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DARPA selects research teams to halt threats to U.S. microelectronics

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s ambitious $1.5 billion Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI) to create transformative advances in electronics has entered into a crucial phase.

DARPA has named the first set of academic and commercial industry research groups to jump-start innovation in the electronics industry.

Why ERI?
The microelectronics community is facing an array of long foreseen obstacles to Moore’s Law, the transistor scaling that has allowed for 50 years of rapid progress in electronics. Current economic, geopolitical, and physics-based complications make the future of the electronics industry uniquely interesting at this moment. To jump-start innovation in the field, DARPA announced in June 2017 that it would coalesce a broad series of programs into the Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI).

ERI, which received an additional $75 million allocation in the FY18 budget, calls for innovative new approaches to microsystems materials, designs, and architectures.

Research Teams Revealed
The program managers behind ERI have announced the list of research teams selected for the Software Defined Hardware (SDH) program; these include Intel, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, Systems & Technology Research (STR), Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford University, University of Michigan, University of Washington, and Princeton University.

Under the Domain-specific System on Chip (DSSoC) program, selected research teams include IBM, Oak Ridge National Labs, Arizona State University, and Stanford University.

Launched in September 2017, SDH and DSSoC are two of six ERI “Page 3” programs—so named for their relevance to the guidance shared by Gordon Moore on the third page of his seminal 1965 research paper that articulated the technology trend which became known as Moore’s Law.

Designed to fulfill the post-scaling predictions made by Moore, the ERI “Page 3” Architectures programs seek to answer: Can we enjoy the benefits of specialized and application-reconfigurable circuitry while still relying on general programming constructs through integrated software/hardware co-design?

The first domain that DSSoC researchers will explore is software-defined radio, a technology with roles in mobile and satellite communications, personal area networks, radar, and electronic warfare.

“It is critical for the DoD to have flexible, adaptable radio systems that are capable of managing and combating a complex signal environment,” said Tom Rondeau, the Microsystems Technology Office program manager leading DSSoC.

“These devices must be programmable like general purpose processors, but also capable of crunching a lot of math with low power. The concept of mixing processor cores to achieve a needed level of specialization is an exciting prospect, but without the ability to enable the developer to program for these devices, their utility is limited. DSSoC is looking to address the right levels of heterogeneous processing, while simultaneously focusing on the software tools and supporting the developer ecosystem surrounding software-defined radio initially and expanding beyond that throughout the program.”

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