Abstract image of computer network.New research centers aim to jump-start the future of microelectronics technologies. (iStock image)

New research centers to help usher in future of microelectronics

January 19, 2018 by Sarah Yang, Berkeley Engineering

Berkeley Engineering faculty are leading partners in three new multi-university research centers that aim to jump-start the future technologies for the microelectronics industry, with a particular focus on energy-efficient computing as well as communications and sensing.

The centers are among six funded by the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) Joint University Microelectronics Program (JUMP), a consortium of industry partners and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). SRC recently announced five-year grants totaling $200 million for the six JUMP centers, with $16.2 million going to UC Berkeley researchers.

Prabal Dutta, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, is the associate director of Computing on Network Infrastructure for Pervasive Perception, Cognition and Action (CONIX), an SRC center directed by Anthony Rowe at Carnegie Mellon University. SRC is awarding the center $27.5 million – with $6.6 million going to UC Berkeley – to develop the infrastructure linking the cloud with devices on the “edge” or periphery of networks, such as sensors, drones and virtual reality headsets.

“CONIX aims to provide a new middle tier of distributed computing that tightly couples the cloud and edge by pushing increased levels of autonomy and intelligence into the network,” said Dutta. “This infrastructure will be critical for future perception, cognition and action applications like augmented reality, smart cities and mobile robotics.”

CONIX researchers stressed the importance of defining the architecture for such networks before any attempts to work around current limitations, which would create infrastructure subject to Band-Aid updates that reduce performance and security.

Dutta will be joined at CONIX by Berkeley EECS professors David Culler, Jan Rabaey, Claire Tomlin and John Wawrzynek.

EECS professor Ali Niknejad will be associate director of the Center for Converged TeraHertz Communications and Sensing, or ComSenTer. This $27.5 million SRC center will be led by UC Santa Barbara’s Mark Rodwell.

“Our center focuses on the next next generation of communication and sensing, something that would become 6G for mobile communication systems,” said Niknejad. “Imagine a roomful of 1,000 students, not only watching a professor manipulate a knife in a virtual surgical demonstration, but walking up and looking at the procedure from any angle, and even practicing surgery on their own virtual cadaver. This type of augmented reality lecture could be in the not-too-distant future.”

Other applications include sensors that allow terahertz HD cameras mounted in autonomous cars to look miles ahead and discern objects using high-resolution imaging, as well as those that can detect chemicals and be used in medical imaging.

Of the total funding for ComSenTer, $5.8 million will go to UC Berkeley. Other Berkeley EECS faculty participating in ComSenTer are Elad Alon, Borivoje Nikolic and Vladimir Stojanovic.

UC Berkeley faculty are also involved in a third SRC center called Applications and Systems-driven Center for Energy-Efficient Integrated Nano Technologies (ASCENT), which was awarded $26.4 million over five years. Of that amount, UC Berkeley will receive $3.8 million.

EECS professor Sayeef Salahuddin will serve as associate director of ASCENT, which focuses on next-generation, energy-efficient computing that overcomes bottlenecks in data transfer. ASCENT is led by Suman Datta at the University of Notre Dame and will include some 20 faculty members from 13 research universities.

“Our task at Berkeley will be to lead the center’s effort on energy-efficient logic and memory devices that would push the boundaries of traditional Moore’s law scaling, as well as design and develop novel 3-D integrated circuits,” said Salahuddin.

The other UC Berkeley faculty who are part of ASCENT are Jeff Bokor from EECS and Ramesh Ramamoorthy from Materials Science and Engineering.

More background on SRC’s JUMP program and its six research centers is available at www.src.org.