School of Engineering and Applied Science Honors Dave Garrett’s Achievements

Dave Garrett loves engineering. “My whole career has been solving puzzles, inventing things, building new systems,” Garrett said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

The University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science honored Garrett’s passion and research impact, awarding him the 2021 School of Engineering Achievement Award.

Garrett is a Double Hoo in electrical engineering. He earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1994 and his Ph.D. in 2000. Garrett’s vitae has the depth and breadth of corporate R&D. He joined Lockheed Martin’s engineering leadership development program between degrees, conducted research at Bell Labs and later joined Broadcom as associate technical director.

Garrett also embraces the freedom offered by start-ups. Beceem, a semiconductor company based in Santa Clara, Ca., hired Garrett as director of engineering; he now works as vice president of hardware engineering at Syntiant, a semiconductor firm based in Irvine, Ca.

Garrett is best known for low-power chip design. During his tenure with Broadcom, Garrett enabled well over 50 different chip products, designing circuits, architectures, systems-on-chip and algorithms for wired and wireless communications and influencing the development and adoption of wireless standards, for which he was elected fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Garrett is most proud of a game-changing WiFi technology called beamforming. Beamforming is a feature added to wireless device chipsets that strengthens WiFi connections, performing billions of calculations per second to steer energy to a particular user in real time.

“This was around 2010 or 2011, right in the middle of the internet of things revolution when products and services were just beginning to come on line,” Garrett said.

Integrating the beamforming feature in Broadcom’s chip sets gave the company a competitive advantage at a critical moment in the market’s development, shipping billions of those devices. “Still to this day, every high-end smart phone ships with this technology embedded.”

Garrett is again in the thick of a technology revolution, building machine learning architectures from the ground up for Syntiant, which specializes in very low-power devices for edge computing.

“We’re putting machine learning at the edge, computing where the user is,” Garrett said. Garrett and his Syntiant teammates have built two generations of the firm’s neural decision processors, adopted into a multitude of device designs from ear buds to automobiles. The team’s most recent chip earned best product of the year at the tinyML summit.

“My Ph.D. in low-power chip design is fundamental to what we do at Syntiant,” Garrett said. “We build ultra-low-power devices that can run neural networks on sensor data locally rather than connecting to the cloud or a remote server. Low power is the key component, ensuring the devices can be battery powered.”

Garrett credits James H. Aylor, UVA Engineering dean emeritus and interim chair of the Charles L. Brown Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, for pointing him toward a career in the semiconductor industry.

“The first really big moment in my career happened when I was a fourth-year electrical engineering student,” Garrett recalled. He took a class with Aylor, where the task was to build a microprocessor from just the instruction set and map across three field-programmable gate arrays; a gate array is a hardware circuit that a user can program to carry out one or more logical operations. “That was the first moment I could really say, ‘I can build something new from scratch.’ All of a sudden, I could see this puzzle that I wanted to solve for the rest of my life.”


Dave Garrett and Mircea Stan stand in front of Dave's PhD Poster in Thornton Hall

When Garrett returned to UVA for his Ph.D., he met Mircea Stan, Virginia Microelectronics Consortium Professor of electrical and computer engineering. Stan is also a member of UVA Engineering’s Link Lab for cyber-physical systems where he contributes to collaborative research in developing hardware for the internet of things – one of Link Lab’s focus areas. Garrett credits Stan with instilling the very large-scale integration design skills he needed to build exceptional products.

“Dave’s innate maturity and creativity and prior industrial experience were an excellent match for the ambitious goals of our research program,” Stan said.

Garrett was Stan’s first Ph.D. student. “Dave was instrumental in my own career advancement as a professor and engineer,” Stan said. “Together, we identified power consumption as one of the major roadblocks for the semiconductor industry and contributed several impactful solutions for achieving successful low-power design.”

Garrett embraces educational missions and hopes to someday become a professor himself. He is very active in the Broadcom Foundation, whose mission is to advance science, technology, engineering and math education. The Foundation increases students’ opportunities to achieve success through equitable access to STEM pathways.

“Dave’s whole mindset is how to improve the world through solving engineering problems,” Kurt Busch, Syntiant chief executive officer, said. Beyond his volunteer work, Garrett prompted the invention of HEYKUBE, an intelligent Rubik’s Cube that is ideal for STEM education. “He is spending the time and creating the tools to further STEM education for our youth.”

On top of his 100-plus patents, Garrett’s publications have a respective h-index of 25 and he has served as general and technical program chair for the International Symposium on Low Power Electronics and Design.

Just as Garrett could not imagine doing anything other than electrical engineering, he couldn’t imagine learning anywhere other than UVA. Garrett’s father and brother are UVA alumni. His father earned Bachelor of Arts degree (class of ’63) and his younger brother earned his Bachelor of Science degree in physics and a Master of Science in electrical engineering.

“I was in a UVA shirt when I was a baby,” Garrett said. His first experience at UVA Engineering occurred while working on a high school science project, when his father arranged time for him to take measurements in the school’s wind tunnel. Garrett’s father was also a lifelong Cavaliers fan, who would steal away from basketball and football games to visit Garrett’s Ph.D. poster that still hangs in Thornton Hall.

Garrett is proud to say that the family’s attachment to UVA continues with the next generation, as his 3-year-old nephew sent him a video rendition of the Good ‘Ol Song before Garrett traveled to attend the Thornton Society dinner.

Dave Garrett and Pam Norris at Thornton Society Dinner

Dave Garrett with Pamela M. Norris, Executive Dean in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Frederick Tracy Morse Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, at the Thornton Society Dinner.