The main objective of the Italian Special Action is to promote the development of local R&D capabilities open to international contacts and cooperation. In support of the pursuance of this objective, the Action is also enhancing the cooperation of academia and research centres with SMEs through the joint design and testing of circuit prototypes of concrete interest to SMEs. This is contributing both to the dissemination of the "microelectronics culture", even in small companies, and to raise academia's awareness of industrial problems.
Design, processing and testing of 11 application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) prototypes proposed by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) has been carried out. To promote useful exchanges, the design and testing of each circuit has been carried out by mixed university/SME design teams. The prototypes include:
a programmable delay control and phase generator to be used in echotomographs (which was awarded the first prize as the best industrial chip at EDAC EUROASIC '93);
a control system for robotics;
an ASIC for active defence for banks;
a charge-to-digital converter for high energy physics experiments;
an ASIC to drive and control test equipment;
a preprocessor for laser beam bar code scanners;
an ASIC for the control of diesel engines;
an ASIC for telemeasurement and telecontrol systems (eg in agriculture);
a sea-keeping augmentation controller;
a controller for industrial brushless motors;
a microprocessor didactic console.
A cluster of more general activities has also been pursued, including the development of a knowledge network in microelectronics (mainly through existing design and testing service centres), increasing awareness of microelectronics capabilities amongst SMEs, and the general dissemination of know-how on ASIC design (for example, through workshops, training courses and publications).
The Special Action has been implemented, as a priority, in industrial and academic contexts of less advanced technological development. Efforts are focused in particular on southern Italy. However, in the light of the quite low usage of ASICs by Italian SMEs in general, and the need to carry out an effective integration of efforts between the different geographical areas, the association has been welcomed of northern organisations that could act as a bridge towards other European institutes or firms, or that could provide complementary know-how.