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From Ubiquitous to Ambient
-Strategy for Becoming a Nation of Technology, Information, and Electronics- (International Research and Education Center for Ambient SoC)

From ubiquitous to ambient. This is a new concept espoused by Waseda University towards becoming a next-generation information society.

The goal of a ubiquitous society has been defined as access to information at any time, by any person, and from any place. However, when viewed from another perspective, this is a world where it is necessary for human beings to actively pursue and obtain information. Conversely, an ambient society is one in which an ambient information environment blends with people in an invisible form. This ambient information environment intelligently senses the condition of human beings, providing the needed information at the needed time from the side of the environment. This is a world where a secure, comfortable, and prosperous environment is maintained (Figure 1).

Figure 1:From ubiquitous to ambient

The word "Ambient" first began to be used as a keyword of information society approximately 10 years ago in Europe. In 1999, The Information Technology Advisory Committee of the European Communities (EC) proposed the fundamental principles of ambient intelligence, an information technology for the purpose of realizing a better future for individuals, society, and the environment. In the time since the proposal, these principles have steadily spread throughout the world.

Among this dissemination of ambient intelligence, the feature of the Waseda University project is the unification of the two concepts of "Ambient" and SoC (Sensor, Software and Service on Chip), which is focusing on the next generation of ultra-compact, high-speed, high-capability integrated circuits, along with architecture, software and applications. I discussed the contents of this project, named Ambient SoC, with Professor Satoshi Goto of the Graduate School of Information Production and Systems, who serves as center leader for the project.

Gathering the total resources of information, electronics, and electricity

Professor Satoshi Goto, leader of Ambient SoC center

Waseda University has developed a unique concept known as Ambient SoC. This concept functions as a comprehensive plan for technological development which will accelerate the realization of an ambient society. In 2007, Ambient SoC was selected as a Global COE(*) by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and the project made a full-fledged start. A new research center was established that is composed of the following three centers: the Nanotechnology Research Center of the Graduate School of Advanced Science and Engineering (Tokyo); the Information Technology Research Center of the Graduate School of Fundamental Science and Engineering (Tokyo); and the Advanced LSI Design Technology Research Center of the Graduate School of Information Production and Systems (Kitakyushu). Professor Goto had the following to say about Ambient SoC.

"For the formation of the current Ambient SoC Research Center, we are combining related technology from the fields of information sciences, electrical and electronic sciences. This technology has been accumulated from Waseda University's many years of experience and has achieved recognition throughout the world for performance.

The research center is composed of 3 centers in Tokyo and Kitakyushu
The upper two are nanoelectronics laboratories (Tokyo: Clean room (left), MEMS processing area (right))The lower-left is the environment of the communication infrastructure software laboratory (Tokyo), and the lower-right is the system LSI laboratory (Kitakyushu)

The foremost goal of the project is the realization of a gigascale system including a 100-million-gate circuit and 1-million-step software as a chip which consumes an ultra-low amount of power. As semiconductors progress to the nanoscale and aiming at higher speed and performance, it is necessary to strategically unify research and development of software and hardware, incorporating into chips the competitive power of advanced information technology. Furthermore, in order to realize the services of an ambient society, it is essential to mount intelligent sensing technology into chips.

Moreover, realization of ultra-low power consumption is a vital issue not only for improvement of the reliability of operating capabilities but also for environmental protection.

Nanotechnology (NT), information technology (IT), and ambient technology (AT) compose the three main research fields of the center (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Scholastic fields covered by the center.

In nanotechnology, a variety of sensors and actuators developed using new material formation technology are mounted onto silicon chips. The goal for these chips is to achieve an ultra-compact size and an ultra-low power consumption that is approximately one-tenth of conventional chips. Goals for information technology include analysis of ultra-functional SoC architectures that will exist in 10 years, and development of infrastructure software (language, OS) that can be efficiently utilized by society. There are many goals for ambient technology as easy-to-use information infrastructure technology that provides security and safety. These goals include research in image processing, encryption/ identification, communication processing, and recognition processing, as well as design of a new algorithm which supports high performance with low computation cost. Further goals include research for a chip realizing ultra-low power consumption that is one-hundredth of conventional chips, detection technology for ultra-large scale chips, and research for design automation technology.

(*) Note: Global COE is program of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology that offers prioritized support for the formation of international outstanding education research centers. "COE" stands for Center of Excellence.

Nanolevel competition that challenges the world

Several noteworthy successes were already achieved in the 2007 academic year. In the field of nanotechnology, a research paper summarizing the successful research in low power technology was the only research presentation selected from Japan for the international symposium ISLPED (International Symposium on Low Power Electronics and Design). In the field of information technology infrastructure, the center succeeded in developing the world's first compiler control technology with automatic parallelization. The result of this success was OSCAR, a compiler featuring the world's highest capabilities surpassing the performance of IBM and Intel. In the field of ambient technology, development of new LSI design technology received high praise within Japan. The LSI Design Award IP was received for the 3rd consecutive year, and the LSI Design Award IP for Excellence was received in 2008.

It is predicted that, in 10 years time, semiconductors will possess 100 times the current components per chip and 100 times the current calculation processing speed. A fierce international competition is unfolding to achieve this kind of incredible components per chip ratio, and to create technology which fully utilizes this tremendous capability. Professor Goto had the following to say about future technologies.

"A level of 65 nanoscale is widely used in current semiconductor technology. This is coming closer to 40 nano and 20 nano, levels which are practically on a microscopic scale, physically speaking. The question is how mounting can be performed for infinitely fine circuits, and how to develop infinitely low-resistance materials. There is intense global competition in the development of material technology, design, and processing technology for the next generation of semiconductors.

For example, carbon nanotubes are one item attracting attention as a next-generation material. It is still a bit early for post-silicon materials to be considered as a realistic theme. However, as a stepping stone to the next generation, Waseda University is using our existing high levels of research success in carbon nanotubes as a base from which to engage in research and development for application in semiconductor materials.

Also, we are conducting research in technology to separate the biomolecules found in blood by utilizing flow technology on a nanolevel in biotechnology. In the future, there will most likely be a movement in the direction of biochips, which are chips mounted with biosensors that administer biological analysis functions. Biochips are an important aspect of the themes currently raised by Ambient SoC."

Figure 3: Research Activity Plan of Ambient SoC

Development of doctorate (Ph.D.) personnel that can perform in the industrial field

Education for the development of outstanding, world-class personnel is one of the key elements of Ambient SoC. In order for Japan to continue growing as a global leader in technology, personnel is required that can perform as outstanding researchers in the industrial field. Therefore, Ambient SoC is working to reform our doctoral program in order to develop personnel that can perform in the industrial world.

Joint workshops with foreign universities and seminars that feature participation from researchers throughout the world are held periodically. The photograph shows a scene from the September, 2007 Kick Off Symposium (Tokyo).

Some specific examples of items being implemented include the acquirement of broad knowledge through double majors, a system that allows outstanding students to complete their studies faster, education in technical communication to enable English presentations of world-class research papers, and practical internship educations.

Professor Goto says that "Until now, the doctoral program consisted of research in a very narrow field. This made it difficult to pursue a path other than that of an academic scholar. In addition to strong research ability, flexible thinking supported by broad education and knowledge is necessary to perform in the industrial field. In order to create a more fulfilling program, I believe the increased dialogue between the industrial field and our university is very important.

Research in the field of engineering is not possible without a dialogue with society. The development themes of universities are much more long-term than those of corporations. However, it is essential to consider everyday the direction that should be taken to bring about future growth in the technological and economical strength of Japan. Plans are being implemented to form a consortium linked with industry and to create a close relationship with corporations."

A group of distinguished professors including Professor Liu of the National Tsing Hua University and Professor Rabaey of UC Berkeley was invited and the 1st Global COE International Symposium was held (January, 2008, Kita-Kyushu).

Another element of Ambient SoC education that is worthy of special mention is the effort to develop overseas personnel, with a focus on East Asia. Foreign students from China, Taiwan, and Korea compose 70 percent of the students in masters and doctoral programs at the Graduate School of Information, Production and Systems in Kitakyushu, which was established in 2003.

"Tokyo will be used as a base for fulfilling education of Japanese students. Conversely, international education is being vigorously pursued at the new graduate school. Even among Japanese corporations, there is increased momentum in the active hiring of outstanding East Asian personnel. I believe that it is important to develop personnel that not only possesses a high level of specialized education, but that also understand Japanese culture and has an affinity towards Japan," says Professor Goto.

In the past, Japan was a top runner for semiconductor business in the world. However, since then, Japan has been under pressure due to the rise of the semiconductor industry in Korea and Taiwan, and Japan has fallen behind compared to the advanced research of Europe and America.

"In the future world of nanoscale component embedding, the Japanese commitment to high-quality, high-capability manufacturing found in items such as our exceptional large flat screen displays and cellular phones will once again become our greatest strength," says Professor Goto.

The combination of Ambient and SoC is not merely a strategy of Waseda University. It is also a strategy that will enable Japan to become a world leader in technology and a world leader in information and electronics.

Reference Link

Waseda University Global COE Program
International Research and Education Center for Ambient SoC

http://www.cs.waseda.ac.jp/gcoe/