DARPA Scales Its Electronics Effort

By George Leopold

April 13, 2018

The Pentagon’s top research agency is kicking off a multi-year effort to jumpstart U.S. electronics innovation with a July summit in Silicon Valley.

The $1.5 billion Electronics Resurgence Initiative was launched by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) last June to plot a post-Moore’s Law course for the U.S. electronics industry, a technology sector the agency has played a key role in advancing. Participants in the San Francisco chip summit include Intel CTO Mike Mayberry, Bill Dally, Nvidia’s chief scientist and senior vice president of Nvidia Research, and famed computer architect John Hennessy.

ERI graphic representing thrust areas (architectures, design, materials & integration, and applications)

Among the new fronts to be opened by the defense agency are extending GPU frameworks that underlie machine-learning tools to develop “reconfigurable physical structures that adjust to the needs of the software they support,” the agency said last summer.

Among the issues to be tackled during the three-day chip summit (July 23-25) are efforts to significantly lower the barriers to advanced system-on-chip design and “unleash a new era of circuit and system specialization and innovation,” program managers said.
On the agenda also are ways of integrating unconventional materials to enhance conventional silicon circuits and continue progress toward scaling. The initiative also will examine the benefits of custom chip circuitry “while still relying on general programming constructs through the proper software [and] hardware co-design.”

Those challenges reflect the electronic initiative’s “thrust areas” that include: new materials and integration; chip architectures; system-on-chip design; and new applications ranging from ultra-low power sensors to new wireless devices for dynamically allocating crowded electromagnetic spectrum.

DARPA’s electronics initiative “will continue to evolve in scope and scale, and the need for continued partnership and participation from the community will only increase,” said William Chappell, director of the agency’s Microsystems Technology Office. “Together, we will explore the future of electronics and the impact on national defense that this critical sector plays.”

DARPA said it would kick off the July summit by announcing the research teams selected to lead chip initiatives six new “Page 3” programs aimed at complement traditional scaling while boosting electronics performance. (Page 3 refers to the third page of Intel co-founder Gordon Moore’s pioneering 1965 paper outlining his predictions once his famous law of chip scaling runs out of steam.)

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