Ultra-low power computing in spacecraft to IoT nodes
7 May 2020
The ZeroAMP project is a collaborative effort to push beyond the limits of transistors by developing the first large-scale integrated nanoelectromechanical relay-based computers that will work in extreme environments.
We use transistors every day in technology like mobile phones, but they cannot perform in the very high temperatures seen close to aircraft engines, drive trains of electric vehicles and industrial electronics. If controllers can be placed close to these hot zones, they work much more efficiently. At the other end of the spectrum, superconducting quantum circuits need to operate at close to cryogenic temperatures, where transistors also do not work well. Finally, transistors also cannot provide the zero standby power that will enable autonomous nodes in the Internet of Things that work on scavenged energy. The ZeroAMP project is developing ultra-low power computing and memory, using nanomechanical switches that can survive these extreme environments and enable the technology of the future.
Researchers at the University of Bristol’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering are working with Microchip Technology and X-FAB, a leading semiconductor foundry, as well as fellow experts at the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), AMO based in Germany, the Swiss Centre for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM) and SCIPROM. The project is funded by Horizon 2020.
Dr. Dinesh Pamunuwa is lead investigator at the University of Bristol and one of the instigators of ZeroAMP, and said:
“We are very excited by this project, as it uses key technologies developed by my group over the past few years, including the use of very thin layers of crystalline graphite as a solid conducting lubricant to improve reliability of the switch contacts, and a new type of nano relay that does not exhibit pull-in instability.
“One of the most intriguing aspects of this work is that we are aiming to meet the electronic needs of future applications by returning to electromechanical computing. Charles Babbage completed the first version of his mechanical difference engine in 1822; we are building an electromechanical processor some 200 years later."
The ZeroAMP project has the goal of developing nanoelectromechanical relay-based field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA) with integrated non-volatile memory that can work at temperatures up to 275 °C, with zero current leakage and standby power. The technology solution will incorporate novel materials, switch designs and circuit techniques along with advanced 3D stacking for large-scale integration of the nanomechanical switching elements, building on the ground-breaking past work of the consortium partners in the area of nanoelectromechanical relay-based computing.
The ZeroAMP project is targeting electronic solutions to advance technologies such as More-Electric Aircraft and Electric Vehicles that reduce dependency on fossil fuels and unlock the full power of the IoT.
For more information on ZeroAMP, please visit https://www.zeroamp.eu.
The ZeroAMP project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 871740 (ZeroAMP).