials like GaAs, GaN and SiC have made significant inroads into high performance circuits. It is hoped that the initiative will uncover other elements from the Periodic Table that can provide candidate materials for next-generation logic and memory components. One research focus will be to integrate different semiconductor materials on individual chips, and vertical (3D) rather than planar integration of microsystem components.
The architecture portion of the initiative will examine circuit structures such as Graphics processing units (GPUs), which underlie much of the ongoing progress in machine learning, have already demonstrated the performance improvement derived from specialized hardware architectures. The initiative will explore other opportunities, such as “reconfigurable physical structures that adjust to the needs of the software they support.”
The design portion of the initiative will focus on devel- oping tools for rapidly designing specialized circuits. Although DARPA has consistently invested in these appli- cation-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) for military use, ASICs can be costly and time-consuming to develop. New design tools and an open-source design paradigm could be transformative, enabling innovators to rapidly and cheaply create specialized circuits for a range of commercial applications.
As part of this overall Electronics Resurgence Initiative, DARPA had their kickoff meeting for the CHIPS program (Common Heterogeneous Integration and Intellectual Property (IP) Reuse). The CHIPS vision is an ecosystem of discrete modular, IP blocks, which can be assembled into a system using existing and emerging integration technologies. Modularity and reusability of such IP blocks will require electrical and physical interface standards to be widely adopted by the community supporting the CHIPS ecosystem. The CHIPS program hopes to develop the design tools and integration standards required for modular integrated circuit (IC) designs.
Program contractors include Intel, Micron, Cadence, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Synopsys, Intrinsix Corp., and Jariet Technologies, U. Michigan, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina State.