A center aimed at advancing semiconductor research and development in the U.S. is expected to launch in the coming months, Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told Senate lawmakers.
The National Semiconductor Technology Center (NSTC) is an important component of the research and development aspects of the CHIPS and Science Act, a major statute signed into law last year that’s aimed at promoting semiconductor manufacturing in the U.S.
In a Wednesday hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation to examine progress on the implementation of the statute, Raimondo called the NSTC the “centerpiece” of the agency’s work in developing a program “to meet the unique challenges of building a sustained R&D to manufacturing pipeline.” That center, she said, is expected “to launch this fall.”
Commerce didn’t respond to a request for comment on more specific timing.
The NSTC’s focus is centered on three high-level goals: furthering U.S. semiconductor leadership; easing the process of moving a design idea to commercialization; and building and sustaining a semiconductor workforce, according to a paper outlining the vision for the center published by the National Institute of Standards Technology (NIST) in April.
During the hearing, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., asked Raimondo what the center would do to encourage innovation in emerging technologies like AI. Thune noted that he wants to make sure the appropriate guardrails are in place for that technology, while also avoiding any stifling of its growth.
“I think the NSTC will have collaborations with universities and companies to lead the next wave of research and development and startups so we continue to maintain our AI lead,” Raimondo said.
She added that “all AI is going to be powered by AI chips.”
Raimondo emphasized that the nation has to preserve and extend its lead with AI, which involves protecting itself from “the downsides.” She cited NIST’s framework for developers to use when creating AI algorithms, which is voluntary, and compared it to the recent commitments that big-name developers have made with the Biden administration.
In addition to forecasting the launch of the center, Raimondo said Commerce has received over 500 statements of interest from companies across 42 states regarding potential CHIPS Act incentives for industry facilities that would support the NSTC.
The agency released its second funding opportunity seeking applications for small-scale projects related to semiconductor facilities last week, Raimondo said. It also expects to announce another funding opportunity for R&D facilities in the coming months.