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A research roadmap for delivering innovations in microelectronics

Posted on: 21 Sep 2020

A research roadmap for delivering innovations in microelectronics

Researchers at the Microelectronic Circuits Centre Ireland (MCCI), the leading research centre focused on ground-breaking microelectronics research, quickly adapted to the ‘new normal’ brought about by Covid-19 as they worked remotely, with a number of tapeouts completed during the transition, said Donnacha O’Riordan, executive director, MCCI.

Executive Director MCCI, Donnacha O'Riordan,
Tyndall National Institute.

“The crisis highlighted how our agile working model enabled all staff to work successfully from home, something we had always facilitated. We also continued to engage with our industry members by hosting our technical conference online which enabled us to have discussions on our research roadmap in the current climate,” he said.

Based at the Tyndall National Institute, UCC, the centre has enabled a collaboration and specialist ecosystem that allows a team of world-class researchers and postgraduate students to work on application driven research.

“Microelectronics circuits are a key enabling technology fundamental to all electronic systems, and this research is central to the advancement of this sector,” said O’Riordan.

The centre’s research roadmap is focused around the delivery of innovations for a broad range of applications from future networks to communications; Internet of Things (IOT); medical device technologies; smart agri to neuromorphic and quantum computing.

Enterprise Ireland and IDA recently approved a further €10 million funding for MCCI over the next five years. This investment, coupled with competitively won funding by MCCI from industry and Europe (Horizon 2020) brings the total investment into microelectronic circuit research to €9 million per annum.

“It is recognised that MCCI gives existing indigenous companies a large competitive advantage as well as helping in the creation of new start-up companies. The end result is an increase to indigenous employment and export revenue,” O’Riordan said.

“For every euro companies invest with us, it has been independently measured and verified that they see a €7 return in turnover. That is the impact of doing research as opposed to straight development. It is about the longterm picture. We are able to see and act on trends,” said the executive director.

“MCCI has become the de-facto conduit for IDA clients entering the Irish microelectronics system and we are very encouraged by the number of semiconductor companies establishing or expanding their circuit design R&D operations in Ireland,” he said.

MCCI’s objective is enabling new applications and technologies in a number of key areas identified in the national development plan as being of strategic national importance.

“The ever-growing demand for faster and more power efficient data is seeing existing communication networks stretched to breaking point. 5G network technologies are still in their infancy, with the associated standards still under development,” O’Riordan said.

“The requirement is to migrate to higher frequencies, with larger bandwidths is well established. The requirement to develop novel solutions enabling new technologies including massive-MIMO is undisputed,” he said.

“MedTech focuses on enabling new therapies and treatments through the use of technology. According to O’Riordan, wearable and implantable electronics will become the norm in the treatment, monitoring and prevention of a host of medical problems.

“Neurostimulation is an area where nerve endings are stimulated electrically to get a response which ranges from managing pain to relieving or preventing epileptic episodes, for example. Implantable devices that are wirelessly powered from harvested energy for example, will become the tools to manage many of these,” the executive director said.

“The ‘sensorisation’ of surgical equipment will add data to what a surgeon sees, enabling better surgical outcomes. In addition, there is a requirement for greater capability in relation to keyhole surgery, through the development of smart catheters and stents and also through the development of better internal imaging technologies, reducing and eliminating the need for invasive surgery,” he said.

"With a growing world population, placing increased demand on our natural resources, it has never been more important to make the best usage of the limited resources available," O’Riordan said.

“The Smart Agri application focus in targeting environmental monitoring, animal and crop health monitoring applications, by enabling the deployment of sensors for in-field/on-farm for continuous monitoring.”