Issue No 8: May 2004
appliances such as mobile phones that can send and receive messages, have
become smaller and smaller over the last few years, but users are about
to experience a new meaning in miniaturisation.
Research at The Hong Kong University of Science & Technology (HKUST) has successfully combined a unique system architecture and new circuit design techniques to reduce them in size like never before.
Principal Investigator Dr Howard Luong said the handset of a typical mobile phone today may contain between 150 and 300 separate electrical components.
The transformation applies to the CMOS (Complimentary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) manufacturing process, which can produce integrated circuits and systems with the highest integration level at the lowest cost.
Applying new techniques to the CMOS process, Dr Luongs research enables many off-chip components to be combined to realize a system-on-chip.
But, he said, this integration created great challenges in circuit implementation. Part of the research was to solve the problems by new circuit design techniques.
The system architecture and circuitry go hand in hand, he added. They must both work, or neither will be useful.
The resulting design gives the highest component integration in the smallest chip area ever reported, said Dr Luong.
In his design, all off-chip components are fitted into a central chip measuring 36 mm with packaging, and 8mm without being packaged.
Dr Luongs miniaturisation method means appliances will soon be made for even lower cost and lower power consumption in addition to being much smaller in size and lighter in weight.
With the lowering of cost, size and power, many new and interesting applications will become possible and practical, he said.
Low-power wireless transceivers, for example, could be integrated into implanted devices such as heart pacemakers to wirelessly transmit and receive information between patients and doctors or monitoring systems.
Wearable mobile phones as small as wrist watches at an affordable price could also become a reality.