Good vibrations for the future of computing

October 3, 2017, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology
Good vibrations for the future of computing
The cascadable, vibration-driven microelectromechanical logic gate takes electrical signals as inputs and produces a logic output (1 or 0) based on the resonance of the microbeam. Credit: © 2016 KAUST

Vibrating mechanical switches that can be cascaded to perform complex computational operations could take computing significantly further than today's technologies. KAUST researchers have demonstrated an alternative technology based on mechanical vibrations.

The microcomputer processors found inside every computer, mobile phone and microwave comprise mind-bogglingly complex networks of millions or billions of microscopic —electrical switches that turn on when a current flows across their terminals. These transistors are networked together to construct that perform operations, such as AND (when two inputs are on) and OR (when either input is on). In turn, these logic gates are connected to much larger networks to allow increasingly complex operations.

With each transistor consuming electrical current and generating heat even when not being actively switched, and with transistors approaching their physical limits of miniaturization and efficiency, the search is on for alternative technology that will eventually replace the electrical transistor and take computing into the future.

Saad Ilyas and Nizar Jaber, doctoral researchers in the laboratory of Mohammad Younis, have now demonstrated a scalable, efficient alternative technology, not based on electrical current, but on excited by multifrequency electrical inputs.

"Electromechanical systems offer a major advantage over existing in that they are leakage free: that is, unlike electrical transistors, they only consume power when switched," explains Ilyas. "They also require fewer gates per computing function, resulting in lower complexity, and they can be fabricated with higher integration densities—it is even predicted that these systems could be scaled down to the molecular level."

Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) have been investigated in the past for logic operations, but it has been a challenge to devise a mode of operation that allows the MEMS logic gates to be cascaded to form arbitrary computational functions. Jaber and Younis have come up with a novel technique to perform logic operations using MEMS based on frequency mixing, which holds great potential for cascading.

"We use an electrical signal as an input, which causes a clamped polymer microbeam to vibrate at a certain resonance frequency," says Jaber. "This in turn generates motional current as an electrical signal with the same frequency, which could then be cascaded into the input of another MEMS logic gate."

The team demonstrated various at a single operating frequency, which is an important step towards cascading as the next milestone in MEMS resonator-based computing. Their are also compatible with existing fabrication techniques.

Explore further: Engineer unveils new spin on future of transistors with novel design

More information: Saad Ilyas et al, MEMS Logic Using Mixed-Frequency Excitation, Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems (2017). DOI: 10.1109/JMEMS.2017.2712859

Related Stories

Neuron transistor behaves like a brain neuron

June 20, 2017

(Phys.org)—Researchers have built a new type of "neuron transistor"—a transistor that behaves like a neuron in a living brain. These devices could form the building blocks of neuromorphic hardware that may offer unprecedented ...

Recommended for you

Permanent, wireless self-charging system using NIR band

October 8, 2018

As wearable devices are emerging, there are numerous studies on wireless charging systems. Here, a KAIST research team has developed a permanent, wireless self-charging platform for low-power wearable electronics by converting ...

Facebook launches AI video-calling device 'Portal'

October 8, 2018

Facebook on Monday launched a range of AI-powered video-calling devices, a strategic revolution for the social network giant which is aiming for a slice of the smart speaker market that is currently dominated by Amazon and ...

Artificial enzymes convert solar energy into hydrogen gas

October 4, 2018

In a new scientific article, researchers at Uppsala University describe how, using a completely new method, they have synthesised an artificial enzyme that functions in the metabolism of living cells. These enzymes can utilize ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

DonGateley
5 / 5 (1) Oct 03, 2017
Speed?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.