Future Tech: Self-Healing Chips for Smartphones and Computers
In a perfect world our favorite tech toys, such as a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, would run smoothly every time we use it. Unfortunately, in the real world our favorite tech devices suffer from all manner of issues ranging from small hiccups that close out applications to large issues that render them completely useless. A team of researchers and scientists from the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) have developed a self-healing chip for use in smartphones and computers.
Conducting tests in a lab, the team of researchers had several self-healing chips running power amplifiers and targeted certain parts of the chips with a high powered laser. When areas of the chip were destroyed, the researchers watched as the chips “healed” themselves within seconds and continued on with a given task at or near ideal performance levels.
While the technology is referred to as “self-healing,” the chips are not actually healing from damage in a physical sense. When faced with damage, the self-healing chips react in nanoseconds to develop a by-pass of the affected portions of the chip and continue operating at peak levels, all without crashing or needing intervention from outside sources.
How Did They Do It?
The CalTech researchers developed the self-healing chip by equipping a number of them with on-board sensors to constantly monitor temperature, current, voltage, and power. In the event that something goes wrong, the central processor can use the constant flow of information from the sensors to analyse performance and make the necessary adjustments to maintain performance.
Rather than designing an algorithm that accounts for every possible situation, a near impossibility, the researchers built the chip with a processor capable of drawing its own conclusions. The goal was not to build a chip equipped with the knowledge to react to every possible situation, but rather the ability to analyse situations on its own and make the repairs necessary to maintain peak levels of performance.
Building Upon Past Technology
The idea of self-healing technology is not new to the world of information technology. Others in the field have praised the CalTech researchers for building off the tenets of self-healing technology used in some high-end, modern servers.
Modern servers can overcome hardware or software failures, and even quickly recover from a crash by deconfiguring failed components within the system and looking to unused parts of the system to maintain performance levels. This same idea is at work in the self-healing chip, but rather than focusing on the system level this project focused on the chips themselves.
What it Means Going Forward
Ideally, these self-healing chips will eventually end up powering our favorite tech toys in the coming years. The team of researchers from CalTech envision the self-healing chip as a step toward a future where indestructible chips are installed on smartphones, tablets, and computers. Such a technology could, according to industry analysts, extend the life of tech devices.
Self-healing chips could make it possible for tech devices to operating at high performance levels even when internal components fail or become outdated. Instead of infuriating users with crashes or sketchy performance, self-healing chips could reroute processes around the failed or ageing components and maintain a performance level the user expects.
Consumers shouldn’t expect to see self-healing chips rolling out in smartphones or computers anytime soon. The CalTech research is promising, but remains in its infancy. At this point it would be expensive and time consuming to implement self-healing chip technology on a large scale. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction and promises a future with less stress for mobile device and PC users.