IMEC is a technology research center located in Belgium that is one of the premier semiconductor research centers in the world today. The IMEC Technology Forum (ITF) is a two-day event attended by approximately 1,000 people to showcase the work done by IMEC and their partners.
Luc Van Den Hove is the president and CEO of IMEC and he kicked off the ITF with a talk entitled “IC Innovation The Heartbeat of Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. His talk gave a really interesting overview of the challenges and opportunities the semiconductor industry faces today.
We are now in the middle of the second decade of the century and it is a decade of disruption. Today Uber is the largest Taxi company in the world but it doesn’t own any Taxis, Facebook is the largest provider of content but it doesn’t produce any content and airbnb is the larger housing provider without owning any housing.
We are now on the eve of the Internet of Things (IoT) and IoT will disrupt everything. There will be billions of sensors providing data to tailor the environment.
In Integrated Circuit technology, scaling has historically given us, smaller, faster and cheaper with less power consumption. The trade-offs today are that scaling no longer provides all of the historical benefits. He is convinced that scaling will continue for a couple of more decades but Moore’s law will be different, it won’t just be dimensional scaling.
On the device technology front, FinFETs will transition to horizontal nanowires and then to vertical nanowires.
A cost effective lithography solution is needed and IMEC is convinced EUV is the only option, he is convinced it will succeed.
2D scaling will get harder and the time from node to node will get longer, we will need to make more use of the third dimension. For example, if you build a 3D SRAM cell once you have that building block you may be able to stack them up. SRAMs are very regular but then so are FPGAs and you can also build up standard cells.
Another opportunity is to do heterogeneous chip stacking so that each chip can be optimized for its portion of the work load. Combining Through Silicon Via (TSV) and interposers you can combine processing, memory and optical Input Output (I/O) together.
Magnetic spin based circuitry can create integration with less components than CMOS.
System innovation is also needed. To-date everything has been based on Von Neumann computing but we can evolve to Neuromorphic computing that is more like the human brain using fuzzy logic. Each neuron in the human brain is connected to 10 to 15,000 other neurons. Mimic the brains interconnection scheme using hardware. RRAM has synaptic like behavior.
Quantum computing is a long term option but he believes it is still several tens of years away. He is convinced a semiconductor platform will be needed to make it practical.
Systems and technology will need to both be co-optimized.
IC Technology will enable precision medicine. Today medicine is generic but in the future it will be tailored to the individual by genetic profiling. A DNA sequence has 6 billion characters. Targeting tumors based on DNA will allow more effective treatment but sequencing needs to be faster for it to be economical. They can sequence DNA for a few thousand dollars today. The short reads of the sequence require billions of reads that have to be reconstructed. They can now reconstruct a DNA sequence in a 2 hours instead of the 5 days it previously took. Sequencing is getting better faster than Moore’s law.
Automotive is evolving to smart connected cars for safety, inclusiveness and sustainability. To make this happen requires better sensors that are smarter and less expensive. They are integrating LIDAR onto silicon for an orders of magnitude reduction in cost. 70 GHz going to 140 GHz enable antenna on chip and better detection and identification. They are working on a full 360 degree image but it needs to combine a lot of data. This will require a lot of on-board processing power and automotive will need access to the latest technology. Cars will be the first implementation of robots in our life that will then spill over into daily service, health care and autonomous delivery.
We will need innovation in hardware and software, smarter sensors with – sensors, processing, storage and wireless communications all integrated together (computation is cheaper than bandwidth, process first to minimize transmission of data).
IoT will become the super brain of the world. We will need distributed intelligence to handle the data. Security and privacy will need to be implemented at a hardware levels and all of this will need to be tested in actual use.
In order to make this all happen all of the key players will need to work together. IMECs core is silicon technology but they are spreading out and leveraging silicon. Technology at the core needs to be surrounded by a system to deliver smart: health, mobility, cities, manufacturing, energy, media, government, etc. To this end they are merging iMind into IMEC bringing iMind’s application knowledge under the IMEC umbrella to accelerate IoT.
He believes that the chance that the next innovations will be built on semiconductor technology is pretty high just like the last fifty years. To bring about the next wave of innovation will require specific technologies optimized for the application, hardware-application and system-technology will all have to be co-optimized. IMEC is bringing together top applications partners, fabless companies, semiconductor companies and major suppliers to accomplish this. They are fully committed to develop the next wave of building blocks.