Honey, I shrunk the radio receiver

Australian Macworld staff
17 March, 2010
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The CSIRO and Australian company Sapphicon Semiconductor have teamed up to develop a tiny radio receiver which will first be used in astronomy applications, but could eventually find its way into mobile phones.

The 5mm x 5mm chips are being developed as a low-cost ultra-high-bandwidth ‘system-on-a-chip’ device to replace traditional radio astronomy receivers – which are now generally the size of a bar fridge. The chip will be tested first at CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) – an array of radio dishes currently under construction in Western Australia that will act as a single telescope.

“This chip will minimise the size and weight of the phased array feed, reduce cost and power, and facilitate maintenance”, says CSIRO ASKAP project director Dr David DeBoer.

Sapphicon Semiconductor CEO Andrew Brawley adds that perhaps the biggest advantage “is that so much circuitry – RF, logic, mixed-signal and passives – can be incorporated into the same chip.

“This is real miniaturisation and could open up whole new product markets,” he says.

The development project is likely to take about two years, using Sapphicon Semiconductor’s Silicon-on-Sapphire CMOS process. CSIRO will be contributing intellectual property it has generated from research funded by the Commonwealth Government under the second round of the Major National Research Facilities program in 2001.

CSIRO ASKAP business development manager Dr Carole Jackson says the development of the devices requires significant Australian electronics design expertise: “It will encourage training and the diffusion of expertise throughout our industry.”

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