Keeping an Eye on the Future

The IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, has been issuing a document annually that lays out a roadmap to make sure that the computer chips that drive all of our technologies are ready for the future. The latest such document is the 2019 Heterogeneous Integration Roadmap (HIR). The purpose of the document is to encourage the needed research and planning so that the electronics industry creates interoperable chips that anticipate the coming computer needs while also functioning across multiple industries.

This is particularly relevant today because major technologies are heading in different directions. Fields like 5G, quantum computing, AI, IoT, gene splicing, and self-driving vehicles are all pursuing different technology solutions that could easily result in specialized one-function chips. That’s not necessarily bad, but the IEEE believes that all technologies will benefit if chip research and manufacturing processes are done in such a way as to accommodate a wide range of industries and solutions.

IEEE uses the label of ‘heterogeneous integration’ to describe the process of creating a long-term vision for the electronics industry. They identify this HIR effort as the key technology going forward that is needed to support the other technologies. They envision a process where standard and separately manufactured chip components can be integrated to produce the chips needed to serve the various fields of technology.

The IEEE has created 19 separate technical working groups looking at specific topics related to HIR. This list shows both the depth and breadth of the IEEE effort. Working groups in 2019 include:

Difficult Challenges

  • Single chip and multichip packaging (including substrates)
  • Integrated photonics (including plamonics)
  • Integrated power devices
  • MEMS (miniaturization)
  • RF and analog mixed signals

Cross Cutting Topics

  • Emerging research materials
  • Emerging research devices
  • Interconnect
  • Test
  • Supply chain

Integrated Processes

  • SiP
  • 3D + 2.5D
  • WLP (wafer level packaging)

Packaging for Specialized Applications

  • Mobile
  • IoT and wearable
  • Medical and health
  • Automotive
  • High performance computing
  • Aerospace and defense

Just a few years ago many of the specific technologies were not part of the HIR process. The pace of technological breakthroughs is so intense today that the whole process of introducing new chip technology could easily diverge. The IEEE believes that taking a holistic approach to the future of computing will eventually help all fields as the best industry practices and designs are applied to all new chips.

The effort behind the HIR process is substantial since various large corporations and research universities provide the talent needed to dig deeply into each area of research. I find it comforting that the IEEE is working behind the scenes to make sure that the chips needed to support new technologies can be manufactured efficiently and affordably. Without this effort the cost of electronics for broadband networks sand other technologies might skyrocket over time.