NTU hosts race to design innovative “green microchips”
An innovative microchip that is energy efficient was unveiled yesterday at Singapore’s first international chip design competition.
The winner, a team from Institute of Microelectronics, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), was announced at the biennial International Symposium on Integrated Circuits (ISIC) 2011, one of the world’s major conferences in the area of integrated circuits engineering, held at the Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre from 12 to 14 December 2011.
The winning team had pulled ahead of 12 other finalists to clinch the top prize of $10,000. The two other silver award winners received $6,000 each, while seven bronze winners received $3,000. The finalists hail from six countries, including India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden and Taiwan. Leading semiconductor companies MediaTek and Infineon sponsored the prizes.
The team from Institute of Microelectronics, which had four NTU alumni out of 11 team members, were awarded the top prize because of their creative and innovative design. The team had designed an ultra-low-power wireless implantable blood flow sensing microsystem for vascular graft applications.
Team leader, Dr Xue Rui-Feng, said their chip is designed to provide sensor data on the blood flow in patients from within the body, which will instantly give doctors an early warning if the patient has abnormal blood flow, unlike current methods of testing which is time consuming and is only conducted during a clinic visit.
“It took us two years to develop this innovative technology, which has yet to be seen commercially in the market,” said Dr Xue. “The two unique features which we have implemented in our chip are the wireless transmission of data and the fact that it can be implanted into the human body.”
“It is also non-invasive as it can be implanted in the patient at the same time as the vascular graft, such as during a heart bypass operation,” Dr Xue said, adding that more work still needs to be done to turn it into a commercial product.
The team had beaten over 40 other project submissions from around the world. The works submitted for the competition will be published in the ISIC 2011 proceedings, which will be listed in IEEE Xplore, an impactful international digital library accessed by all the electrical & electronic engineers worldwide.
General Chair of the Symposium, Assoc Prof See Kye Yak from Nanyang Technological University, said, “Consumer electronics manufacturers face constant challenge to design portable products that last longer on smaller batteries, so highly efficient chips are becoming increasingly more important. This competition enables us to spur innovation in the microchip industry by encouraging designers to come up with better and faster chips that consume much less power.
Fostering expertise in energy efficient Integrated Circuits (IC) research is also crucial to the industry’s future, as the electronics sector has a powerful role to play in promoting environmental sustainability.
“Having such a competition also positions Singapore as a leading IC research and development hub instead of just being an IC chip manufacturer,” said the don from NTU’s School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering.
“Promoting IC design activities in Singapore will lead to more intellectual property being developed, which will benefit Singapore in achieving its vision of a knowledge-based economy,” he added.
NTU’s Assoc Prof Chan Pak Kwong, the chairman of the judging panel comprising five academics and two industry experts, said they were looking for a team which scored best in five criteria: Originality/novelty, State-of-the-Art, Application Impact, Complexity and Integration, and Robustness and Reliability.
“As modern devices are becoming smaller, so have the microchips. There is a need for better compact circuits and systems integrated solutions to avoid unnecessary increase of system complexity, which causes the increase of power consumption as well as the resources needed during manufacturing,” said Assoc Prof Chan.
“With the world’s shift towards greener energy, electronics industries will have to adapt to using less power in a bid to do their part, to conserve dwindling natural resources and at the same time, increase operation time of devices using batteries and other alternative power sources – or what is termed as a ‘green chip’”, he added.
One example of a “green chip” is the extremely low-powered Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) reader developed by the NTU team, which received a bronze award. RFID tags are commonly used in shops, tagged on products to deter theft, since the tag will sound off an alarm if it is brought out of the shop. Compared to existing commercial readers on the market, this new RFID reader uses 35 per cent less energy and yet is able to pick up weak signals from tags properly.
Such green technologies are in line with NTU’s commitment to Sustainability, as it is one of NTU’s Five Peaks of Excellence which the university aims to make its mark globally under NTU 2015 five year strategic plan. The other four peaks include future healthcare, new media, the best of the East and West, and innovation.
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