Defense Advanced Research Projects AgencyTagged Content List

Size, Weight and Power Constraints

Making technologies smaller, lighter and more power-efficient to increase military effectiveness

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Many existing compact, high-data-rate millimeter-wave wireless communications systems use integrated circuits (ICs) made with gallium arsenide (GaAs) or gallium nitride (GaN). These circuits provide high power and efficiency in small packages but are costly to produce and difficult to integrate with silicon electronics that provide most other radio functions. Silicon ICs are less expensive to manufacture in volume than those with gallium compounds but until now have not demonstrated sufficient power output and efficiency at millimeter-wave frequencies used for communications and many other military applications, such as radar and guidance systems.
Officials from Guinness World Records today recognized DARPA’s Terahertz Electronics program for creating the fastest solid-state amplifier integrated circuit ever measured. The ten-stage common-source amplifier operates at a speed of one terahertz (1012 Hz), or one trillion cycles per second—150 billion cycles faster than the existing world record of 850 gigahertz set in 2012.
Many essential military capabilities—including autonomous navigation, chemical-biological sensing, precision targeting and communications—increasingly rely upon laser-scanning technologies such as LIDAR (think radar that uses light instead of radio waves). These technologies provide amazing high-resolution information at long ranges but have a common Achilles heel: They require mechanical assemblies to sweep the laser back and forth. These large, slow opto-mechanical systems are both temperature- and impact-sensitive and often cost tens of thousands of dollars each—all factors that limit widespread adoption of current technologies for military and commercial use.
A newly-announced DARPA program is betting that unprecedented on-chip integration of workhorse electronic components, such as transistors and capacitors, with less-familiar magnetic components with names like circulators and isolators, will open an expansive pathway to more capable electromagnetic systems. The Magnetic, Miniaturized, and Monolithically Integrated Components (M3IC), program will orchestrate research into miniaturized magnetic components with a goal of catalyzing chip-based innovations in radar and other radio frequency (RF) systems—and satisfying growing military and civilian demands for new ways to maneuver within the increasingly crowded electromagnetic spectrum.
The A-to-I Look-Through Program will fundamentally improve the operational bandwidth, linearity, and efficiency of electronic systems where the objective is to receive and transmit information using electromagnetic (radio) waves under extreme size/weight/power and environmental conditions required for DoD applications. This will be achieved by developing new electronic processing subsystems methods and architectures based on new understandings of mathematical principles and embedded signal processing. This program will develop ultra-wideband digital RF receivers based on A-to-I converter (AIC) technology.