DARPA is set to revolutionize ASIC design

September 09, 2015, anysilicon

Thanks to the $30 million investment made through government funding, the American Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is set to start a new program that will enable a significant cut down of costs for custom integrated circuits for specific tasks (ASIC).


The revolutionizing program will be called CRAFT that stands for Circuit Realization At Faster Timescales.




During the past few years the constant increase of prices for specialized integrated circuits for military electronics, without a noticeable performance advantage of the final products, brought Defense engineers to look for more generic and less expensive circuits. Software was the only asset they could rely on in order to make those circuits run the required specialized operations.


The goal of the project is to be able to create customized, technology-specific circuits using the 16 nanometer/14 nm commercial fabrication infrastructure that today manufactures generic commodity circuits. “The CRAFT program seeks to develop new fast-track circuit-design methods, multiple sources for integrated circuit fabrication, and a technology repository that will facilitate reuse of proven solutions.” Said the director of CRAFT program, Linton Salmon continuing: “A custom integrated circuit designed only to process images from an airborne radar or to analyze sensor data for warfighters on the ground doesn’t need to run a spread sheet or a word processor, why carry around a heavy bulging Swiss Army knife when all you need is a single Phillips-head screwdriver?”


The CRAFT program set its ambitious objective in cutting down the design cycle for custom integrate circuits by 10 times, aiming to think about months and not anymore in years. It will also provide multiple resources for integrated circuit fabrication and a technology repository to help reusing proven solutions.


Mr Salmon gave also an explanatory example: Consider the Gotcha radar system that the Air Force Research Laboratory is developing to identify moving objects over city-scale areas and render detailed 3D images. “Gotcha currently requires a land-based supercomputer to make sense of the radar data and convert it into tactically useful imagery. However, relaying the data to a remote supercomputer across a contested data link can cause crippling delays. The CRAFT program could help put more of the necessary computational power on the UAV itself or on the backs of warfighters, enabling quicker delivery of the imagery to those who need it most.”