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Archive for April, 2017

MEMS Mirrors for LIDAR

Monday, April 24th, 2017

Clever integration of new microelectronic/nanoelectronic technologies will continue to provide increased functionalities for modern products. Light Imaging, Detection, And Ranging (LIDAR) technology uses lasers to see though fog and darkness, and smaller less expensive LIDAR systems are needed for autonomous driving applications now being developed by dozens of major companies around the world. A significant step in the right direction has been taken by the US government’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) after working with AMFitzgerald on a MEMS mirror Light-field Directing Array (LDA) prototype.

In-process photo of the Light-field Directing Array (LDA) MEMS prototype designed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. (Source: AMFitzgerald & Assoc.) In-process photo of the Light-field Directing Array (LDA) MEMS prototype designed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. (Source: AMFitzgerald & Assoc.)

For the past several years, AMFitzgerald has been developing the fabrication process for a novel MEMS micro-mirror array designed by Dr. Robert Panas’s research group at LLNL, as shown in this video. The technology has been developed specifically to serve LIDAR, laser communications, and other demanding applications where existing MEMS mirror array technologies are insufficient. The novel design offers exceptional speed and tilt range, with three axes (tip-tilt-piston), feedback control, and 99% fill factor. The technology is available for license from the LLNL Industrial Partnerships Office.

At the upcoming MEMS & Sensors Technical Congress, on May 11, Dr. Carolyn D. White will present a case study on how she developed this complex prototype and leveraged AMFitzgerald’s ecosystem of partners to integrate specialty processes. Dr. Alissa Fitzgerald—founder and principle of AMFitzgerald leading the development of innovative MEMS and sensor solutions for specialty applications—will be giving a keynote address on “Next Generation MEMS Manufacturing” at 9:10am May 17 during The ConFab. Dr. Fitzgerald has unparalleled expertise in how to best design MEMS for different fab lines, and is a speaker not to be missed.

—E.K.

Moore’s Law Smells Funny

Saturday, April 1st, 2017

…maybe we need “Integrated Cleverness Law”

“Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny.” – Frank Zappa 1973
from Be-Bop Tango (Of The Old Jazzmen’s Church)

Marketing is about managing expectations. IC marketing must position next-generation chips as adding significant new/improved functionalities, and for over 50 years the IC fab industry has leaned on the conceptual crutch of “so-called Moore’s Law” (as Gordon Moore always refers to it) to do so. For 40 years the raw device count was a good proxy for a better IC, but since the end of Dennard Scaling the raw transistor count on a chip is no longer the primary determinant of value.

Intel’s has recently released official positions on Moore’s Law, and the main position is certainly correct:  “Advances in Semi Manufacturing Continue to Make Products Better and More Affordable,” as per the sub-headline of the blog post by Stacy Smith, executive vice president leading manufacturing, operations, and sales for Intel. Smith adds that “We have seen that it won’t end from lack of benefits, and that progress won’t be choked off by economics.” This is what has been meant by “Moore’s Law” all along.

When I interviewed Gordon Moore about all of this 20 years ago (“The Return of Cleverness” Solid State Technology, July 1997, 359), he wisely reminded us that before the industry reaches the limits of physical scaling we will be working with billions of transistors in a square centimeter of silicon. There are no ends to the possibilities of cleverly combining billions of transistors with sensors and communications technologies to add more value to our world. Intel’s recent spend of US$15B to acquire MobileEye is based on a plan to cost-effective integrate novel functionalities, not to merely make the most dense IC.

EETimes reports that at the International Symposium on Physical Design (ISPD 2017) Intel described more than a dozen technologies it is developing with universities and the SRC to transcend the limitations of CMOS. Ian Young, a senior fellow with Intel’s Technology Manufacturing Group and director of exploratory integrated circuits in components research, recently became the editor-in-chief of a new technical journal called the IEEE Journal of Exploratory Solid-State Computational Devices and Circuits, which explores these new CMOS-fab compatible processes.

Meanwhile, Intel’s Mark Bohr does an admirable job of advocating for reason when discussing the size of minimally scaled ICs. Bohr is completely correct in touting Intel’s hard-won lead in making devices smaller, and the company’s fab prowess remains unparalleled.

As I posted here three years ago in my “Moore’s Law Is Dead” blog series, our industry would be better served by retiring the now-obsolete simplification that more = better. As Moore himself says, cleverness in design and manufacturing will always allow us to make more valuable ICs. Maybe it is time to retire “Moore’s Law” and begin leveraging a term like “Integrated Cleverness Law” when telling the world that the next generation of ICs will be better.

—E.K.