DARPA is all about developing advanced technologies that could underpin decisive national security capabilities in the years to come. A typical sequence that leads to new technology starts with fundamental science and engineering research, which, in turn, opens new pathways toward greatly improved technology by way of applied and goal-directed engineering and product development. In a bid to power up the front end of this sequence in the vast and complex area of microelectronics, DARPA, and a consortium of industry partners in the Joint University Microelectronics Program (JUMP), have completed the search for U.S. university collaborators to undertake high-risk, high-payoff research that addresses existing and emerging challenges in microelectronic technologies.
As of January 1, six JUMP research centers comprised of academic researchers from over 30 U.S. universities began exploratory research initiatives that JUMP organizers hope will impact defense and commercial opportunities in the coming decades.
“The point of JUMP and its six thematic centers is to drive a new wave of fundamental research with the potential to deliver the disruptive microelectronics-based technologies required by the Department of Defense and national security in the 2025-2030 timeframe,” said Linton Salmon, DARPA’s program manager for JUMP. “Through these university teams, we’re seeking innovative solutions to tough technical challenges so that we can overcome today’s limitations in the performance and scalability of electronic systems. This in turn will open the way to technologies that dramatically boost the warfighter’s abilities to sense the environment, process information, and communicate.”
With initial efforts starting in 2016, DARPA, in collaboration with the non-profit Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), recruited a consortium of cost-sharing industry partners—among them Analog Devices, ARM, EMD Performance Materials (a Merck KGaA affiliate), IBM Corporation, Intel Corporation, Lockheed Martin Corporation, Micron Technology, Inc., Northrop Grumman Corporation, Raytheon Company, TSMC, and Samsung—forming the foundation of JUMP. The consortium, for which SRC serves as the administrative hub, conducted a search for university research proposals throughout 2017 with the goal of uncovering innovative approaches to solving tough development challenges around microelectronics. Funding for the five-year effort is expected to total approximately $200 million, with DARPA providing about 40 percent of the funding and consortium partners collectively kicking in about 60 percent.
Four of the successful proposals to participate in the JUMP program fall under the category “vertical” application-focused centers and two fall under the category “horizontal” disciplinary-focused centers.
Within the JUMP context, the challenges of the “vertical” research centers focus on accomplishing application-oriented goals and spurring the development of complex systems with capabilities well beyond those available today. Diving deep into cognitive computing, intelligent memory and storage, distributed computing and networking, and RF to THz sensor and communications systems, among other areas, these research centers will strive to develop systems that will be transferable to military and industry in a five year timeframe and fieldable in 10.
The four vertical JUMP centers are:
Center for Brain-inspired Computing Enabling Autonomous Intelligence (C-BRIC): Led by Kaushik Roy of Purdue University, C-BRIC aims to deliver major advances in cognitive computing, with the goal of enabling a new generation of autonomous intelligent systems. The next wave of AI holds the promise of creating autonomous intelligent systems like self-flying drones and personal robotic assistants but will require a new type of semiconductor technology to meet the energy and computing demands required to advance beyond current machine learning applications. Researchers from nine universities will explore neuro-inspired algorithms, theories, hardware fabrics, and application drivers to achieve the center’s mission and pave the way for the AI hardware of the future.
Center for Converged TeraHertz Communications and Sensing (ComSecTer): Researchers from 10 universities led by Mark Rodwell of the University of California, Santa Barbara will work within ComSecTer toward the collective goal of developing technologies for a future cellular infrastructure designed to support the autonomous vehicle revolution and the emergence of intelligent highways. The envisioned cellular infrastructure will be capable of handling the data demands require to support technologies like cm-precision localization, unparalleled high-resolution imaging, and lightweight “whisper radio” technology, which researchers would apply to solving some of the communication, safety, and navigation challenges associated with autonomous driving today.
Computing On Network Infrastructure for Pervasive Perception, Cognition, and Action (CONIX): Under CONIX, Anthony Rowe of Carnegie Mellon University will lead researchers from seven universities to develop an architecture for networked computing that lies between edge devices and the cloud. The Internet of Things (IoT) relies on the symbiotic relationship of the cloud, edge devices, and the network however, the growing amount of IoT-generated data is straining existing networks as it moves to the cloud for processing. By building intelligence into the network, CONIX aims to rethink the current system by moving processing and decision-making out of the cloud and creating more adaptability for current and future IoT applications.
Center for Research on Intelligent Storage and Processing-in-memory (CRISP): Led by Kevin Skadron at the University of Virginia, researchers from nine universities will work to topple the “memory wall”–a 70-year-old technical bottleneck in computer systems that is hindering the use of big data for technical discovery. Research efforts will focus on removing the separate between memory and storage that is hampering users’ abilities to access data. To accomplish this mission, CRISP researchers seek to build computer processing capabilities into memory storage at the chip level and pair processors with memory chips in 3D stacks. Once addressed, users would be able to perform previously unattainable computations on massive amounts of information, ultimately enabling rapid advances in national security, medical discovery, and beyond.
In addition, two “horizontal” research centers will take on the challenge of driving foundational developments around specific disciplines with the goal of creating disruptive breakthroughs in areas relevant to JUMP sponsors, including advanced architectures and algorithms, and advanced devices, packaging, and materials. The two horizontal JUMP centers include:
Applications Driving Architectures (ADA) Center: Led by Valeria Bertacco of the University of Michigan, the ADA Center aims to significantly reduce the cost, complexity, and energy required to develop advanced computing systems by democratizing the design and manufacturing process. Researchers from nine universities will work together to create a modular approach to system hardware and software design, requiring a complete rethink of the way design is done today. The expected “plug-and-play” ecosystem create by the ADA Center would help reduce the skills barrier required to develop new systems, expanding the talent pool and fostering idea generation to help propel the creation and advancement of new computing frontiers.
Applications and Systems driven Center for Energy-Efficient Integrated Nanotechnologies (ASCENT): ASCENT seeks to tackle the data-transfer bottlenecks and energy efficiency challenges associated with current electronic devices. Suman Datta of the University of Notre Dame will lead researchers from 13 universities in efforts to transcend the anticipated limits of current CMOS technology in order to increase the performance, efficiency, and capabilities of future computing systems. To achieve its goal, the center will explore four main areas of research that span novel integration schemes, innovative device technologies, and the application of hardware accelerators.
JUMP and its efforts to build-up a foundational research base in fields underlying microelectronics technologies are part of DARPA’s Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI). Over the next four years, the ERI will commit hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure far-reaching improvements in electronics performance well beyond the limits of traditional scaling. Central to the ERI are new forward-looking collaborations among the commercial electronics community, defense industrial base, university researchers, and the DoD.
The partnerships created across industry, academia, and the defense community through JUMP are one of several critical components advancing ERI and its efforts to foster the environment needed for the next wave of U.S. semiconductor technology innovations.
For more information about JUMP and the six research centers supporting this collaborative effort, visit the SRC’s website: https://www.src.org/program/jump/
For more information about the Electronics Resurgence Initiative, visit: http://www.darpa.mil/work-with-us/electronics-resurgence-initiative