It can cost up to $100 million and take more than two years for a large team of engineers to design custom integrated circuits for specific tasks, such as synchronizing the activity of unmanned aerial vehicles or the real-time conversion of raw radar data into tactically useful 3-D imagery. This is why Defense Department engineers often turn to inexpensive and readily available general-purpose circuits, and then rely on software to make those circuits run the specialized operations they need. This practice can speed up design and implementation, but it also results in the deployment of unnecessary and power-hungry circuitry. And that, in turn, can lead to technology that requires more power than can be practically supplied on small flying platforms or on warfighters already burdened by too much battery weight.
The Circuit Realization at Faster Timescales (CRAFT) program seeks to shorten the design cycle for custom integrated circuits to months rather than years; devise design frameworks that can be readily recast when next-generation fabrication plants come on line; and create a repository of innovations so that methods, documentation, and intellectual property can be repurposed, rather than reinvented, with each design and fabrication cycle. This novel, less expensive design paradigm also could help diversify the innovation ecosystem by making it practical for small design teams to take on complex custom circuit development challenges that are out of their reach today.
Reducing the time and cost for designing and procuring custom, high-efficiency integrated circuits, should drive more of those in the DoD technology community toward best commercial fabrication and design practices. A primary payoff would be a versatile development environment in which engineers and designers make decisions based on the best technical solutions for the systems they are building, instead of worrying about circuit design delays or costs.
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