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Arm Signs Agreement Giving DARPA Access to Chip Designs and Tools

Aug. 24, 2020
DARPA—the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—is trying to rejuvenate the semiconductor industry with a $1.5 billion program to spur innovations in chip design, architecture, materials, packaging, and many other areas.

This article appeared in ElectronicDesign. It is reprinted here with permission.

Arm said it has partnered with US Defense Department's research division, giving the agency access to its intellectual property, tools, and support for a three-year span.

The company signed an agreement that gives the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and researchers working with it access to its chip designs, ranging from its high-performance processor cores for use in data centers to tiny, power-sipping cores for Internet of Things devices, and other building blocks. Arm said it would also grant DARPA access to its line of tools, support, and other services for research projects.

The agreement comes as DARPA seeks to breathe new life into the semiconductor industry and slash the soaring cost of building advanced chips. The agency has rolled out $1.5 billion under its Electronics Resurgence Initiative to encourage breakthroughs in chip architecture, materials, design and other areas. The US Defense Department is trying to reduce its dependence on chip supply chains in China and other parts of Asia.

The global electronics industry is also struggling to sustain Moore's Law, which holds that the number of transistors that can be crammed on a computer chip doubles at a continuous pace. Moore’s Law has been the electronic industry's gospel for decades, leading to the development of smaller, faster, and cheaper chips. But the pace of these performance leaps has slipped. The cost of advanced chip design is also skyrocketing.

Arm, with its global headquarters in Cambridge, England, and US headquarters in San Jose, California, is also trying to address challenges for startups in the semiconductor sector. The company has eased upfront fees for startups using its intellectual property, tools, support, and other services. Last week, it also announced that more than 170 billion chips with its processor cores and other components have been shipped to date.

Arm licenses outs its chip blueprints to more than 500 customers around the world, ranging from Qualcomm and Broadcom to Nvidia and Texas Instruments, and then reaps royalty fees on every chip sold. It also offers intellectual property to Apple, which has been bringing more of its chip development in-house in recent years, and Samsung Electronics. Arm's technology is the bedrock of almost every smartphone chip today. 

Rene Haas, head of the intellectual property products group at Arm, said the agreement with DARPA will open “a huge range of opportunities for future technological innovation.”

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