DARPA’s $1.5 billion plan to reinvent electronics is risky, but could pay off big time


Concerned that the country could lose its edge in semiconductor chips, the US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has launched a $1.5 billion, five-year program known as the Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI) to support work on advances in chip technology.

DARPA just unveiled the first set of teams selected to research and explore unproven but potentially powerful approaches to hardware that, if successful, will revolutionize US chip development and manufacturing.

Hardware innovation has taken a back seat to software advancements in recent years and the US military aims to see that change. The military relies on cutting edge advances in electronics, and unless new architectures and designs can allow for some forward progress, technology advancement may be stymied.

The ERI’s budget is about a fourfold increase in DARPA’s typical annual spending on hardware, truly showing their investment to the advancement of their cause.


The three broad areas of focus: chip design, architecture, and materials and integration have been reflected with the initial projects of the program. One of those projects aims to drastically reduce the time it takes to create a new chip design. Their ambitious project aims to go from years or months of designing down to just one day, all by automating the process with machine learning and other tools so that even relatively inexperienced users can create high-quality designs.


William Chappell, the head of the DARPA office that manages the ERI program states, “We’re trying to engineer the craft brewing revolution in electronics.” With the automated design tools, the agency hopes to attract and inspire smaller companies that don’t have the resources of giant chip makers, imitating electronically how specialized brewers in the US have innovated alongside the beer industry’s giants.


Another ERI project will explore ways in which novel circuit integration schemes can eliminate or reduce the need to shift data around, with the ultimate goal to effectively embed computing power in memory. This in itself could lead to dramatic increases in performance.


DARPA is looking to use new materials such as carbon nanotubes, and innovating smarter ways of stacking and partitioning electronic circuits.


Here’s to the future.


If you are interested in working with DARPA or knowing more about their research, you can find their website at darpa.mil.


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