Emirate’s big move at the smallest of scales

September 21, 2018

14 August 2013

Inside even the smallest of gadgets, there are many tiny parts and components that must come together as a single, integrated system to execute the functions of the device.

Electronic components have to be made compatible with optical or mechanical ones, various kinds of materials must bind together properly, operating frequencies have to match and component timers have all to work in synchrony as if playing an orchestral symphony.

It is for that reason that international and local leaders in academia, industry, and government have come together to launch the Abu Dhabi Centre of Excellence for Energy Efficient Electronic Systems (ACE4S), a joint project by Advanced Technology Investment Company (ATIC) and Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC).

The centre will be jointly hosted by the Khalifa University of Science, Technology, and Research (KISTAR) and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology and will involve three other institutions – United Arab Emirates University – Al Ain, New York University – Abu Dhabi, and the American University of Sharjah.

ATIC, KUSTAR and the Masdar Institute will jointly provide the centre’s Dh35 million budget for the first three years.

The research centre is focused on autonomous wireless sensing and monitoring systems and is meant to drive innovations in sensing and storage devices, logic and communication circuits, power management, and energy harvesting for wireless sensor technologies.

Its task portfolio comprises 16 different projects led by UAE-based faculty from the five participating universities. The centre’s projected research and development will feed into two system prototypes that will be used to showcase the overall success of the centre’s innovative work. The act of prototyping and its success in demonstrating a working implementation will in itself go a long way in bridging the gap between the inventions that will happen in the laboratories and the innovations that are required by the marketplace.

My co-director of the centre, KISTAR’s Prof Mohammed Ismail El Najjar, shares a belief in the educational value of having our graduate students learn by doing – by designing, verifying, implementing and testing.

This undertaking is perhaps the first of its kind in the Arabian Gulf, bringing together local academia and local industry to establish a world-class, UAE-wide academic centre dedicated to the research, development, and prototyping of energy-efficient electronic systems.

It also marks the first time that SRC, the world’s leading technology research consortium, has established an international academic centre outside of the United States. With members such as Intel, IBM, Texas Instruments, Applied Materials and GlobalFoundries, SRC brings to the UAE more than 30 years of experience in establishing, funding and guiding pre-competitive research for the semiconductor industry.

Through the centres it has established and the projects it has funded, SRC has graduated more than 9,000 highly qualified students, many of whom now play leading roles in industry and academia.

The launch of ACE4S can be taken as a timely recognition by SRC that the Abu Dhabi semiconductor ecosystem is ready to conduct leading-edge, industry-relevant, pre-competitive research that will be of intellectual and industrial value to ATIC, the SRC member companies, and the participating universities.

Over the past few years, government, business, and academic leaders in the UAE have been making great strides towards creating an integrated ecosystem in Abu Dhabi for semiconductor research, development and manufacturing. This integrated ecosystem includes academic, industrial and strategic components. We have seen the launch and ramp-up of several world-class academic programmes, cutting-edge facilities, visionary research funding cycles and the graduation of highly skilled students – including Emiratis – in the areas of semiconductor processing, device engineering and chip design and fabrication.

The semiconductor industry is knowledge and capital intensive and the globalisation of its research and development is challenging.

But Abu Dhabi is rising up to the challenge and taking ownership of this very first international SRC research centre. It is doing it through multifaceted partnerships using the pool of world-class talent it already has.

“Partnership models will be critical to [the UAE’s] economic growth and global competitiveness within knowledge-intensive industries,” says Sultan Al Jaber, Masdar’s chief executive.
I could not agree more.

Dr. Ibrahim (Abe) M.  Elfadel is Professor of Microsystems Engineering at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. He is also the co-director of ACE4S.