Robot wars and self-healing chips… the stuff of movie legend?

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It sounds like the sort of thing you might expect to see in a sci-fi movie… that moment when you think John Connor has finally laid waste to the Terminator, only to watch as the clunky Austrian android somehow heals his wounds, gets back up and charges again.

Well, fiction is fast becoming fact.  Firstly, the evolution and perceived efficiency of drones in warfare has been followed by very real discussions presently taking place about deploying the use of machines in warfare.  These computers would not only be used in the implementation of battle but would actually be entrusted to make decisions, based on logic and probability.  In effect, we would be entrusting machines with the ability to think.

And if that doesn’t sound too dystopian, scientists at the Institute of Technology in California have now been able to engineer a microchip that is able to repair itself, even after quite serious damage…  worryingly, even after several of their “laser blasts”.

Here’s how it works.  A customised asic unit was programmed with the ideal performance ability of a power amplifier chip, and was then inserted into that chip.  This asic unit was able to check on the status of the chip itself, gathering intel on operation and function, and using that data to keep the chip at its optimum performance.

The engineers then went slightly Star Wars in blasting a laser at the chip, taking out some of its components… essentially to see what would happen.  And what they witnessed was the chip fixing itself, using the system’s actuators to “repair” the damage and return it to working at its optimum level.

What these engineers have designed is, essentially, an integrated circuit that can both diagnose and repair damage without any input from us old fashioned, organic human beings.  They have called this an “electronic immune system” and argue it brings the concept of the indestructible circuit one step closer.  In fact, in the process of healing themselves these self-fixing chip doctors actually conserved power and came back stronger performers than other chips in the experiment.

Here at Hi-5 we are always interested in current developments in electronics and printed circuit boards.  The idea of a chip that heals itself is, of course, hugely interesting, a step change in integrated circuits that opens us all sorts of avenues…  but they would seem to be rather a long way off.  In the meantime, we don’t advise any PCB hobbyists take a laser, hammer, or any dangerous blunt object to their printed circuit board.  But if they do, they might want to give us a call for a replacement…