New Self-Healing Microchips Can Shrug Off Laser Blasts Like It's Nothing

Technology can be fragile. Anyone who's dropped his or her phone knows that all too well. And though you might not get it in your hands for a while, there are some seriously robust electronics coming down the pipe. New self-healing microchips developed by Caltech, for instance, can survive multiple laser blasts.

The team responsible for the advance is made up of members of the High-Speed Integrated Circuits laboratory in Caltech's Division of Engineering and Applied Science, and they've shown off this self-healing superpower using a bunch of tiny power amplifiers. The researchers fit 76 component chips in an area just barely the size of a penny. Then they blasted them with a high-powered laser and watched them collectively sort out a way around the damage in just a second.

Unlike previous solutions, this system is smart. The process works by outfitting all of the component chips in danger of being damaged with multiple tiny sensors that detect temperature, current, voltage, and power. And all that data feeds into an application-specific integrated-circuit (ASIC) working as a collective brain which decides how to reroute around damage by polling all the available sensors, keeping the greater sum-of-all-parts chip working smoothly. As explained by Steven Bowers, lead author of a new paper on the tech :

You tell the chip the results you want and let it figure out how to produce those results. ...The challenge is that there are more than 100,000 transistors on each chip. We don't know all of the different things that might go wrong, and we don't need to. We have designed the system in a general enough way that it finds the optimum state for all of the actuators in any situation without external intervention.

So the smaller, blasted components don't actually survive, but as a team, they can keep functioning just fine. Now if we can just fit this tech into an indestructible phone, we can really start getting excited. [Engadget]

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