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Tomorrow's technology points to present-day solutions

Posted: 21 Jun 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Design automation conference? CMOS? nanotube? microprocessor? packaging technology?

Off-key subjects were at the heart of several emerging technology sessions at last week's Design Automation Conference that examined the challenges of next-generation designs while suggesting possible approaches to existing problems.

At a session titled "Life is CMOS: Imminent or Irrelevant?" Intel Corp. discussed potential solutions to the problems of CMOS scaling when gate lengths approach 10 nanometers. At "E-Textiles," researchers detailed their work to mesh electronics into clothing. And at "Optics: Lighting the Way to EDA Riches," speakers examined the EDA industry's possible role beyond the design of electronic devices.

Though poorly attended, the sessions offered a glimpse into a future. Intel described circuit and design techniques that could be used to control leakage power, and examined energy-efficient microarchitecture trends for general-purpose microprocessors.

The compelling need to use high-k dielectrics to replace silicon dioxide or oxy-nitride as circuits scale was detailed. The authors reported that HfO2 and ZrO2 provide the smallest gate leakage, two to three orders of magnitude smaller than oxide, for a target electrical thickness in the sub-10-nanometer regime.

To maximize the benefit of migrating to a high-k gate dielectric, the authors said, poly depletion should be reduced or eliminated. It is also desirable to increase poly doping beyond the solid solubility limit, they said. The transition to a metal gate fully eliminates poly depletion. But metal gates with appropriate work functions for nMOS and pMOS must be identified and process integration issues must be resolved.

Combining metal gates with a depleted substrate transistor to set threshold voltage is a promising approach that also addresses the poly depletion problem. While these solutions appear difficult, the authors concluded, they are more mature and less risky than other proposed alternatives for CMOS.

At the same session, H. Bernhard Pogge of IBM Microelectronics detailed a new chip fabrication method for system-on-chip devices (SoCs) that combines a set of somewhat diverse processes. Based on a selection of traditional chip process elements that are combined with more recent chip packaging methodologies, the approach simultaneously overcomes all key process limitations experienced with today's SoC designs and eliminates certain chip packaging handicaps, Pogge said.

In an update on single-electron transistor research, representatives from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology offered a hybrid approach to CMOS/single-electron transistor (SET) ICs. The authors claimed that CMOS and SETs are complementary, with SETs a champion of low-power consumption and new functionality, and CMOS displaying speed, drive, voltage gain and input impedance advantages that compensate for SETs' intrinsic drawbacks.

Nanotube update

The much ballyhooed transistor replacement, the carbon nanotube, also found a home at the session. Researchers from IBM's T.J. Watson Research Labs described recent advances in their understanding of single-wall carbon nanotubes and their use as field-effect transistors (FETs).

According to the authors, complementary nanotube FETs can be integrated to make inter- and intra-nanotube logic circuits. The device performance and general characteristics of the nanotube circuits suggest that they can compete with silicon MOSFETs. The authors concluded that several issues must still be explored before a nanotube-based technology is possible.

For example, grown nanotubes come in a mixture of semiconducting and metallic types and there is currently no method to selectively separate them. Moreover, there are no effective ways to make controlled arrays of nanotubes.

But the physics of nanotube devices is also at an early stage, the authors said. Furthermore, significant advances in processing the material and in controlling the chemistry of nanotubes are needed. Overall, nanotubes presents all the desirable properties needed for future electronic applications, the IBM researchers said.

Smart fabrics

At the "E-Textiles" session, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Carnegie Mellon University described their activities.

Textiles and computing share a synergistic relationship that's realized in Georgia Tech's wearable motherboard, said researchers from the institute's School of Textiles and Engineering. .

The wearable motherboard provides a versatile framework for incorporating sensing, monitoring and information processing devices. It uses optical fibers that could detect bullet wounds, and special sensors and interconnects that could monitor the body vital signs of individuals, the researchers said.

E-clothes design issues

Clothing is probably the only element that is "always there" and in complete harmony with an individual?at least in a civilized society, the researchers said. Textiles provide the ultimate flexibility in system design due to the broad range of materials and manufacturing techniques that can be employed to create products, they said.

In its paper, Carnegie Mellon addressed the challenges faced by researchers in modeling "smart fabrics" with "wearable" capabilities like any other garment but also local monitoring, computation and wireless communication capabilities. Here, sensors and simple computational elements are embedded into e-textiles with the goal of gathering sensitive information, monitoring vital statistics and sending that data remotely (possibly over a wireless channel) for further processing.

Since this research is likely to introduce revolutionary changes in the classic design style of today's electronic systems, there will be significant long-term impact on both the academic research community and on industrial players such as CAD vendors, intellectual property providers and potential e-textile manufacturers, the researchers said.

Although production of e-textile-based products is limited today, growth is expected to increase in the near future, the researchers said. Thus, the design automation community should be ready to deliver tools and techniques for designing, testing and reconfiguring such products, they said. The need to consider fundamentally design issues in the context of e-textiles could have a major impact on the design automation community at large, they said.

Optical Internet

In the emerging technologies session on optics, two invited papers from researchers at the University of Toronto and the University of Maryland reviewed optical systems and their role in communications.

The Toronto team is looking at the optical Internet?the fiber-optic-based backbone of the Internet and its possible use of integrated optoelectronics. The paper described how self-organized photonic crystals and heterostructures have been used to control the flow and features of light. The researchers claim that photonic crystals may play a role in increasing control over the flow of light, and in processing the data signals.

Meanwhile, the University of Maryland is already working through a spin-out company, Photonex Inc., to leverage academic research, develop models and utilize computational clusters to design and optimize commercial optical transmission systems. The company is working with Monte Carlo trials to study the cluster's statistical behavior.

? Nicolas Mokhoff

EE Times

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