The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Xia's NSF Research Will Create Next Generation of Smart and “Green” Wearable Electronics

Qiangfei Xia

Qiangfei Xia

Professor Qiangfei Xia of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department has received a three-year, $499,998 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support his pioneering project on near-sensor and in-sensor analog computing. As Xia says, his NSF research “aims at delivering intelligent and energy efficient wearable electronics that will become ubiquitous in the era of the Internet of Things.”

“The proposed project intends to go beyond the state of the art,” explains Xia, “by integrating sensing, memory, and computing functionalities into one chip, which will allow for ubiquitous applications at low energy budget and low latency.”

According to Xia, miniaturized sensor systems with built-in memory and computing functionalities are the cornerstones of artificial intelligence (AI) at the edge.

“However,” says Xia, “in the currently deployed systems, sensing and computing take place in separate physical locations, imposing a huge amount of data shuttling between the sensor module and the cloud computing platform. This is unsustainable in terms of energy efficiency, latency, and the capacity for processing sensor data and hence has a negative environmental impact with billions of sensors connected together in the era of the Internet of Things.”

Xia says his NSF research will enable the next generation of smart and flexible wearable electronics capable of processing the acquired information onsite. As he explains, “we propose to build an intelligent sensing system where arrays of polymeric ferroelectric sensors will be integrated with memristor, crossbar, array-based, in-memory, computing hardware.”

Xia adds that the adoption of a flexible platform will not only reduce the weight of the devices but, more importantly, enable biodegradable wearable electronics that fulfill the “green AI” concept. The proposed research could empower smart and energy efficient wearable electronics capable of sustaining the Internet of Things.
Among several other impacts, Xia’s NSF project will also demonstrate an in-sensor computing platform in which ferroelectric field-effect transistors will be used as both sensing and nonvolatile memory elements for computation. Such a transistor represents a new type of memory that can maintain its logic state even when the power is off.

The research project will leverage expertise and infrastructure at UMass and VTT, a technical research center in Finland, which will develop the flexible ferroelectric sensors (efforts will be supported separately by the Academy of Finland).

In addition to this new NSF grant, Xia is currently the principal investigator for a $1.3-million award from the NSF ASCENT program (Addressing Systems Challenges through Engineering Teams), which began in September of 2020 and ends in August of 2024. This project is developing a fundamentally new hardware system that integrates two different types of memristors and supporting circuits into 3D networks that create a new computing platform, which is expected to be more versatile, compact, and power-efficient than current platforms. See .

Xia heads the Nanodevices and Integrated Systems Lab. His lab is currently focused on the following main topics: energy-efficient hardware systems for machine intelligence, security, sensing, and communication; the design, characterization, and understanding of emerging nanoelectronic devices; and enabling fabrication and three-dimensional heterogeneous integration technologies. (October 2021)