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Defense IT

DARPA licenses emerging chip technology

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will license emerging "embedded" programmable chip technology from a Silicon Valley startup that specializes in chip intellectual property cores and accompanying software.

 Flex Logix Technologies Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., said this week DARPA would license its embedded FPGA chip technology for use by any contractor or U.S. agency designing chips for government programs. FPGA stands for field programmable gate arrays, an emerging chip technology that allows hardware to be reconfigured.

In what company officials called a shift in DARPA procurement policies, the chips will be manufactured using process technology provided by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), the world's largest chip foundry. Previously, DARPA and other branches of the U.S. military used "trusted" fabs to manufacture components for weapons and other gear.

Under terms of the licensing agreement, Flex Logix will provide FPGAs based on TSMC's 16-nanometer process technology. The agreement with DARPA is structured so that companies or agencies can at any point reconfigure a chip design element called the register-transfer level (RTL). That flexibility is intended to allow licensees to increase chip performance, reduce power consumption or shrink the size of embedded FPGAs.

"The ability to reconfigure RTL at any time can eliminate expensive chip [design starts], enable one chip to address many customers and applications and extend the life of chips and systems," the company noted in a statement announcing the DARPA deal.

Along with providing the software for programming embedded FPGAs, Flex Logix said the agreement with DARPA also includes work on additional chip designs based on its logic and other "cores," which serve as building blocks for different FPGA designs. Logic and accompanying digital signal processing cores can be mixed and matched for different applications.

The startup completed the transfer of its embedded FPGA core to the TSMC chip manufacturing processes in December. The chipmaker previously said it expected system designs based on its embedded FPGA technology to enter production during the first half of 2017.

Other U.S. chipmakers also have been targeting the nascent FPGA market. For example, Intel Corp., which acquired FPGA leader Altera in 2015 for more than $16 billion, is targeting new Altera-based devices at cloud computing, datacenters, networking infrastructure and the Internet of Things. Intel's IoT implementations focus on radar and imaging systems, the chipmaker said last fall.

Flex Logix added it would provide more details on its embedded FPGA technology during the Government Microcircuits Technology Conference beginning March 21 in Reno, NV.

About the Author

George Leopold is a contributing editor for Defense Systems and author of Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom."Connect with him on Twitter at @gleopold1.

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