WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
When electronic systems are manufactured today they’re fixed forever, but in the future they’ll be able to re-configure themselves opening up millions of new use cases.
The University of Southampton in the UK has been awarded a multi-million pound grant to lead the development of innovative nanotechnology that could open the door to a new generation of re-configurable electronics – a comparatively new field of electronics that has also caught the eye of the US Military and other countries such as China, as they try to develop and commercialise the technology to create everything from the world’s first unhackable, self-reconfiguring computer system called Morpheus, to the first auto-cannabaolistic materials and polymorphic shape shifting metals, and splash a cool $1.5 Billion to create the next generation of electronics.
Professor Themis Prodromakis from the University of Southampton is the principal investigator of the predominantly Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded programme, which, along with industrial contributions, exceeds £11million.
Working with Imperial College London and the University of Manchester, as well as industrial partners, the project will centre on memristors and their ability to enable electronics systems to be configured with increased and new capabilities, including the ability for them to re-configure themselves in response to specific stimulii, as opposed to transistors.
“We are thankful to EPSRC for granting us this opportunity to enhance modern electronics technologies through functional oxides. I am delighted to lead this very exciting project,” said Prodromakis, “Memristor technologies bring great prospects for next-generation chips, which need to be highly reconfigurable yet affordable, scalable and energy efficient, not to mention secure. To achieve this, we have assembled some of the UK’s best academics and industrialists for developing the core technology as well as the required tools for demonstrating the benefits of the technology in real working services and products,” he added.
Traditionally, the processing of data in electronics has relied on integrated circuits, computer chips, featuring vast numbers of transistors which are microscopic switches that control the flow of electrical current by turning it on or off.
The size of transistors has reduced substantially over the past couple of decades to a point where today, despite the fact we have 5nm, 3nm, 1nm, 0.5nm and even atom sized and liquid transistors in the labs, they are now starting to reach their physical limits with, for example, the average smartphone chip now containing a staggering five billion transistors.
Memristors on the other hand could hold the key to a new era in electronics, being both smaller and simpler in form than transistors, low energy, and with the ability to retain data by ‘remembering’ the amount of charge that has passed through them, potentially resulting in computers that switch on and off instantly and never forget.
The University of Southampton has previously demonstrated a new memristor technology that can store up to 128 discernible memory states per switch, almost four times more than previously reported.
“For decades we have followed the pattern that computers should have separate processor and memory units, but these are now struggling to cope with the masses of data in the public domain. Soon the span of functionality in future Internet of Things (IoT) systems will be much wider than what we know from today’s smartphones, tablets or smart watches,” said Prodromakis, “This unique programme of activities will allow us to develop reconfigurable electronic systems that are at the forefront of innovation through being embedded almost everywhere in our physical world, within vehicles and infrastructure or even within the human body. We are thrilled that our vision is shared with world-leading industry and together we look forward in bringing the change in modern electronics.”