Three startup companies co-founded by ECE faculty and alumni made the EE Times Silicon 60 List of tech startups to watch. Ambiq Micro (Prof. David Blaauw, Prof. Dennis Sylvester, and alumnus Dr. Scott Hanson), Crossbar, Inc. (Prof. Wei Lu), and PsiKick (Prof. David Wentzloff), are leading the way in ultra-low power chip design, pioneering computer memory, and ultra-low power wireless sensor platforms for the Internet of Things.
The three startups first appeared on the EE Times list in 2014. The companies were judged on technology, intended market, financial position, investment profile, maturity, and executive leadership. To make way for new additions to this year’s updated list, 30 companies were cut. The ECE startups were judged to be worth watching for a second year in a row.
Ambiq Micro is a leader in ultra-low power integrated circuits for power-sensitive applications. The Austin, TX-based startup closed a $15 million Series C funding round in November of 2014 to accelerate the development and marketing of its SPOT™ (Subthreshold Power Optimized Technology) platform. By January 2015, it had launched its ultra-low power Apollo microcontroller, which promises unrivaled power savings combined with high-performance processing for wearable electronics, IoT devices, wireless sensors, and other power-sensitive applications.
The company was co-founded by Scott Hanson (BSE MSE PhD ‘04 ‘06 ‘09) and Profs. David Blaauw and Dennis Sylvester. The fabless semiconductor company specializes in mixed-signal solutions for a new generation of wireless electronics. The SPOT™ Platform uses very low voltage transistors to achieve total system power consumption on the order of nanowatts.
A new paradigm in memory is on its way to the market. U-M startupCrossbar, founded by Prof. Wei Lu, has developed a non-volatile memory that is smaller, faster, and more power-efficient than NAND flash and RAM.
So-called RRAM (resistive random-access memory) will deliver 20 times faster write performance, 20 times less power consumption and 10 times more durability than NAND flash. The memory chips will be stacked, and a 1TB module will be roughly half the size of a NAND flash module with similar storage. It will also be cheaper than NAND flash, partly because RRAM is less expensive to manufacture. Crossbar’s simple and very scalable memory cell structure enables an entirely new class of 3D RRAM which can be easily incorporated into the back endline of any standard IOS manufacturing fab.
PsiKick, an ultra-low-power wireless sensor company co-founded by Prof. David Wentzloff and Prof. Benton Calhoun (U. Virginia) in 2012, has completed first-round funding. The financing will be used to accelerate PsiKick’s growth and product development to meet the increasing demand for energy-efficient systems.
PsiKick aims to make the Internet of Things a reality with its complete systems-on-chip that operate on such low levels of energy that they are able to acquire the energy they need to operate through autonomous energy-scavenging techniques. The company aims to be a supplier of the chips that will be the brains of all sorts of wireless sensing devices; they have already developed an EKG monitor.