Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)
The energy demands of today’s high-performance computers have become a critical challenge for the Intel Community that the Cryogenic Computer Complexity (C3) program program aims to address. IARPA, within the ODNI, has embarked on a multi-year research effort to develop a superconducting computer. If successful, could generate a new approach to supercomputing that is more efficient, faster, less expensive & requires a smaller footprint.

A Raytheon BBN Technologies-led team is developing prototype cryogenic memory arrays and a scalable control architecture under an award from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) Cryogenic Computing Complexity (C3) program.

The team recently demonstrated an energy-efficient superconducting/ferromagnetic memory cell—the first integration of a superconducting switch controlling a cryogenic memory element.

“This research could generate a new approach to supercomputing that is more efficient, faster, less expensive, and requires a smaller footprint,” said Zachary Dutton, Ph.D. and manager of the quantum technologies division at Raytheon BBN Technologies.

(Raytheon scientists explain how the company is pioneering quantum computing technology in this “I am an Innovator” video. See Zacharty Dutton, Lead Scientist, Raytheon BBN Technologies as video opens. Learn how researchers are harnessing the unique properties of quantum bits, or “qubits,” in ways that could lead to computers vastly more powerful than today’s. Courtesy of Raytheon and YouTube)

Power and cooling for large-scale computing systems are rapidly becoming unmanageable problems for the enterprises which depend on them.

The trend towards large, centralized computing facilities to house supercomputers, data centers, and special purpose computers continues to grow, driven by cloud computing, support of mobile devices, Internet traffic volume, and computation-intensive applications.

Conventional computing systems, which are based on complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) switching devices and normal metal interconnects, appear to have no path to be able to increase energy efficiency fast enough to keep up with increasing demands for computation.

Superconducting computing could offer an attractive low-power alternative to CMOS with many potential advantages.

Courtesy of IARPA

Josephson junctions, the superconducting switching devices, switch quickly (~1 ps), dissipate little energy per switch (< 10^-19 J), and communicate information via small current pulses that propagate over superconducting transmission lines nearly without loss.

“The power, space, and cooling requirements for current supercomputers based on complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology are becoming unmanageable,” explained Marc Manheimer, C3 program manager at IARPA.

“Computers based on superconducting logic integrated with new kinds of cryogenic memory will allow expansion of current computing facilities while staying within space and energy budgets, and may enable supercomputer development beyond the exascale.”

The goal of the C3 program is to establish superconducting computing as a long-term solution to the powercooling problem and a successor to end-of-roadmap CMOS for high performance computing.

While, in the past, significant technical obstacles prevented serious exploration of superconducting computing, recent innovations have created foundations for a major breakthrough.

These include new families of superconducting logic without static power dissipation and new ideas for energy efficient cryogenic memory.

A superconducting computer also promises a simplified cooling infrastructure and a greatly reduced footprint.

The energy demands of today’s high-performance computers have become a critical challenge for the Intelligence Community that the C3 program aims to address.

(Learn More. Courtesy of The Audiopedia and YouTube. Posted on Jul 15, 2017)

During the initial phase of the C3 program, IARPA-funded researchers work to develop the critical components for the memory and logic subsystems and plan the prototype computer, with the goal to later scale and integrate the components into a working computer and test its performance using a set of standard benchmarking programs.

Raytheon BBN is the prime contractor leading a team that includes:

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • New York University
  • Cornell University
  • University of Rochester
  • University of Stellenbosch
  • HYPRES, Inc.
  • Canon U.S.A, Inc.,
  • Spin Transfer Technologies, Inc.

IARPA logo

IARPA invests in high-risk, high-payoff research programs that have the potential to provide our nation with an overwhelming intelligence advantage over our future adversaries.



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