DARPA mounts next phase of Electronics Resurgence Initiative

ARLINGTON, Va. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has rolled out the second phase of its Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI) – a five-year, upwards of $1.5 billion investment in the future of domestic electronic systems.

Comprised of several ongoing DARPA programs – including the six recently awarded ERI “Page 3” programs – ERI is meant to address long-foreseen obstacles to Moore’s Law and identify the challenges that surround 50 years of rapid progress in electronics advancement. The next phase of ERI, say DARPA officials, will focus on more intrinsically linking the technology needs and capabilities of the the Department of Defense (DoD) with the commercial and manufacturing realities of the electronics industry.

ERI Phase II aims to address three key issues that were raised by the electronics community during a series of workshops that DARPA held during the San Francisco-based ERI Summit in July: The need to support domestic manufacturing options and enable them to develop differentiated capabilities for diverse needs; a demand to invest in chip security; and the desire to create new connections between ERI programs and demonstrate the resulting technologies in defense applications.

“Through ERI, DARPA is seeding the foundation of a more robust, secure, and heavily automated electronics industry to move us from an era of generalized hardware to specialized systems,” said Dr. Bill Chappell, director of DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office (MTO). “The U.S. electronics industry has provided global leadership in the electronics arena since the invention of the transistor. The first phase of ERI was a major investment into the research and development required to stay competitive by exploring specialization with novel circuit materials, architectures, and designs. ERI Phase II seeks to build on that investment and push us toward a domestic semiconductor manufacturing sector that can implement specialized circuits; demonstrate that those circuits can be trusted through the supply chain and are built with security in mind; and are ultimately available to both DoD and commercial sector users.”

ERI Phase II is charged with exploring the addition of complementary and alternative vectors to traditional CMOS scaling, with the first program in this space being Photonics in the Package for Extreme Scalability (PIPES). This program will explore ways to bring the benefits of optical scaling directly to chips and work to establish a domestic ecosystem that facilitates long-term access to these new photonics capabilities for both commercial and DoD users. DARPA officials believe that by significantly reducing the energy demands and challenges associated with moving data across digital microelectronics, the program could reduce the effort required to tie hundreds of GPUs together and will enable massive parallelism capable of supporting current and emerging data-intensive applications like machine learning, large-scale emulation, and advanced sensors.

Additional ERI Phase II investments are designed to ensure the development of novel manufacturing capabilities and support a strategy for the enduring availability of differentiated, high-performance electronics for the DoD and its commercial partners, a quest that is paramount for the DoD because its electronics manufacturing needs are numerous and diverse and its systems carry unique requirements and require specific functionality. Potential areas of exploration under ERI Phase II include the integration of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and radiofrequency (RF) components directly into advanced circuits and semiconductor manufacturing processes, efforts that will build on the existing work in the ERI Materials & Integration research thrust, complementing current ERI programs.

In the final months of 2018, DARPA plans to announce additional ERI Phase II investments relevant to issues highlighted at the ERI Summit; potential areas of exploration include enabling the traceability of electronics components from design to use and the development of electronics that can enforce protections for security and privacy.