To test their chips, the Caltech researchers blasted out components in specially built chips, similar to the kind of power amplifier chips you’d find in your mobile phone. They found that their their chips could fix themselves and keep on working even after being blasted by lasers. When they are first disrupted, the test chips waste a lot of power, but as they heal themselves, they automatically figure out the best state to change into, in order to keep working as efficiently as possible.
That’s a big deal. With most chips, if a single transistor fails, it’s enough to put it out of service. The Caltech chips, however, are equipped with sensors and a kind of digital immune system that allows them to alter the way they operate, bringing in new resources to replace whatever has been damaged, even after they’ve been blasted with lasers.
“Every so often a transistor blows up,” says Caltech Professor Ali Hajimiri. “In a current chip — if you have a microprocessor or a radio transceiver on your cellular phone — if one transistor is gone, the entire chip is useless.”