Joint Press Release on the »USeP« Research Project (Partner: Fraunhofer IPMS, ENAS, IZM and IIS/EAS and GLOBALFOUNDRIES Dresden)

A revolutionary sensor platform for next-generation IoT systems

For small to medium-sized enterprises and makers of electronic solutions, the Internet of Things represents both a rich mine of opportunities and a minefield of risks and seemingly insurmountable challenges. They often lack access to the cutting edge microelectronics technology needed to produce truly competitive products. A partnership of four Fraunhofer Institutes based in Saxony, supported by contributors from Berlin and Erlangen, has committed itself to overcoming this situation in the next two years. Working with the semiconductors manufacturer GLOBALFOUNDRIES Dresden, the group is working on a modular concept designed to enable the SMEs at the backbone of the economy to benefit from innovative system architectures and manufacturing processes. Representatives from the industry are invited to contribute their ideas and take part in testing the eventual results in order to ensure that their real-world needs are adequately reflected in the venture. The evolution of microelectronics continues apace, which is creating major challenges for smaller-scale enterprises. Many of their clients expect them to produce high-performance products tailored to very specific use cases as par for the course, but such »smart« connected systems are often only bought in small numbers. At the same time, they need highly integrated technical solutions that cannot employ run-of-the-mill semiconductors, forcing SMEs keep extremely specialized solutions on stock in their regular portfolio. The development effort and costs required to square this circle are often untenable for them, and new developments take too long to come to market. The bottleneck lies not with technology alone: Professionals with specialist expertise in very specific fields of electronics are needed, as is expensive development software that few smaller companies have sufficient access to.

To counter this impasse, the Free State of Saxony and the European Union have introduced the USeP (Universal Sensor Platform) research project within the scope of the European Regional Development Fund. The partners involved in the project have set themselves the ambitious goal of producing a technological platform by 2019 that will lighten the burden of innovation for smaller-scale systems suppliers. The project is expected to transition into a commercial enterprise that will sell the required modules to companies in the market at more manageable prices. Alongside GLOBALFOUNDRIES Dresden, several institutes of the Fraunhofer Society have committed themselves to this goal, including the Saxony-based Fraunhofer Institutes for Photonic Microsystems IPMS and Electronic Nanosystems ENAS as well as the Fraunhofer IZM’s All Silicon System Integration ASSID and the Fraunhofer IIS’ Engineering of Adaptive Systems EAS divisions. Their competences are reinforced by the expertise of colleagues from Erlangen and Berlin; interested small and medium-sized enterprises are also invited to contribute their requirements to the group, help select the contents of demonstration systems, and be the first to test the resulting prototypes. The joint project is managed by Fraunhofer IIS/EAS.

The project partners are working on developing a novel sensor platform that can automatically generate innovative components and accommodate them in a modular setup, using a central controller and processing unit with a range of interfaces and a broad choice of current and innovative sensors and actuators. On top of the flexible modular architecture, the platform relies on innovative solutions for hardware and IT security. The plans are for the sensor module to be able to handle several hundreds of possible use cases by picking and mixing the right variants.

The planned platforms will be based on the 22FDX (Fully Depleted SOI) technology of GLOBALFOUNDRIES made in Dresden, which allows the use of highly integrated, economical, and particularly power-efficient chips. The Fraunhofer Institutes will add their competences in the area of innovative electronics packaging, their concept development expertise, and their system design, sensor technology, data transmission, and simulation and testing capabilities. As the new platform is intended to remain a vital source for enterprises in the field for the foreseeable future, USeP will pay particularly close attention to keeping its results compatible with future generations of the technology.

Universelle Sensor Plattform (USeP)

The Universal Sensor Platform represents the core of the project. The development of USeP technologies brings together some of the most advanced technologies of GLOBALFOUNDRIES and the participating Fraunhofer Institutes in one combined sensor package, consisting of two parts: One part can be pre-made and contains some of the backbone elements like processors, memory, and power supplies. The second part adds a flexible choice of components. This deliberate split between standard and modular components allows a more responsive production of customized, high-performance sensor systems. The platform is intended specifically to give small to medium-sized enterprises a vital competitive edge.

The work is co-financed by public funds made available through the budget approved by the state parliament of Saxony.

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