ETT 2020 Recap: Accessibility and Innovation in Embedded Technologies

Devon Yablonski speaks at ETT

On January 27 and 28, Mercury Systems joined VITA and some of the leading minds in embedded systems in Atlanta, Georgia, for Embedded Technology Trends (ETT) 2020 – a comprehensive forum on the latest trends and developments in the industry. This year, suppliers of component-, board- and system-level solutions joined industry media to discuss the path forward for continued innovation in embedded systems, and how best to carry that innovation over into the government and defense sectors.

Mercury Systems is proud to work in close partnership with our peers and organizations like VITA on the most challenging and important issues facing aerospace and defense. As in years past, ETT 2020 surfaced several key observations that validate our commitment to enabling affordable public-sector access to the most advanced commercial technologies.

AI Applications Driving the Industry Forward

More than almost anything else, the promise of new AI applications for embedded computing was top of mind at ETT this year. Among other topics, attendees wrestled with how to integrate the immense computing power required by AI into existing and upcoming platforms.

On Monday, January 27, Mercury’s Devon Yablonski, Principal Project Manager for Artificial Intelligence, gave a detailed look at how new applications leveraging AI are being translated to the defense industry, specifically at the tactical edge.

Devon demonstrated how a mirrored datacenter architecture is being built into aerospace and defense platforms that may not have access to the cloud, creating potentially significant challenges for data processing. As a solution, high-performance embedded edge computing (HPEEC) is transferring the data center to the edge, with the built-in security, trust, miniaturization, environmental protective packaging and cooling required for in-theater operation. This in turn is making military platforms smarter, more independent and more autonomous.

Moore’s Law Continues to Prevail

There was also much discussion at ETT regarding how (and how quickly) embedded computing technology will develop moving forward. As advancement through transistor miniaturization approaches an end, some have questioned whether Moore’s Law – the notion that the number of transistors on a given microchip will double every two years, with simultaneous reductions in costs – will hold true.

In his January 28 presentation, Mercury’s Tom Smelker, Vice President & General Manager of Custom Microelectronics Solutions, described advances in 2.5D packaging which dispelled some of those doubts, and suggested that the next phase of development will come from heterogeneous integration of silicon or chiplets – as predicted in the last page of Moore’s Law.

Among other advancements, 2.5D packaging will help continue to drive the industry forward by increasing time-to-market roughly 3x compared to monolithic design, reducing timelines from 3-4 years to 12-18 months.

Open Standards Are a Must

While there was collective optimism at ETT 2020, there was also some doubt regarding the future of open standards at the chip level. At present, chiplet manufacturers design using different, sometimes proprietary, chip-to-chip interfaces, creating inherent inefficiencies that have the potential to hamper growth.

In his presentation, Tom suggested that continued stagnation on establishing universal standards might ultimately dampen projected advances in cost efficiency and development time, as companies continue to operate under multiple standards.

Of course, the question then becomes how best to move forward on open standards. While that question remains unanswered, the conversations we had at ETT 2020 – including detailed analyses of new technologies as well as best practices for consensus-building – leave us ever optimistic about the path ahead.

Next-Generation Microelectronics

An Emerging Opportunity in Next-Generation Custom Microelectronics

In September of this year, after a ten-year career in public sector defense industry positions – including serving as the Director for Electronic Warfare at the Department of Defense for almost four years – I switched tracks to the private sector, joining Mercury Systems as Chief Technology Officer. Mercury Systems is revolutionizing the intersection of technology and defense, advancing leading-edge capabilities to a microelectronics industry currently guided by two prevailing themes which together pose immense opportunity.

First, silicon manufacturing and technology are evolving at breakneck speed, which in keeping with Moore’s law have simultaneously driven advancements in computing performance and decreases in cost. To date, this innovation has been most apparent in the high-tech private sector, however there is tremendous opportunity to transfer this innovation over to the public sector and to make it defense-ready. At the same time, however, industry challenges and macro-level geopolitical trends have created an environment in which secure, trusted solutions are an undisputed imperative for U.S. government agencies and defense Primes.

I believe Mercury is uniquely positioned to address these challenges, and this is one of the reasons I joined the Company. Operating in the private sector and with a wealth of experience in electronics from chip level to system level , we have the expertise and ambition to drive real innovation in microelectronics. At the same time, our legacy in servicing the defense community, combined with our Defense Microelectronics Activity-accredited (DMEA) trusted secure manufacturing capabilities, puts us in a unique position as the only commercial industry player capable of serving as an ideal conduit for bringing trusted microelectronics innovation to the public sector.

An Industry at an Inflection Point

We’re excited to be sharing our optimism for the future of public sector microelectronics with the defense community and our peers at the 2019 AUSA Annual Meeting being held this week in Washington, D.C. We’re confident – based on prevailing trends and industry attitudes – that the industry is ripe and eager for change, and we’re excited to share our first step in bringing about that change.

A Bright Future

This week, we announced a $15 million capital investment to bring next-generation trusted commercial silicon technology to the defense community. This initiative represents one of the first commercial applications of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI) and directly aligns with the ERI’s stated goal of “creating a more specialized, secure, and heavily automated electronics industry that serves the needs of both the domestic commercial and defense sectors.”

This announcement and our activities at AUSA’s Annual Meeting set the stage for a bright future in microelectronics for defense applications. We look forward to translating our investment into manufacturing and implementation, and to driving further progress and innovation that matters in microelectronics for the public and private sector.


Enabling Edge Processing in Military Intelligent Sensors

In military environments, seconds can be the difference between life or death and mission success or failure. A soldier in hostile territory needs their mobile system to rapidly process sensor data to accurately analyze threats and take action. Intelligent sensor systems using artificial intelligence (AI) to make automatic critical decisions without human intervention rely on sophisticated algorithms to process sensor data real-time at the point of generation to ensure a rapid and accurate decision can be made. This real-time processing of data at the point of generation and consumption, decentralized from a data center or the cloud, is Edge Processing. Each local system or device at the “edge” is self-sufficient to collect, process, store and disseminate data into action enabling the intelligent sensor and effector mission systems our military needs to carry out daily operations. These systems that enable mobile computing and artificial intelligence could be part of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV),unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) or a base camp collecting surveillance data of its surroundings to warn of incoming threats.

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