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DOD Sees Tiny RFID Chip as a Way to Verify Electronics

DARPA's SHIELD project, headed by Northrop Grumman, is developing an RFID dielet with a sensor to prove the authenticity and integrity of an integrated circuit or other electronic component.
By Claire Swedberg

NoiseFigure Research, a technology company located in Seattle, Wash., is developing a near-field HF reader in the form of a probe that would capture the SHIELD die's ID number and sensor data at close range. Kilopass Technology Inc., based in San Jose, Calif., will provide very low-power, one-time-programmable memory for incorporation into the dielet. The Georgia Tech Packaging Research Center, a leader in system-on-package research, is developing a dicing and handling method for the extremely small dielets.

The RFID tag could be read in order to confirm component authenticity at any point along the supply chain. The parties that would be expected to read the tags would include subsystem and system manufacturers, to confirm the components' authenticity prior to assembly and delivery to manufacturers of a product, such as an aircraft.

The dielet would be about the size of Abraham Lincoln's head on the tail side of a penny.
The dielets will be designed so that they will become inoperable if removed from the component to which they are initially affixed.

"The initial effort is targeting integrated circuits used by both the defense and commercial industries," Suko says, "and the ultimate vision is that SHIELD technology would be applied broadly to ICs throughout the global electronics industry."

The Department of Defense already mandates supply chain traceability for all defense contractors, and these mandates could drive DOD contractors to be the first adopters of the SHIELD system. However, Suko says, manufacturers of commercial products are expected to use SHIELD technology as well. The SHIELD dielets could be utilized not only in ICs, but also in circuit boards and other components. DARPA's price target is one cent per dielet—cheap enough to enable insertion into even low-cost devices.

The development program consists of three phases. During the first 18-month phase, slated to end in mid-July 2016, the SHIELD technology is being developed on a basic level and demonstrated. Northrop Grumman will develop and test chips and a near-field reader for the key dielet functions, as well as demonstrate the SHIELD software.

During phase two—which is expected to be finished by January 2018—Northrop Grumman will complete the fabrication and testing of a fully functional dielet, demonstrate full end-to-end authentication of a SHIELD dielet, and deliver 1,000 SHIELD dielets for component insertion.

The third and final phase, ending in January 2019, will consist of demonstrating SHIELD dielet insertion on an IC or other product, along with deployment and network access at various original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). "This will include testing in real scenarios where counterfeit parts are intentionally inserted to assess the effectiveness of the SHIELD system," Suko explains. Production and full-scale deployment could begin sometime in 2019.

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