The silver lining of the semiconductor shortage: 3 innovations

Despite the ongoing semiconductor shortage, tech companies across the world continue to innovate.
Despite the ongoing semiconductor shortage, tech companies across the world continue to innovate.

Following two years of semiconductor shortages, there are expectations that it will continue as far as 2022. Despite this, tech companies are rising to the challenge of the shortage, and innovation is thriving. Top Business Tech takes a look at three innovations breaking through in 2021.

1. Samsung’s Ultra-High Resolution Mobile CMOS Imager

Samsung has created a 0.8µm-pitch 108-megapixel (Mp) ultra-high resolution CMOS image sensor for mobile applications. This innovation seeks to overcome the reduced pixel silicon volume and the amount of incident light available at each pixel, resulting from the increase in densities. Samsung’s CMOS image sensor has a 3×3 shared pixel structure they call Nonacell. It comprises three shared pinned photodiodes, whose signals are summed in the imager’s floating diffusion (FD) with averaged voltages. These shared-pixel units can combine in different ways, with 108Mp resolution for bright outdoor daylight conditions and 12MP resolution for indoor light, achieving optimum performance in varying light conditions.

2. Nanophotonic sensor for glaucoma monitoring

A Samsung/Caltech team has begun to pioneer an optomechanical nanophotonic sensor implant to monitor glaucoma. Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness, resultant from elevated intraocular pressure (IOP). The sensor, 500-μm in diameter, 200-µm in width, will allow continuous, on-demand IOP monitoring. This sensor is battery-free and made of flexible, spongy medical-grade silicone that contains 3D photonic nanostructures. The sensor is pressure-sensitive and can deliver IOP readings when connected with invisible near-infrared (NIR) light.

3. Fault-tolerant quantum computing

Xanadu and imec have partnered to develop photonic chips for fault-tolerant quantum computing. Xanadu is developing a quantum computer based on photonics based on a specific type of light generated by chip-integrated silicon photonic devices. This is done by using particles of light, which carry information through photonic chips instead of using electrons or ions.

Zachary Vernon, who heads up Xanadu’s Hardware team, said: “One of the most critical challenges in building a photonic quantum computer is finding the right fabrication partner that can simultaneously deliver cutting-edge process development and volume production of high performing photonic chips. 

Amin Abbasi, business development manager at imec: “We are pleased to see that imec’s wafer-scale low loss SiN photonics platform, initially developed for communication, is finding its way towards other advanced applications, like quantum computing. We look forward to working with Xanadu to drive further development of this platform for their particular needs.”

The semiconductor shortage continues 

With the combination of consumer demands during the pandemic, restrictions on manufacturing sites, and the launch of new highly-anticipated games consoles, phones and tablets, the shortage of semiconductors has continued to damage several industries, from cars to appliances. Given this, how long might we expect the shortage to last?

This chip shortage can be observed across all industries, as consumer products such as toasters and washing machines are now also feeling the pinch of the shortage, according to Asian suppliers. According to the Financial Times, South Korea’s Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics both project the shortage to last far into 2022. 

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When asked about the semiconductor shortage, the Chief of Cisco, Chuck Robbins, told the BBC: “We think we’ve got another six months to get through the short term. The providers are building out more capacity. And that’ll get better and better over the next 12 to 18 months.”

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