Trustworthy Electronics: Network Project Develops Novel Know-How Protection

Self-driving cars, service robots, communication: Our daily lives are increasingly influenced by microelectronics that we have to trust. Within a network project, the Institute of Theoretical Electrical Engineering and Microelectronics is carrying out research on expert knowledge.

Electronics are no longer developed and produced in one country and at one location but rather in many steps around the globe. Who knows if everything is being done properly, if impeccable quality is being produced, and no hidden functions are being added to the software and hardware? The end customers and users expect just that: trustworthy electronic products. In order to provide such products in Germany, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding scientific projects in researching and developing new methods for the designing and manufacturing of such components. This is being done as part of the “Trustworthy Electronics” initiative. One of the said projects - the “Know-How Protection for Trustworthy, Heterogeneous Electronics Systems with Chiplets” (“Know-how-Schutz für vertrauenswürdige heterogene Elektroniksysteme mit Chiplets”) (VE-REWAL), which is being funded with six million euros - is being coordinated by the Institute of Theoretical Electrical Engineering and Microelectronics (ITEM) at the University of Bremen.

Chip Functions Spread Across Several Components

“The aim of VE-REWAL is to research methods and technologies for the realization of platform solutions for trustworthy, multifaceted electronics systems. We are implementing novel system partitioning and a new system packaging,” explains Professor Steffen Paul, ITEM director. The functions of individual chips are spread across several simplified components - so-called chiplets. These are then combined again for the final product.

Put simply: “We split the electronic product for manufacturing and then put together the individual components at the end,” states the electrical engineer / microelectronics expert. “The advantage of this is that both the functionalities and the intellectual property are hidden from third parties. The signal processing functions are distributed among different chiplets in such a way that individual chiplets are useless for attackers. In this way, the whole system is protected whilst using different service providers.”

The signal processing chiplets are then combined with high-frequency circuits, which are produced in mm-wave SiGe high-frequency technology by Infineon, and antennas. Technologies of chip first, or rather RDL 1st fan-out wafer-level packaging are being analyzed in terms of their suitability for high-frequency circuits and new process steps are being developed.

New Guidelines and Concepts

Additionally, the project also works on creating new guidelines for electronics design and new concepts for integration and communication. “The functionality of our developments is to be demonstrated using a highly modern radar system for the automobile industry,” is how Steffen Paul clarifies the approach. “We are implementing an additional encoding of communication between the chiplets in order to avoid data manipulation.” Comprehensive test methods are being developed for the whole concept. They are used both during the manufacturing process as well as during system operation to discover possible manipulation.

The modular approach also forms the basis for the growth of a chiplet provider market, for example small and medium-sized companies with special expertise. The use of open standards for communication between chiplets and the implementation of open process architectures are the foundation for a wide application of the developed methods.

Close Cooperation between Economy and Science

Under the direction of ITEM, the research project is a close cooperation between industrial and academic partners. Infineon Technologies AF and Fraunhofer IZM are working on improving the wafer-level packaging for the integration of high-frequency components, which are in turn being developed by Ruhr-Universität Bochum. Fraunhofer FHR is developing radar signal processing and the University of Bremen is responsible for its partitioning and implementation in chiplets. PHYSEC GmbH provides advice on cryptographic securing of communication. Viconnis Test Technologie GmbH is making new testing methods available and Conti Temic microelectronic GmbH is working on test and analysis concepts for the package together with the Technische Hochschule Ingolstadt.

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research is funding the VE-REWAL project as part of the “Trustworthy Electronics” initiative with around six million euros. The project will run until April 2024.


Further Information:


Prof. Dr. Steffen Paul
Institute of Theoretical Electrical Engineering and Microelectronics (ITEM)
University of Bremen

Faculty of Physics / Electrical Engineering
Phone: +49 421 218-62540
Email: Steffen.Paulprotect me ?!uni-bremenprotect me ?!.de


Chiplets instead of chips: In the VE-REWAL project, ITEM is implementing novel system partitioning and a new system packaging.