By Erin Conroy www.thenational.ae
A university researcher says he is the first person in the country to have developed a physical microchip, one he hopes will help the paralysed to regain movement.
There are no chip-fabrication plants in operation in the UAE, though the Advanced Technology Investment Company (Atic) – the technology unit of the Abu Dhabi government’s investment fund, Mubadala – plans to construct a technology cluster near Abu Dhabi International Airport that will include a chip-making plant.
Atic spokesman Brian Lott said that while it would be difficult to confirm Dr Harb’s claim, since the chip was manufactured abroad, “the UAEU is a critical part of the tech ecosystem we are looking to build here”.
Officials from Synopsys, a Dubai-based semiconductor company, said they were not aware of any UAE-based companies whose chip designs are manufactured overseas.
Ralph Cavin, vice president of the US-based non-profit consortium Semiconductor Research Corporation, said that the fabrication of designs created by university researchers is common. However, he was not aware of any designs originating in the Gulf that have progressed to the manufacturing stage.
Measuring 1.78-by-1.28 square millimetres – smaller than a fly – Dr Harb’s chip is designed to be incorporated into a larger one that is yet to be developed. The semiconductor would read signals from severed nerves and send them to the human brain.
His work has been published in the peer-reviewed science journal Analog Integrated Circuits and Signal Processing.
He said the entire project might take years to bring to fruition, but was confident that it could greatly improve existing technology because it would be far more accurate.
“The microchip industry in the UAE is still weak, but growing, so this is ahead of what will come,” he said. “For this use, it will make a big difference in medical applications.”
The semiconductor sector is a critical component of the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030; the emirate wants to become a major player in the chip-making sector.
With the Abu Dhabi Government’s help, Globalfoundries, the manufacturing business of US chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), and Atic are upgrading and building chip-making plants around the world.
Dr Harb’s chip “provides a timely illustration of the work of all of our faculty in providing research that is directly aligned to the growth and benefit of our nation”, said Abdullah al Khanbashi, the UAE University’s vice chancellor.