A team of engineers at Caltech has created a self-healing, integrated chip that could one day lead to our beloved electronic gadgets fixing themselves without the need for human tinkering. Similar to the immune system in living organisms, the chip is designed to detect and react to problems without disrupting the device’s overall performance.

The research team, consisting of Professor Ali Hajimiri, several of his graduate students, and alumni, tested the self-healing capacity of the chips in miniature high-frequency power amplifiers, important players in the next wave of communication, sensing, and imaging applications.

The power amplifier uses a custom-made central processor to evaluate the amplifier’s performance by analyzing important information from a number of on-chip monitoring sensors, such as temperature, current, voltage, and power. The chip’s brain does not rely on algorithms that account for every possible scenario, but rather uses real-time sensors to respond and solve problems. Lead author Steve Bowers described it as, “you tell the chip the results you want and let it figure out how to produce those results.”

The team employed different tactics to “injure” the chip, including bombarding it with high-powered lasers that completely destroyed components like the transistor. Incredibly, its capacity to self-heal fixed the problem in less than a second. Hajimiri said it felt like “witnessing the next step in the evolution of integrated circuits”.

By testing different types of chips, they found these amplifiers actually consumed less power than conventional chips while also improving performance. In Hajimiri’s words, the results have moved us “one step closer to indestructible circuits.”

With files from ScienceDaily

Stay up to date. Get breaking news alerts, sent straight to your inbox:

* indicates required