Emmanuel Sabonnadière, CEO of CEA-Leti, described Leti’s commitments and actions for a world dramatically altered by Covid-19 pandemic. Not only is hardware making a comeback, but it is a game changer...
In the opening keynote of the recent Leti Innovation Days, Emmanuel Sabonnadière, CEO of CEA-Leti, described Leti’s commitments and actions for a world dramatically altered by Covid-19 pandemic. Not only is hardware making a comeback, but it is a game changer.
The year 2020 is like no other. The Covid-19 outbreak has brought several technology developments overnight. Overall, the electronics industry has demonstrated resilience and adaptability to develop new solutions that could curb the spread of the virus. From the early days of the pandemic, CEA-Leti mobilized its resources. For instance, in March, CEA-Leti launched the Arise (AiR monitoring riSk arEa) project whose goal is to produce an air analyzer equipped with detection capabilities for the ubiquitous monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 pathogens in airborne droplets or aerosols in confined environments. In July, Leti and IAB (Institute for Advanced Biosciences) announced they had started working on a Covid-19 vaccine. The principle is based on the production of small drops of lipids, natural fatty substances, on which virus constituents can be associated and thus be taken over by the body’s immune cells that capture microorganisms: dendritic cells. Thus charged, these cells are capable of initiating immune responses, such as the production of antibodies.
Physical and digital worlds convergence
With strict lockdown enforcement, the world moved to a digital-only-reality. “Our industry was absolutely instrumental in the way we have helped resolve some of the issues,” said Sabonnadière. “Overnight, we switched from a world of contacts to a pure digital world. The digital infrastructure responded in a very reliable way, despite a high increase of users.”
Notwithstanding the brutality of this transition, Sabonnadière said systems and technologies proved robust enough to enter this new age of the digital world. “Innovation is the mother of the future world”, and CEA-Leti is advancing in various directions.
Seeing “no limit to silicon integration” and aiming to “resolve the data deluge craziness”, CEA-Leti has been investing in computer science and “clearly our quantum and silicon as well as artificial intelligence programs are doing very well.” Similarly, Sabonnadière said they are conducting research in sensor development and wireless communications for 5G and beyond. “We are also exploring communication for proximity, such as Ultra-wideband and LiFi [light fidelity].”
Sabonnadière said CEA-Leti is moving forward in MicroLED developments. “We are now transferring some of the technologies in the industry with a very high level of performance for smart devices and displays.”
One example is Aledia. Spun out of the CEA-Leti labs in 2011, Aledia develops and manufactures LEDs based on a 3D architecture using gallium-nitride-on-silicon nanowires. Aledia’s LEDs are manufactured on 8-inch (200mm) standard silicon substrates and scalable to 12-inch (300mm) silicon substrates while most LED manufacturers use 6-inch sapphire substrates. Aledia recently announced its intention to build a production site in Champagnier, in the Grenoble metropolitan area. Production is expected to start by 2022.
The arrival of digital technologies has led to reviewing the whole production system, and CEA-Leti has been working on augmented reality to support the transition, Sabonnadière said. The research institute has also invested in biosensors and biotechnology to generate new vital information needed for human health and wellness in the future. “In addition to the intensive usage of artificial intelligence, connected medical devices will be the needed steps for the revolution of bioelectronics,” CEA-Leti’s CEO commented.
Hardware, a game changer
“Hardware is back in the semiconductor industry,” outlined Sabonnadière. Late September, IC Insights indicated that Analog Devices’ agreement to buy Maxim and Nvidia’s deal to acquire ARM raised the total value of mergers and acquisitions this year to more than $63 billion, the second largest year in history for semiconductor M&A announcements. But this was before the Wall Street Journal reported that AMD is in advanced talks to acquire Xilinx for over $30 billion. This wave of acquisitions is likely to change the face of the semiconductor industry.
Noteworthy, large tech companies are designing and developing their own chip “to secure a reliable supply chain in a geopolitical shaky world and to encapsulate some key differentiators in deep tech for their own products,” said Sabonnadière. “This means innovation in hardware is the masterpiece of the game. It paves the way for the evolution of the algorithm and the next generation of systems.”
The rising demand for energy, the scarcity of fossil fuels and the need to reduce the carbon footprint have led to a global awareness and emphasized the need to accelerate the energy transition. The Covid-19 crisis has also been an opportunity for countries, institutions, companies to rethink the current energy system and break with past trends.
With the number of connected devices set to reach 50 billion this year, energy efficiency has become prerequisite for electronics components. “Hardware will have to help our planet,” Sabonnadière said. Robustness and performance have long been key indicators for innovation, but “new technologies will not follow the classic rules from the past and offer high performance and ultra-low consumption.” The challenge is high for the semiconductor industry, as it will require “new materials, new designs, new architectures, and a new state of mind.” Ground-breaking technology, which will enable new generations of chips and sensors, remains a necessary part of the green equation.
Sabonnadière said CEA-Leti is working on the development of an ability to reuse for a circular consumption of electronics.
This article was first published on EE Times Europe