Jamming communications isn’t a new idea, but with battlefields becoming increasingly digital, it’s an evermore concerning threat. Now the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has built a super-fast chip that will help create devices able to shrug off radio-frequency attacks.
The Agency’s built a new analogue-to-digital converter — a device that takes analogue signals, such as communications being sent through the air, and converts them to the digital signals that potentially represent the information content held within. But this piece of electronics is seriously fast: it’s able to sample and digitise signals at a rate of over 60 billion operations per second.
That’s ten times faster than current state-of-the-art analogue-to-digital converters, and it means it’s able to detect and analyse any signal at 30 GHz or below. But perhaps most importantly, it can allow “systems to better operate in congested spectrum bands and to more rapidly react to spectrum-based threats”, according to DARPA. In other words, it can deal with electronic warfare attacks, where the local electromagnetic spectrum is filled with junk signals to overwhelm systems, so fast that they’re no longer an issue.
The whole process generates a frankly amazing terabyte of data every single second. The chip, built in conjunction with GlobalFoundries using its 32 nanometre manufacturing processes, also contains on-board processing circuitry so that all that data doesn’t have to be passed on to electronics further down the line.
The only downside is that the new chip gobbles up power. In the future, though, DARPA hopes to use smaller-scale transistor technology, building similar chips using 14-nanometre processes. It’s hoped that should increase efficiency by as much as 50 per cent, potentially making the devices portable.
Image by DARPA