Futuristic innovations like remote surgery, augmented and virtual reality, and even the ability to sense and image our environment are getting closer every day. But optimizing and connecting these services will require precise wireless circuits and systems powerful enough to support 6G technology.  

Jeff Walling, associate professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech, in collaboration with co-principal investigators Professor Paul Ampadu and Associate Professor Cindy Yi, has received a $500,000 grant to develop better connectivity among high-efficiency wireless devices by using machine learning.

Their funding comes from a National Science Foundation (NSF) program in partnership with Taiwan’s National Science and Technology Council that aims to create a healthier ecosystem for semiconductor technology innovation.  

“AI [artificial intelligence]-enabled millimeter wave circuit design is revolutionizing the semiconductor research landscape and driving significant advancements in U.S. chip design and fabrication,” said Yi. “By harnessing the power of AI and machine learning algorithms, researchers and engineers can rapidly explore a vast design space and identify optimal circuit configurations with unparalleled efficiency.”

Bringing us closer to the 6G evolution

In wireless communication systems, devices talk with one another by transferring data through radio waves. Experts project that 6G will expand the use of millimeter wave (mmWave) and near-terahertz bands, requiring circuits and systems that can operate flexibly and with better linearity across wider instantaneous bandwidth. To achieve this goal, Walling’s research will embed machine learning directly within mmWave transceiver hardware so the transceiver can continuously improve its performance.  

The Virginia Tech team will help develop this advanced technology as well as the future chip designers needed to implement it. Their research will be incorporated into the curricula for undergraduate and graduate courses in circuits and systems design. And to increase experiential learning opportunities, the researchers plan to invite undergraduate students from these courses to participate in the funded project.  

Leveraging international collaboration

In 2022, the United States passed the CHIPS and Science Act, committing $52 billion to  increase domestic production of semiconductors, whose electrical properties make them a critical component in most electronic devices we use today.   

Walling’s grant funding comes from the NSF’s Advanced Chip Engineering Design and Fabrication Program in partnership with Taiwan’s science and technology council. Taiwan, home to the first-ever dedicated semiconductor foundry, produces more than 90 percent of the world’s most advanced semiconductors. The NSF program supports semiconductor research in the U.S. by increasing access to Taiwan’s advanced foundry technologies and encouraging research collaboration between the two countries.  

Virginia Tech was one of six universities that received project funding through the NSF program. As part of Walling’s project, Ph.D. and master’s students from Virginia Tech and Taiwan universities will cross-train in both countries for an enriched research environment designed to accelerate progress in the realm of semiconductor chip design and fabrication.  

“This collaboration harnesses Taiwan's prowess in integrated circuit manufacturing and leverages the U.S.'s strengths in chip design, positioning it as a powerful driving force behind cutting-edge technology and revolutionary innovation,” said Yi.

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