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Patricia Müller

Microchips without mistakes – How to find defects in semiconductors

They are not only embedded in the cores of computers, we also find them in household appliances and in our cars. Tiny electronic circuits that ensure that systems and devices function properly. It all revolves around them, the microchips, and their flawlessness, the work of LUBIS EDA, a new startup at the CISPA Incubator.

Founded in 2021, the company supports corporate quality controls with a new kind of software tool. It's designed for verification of digital integrated circuits found in many semiconductors. "We are focused on functional defects," explains Chief Finance Officer (CFO) Dr. Max Birtel. And as an example, he cites, "If a device goes into sleep mode but restarts instead, that would be a failure, for example. So anytime the system goes into an incorrect state."

Functional errors can not only cause the semiconductor to malfunction, but also be a starting point for safety issues. This becomes especially critical when dealing with control systems such as brakes, Max explains.

Measured against the overall development process of a microchip, the design is done quickly, he says. But making sure they are safe is a problem, he says. "Verification takes up to 70 percent of the total development time."

In addition, the demands on microchips are increasing. Devices should consume less energy, have more computing power and, best of all, become faster.

"Verification is the bottleneck in this process." What's more, without verification, companies risk losing billions of dollars because microchips are ordered in large batches. If a defect is then discovered, the entire batch must be discarded. It can even lead to recalls of products already sold.

Formal verification technology differs from simulation-based technology, which is widely used, because it can make reliable yes/no statements about the functionality of a semiconductor. Max: "A simulation engineer usually tests very specific input combinations, but can't be sure if the microchip will work with a different combination." LUBIS EDA uses formal verification technology to look for mathematical logical errors and gaps in code that are not defined. The startup is seeing high demand for this type of verification - it has now had more requests than it could process for the first time. As a result, LUBIS EDA is even offering training to become a "Formal Verification Expert."

At the incubator, the young company hopes to get valuable feedback from experts, both on the technical idea and the potential business model, a funding opportunity in the IT security field, and networking, because, says Max, "unfortunately, we never had a real exchange with other startups due to the pandemic."