Stanford Team Builds First Carbon Nanotube Technology Computer

Since the birth of computers in the 1960s, the industry has relied on integrated circuit computer chips manufactured from silicon –hence the name Silicon Valley.  Calling that area of Northern California “Silicon Valley”, however, may soon be a misnomer.

For years, the industry has known that it would be just a matter of time before carbon nanotube transistors succeeded silicon as the preferred semiconductor material.  Nanotubes are much smaller, faster and power-efficient than their silicon counterpart.   The problem with nanotubes has been the inability of researchers to control nanotube structures in predictable ways, especially the properties that control its mechanical and electrical attributes, including type, diameter and chirality.

The journal Nature reports that Stanford University engineers took an important step toward the eventual mass marketing of computers built with nanontube transistors. The researchers introduced ‘Cedric’ to the world — a prototype computer with a fully functional processor comprised of nanotube technology.
Cedric can operate on one bit of information and has 142 transistors–each comprised of 10-200 nanotubes. Other vital statistics include:

• 1 bit processor
• Speed – 1 kHz
• 2 billion carbon atoms
• Turing complete
• Multitasking

According to one of the project’s co-leaders Max Shulaker, “In human terms, Cedric can count on his hands and sort the alphabet. But he is, in the full sense of the word, a computer.” The computer can count up to 32.  “There is no limit to the tasks it can perform, given enough memory,” said Shulaker.
Since it is “turing complete“, it has the capability to solve mathematical problems. Cedric contains a simple operating system called MIPS, which gives it the ability to alternate between two tasks—counting and sorting numbers. The computer also tracks tasks, retrieves data and sends information back to external memory.

Cedric has the distinction of being the first carbon-based computer that gets the correct answer 100% of the time.

Stanford electrical engineer professors H.S. Philip Wong and Subhasish Mitra led the research team. Mitra reveals that the processor has the computing power of the Intel 4004– the Intel Corporation’s first microprocessor that was introduced in 1971.

The race has been on for several years to find a suitable successor for silicon microchips. The industry is quickly approaching the limits of silicon-based technology for the manufacture of smaller, faster and cheaper electronic devices.  Robert Colwell, the former chief architect at Intel, and keynote speaker at the Hot Chips engineering design conference held at Stanford University in late August, said that the computing industry will be hard press to achieve Moore’s Law—doubling the density of integrated circuit every 18 to 24 months, as soon as 2020.

The work by the Stanford University engineers has been described as “an important, scientific breakthrough,” by Mihail Roco, senior advisor for Nanotechnology at the National Science Foundation.

This post courtesy of Critical Systems, Inc.   

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