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ISLAMABAD: Semiconductor chips are at the heart of all electronic devices and consumer appliances that we use every day. Global semiconductor sales reached $556 billion in 2021 but Pakistan has not been able to benefit from this lucrative market.

NUST, in line with its vision of undertaking applied research and innovation, embarked upon the journey to make Pakistan self-reliant in this critical technology. Researchers at the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) have successfully completed full functional testing of the country’s first truly indigenously designed microprocessor, NTiny-E.

The embedded microprocessor chip was designed by the research team of the NUST School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (SEECS). The unique aspect of the project is its completely in-house design as opposed to common practice of using open-source cores from other sources or foreign collaborations. This makes NTiny-E a truly indigenous product that provides the design team complete leverage and control over all aspects of the chip.

NUST selected the world’s largest and leading commercial foundry, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd. (TSMC) for chip fabrication utilising the industry-standard 65 nm process node. This demonstrates researchers’ ability to design chips that are compliant with international industrial design and fabrication standards. The event marks an important milestone in the national semiconductor landscape and puts Pakistan another step ahead on the path towards the realization of Quaid’s vision of self-reliance.

NUST team has not limited itself to the design of the chip itself but also developed a complete ecosystem required for chip testing and its incorporation into end products. The printed circuit board for chip testing and prototyping of end systems has also been indigenously developed along with associated software and development tools.

This will facilitate researchers and industrial product developers to design and manufacture products based on NTiny-E. The target market for NTiny is embedded systems, IoT devices, consumer electronic products, etc. The indigenous nature of the product alleviates concerns related to cyber security and technology denial. NUST is also developing competent and market-ready human resource for the semiconductor market to address critical shortages through its undergraduate and post-graduate programs.

In the backdrop of the global shortage of semiconductor chips and export restrictions, the contributions of NUST researchers will help reduce dependence on foreign imports in the long run.

NTiny design and development team was led by Dr Rehan Ahmed and other team members included Shaheer Sajid, Qazi Shahid Ullah, Abdul Moeed and Syed Talha Imam. Dr Rehan has over 14 years of design experience in this area and worked at international companies including Siemens, Microsoft Research and Keysight (IXIA). Remarkable contributions of researchers were duly supported and facilitated by top leadership including Rector NUST Engr Javed Mahmood Bukhari, Pro-Rector (Academics) Dr Osman Hasan, and Pro-Rector (Research, Innovation & Commercialization) Dr Rizwan Riaz.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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