Logo: University of Southern California

USC Viterbi Leads the Way at the DARPA "Perfect Program"

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awarded USC more contracts than any other university in the nation.
By: Conrad Wilton
April 26, 2013 —
Michael Fritze
Massoud Pedram
Viktor Prasanna

USC Viterbi School of Engineering recently scored a hat trick when three professors won highly competitive contracts from the U.S. Government Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) “Perfect Program.”

USC Viterbi's Michael Fritze, Massoud Pedram, and Viktor Prasanna secured contracts for their groundbreaking research in ultra low-power microelectronics. The competition was stiff, featuring professors from the nation's top schools such as MIT and UC Berkeley, but USC lead the way snagging three of the 10 contracts awarded to universities.

“The university has a long history of developing capable ultra-low-power microelectronics”, said John Damoulakis, Deputy Director of Advanced Electronics at Viterbi's Information Sciences Institute (ISI). “These professors have spent decades designing low-powered devices and systems that can be applied to both commercial and military industries."

Fritze, Research Professor of Electrical Engineering-Electrophysics, has developed the world's lowest-powered field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), which are essentially low-powered circuits installed in computers, military electronic systems, and elsewhere.

Prasanna, the Charles Lee Powell Chair in Engineering and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, created an award-winning project that introduced signal-processing algorithms to help design low-powered devices. His colleague, Pedram, Professor of Electrical Engineering-Systems, won recognition for developing low-powered circuits as small as seven nanometers wide. To compare, the average sheet of paper is approximately 100,000 nanometers thick.

The three contracts together represent a multi-million dollar research effort to increase the reliability and resiliency of electronic systems, and to conserve energy by building low-powered devices.

For example, low-powered circuits can cut the cost to build a satellite approximately 10 to 15 percent. Additionally, a cell phone battery running on low-powered electronics can last potentially three times longer. Ultimately, USC researchers hope to design devices that consume 64 times less power than what current systems require.

Various software companies and the U.S. military have expressed interest in USC's research. In addition to reducing the cost of manufacturing and maintaining electronic systems, low-powered electronics can also help improve the electronic systems reliability and increase the mission potential of many military platforms such as unmanned area vehicles (UAVs).