Integrated circuits are delicate objects. Millions of miniscule components and channels are etched into the IC boards that form the backbone of nearly every piece of modern technology. If any one of those components is damaged, the entire system can fall apart. Ali Hajimiri, a professor of electrical engineering at CalTech, has had enough of this. That’s why in a recently published paper, his team demonstrated a design for integrated circuits that can heal themselves.
The group’s report, IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory and Techniques, describes an IC chip with a second processor that can route around damage. Hajimiri’s idea is to use the second processor as a dedicated engine for rerouting tasks and reprogramming an IC’s energy use. Essentially, the second processor gives the IC the ability to tune its performance as ambient and physical conditions change.
Hajimiri took a chip carrying 100,000 transistors and a suite of other components and demonstrated its self-healing properties in the most logical way possible – by shooting it with a laser. After a series of pulses, nearly half the transistors were useless, but within less than a second, the chip had already rerouted its circuitry to become fully-functional again.
Hajimiri believes that these “self-healing” IC will be a necessary part of future chip design. As chips become more difficult to manufacture with precise quality, self-healing mechanism can fill in the gaps where manufacturing fails.
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