UK Design Forum 2022

UK Design Forum 2022 (UKDF22) was heald on 16 and 17 March, 2022. This page contains the personal notes that I made during the event, and you can find more information and slides on the official website.

BitBrain and sparse binary coincidence memories

Steve Furber - University of Manchester

First public presentation about this technique since patenting. It does single-pass supervised learning. They use address decoder elements which are very similar to neurons where it weights a subset of the input. Each address decoder accesses a 2D SBC memory. For any input each ADE will output a bit per possible outcome, and it can select multiple outcomes. The outcome that has the most ADE votes is the one that is selected by the model. Its low noise performance is less than the state of the art (CapsNet), but with higher noise it does better.

ARM Morello

Towards the first commercial capability machine

Simon Moore - University of Cambridge

Punchline: CHERI is now in a 7nm Arm chip. CHERI stands for Capability Hardware Enhanced RISC Instructions. We are now getting consumer technology that is safety critical, so we really need to start solving buffer overflows. Spatial safety is directly solved by CHERI, and it can help with use after free as well. CHERI applies the principle of least privilege and mitigates known and unknown vulnerabilities. CHERI add bounds and permissions to architectural pointers and an out of bound validity bit for security. They developed a whole toolchain for it, and it works by recompiling vanilla C/C++ code. More information on which also has an introduction to CHERI.

FPGA security in practice

How to crash an AWS F1 FPGA instance and how to prevent that

Dirk Koch - University of Manchester

Denial of service attacks is easy on an FPGA if you have access to the bit file because you can create shorts, ring oscillators etc. Just 2% of the logic is enough to crash the whole chip. FPGA fingerprinting is possible by using ring oscillator PUFs. AWS requires you to upload a netlist, they do not allow bitfiles. AWS will shut your FPGA down once you get above 130W. The researchers created FPGADefender, which is a virus scanner for FPGA designs. The virus scanner analyzes the design for heat usage across the chip as well as looking for dangerous design elements.

Extensible secure SoC platform

John Goodenough - Arm

Academic access for Arm materials has improved a lot in the last few years. How to get systems from desktop demonstrators into a real world system? To what extent can you automate the making of an SoC? They made a reference implementation based on open source software and open access hardware, which includes cloud management software and secure SoC management. They have an intrusion detection system on their SoC and a management engine for debug, clock, power, etc. The idea is that people can take this platform and change only the parts that they are interested in with minimal effort.

How digital security by design could change the world

Jon Goodacre - UKRI

They fund this through research because the market has failed to do security properly. Morello is funded through the UKRI DSbD. The website contains more resources.

Machine learning and hardware security: foes or friends?

Basel Halak - University of Southampton

IC supply chain security. Intelligent anti-tamper design are devices for critical infrastructure and military systems. They use machine learning to detect anomalous behavior through an array of sensors in the SoC. When an anomaly is detected, the system erases the content of memory. They did some research on tricking the system into misclassifying the attack (e.g. think it is a heating attack instead of a drilling attack). This is bad because the defense system might not respond in the right way. Besides anti-tamper systems, they can use ML to do trojan detection. The ML can check a netlist for known hardware trojans, but it is very difficult to know where to look (e.g. IC or PCB). Read this Bloomberg article for finding out how devastating a PCB trojan can be. Besides hardware trojans they can use a similar technique to detect counterfeit chips. False positives, especially for the intrusion prevention system is really difficult to deal with.

Remote laboratories

Tim Drysdale - University of Edinburgh

Laboratory time is expensive for universities and is a big problem as student numbers are increasing. They created an online lab system called and has a website. Their system allows remote connections to standardized container boxes which host the lab equipment. The whole thing runs on AWS.

Challenges and advantages to embedded genomic

Sidharth Maheshwari - Newcastle University

This talk was about genome sequencing and improving translational genomics. We don't have enough computing power to meet the future genomics needs. They create an OpenCL toolchain and embedded systems to improve the genomics. They needed to create a very efficient memory data structure to be able to handle more than just one chromosome. The next step is to create a cluster to be able to analyze the whole genome at once. The vision is creating a small sequencing machine so that patients can do genomics tests at home.

An introduction to Tsetlin machines

A logic based alternative approach to machine learning

Tousif Rahman - Newcastle University

How do you balance accuracy, memory and latency in machine learning? How can we find an energy efficient alternative to convolutional neural networks? Tsetlin machine is a state machine that moves towards the central state if penalized and to the outside if rewarded. The two edges say whether the model should include or exclude this input in making the decision. Multiclass Tsetlin machines compose these by clause and clauses by class. Benefits of this approach is that it converges a lot more quickly and minimal inference. However, the model size is a lot larger. To handle the model size they found a way to do compression with minimal accuracy loss but big energy savings.

IPv6 in UK academia

Graeme Bragg - University of Southampton

IPv4 was found to be too small before the first commercial product came out. 32 bits simply does not provide enough addresses. IPv6 has been standardized for a long time, but the uptake is very slow. It's been around since the late 90s and even now only about a third of Google traffic is from IPv6. India is doing well in IPv6 adoption due to government support and laws with nearly two thirds of internet traffic over IPv6. Of UK degree-awarding institutions, only 32 out of 177 have an IPv6 website and even fewer for mail servers and VPN. Only 10 of the 118 computer science undergraduate degrees mention IPv6 in their syllabus. We need to teach people about IPv6 to improve adoption.

CANDO brain implant

Patrick Degenaar - University of Manchester

Brain implants can already stop Parkinson's shaking. Optogenetics methodology by measuring using electric and affect the brain using light. Their target was epilepsy where the implant can be used as an alternative to removing the part of the brain causing the attacks. The basic concept is to stimulate as an inverse wave to minimize the episode. They had quite a lot of problems with the light stimulation affecting the electric measurement (13 artifacts). Based on their current results in rodents, they can reduce the epileptic episode but not completely. Stimulating in the dips is the only thing they're doing at the moment, and they still need to figure out how to pull down the peaks.


A framework for interpreted graph models

Victor Khomenko - Newcastle University

It's a tool that is being used in industry to synthesize things like power management circuits. The tool handles interpreted graph models, and it can simulate things like digital circuits and petri nets. It can do formal verification, handshake verification and synthesis. An example of verification is that it can check whether a circuit actually implements a petri net specification. The tool also supports hierarchical designs and circuit initialization. For circuit initialization it will automatically find gates that need to be explicitly reset. The website has more information.