Microelectronics 'Boot Camp' Educates Makers on Advanced Design Tools

Jeffrey Dalton, principal data scientist with cybersecurity analyst Tenet3 LLC, Dayton, Ohio, presents information regarding systems analysis software that developers of custom silicon-chip solutions might use. Dalton presented to fellow technologists gathered at the Advanced Microelectronics "Boot Camp" Dec. 4-5, 2018 at the dedicated AFWERX Vegas Innovations Hub, Las Vegas. PHOTO: AFWERX

Jeffrey Dalton, principal data scientist with cybersecurity analyst Tenet3 LLC, Dayton, Ohio, presents information regarding systems analysis software that developers of custom silicon-chip solutions might use. Dalton presented to fellow technologists gathered at the Advanced Microelectronics "Boot Camp" Dec. 4-5, 2018 at the dedicated AFWERX Vegas Innovations Hub, Las Vegas. PHOTO: AFWERX

More than 60 small-business innovators and technologists recently participated in a 2-day microelectronics-chip design "Boot Camp" at the dedicated AFWERX Vegas Innovation Hub, Las Vegas earlier this month. The purpose of the event was to provide unprecedented training and design resources to potential manufacturers of a next-generation of smart hardware, toward an on-going Advanced Microelectronics Prototype and Design Challenge that AFWERX is conducting on behalf of the U.S. Air Force.

Ultimately, participants could potentially partner with the Air Force toward the fabrication of a microchip, and gain access to a program requirement from the Department of Defense.

The opposite of "general purpose" microchips, Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASIC; pronounced "AY-sik") are customized hardware designed for a user's specific requirements. As microchips become richer in features, complete systems can be packed in one chip, called "System on a Chip" and abbreviated "SoC." Examples include the specialized chips found commercially in cellular phones, digital voice recorders, and GPS navigation products.

Through the AFWERX challenge, technologists at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio are seeking solutions for a "14-nanometer advanced Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) or System on a Chip (SoC) that can operate and improve the features of an autonomous product, while maintaining the integrity (provenance, traceability) and security needs (information protection, mathematical algorithms) of critical systems."

As part of the challenge, the Air Force is providing access to selected participants to an Electronic Design Automation (EDA) platform license. The platform includes a commercial cloud-based development environment, design and verification tools, Intellectual Property (IP) libraries, design expertise support, and fabrication.

"It's been a very good experience," says Mohamed Kassem. As a subject-matter expert, Kassem helped shepherd discussions during the AFWERX Vegas design workshop. "It was very informative, over the course of the Boot Camp, to see the reactions of participants in person, to hear their questions and see their energy and intent to move forward toward something very exciting." Kassem is Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for a San Jose, Calif.-based Efabless, a crowdsourcing platform for custom chip design.

Innovators can learn more and participate in the AFWERX microelectronics challenge online at: www.afwerxchallenge.com/microdesign.

Deadline for initial proposals is Jan. 22, 2019. Selected innovators will then be invited to a February 2019 showcase event near the AFWERX Vegas Innovation Hub. There, they'll meet with other innovators, investors, experts, and U.S. Air Force personnel. Program managers are planning a design and simulation phase ending in July 2019, and a physical prototyping phase concluding mid-2020.

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For more information on AFWERX, visit: www.afwerxdc.org.

As envisioned by U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson in 2017, AFWERX is intended to solve some of the toughest challenges that the Air Force faces, through innovation and collaboration amongst our nation’s top subject-matter experts. The world is changing quickly—new technologies, new threats, and new opportunities. AFWERX taps into the power of creativity and empowers intentional innovation that unleashes emergent approaches for the warfighter through a community of intrapreneurs, industry, academia, and non-traditional contributors. AFWERX has the ability "to bring together our nation’s best and brightest to collaborate, innovate, fabricate, and present accelerated results to the United States Air Force to better serve our No. 1 customer: the warfighter and operators in the Air Force."