Scientists at the California Institute of Technology have invented a new type of microprocessor that is capable of recovering from damage that would normally render computer chips inoperable. The processors use special ASIC components to determine the optimum operating processes for the current conditions and reroute the chip’s circuits accordingly.
Gloria Sin with Digital Trends reported, “Forget about taking your failed Macbook Air to Apple Geniuses to make it all better. In the not so distant future, our computers might be able to automatically diagnose and heal themselves in microseconds with the help of ‘self-healing’ computer chips developed by researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). The Caltech team has built a power amplifier that can detect its own problems and look for workarounds if something fails, like if there is insufficient power to keep the computer running.”
Wired’s Robert McMillan noted, “To test their chips, the Caltech researchers blasted out components in specially built chips, similar to the kind of power amplifier chips you’d find in your mobile phone. They found that their chips could fix themselves and keep on working even after being blasted by lasers. When they are first disrupted, the test chips waste a lot of power, but as they heal themselves, they automatically figure out the best state to change into, in order to keep working as efficiently as possible. That’s a big deal. With most chips, if a single transistor fails, it’s enough to put it out of service. The Caltech chips, however, are equipped with sensors and a kind of digital immune system that allows them to alter the way they operate, bringing in new resources to replace whatever has been damaged, even after they’ve been blasted with lasers.”
The Register’s Neil McAllister explained, “The system works by equipping the power amplifier with a collection of on-chip sensors that monitor current, voltage, power, and temperature. The data from these low-power sensors is then fed into a custom on-chip ASIC that controls the self-healing process. The ASIC itself is a simple, modular global state machine that can run a variety of self-healing algorithms. In the current implementation, two separate algorithms sift through 262,144 possible states to find the optimum solution for the amplifier’s current operating condition. The ASIC then reroutes the circuit accordingly, using on-chip actuators.”
Johnathan Grey Carter with The Escapist, humorously noted that such chips may bring us closer to the “robot apocalypse.” He wrote, “In the demo, the chip could diagnose and account for a damaged component in 0.8 seconds with the ASIC running at 50MHz. At 200MHz, self-healing took a maximum of 0.2 seconds. Of course, outfitting every circuit with the custom-ASIC would cost a pretty penny, but the benefits would be immense for circuits designed to run for long periods without human servicing (unmanned space exploration is the first potential use that comes to mind). So, in short; When the robots come to harvest your supple human flesh, hitting them with a hammer probably won’t work, and even if it does, they’ll just heal straight away anyway. Thanks, science.”