The motivation for the research is that as transistors have been miniaturized leakage power consumption is becoming as large as active power consumption and this is a particular issue for emerging applications such as autonomous sensors nodes, wireless communications and mobile computing.
The NEMIAC (Nano-Electro-Mechanical Integration And Computation) project aims to develop a process based on what it calls nano-electromechanical (NEMS) switches suitable for embedded systems and offering 3-D integration with CMOS. The researchers are being asked to show a magnitude improvement in energy efficiency with no performance penalty compared with solid-state. The process is also expected to have higher radiation resistance and higher temperature operation than CMOS.
The relays are expected to have a footprint of less than 3-micron by 3-micron and demonstrate a switching time of the order of 10 nanoseconds. Proving the reliability under billions of switching operations will be an important task prior to commercial deployment. The term “bug” is said to have been introduced into the computing industry because of the propensity for
The project is expected to produce a number of digital logic designs as proof of the process and innovative circuit architectures for low-power applications.
DARPA also has a Nano Electro Mechanical Computers Project
The Defense Department has a continuing need for energy efficient computing, while continuing to reduce size, weight and power associated with cooling DoD electronics platforms. The Nano Electro Mechanical (NEMS) Computers program seeks to develop a nanoelectromechanical switch technology that demonstrates switching voltages of 1-10 volts, and switching times on the order of 1-100 nanoseconds. The technology is enabled by a diverse range of nanofabrication techniques, an understanding of material science at nanoscale, contact nanomechanics, and process integration challenges with modern electronic device fabrication processes. By marrying solid-state transistor technology with nanoscale mechanical switches/relays, NEMS aims at a digital logic technology in which on-current is controlled by the transistor and off-current is determined by the NEMS switch, nearly eliminating leakage power in circuits. The switches have potential to realize all-mechanical computing for highly radiation-resistant and wide-temperature range of operation computers. Low turn-on voltages and fast switching times will be implemented so the technology will be compatible with the voltage and switching times required for high performance digital electronics and yet operate at much lower power, reducing battery and cooling volume required. Since NEMS might be able to operate at high temperatures of 600-1000C, the technology could enable computers that operate intentionally at high temperature using energy lost during computation.