As the world continues to change and advance at a rapid pace, the need for continuous innovation has never been greater. DARPA’s open innovation model leverages the expertise and novel ideation found in large and small businesses, government organizations, and academic institutions. However, resource constraints across these organizations can limit their participation in cutting-edge research opportunities.
However, various roadblocks exist for many of these organizations that are limiting their participation in cutting-edge research opportunities. Within the microelectronics arena in particular, skyrocketing costs for designing integrated circuits are stifling participation in the innovation process.
Current and potential performers often have a hard time getting access to commercial grade design tools and IP. Other obstacles include:
- Business model mismatch – pricing levels are based on expectations of customers’ downstream revenue
- No volume purchasing – since the Government entities are not coordinated, they get no consistent pricing and all purchases are subject to protracted, one-off negotiations for each project
- Complex legal structures – all members of the performer teams are expected to execute agreements with ominous terms requiring lengthy multi-level reviews and approvals
- Government contracting – is not set up for purchasing, owning, and managing tool and IP licenses which further complicates access
To help remove potential roadblocks to further increasing the speed of innovation, the agency launched DARPA Toolbox – a new, agency-wide effort in Dec 2020 to provide open licensing opportunities with commercial technology vendors to the researchers behind DARPA programs. Through DARPA Toolbox, successful proposers will receive greater access to commercial vendors’ technologies and tools via pre-negotiated, low-cost, non-production access frameworks and simplified legal terms. For commercial vendors, DARPA Toolbox will provide an opportunity to leverage the agency’s forward-looking research and a chance to develop new revenue streams based on programmatic achievements developed with their technologies.
DARPA Toolbox provides easy, low-cost, scalable access to state-of-the-art tools and intellectual property (IP) under predictable legal terms and streamlined acquisition procedures. The goal is to reduce performer reliance on low-quality, low-cost tools and IP that increase execution risks and complicate post-DARPA transitions.
“DARPA performers are frequently encumbered by having to negotiate access to tools, IP, and services, and execute complex legal agreements that take the time away from what they do best – advancing science to benefit the nation,” said Serge Leef, the Microsystems Technology Office (MTO) program manager spearheading this effort. “Through DARPA Toolbox, we are working to effectively lower the high barrier to entry with the goal of encouraging more proposals from non-traditional and resource-constrained organizations that can bring innovative insights and ideas to bear on DARPA programs.”
DARPA Toolbox will provide researchers with access to select vendor tools and technologies throughout the life of their contractual relationship with the agency. Commercial vendors are expected to provide licensing of their tools at the team level, which includes a prime contractor and its subcontractors working on DARPA programs. This initiative will benefit existing research teams but is also intended to help potential proposers. Prior to submitting to an open opportunity, researchers will be able to see what tools, IP, and services might be available to them and can use that insight to inform their submissions and assess their costs.
Commercial vendors similarly will benefit by gaining insights into DARPA innovations and research findings by creating non-production business models and legal terms that more closely support DARPA research teams’ needs and use cases. In addition, these vendors benefit once a program concludes as they would be able to sell their commercial products for production use to transition organizations. Through licensing agreements and collaborations with DARPA-funded innovators, vendors can potentially create new products, enhance existing solutions, or find additional ways to generate new revenue streams. By supporting DARPA, they also have an opportunity to contribute to our national security.
DARPA Toolbox Suppliers
Through this initiative, DARPA performers are granted access to select vendor tools and technologies throughout the life of their contractual relationship with the Agency. The Toolbox suppliers bring to the table proven technologies commonly used in state-of-the art commercial microelectronics or system design methodologies. Current suppliers include:
- Arm – entire IP product line of CPUs, DSP cores and peripherals
- CEVA – entire product line of DSP, WiFi, 5G, BlueTooth and other communication IP
- Flex Logix – advanced embedded FPGA fabric macro with MAC
- Lattice Semiconductor – Lattice FPGA design software and select Lattice FPGA-compatible IP
- QuickLogic – Embedded FPGA IP, and endpoint AI solutions
- Rambus – security and high-speed memory interface controller IP
- SecureIC – Security software, root of trust and IP solutions
- Verific Design Automation – compiler front ends for modern hardware description languages
Verific and CEVA recently signed-on to DARPA Toolbox as well. Researchers will now have access to Verific’s electronic design automation (EDA) software for the duration of their involvement with a DARPA program. Access to Verific’s SystemVerilog parsers and elaborators can help research teams accelerate their time to innovation by eliminating the need to develop front-end EDA software on their own.
Similarly, researchers will have access to CEVA’s wireless connectivity and smart sensing technologies. CEVA is a licensor of Digital Signal Processors, AI processors, wireless platforms, and complementary software for sensor fusion, image enhancement, computer vision, voice input, and artificial intelligence. As licensees of CEVA IP, DARPA researchers working on technical areas that range from 5G baseband processing to computer vision will stand to benefit.
QuickLogic said it will provide embedded FPGA IP and associated open-source tools as part of the DARPA Toolbox program, which is aimed at providing access to commercial IP under legal open-licensing terms to streamline capability transitions. QuickLogic’s eFPGA cores can span thousands of Look-Up-Tables (LUTs) to nearly one million LUTs, with optional fracturable DSP capability and BlockRAM support. Importantly, the eFPGA cores are backed by 100% open source FPGA tools, ensuring mil/aero/defense contractors have complete visibility into the toolchain as well as longevity of support and supply through the complete containerization of the tools long into the future.
While the commercial tech licenses are expected to be deeply discounted, the contracted research teams will be responsible for costs associated with certain technical services. However, researchers will have the option to work with DARPA to secure additional funds to cover these costs on a case-by-case basis. Once a given DARPA program concludes, continued work or licensing of the vendors’ tools will need to be coordinated directly with the vendor.
eMemory and PUFsecurity Join DARPA Toolbox Initiative, reported in June 2021
eMemory, the world’s leading supplier of intellectual property for NVM and security solutions at the semiconductor level, today announced a partnership agreement with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to enable furthering of accelerated technology innovation for the agency’s programs.
The agreement makes eMemory’s NeoFuse, NeoPUF and the advanced, integrated PUF-based security IP of its subsidiary, PUFsecurity, especially in advanced semiconductor process nodes, available to the researchers behind DARPA programs. They can now avail themselves of the integration of PUF, OTP, trng and other essentials found in PUFsecurity’s flagship security solutions which have been proven popular with chip designers, and are likewise well suited for the mission-critical applications and conditions often faced by DARPA’s researchers. Designers will find integration of anti-tampered Root of Trust to be fast and easy.
eMemory’s patented PUF (Physical Unclonable Function) technology uses micro variations and characteristics produced during the fabrication of a chip to create an inherent fingerprint. Like human fingerprints, each PUF is unique and cannot be simulated, copied or changed. eMemory’s PUF is an ideal form of reliable identification that has been widely used for a root of trust, generation of secret keys, digital signatures and other security applications. With NeoPUF and PUF-based solutions, chip designers can generate truly random sequences for applications with high security requirements. Inherent radiation hardness and superior hamming weight and hamming distance without the need for pre- and post-processing, add to the attributes.
In addition to PUF solutions, eMemory’s NeoFuse will be included in this program. eMemory’s NeoFuse is a small-form factor non-volatile memory technology with the advantages of low-power operation, high reliability and strong security. “This latest partnership agreement with DARPA adds to the increasing global recognition of our security solutions,” said Rick Shen, President at eMemory. “We anticipate that more companies and organizations will adopt chip-level security as the strongest safeguard of electronic systems at this time when cybersecurity issues continue unabated worldwide.”