Caltech engineers are building indestructible chips that can heal themselvesMarch 11, 2013 11 Email article | Print article
These days, it’s become pretty normal that billions of transistors are being packed into a single circuit. It’s what allows our devices to become smaller and smaller, thinner and lighter. But the age old problem of a single transistor failing and bringing down the entire circuit remains.
But a team of engineers at Caltech have been working to fix that, and they’ve developed a circuit that not only heals itself when damaged, but is capable of sustaining a significant amount of beating. To illustrate this, the image above is from tests wherein the chips would be subjected to multiple laser strikes — which they were able to withstand and recover from. “We had literally just blasted half the amplifier and vaporized many of its components, such as transistors, and it was able to recover to nearly its ideal performance,” says Ali Hajimiri, who is a professor of Electrical Engineering at Caltech. It sounds a little crazy, I know.
The self-healing circuits have been in development at Caltech since at least 2009, and now the team that’s comprised of members from the High-Speed Integrated Circuits laboratory in Caltech’s Division of Engineering and Applied Science are showing off a prototype power amplifier chip. The chip has its own circuit and sensors that can change actuators in mere microseconds if there’s damage, re-enabling its connections.
“It is truly a shift in the way we view circuits and their ability to operate independently. They can now both diagnose and fix their own problems without any human intervention, moving one step closer to indestructible circuits,” says Hajimiri.
So they basically blasted parts of the chips with a high-power laser, and the chips were able to fix themselves in less than a second? It sounds like they have every right to be excited with this development.