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Caltech Develops Self-Healing System for Integrated Chips

By - Source: Caltech | B 19 comments
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Self-healing chips are on the way, possibly leading to self-healing robots that take over the world and enslave mankind. Yay for science!

Integrated circuits are delicate entities, as even a single fault can render them completely useless. But a team of engineers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) want to change that by developing "self-healing" integrated chips.

Caltech reports that the team recently demonstrated the new tech using a high-power laser and a millimeter-wave power amplifier, the latter of which is a circuit used in next-generation communications, imaging and sensing applications. After some of the chip's components were fried by multiple laser blasts, the self-healing system kicked in, detected the faults, and then routed around them so the amplifier could function at near-optimum levels.

"It was incredible the first time the system kicked in and healed itself. It felt like we were witnessing the next step in the evolution of integrated circuits," said Ali Hajimiri, the Thomas G. Myers Professor of Electrical Engineering at Caltech. "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."

The power amplifier developed by the team uses a number of on-chip sensors that monitor temperature, current, voltage, and power. All this information is fed into the "brain" of the system, a custom application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) unit on the same chip. It analyzes the amplifier's overall performance and determines if it needs to adjust the changeable parts of the chip, the system's actuators.

According to Steven Bowers, a graduate student in Hajimiri's lab, the ASIC unit draws its conclusions based on the aggregate response of the sensors. "You tell the chip the results you want and let it figure out how to produce those results," he said. "The challenge is that there are more than 100,000 transistors on each chip. We don't know all of the different things that might go wrong, and we don't need to. We have designed the system in a general enough way that it finds the optimum state for all of the actuators in any situation without external intervention."

Interestingly enough, the team discovered that amplifiers with self-healing abilities consumed around half the power of those without self-healing abilities. Even more, their overall performance was much more predictable and reproducible than standard amplifiers. Ultimately, the team learned that self-healing addresses four classes of problems: static variation, long-term aging issues, environment-related short-term variations and accidental/deliberate destruction of parts.

"Bringing this type of electronic immune system to integrated-circuit chips opens up a world of possibilities," said Hajimiri. "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."

The team's results appear in the March issue of IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory and Techniques.


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Top Comments
  • 13 Hide
    dalethepcman , March 25, 2013 5:21 PM
    This is appears to be more of a "smart grid" approach, than "self healing" as this chip doesn't actually repair itself, it just attempts to route around a broken part to another part that can serve the same function.
  • 12 Hide
    Markon101 , March 25, 2013 4:03 PM
    The ultimate overclocking. :D 
Other Comments
  • 12 Hide
    Markon101 , March 25, 2013 4:03 PM
    The ultimate overclocking. :D 
  • Display all 19 comments.
  • -6 Hide
    mmstick , March 25, 2013 4:33 PM
    You're massively late on this article. I read this on Physorg on March 10th.
  • 5 Hide
    Abion47 , March 25, 2013 5:17 PM
    I for one welcome our new Terminator overlords, just so long as they let me go back in time and get some Twinkies.
  • 13 Hide
    dalethepcman , March 25, 2013 5:21 PM
    This is appears to be more of a "smart grid" approach, than "self healing" as this chip doesn't actually repair itself, it just attempts to route around a broken part to another part that can serve the same function.
  • 8 Hide
    jhansonxi , March 25, 2013 5:41 PM
    Very useful for inaccessible systems like satellites.
  • -4 Hide
    IndignantSkeptic , March 25, 2013 6:07 PM
    As long as we ensure that Isaac Asimov's laws of robotics are not implemented then we will probably not have to worry about robots enslaving humans.
  • 0 Hide
    danwat1234 , March 25, 2013 7:27 PM
    Do modern microprocessors x86/arm have any redundancy if a few transistors fail, or some sort of checking and rerouting to disable a 'unit' if something is clobbered in there or a section of SRAM, etc? Or no?
  • 3 Hide
    azgard , March 25, 2013 9:05 PM
    danwat1234Do modern microprocessors x86/arm have any redundancy if a few transistors fail, or some sort of checking and rerouting to disable a 'unit' if something is clobbered in there or a section of SRAM, etc? Or no?


    A lot of designs incorporate tolerance provisioning, classic example are with GPU manufacturer's and binning of chip's as well as disabling and/or underclocking cores.
  • 2 Hide
    tadej petric , March 25, 2013 11:51 PM
    they could just make chips with old nokias...
  • 0 Hide
    PadaV4 , March 26, 2013 12:57 AM
    tadej petricthey could just meake chips with old nokias...

    I willl just leave this here
    http://knowyourmeme.com/photos/377394-indestructible-nokia-3310
  • 0 Hide
    Vorador2 , March 26, 2013 1:21 AM
    More than self-healing, it's CRC&ECC on steroids. In any case, for the space program this is really good news, since this allows a far greater degree of redundancy on electronics.
  • 0 Hide
    cats_Paw , March 26, 2013 5:36 AM
    Oh god.... For when the NanoSUIT?!
    Lets see what the future can bring.
  • 0 Hide
    Non-Euclidean , March 26, 2013 6:09 AM
    Abion47I for one welcome our new Terminator overlords, just so long as they let me go back in time and get some Twinkies.

    No need, friend.

    Quote:
    On March 12, 2013 it was reported, Twinkies are slated to return to store shelves by Summer 2013 after they, along with other famed Hostess Brands, were purchased out of bankruptcy by Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Co.
  • 0 Hide
    anarekist , March 26, 2013 8:37 AM
    i for one welcome our new integrated circuit overlords.
  • 2 Hide
    kenyee , March 26, 2013 9:06 AM
    Sounds like the custom ASIC inside the chip is a single failure point. Nice that they can reroute parts of the rest though...
  • 1 Hide
    gm0n3y , March 26, 2013 10:30 AM
    kenyeeSounds like the custom ASIC inside the chip is a single failure point. Nice that they can reroute parts of the rest though...

    Unless they build multiples ASIC units that can detect errors on one another. Of course if a unit itself is defective it might erroneously start deactivating other parts of the chip. Redundancy on the redundancy.
  • 0 Hide
    griptwister , March 26, 2013 11:21 AM
    This... Is. Bad.
  • 0 Hide
    K2N hater , March 26, 2013 6:02 PM
    That's what Transmeta could have been.
  • 0 Hide
    Duckhunt , March 31, 2013 9:09 PM
    Damn fantastic. Will it be profitable?

    What if they hit the power supply pin with the laser? or ground circuit attached to the pin for the ground? Can It use another pin to reroute?