The Future of Very Large-Scale Integration (VLSI) Technology

The historical growth of IC computing power has profoundly changed the way we create, process, communicate, and store information. The engine of this phenomenal growth is the ability to shrink transistor dimensions every few years. This trend, known as Moore’s law, has continued for the past 50 years. The predicted demise of Moore’s law has been repeatedly proven wrong thanks to technological breakthroughs (e.g., optical resolution enhancement techniques, high-k metal gates, multi-gate transistors, fully depleted ultra-thin body technology, and 3-D wafer stacking). However, it is projected that in one or two decades, transistor dimensions will reach a point where it will become uneconomical to shrink them any further, which will eventually result in the end of the CMOS scaling roadmap. This essay discusses the potential and limitations of several post-CMOS candidates currently being pursued by the device community.

Steep transistors: The ability to scale a transistor’s supply voltage is determined by the minimum voltage required to switch the device between an on- and an off-state. The sub-threshold slope (SS) is the measure used to indicate this property. For instance, a smaller SS means the transistor can be turned on using a smaller supply voltage while meeting the same off current. For MOSFETs, the SS has to be greater than ln(10) × kT/q where k is the Boltzmann constant, T is the absolute temperature, and q is the electron charge. This fundamental constraint arises from the thermionic nature of the MOSFET conduction mechanism and leads to a fundamental power/performance tradeoff, which could be overcome if SS values significantly lower than the theoretical 60-mV/decade limit could be achieved. Many device types have been proposed that could produce steep SS values, including tunneling field-effect transistors (TFETs), nanoelectromechanical system (NEMS) devices, ferroelectric-gate FETs, and impact ionization MOSFETs. Several recent papers have reported experimental observation of SS values in TFETs as low as 40 mV/decade at room temperature. These so-called “steep” devices’ main limitations are their low mobility, asymmetric drive current, bias dependent SS, and larger statistical variations in comparison to traditional MOSFETs.

Spin devices: Spintronics is a technology that utilizes nano magnets’ spin direction as the state variable. Spintronics has unique properties over CMOS, including nonvolatility, lower device count, and the potential for non-Boolean computing architectures. Spintronics devices’ nonvolatility enables instant processor wake-up and power-down that could dramatically reduce the static power consumption. Furthermore, it can enable novel processor-in-memory or logic-in-memory architectures that are not possible with silicon technology. Although in its infancy, research in spintronics has been gaining momentum over the past decade, as these devices could potentially overcome the power bottleneck of CMOS scaling by offering a completely new computing paradigm. In recent years, progress has been made toward demonstration of various post-CMOS spintronic devices including all-spin logic, spin wave devices, domain wall magnets for logic applications, and spin transfer torque magnetoresistive RAM (STT-MRAM) and spin-Hall torque (SHT) MRAM for memory applications. However, for spintronics technology to become a viable post-CMOS device platform, researchers must find ways to eliminate the transistors required to drive the clock and power supply signals. Otherwise, the performance will always be limited by CMOS technology. Other remaining challenges for spintronics devices include their relatively high active power, short interconnect distance, and complex fabrication process.

Flexible electronics: Distributed large area (cm2-to-m2) electronic systems based on flexible thin-film-transistor (TFT) technology are drawing much attention due to unique properties such as mechanical conformability, low temperature processability, large area coverage, and low fabrication costs. Various forms of flexible TFTs can either enable applications that were not achievable using traditional silicon based technology, or surpass them in terms of cost per area. Flexible electronics cannot match the performance of silicon-based ICs due to the low carrier mobility. Instead, this technology is meant to complement them by enabling distributed sensor systems over a large area with moderate performance (less than 1 MHz). Development of inkjet or roll-to-roll printing techniques for flexible TFTs is underway for low-cost manufacturing, making product-level implementations feasible. Despite these encouraging new developments, the low mobility and high sensitivity to processing parameters present major fabrication challenges for realizing flexible electronic systems.

CMOS scaling is coming to an end, but no single technology has emerged as a clear successor to silicon. The urgent need for post-CMOS alternatives will continue to drive high-risk, high-payoff research on novel device technologies. Replicating silicon’s success might sound like a pipe dream. But with the world’s best and brightest minds at work, we have reasons to be optimistic.

Author’s Note: I’d like to acknowledge the work of PhD students Ayan Paul and Jongyeon Kim.

AAR Arduino Autonomous Mobile Robot

The AAR Arduino Robot is a small autonomous mobile robot designed for those new to robotics and for experienced Arduino designers. The robot is well suited for hobbyists and school projects. Designed in the Arduino open-source prototyping platform, the robot is easy to program and run.

The AAR, which is delivered fully assembled, comes with a comprehensive CD that includes all the software needed to write, compile, and upload programs to your robot. It also includes a firmware and hardware self test. For wireless control, the robot features optional Bluetooth technology and a 433-MHz RF.

The AAR robot’s features include an Atmel ATmega328P 8-bit AVR-RISC processor with a 16-MHz clock, Arduino open-source software, two independently controlled 3-VDC motors, an I2C bus, 14 digital I/Os on the processor, eight analog input lines, USB interface programming, an on-board odometer sensor on both wheels, a line tracker sensor, and an ISP connector for bootloader programming.

The AAR’s many example programs help you get your robot up and running. With many expansion kits available, your creativity is unlimited.

Contact Global Specialties for pricing.

Global Specialties

Client Profile: MicroDigital, Inc.

Micro Digital, Inc.
2900 Bristol Street, G 204,
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Contact: David Moore

MDIEmbedded Products/Services: SMX® RTOS is a modular Real Time Operating System designed to meet the needs of small to medium-size embedded systems. It offers these modules: Preemptive multitasking kernel, TCP/IP dual IPv4/IPv6, 802.11a/b/g/i/n WiFi, USB Host/Device/OTG, flash file systems, GUI, security, IEEE 754 floating point, and more. Each is a strong product on its own, and all are tightly integrated to work well together. It offers good support for the latest ARM, Cortex, and ColdFire processors. See and

SMX® RTOS offers a broad selection of middleware modules, optional protocols, and drivers for the latest embedded processors. All are tightly integrated and work well together, so you can spend your time developing your product rather than gathering components from all over the Internet and integrating them. All are strong products on their own. SMX comes with full source code and simple, unambiguous, royalty-free licensing. You are free to modify our products in any way you wish and need not return changes to us.


Circuit Cellar prides itself on presenting readers with information about innovative companies, organizations, products, and services relating to embedded technologies. This space is where Circuit Cellar enables clients to present readers useful information, special deals, and more.

Client Profile: Netburner, Inc

NetBurner, Inc.
5405 Morehouse Drive
San Diego, CA 92121


Embedded Products/Services: The NetBurner solution provides hardware, software, and tools to network enable new and existing products. All components are integrated and fully functional, so you can immediately begin working on your application.

Product Categories:

  • Serial to Ethernet: Modules can be used out of the box with no programming, or you can use a development kit to create your own custom applications. Hardware ranges from a single chip to small modules with many features.
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  • Development Kits: Development kits can be used to customize any of NetBurner’s Serial-to-Ethernet or Core Modules. Kits include the Eclipse IDE, a C/C++ compiler/linker, a debugger, a RTOS, a TCP/IP stack, and board support packages.

Product Information: The MOD54415 and the NANO54415 modules provide 250-MHz processor, up to 32 MB flash, 64 MB DDR, ADC, DAC, eight UARTs, four I2C, three SPI, 1-wire, microSD flash socket, five PWM, and up to 44 digital I/O.

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Circuit Cellar prides itself on presenting readers with information about innovative companies, organizations, products, and services relating to embedded technologies. This space is where Circuit Cellar enables clients to present readers useful information, special deals, and more.

Client Profile: ARM, Ltd.

ARM, Ltd.

ARM, Ltd.
110 Fulbourn Road
Cambridge, GB-CB1 9NJ,
Great Britain


Embedded Products/Services: The ARM tools range offers two software development families that provide you with all the necessary tools for every stage of your software development workflow.

ARM Development Studio 5 (DS-5) provides best-in-class tools for a broad range of ARM processor-based platforms, including application processors and multicore SoCs. Find out more by visiting

Keil MDK-ARM is a complete software development toolkit for ARM processor-based microcontrollers. It is the right choice for embedded applications based on the ARM Cortex-M series, ARM7, ARM9, and Cortex-R4 processors. To find out more, visit

Product Information: The MDK-ARM is a complete software development environment for Cortex-M, Cortex-R4, ARM7, and ARM9 processor-based devices. MDK-ARM is specifically designed for microcontroller applications. It is easy to learn and use, yet powerful enough for the most demanding embedded applications.

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