TI research & development
With three Kilby Labs locations up and running, plans are now under way to extend the Kilby Labs model elsewhere around the world.
Jack Kilby personified the engineer who combines creative problem-solving with applied-technology to produce world-changing results. Kilby Labs, named in his honor, are high-risk innovation centers focused on delivering breakthrough technology.
The labs consist of several small teams whose members rotate through the labs from product-development teams companywide. Engineers submit ideas for projects that wouldn’t typically be explored inside a business unit, and those who get the green light then have an opportunity to experiment, innovate and push the boundaries of technology in an environment that’s one step removed from day-to-day business demands.
Research conducted in Kilby Labs is intended to incubate and then rapidly demonstrate the feasibility of highly innovative and disruptive product ideas on silicon. Project duration can range from six months to more than a year, and successful projects graduate from the labs and move to TI business units, which further define, develop and market them. Engineers assigned to those Kilby projects then also return to their business units.
The scope of projects is virtually unlimited within TI’s fields of interest and expertise, and they have ranged from terahertz clock sources to micromachines.
The various Kilby Labs are also a magnet for top students from around the world, some of whom start as summer interns and then join TI after graduating. Student interns work with TI staff on projects, gain insight into how TI operates and at the same time further their graduate studies. Among the universities that Dallas interns have represented are the University of Texas, MIT, Texas A&M, Stanford, Columbia, Georgia Tech, Rensselaer, UC Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin and Cambridge University.
Kilby Labs, Dallas, opened in 2009. Kilby Labs, India, opened in Bangalore in 2010. And Kilby Labs, Silicon Valley, opened its doors in Santa Clara in 2011 following TI’s acquisition of National Semiconductor.
Kilby Labs, Dallas
The original Kilby Labs location includes about 14,000 square feet of lab space and accommodates nearly 100 people working on about two dozen projects.
The first product to come out of Kilby Labs, Dallas, was the bq25504 ultra-low-power boost converter. It was a result of an energy-harvesting project that provided engineers with a much better understanding of key technical issues, customer needs and the competitive landscape. And it led to the creation of a new business entity to develop nano-amp-scale power-management systems.
Other products that have emerged from Kilby Dallas include a family of analog-to-digital converters, ultra-low-power EP products, high-efficiency solar optimizer modules and mobile body fluid analytics technology.
Among the areas being explored today is energy management, including generation, conversion, distribution and control of the energy demand and energy resources, from nanopower to megapower applications. Medical and health care also provide a wide range of opportunities for innovation. Technologies addressing critical problems in areas such as patient care, intelligent medicine and wellness management will create new market opportunities, so they continue to be relevant to the labs and to TI.
Two additional areas that will drive new markets and technologies are cloud computing (and the infrastructure to support it), and safety and security. Cloud computing includes the cloud itself, the gateway to it and the Internet of things that connect to the cloud. Safety and security includes automotive and transportation safety, home and public security, Internet transactions, authentication, tracking, sensors and actuators, and numerous other areas where electronics technology is still in its early stages of introduction.
Kilby Labs, India
TI’s research activities in India date back to 1985 when TI set up an R&D facility in Bangalore, and since then TI India engineers have filed numerous patents and regularly been recognized for their innovations. Today TI India is deeply involved in developing state-of-the-art solutions for smartphones, wireless base stations, video security, high-performance analog and much more.
In addition to being a significant R&D center for TI globally, Kilby Labs, India, addresses the needs of the Indian semiconductor market, including customers in sectors such as industrial electronics, medical electronics, consumer products, telecommunications and automotive. Among the half dozen projects under way are a radically different way of building analog-to-digital converters with large reductions in power that don’t sacrifice performance.
Another project is exploring the use of novel signal-processing techniques in low-cost microcontrollers and could have important applications in utility metering in India and China in particular. Yet another project uses DLP technology and high-precision analog front ends to drastically reduce the cost of medical-related biochemical analysis, which would be especially beneficial in developing countries.
The ultimate goals, as at other Kilby sites, include carving out new areas of existing markets for TI technology and creating new families of products that significantly benefit customers.
Kilby Labs, Silicon Valley
Engineers at Kilby Labs, Silicon Valley, work extensively in analog and mixed-signal processing. Research projects have ranged from analog technology for ultra-low-power pattern recognition to re-architecting power management for future cloud servers. One common denominator is to speed the development process through collaboration, taking ideas rapidly from their infancy to realistic evaluation.
Members of the Silicon Valley team also work regularly with faculty and students at top universities. But rather than simply funding narrowly defined research they tend to get heavily involved in projects, spending time with faculty and students bouncing ideas off one another. This interaction helps take ideas from the whiteboard to hardware development in an amazingly short period of time, they’ve found.
"It’s a very competitive industry and our innovations can give us a six-month window over our competition," said Ahmad Bahai, TI’s analog CTO. "Then we extend that window with more innovation. Back in the old days the best way to protect your innovation was to patent it. Nowadays the best way to protect your innovation is with more innovation."