DARPA program aims for next-gen RF electronics

By Jonathan Nally
Monday, 10 February, 2020

DARPA program aims for next-gen RF electronics

US military research agency DARPA has selected several teams from academia and the private sector to push forward with development of mixed-mode integrated circuits for next-generation communication systems.

The Technologies for Mixed-mode Ultra Scaled Integrated Circuits (T-MUSIC) program was first announced in January 2019 as a part of the second phase of DARPA’s Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI).

Under the ERI, researchers will aim to integrate photonics and RF components directly into semiconductor manufacturing processes.

The research aims get past the bottleneck of traditional RF electronics, which need to be interfaced with separate digital processors.

Those traditional technologies cannot provide “higher frequencies with larger signal bandwidths and higher resolutions, essentially limiting their use in next-generation mixed-mode interfaces needed for emerging defence RF applications,” according to DARPA.

With the T-MUSIC program, DARPA hopes to not only achieve its technical objectives, but also to foster a domestic US production ecosystem to reduce or eliminate reliance on overseas suppliers, thus improving security for Department of Defence (DoD) users.

“T-MUSIC’s goal is to develop next-generation terahertz (THz) mixed-mode devices that integrate digital processing and intelligence on the same chip through an advanced CMOS fabrication platform,” said DARPA Program Manager Dr Y K Chen, who leads the T-MUSIC program.

“These technologies will provide DoD systems with differentiating capabilities in advanced RF sensors, high-capacity wireless and wireline communications, and beyond.”

Some of the research teams will work to develop and implement advanced broadband RF mixed-mode circuit designs that can form ‘building blocks’ for use by DoD-relevant applications, and which can form the basis of a mixed-mode IP library for the DoD user community. The teams are led by: BAE Systems; Raytheon; University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, San Diego; and the University of Utah.

Those teams will work closely with selected foundry partners to support the development of the technologies in US foundries.

Other researchers (University of California, Los Angeles and University of California, Berkeley) will aim for breakthroughs in ultra-broadband transistors, capable of demonstrating switching speeds of up to 1 THz in a scalable CMOS platform.

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