Electronic components continue to be made smaller and smaller, which reduces the amount of power that they require but increases signal-to-noise ratios. If electronic components are too densely packed they can start to interfere with each other. The Fraunhofer Research Institution for Electronic Nano Systems (ENAS), in collaboration with Continental and Infineon Technologies, has developed a measuring system that can accurately locate even the weakest electrical and magnetic fields down to a few hundredths of a millimeter.
"Circuits are becoming more and more susceptible with each generation," says Thomas Mager of Fraunhofer ENAS. "Only a few years ago, it still took several volts to destabilize processors. Today, a few hundred millivolts are sometimes enough to disrupt millions of transistors." This heightened sensitivity means the designers of electronic circuits need to pay more attention to electromagnetic compatibility. The concern is no longer simply protecting cell phones or MP3 players from external influences or shielding the environment from electromagnetic emissions, but rather how each individual component on a circuit board behaves.
The near-field scanner developed by Fraunhofer ENAS can scan individual chips and processors all the way up to complete laptops, cell phones, or even aircraft control units, helping reveal which types of fields the test objects are radiating. Mager says the developers are working on a function that applies targeted electromagnetic fields to the test object to test for areas that are sensitive to external fields. The near-field scanner may be particularly useful to the developers of smart cards as the scanner can provide time- and space-resolved images of the radiated fields from smart cards, enabling the developers to identify weak points that could be attacked to steal sensitive information such PIN numbers, allowing the developers to make the cards more secure against fraud.
From Fraunhofer Institute
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