DARPAs Top Tech Projects

By Mark Hachman  |  Posted 2003-08-20 Print this article Print

Leheny said DARPA is investigating a laundry list of various technologies; he didnt indicate whether the agency favored a particular approach or specify the amount of funding for each initiative. DARPA does not officially support any technology, he said. Among the technologies under DARPA scrutiny:

  • Alternative manufacturing processes: Although the vast majority of all semiconductors are manufactured on a CMOS process, Leheny said the agency favored the fast clock speeds rendered via silicon-germanium fabrication techniques. Silicon-germanium is designed for communications, promising lower power consumption than conventional CMOS chips. DARPA and NASA have also investigated doping silicon with indium phosphide, which the space agency has used to fabricate solar cells. DARPA withdrew from SEMATECH, the semiconductor industrys manufacturing consortium focused on manufacturing research, in the late 1990s.

  • Photonics: DARPA has projects under way to use photonics in both silicon lasers and in sensors. Tunable silicon-based lasers could be used to transmit optical signals over optical fiber, replacing copper wire, he said. Eventually, optical connectors will replace silicon-based chip interconnects, Leheny said.

    Photonic sensors pose a more interesting problem. Images from radar transmitters, even from multiple sources, dont offer the type of resolution needed to hazard more than a basic guess about a targets identity. Placing large numbers of CCDs or other optical sensors in a tight array would allow a soldier to beam back high-resolution images, Leheny said. Unfortunately, a lack of battlefield bandwidth currently allows only still images to be sent, he said.

  • Microelectrical-mechanical systems (MEMS) After the dot-com bust, interest in this technology abated, Lenehy said. However, DARPA is looking at using MEMS to develop chip-scale atomic clocks.
At some point, Moores Law will run out of steam. Then, Leheny said, DARPA and the semiconductor industry both will have to turn to new approaches. One possibility might be the use of carbon nanotubes, aligned into microwires. And the industry might have to turn again to the ingenuity that began it. "Intel isnt going to just up and quit," Leheny said.


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