The Future is Here: Self-Healing Computer Chips

computer_chipIt’s one of the cornerstones of the coming technological revolution: machinery that can assemble, upgrade, and/or fix itself without the need for regular maintenance. Such devices would forever put an end to the hassles of repairing computers, replacing components, or having to buy new machines when something vital broke down. And thanks to researchers at Caltech, we now have a microchip that accomplish one of these feats: namely, fix itself.

The chip is the work of Ali Hajimiri and a group of Caltech researchers who have managed to create an integrated circuit that, after taking severe damage, can reconfigure itself in such a way where it can still remain functional. This is made possible thanks to a secondary processor that jumps into action when parts of the chip fail or become compromised. The chip is also able to tweak itself on the fly, and can be programmed to focus more on saving energy or performance speed.

computer_chip2In addition, the chip contains 100,000 transistors, as well as various sensors that give it the ability to monitor the unit’s overall health. Overall, the microchip is comparable to a power amplifier as well as a microprocessor, the kind of circuit that processes signal transmissions, such as those found in mobile phones, as well as carrying out complex functions. This combined nature is what gives it this self-monitoring ability and ensures that it can keep working where other chips would simply stop.

To test the self-healing, self-monitoring attributes of their design, Hajimiri and his team blasted the chip with a laser, effectively destroying half its transistors. It only took the microchip a handful of milliseconds to deal with the loss and move on, which is an impressive feat by any standard. On top of that, the team found that a chip that wasn’t blasted by lasers was able to increase its efficiency by reducing its power consumption by half.

healingchipGranted, the chip can only fix itself if the secondary processor and at least some of the parts remain intact, but the abilities to self-monitor and tweak itself are still of monumental importance. Not only can the chip monitor itself in order to provide the best possible performance, it can also ensure that it will continue to provide a proper output of data if some of the parts do break down.

Looking ahead, Hajimiri has indicated that the technology behind this self-healing circuit can be applied to any other kind of circuit. This is especially good news for people with portable computers, laptops and other devices who have watched them break down because of a hard bump. Not only would this save consumers a significant amount of money on repairs, replacement, and data recovery, it is pointing the way towards a future where embedded repair systems are the norm.

And who knows? Someday, when nanomachines and self-assembling structures are the norm, we can look forward to devices that can be totally smashed, crushed and shattered, but will still manage to come back together and keep working. Hmm, all this talk of secondary circuits and self-repairing robots. I can’t help but get the feeling we’ve seen this somewhere before…

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Sources: Extremetech.com, inhabitat.com

The Future Is Here: Google Glasses!

It’s like something out of a cyberpunk wet dream. Long the subject of speculative science fiction, it seems that we now have a working prototype for a set of goggles that can handle our wireless and networking needs. Merging the concepts of Augmented Reality with a Head-Mounted Display (HMD), Google has created what are now known as the “Google Glasses”.

Also known as “Project Glass”, this device is the first working model for what is often referred to as mobile computing. While still being tested, the project has been unveiled and Google Inc announced that they will now be conducting public trials to test their portability and ergonomics.

But of course, some of the terminology needs a little explanation. For example, augmented reality. By definition, this is the live direct, or indirect, view of the real world with computer generated imagery laid over top. One can be walking down the street or otherwise interacting with their world, but will also be able to view a desktop browser, a web page, or streaming video laid just overtop.

According to Google, the glasses will function much like an iPhone with the Siri application, in that wearers will be able to get onto the internet using voice commands. If this goes through, Apple Inc. will have its work cut out for it if they want to remain top dog in the technology race. I wonder what Steve Jobs would have made of this, may he rest in peace!

The project is just one of several being worked on by Google X Lab’s team of crack engineers, which includes Babak Parviz, an electrical engineer who has also worked on putting displays into contact lenses; Steve Lee, a project manager and “geolocation specialist”; and Sebastian Thrun, who developed Udacity education program as well as working on their self-driving car project.

Naturally, this news is causing a great deal of excitement, but I can’t help but wonder if certain people – not the least of which is William Gibson – aren’t getting just a tinge of self-satisfaction as well? You see, it was this Vancouver-based, American born purveyor of cyberpunk that predicted both the use of “cyberspace goggles” and augmented reality many years ago. The former were featured extensively in his Sprawl Trilogy and a similar device, known as Virtual Light glasses, made several appearances in his subsequent Bridge Trilogy.

What’s more, his latest books (known as the Bigend Trilogy) also made extensive mention of Augmented Reality before most people had heard of it. Beginning with Spook Country (2007), the second book in the series, he described an artist who used wireless signals and VR goggles to simulate the appearance of dead celebrities all over LA. This new type of touristic art, known as “locative art” was the first time AR was mentioned in a pop culture context. In his third book of the series, Zero History (2010), he mentions the technology yet again but says how it has been renamed “Augmented Reality” now that its more popular. As always, Gibson was on the cutting edge, or just ahead of the curve.

Click on the links below for a little “light reading” on the announcement:

https://plus.google.com/
http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/04/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/