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NSF Grant to Fund R&D on Wireless Network Chip Connections

Baris Taskin (Drexel University)

Baris Taskin (Drexel University)

Engineers at Drexel University in Philadelphia are developing semiconductors using wireless connections in a network to exchange data among the chip’s components. The project is funded by a three-year $400,000 grant from National Science Foundation’s Electrical, Communications, and Cyber Systems division.

The research is led by electrical engineering professor Baris Taskin (pictured left), who directs Drexel’s VLSI lab. Taskin’s research interests include integrated circuit physical design and wireless integrated circuit interconnects. An associate on the project, engineering professor Kapil Dandekar, is providing reconfigurable antenna technology developed at Drexel.

Driving the development of wireless data transfers among components in a single microchip is the need to pack more functions at higher speeds on a single device. Taskin notes that “wired interconnections can be very long despite their ability to be condensed into a small space,” adding, “the sheer volume of the connections necessary to make a functional chip still takes up a great deal of area.”

The Drexel team is expected to design a hybrid network-on-chip that uses both antennas and wired interconnects to optimize communication speed and allow the chip to be applied to more sophisticated platforms. The use of radio frequencies as a data transport medium has an advantage over other wireless methods used in next-generation microchips because radio waves can travel through solids.

The research team is also investigating optical data transmission, which uses light waves, as an alternative to wired interconnections. Optical data transports require a clear line of sight between transmitters and receivers, however, which can limit design options and negate its viability in three-dimensional chips.

The project aims to develop a functioning proof-of-concept hybrid — wired and wireless — device within five years. “A hybrid chip that utilizes both wired and wireless connections provides a more robust platform,” says Taskin. “Wired interconnections can be used as dedicated communications lines between areas that are constantly transmitting data. Antennas can eliminate a number of wired interconnections between the less-traveled paths of communication on the chip.”

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