Self-healing chips fix themselves

While it may be some time before anyone is able to apply technology to a near-indestructible robot humanoid like the T-1000, a team of scientists believe they their research could soon allow chips to heal themselves almost instantaneously.

It is often problematic that when one small part of a chip fails due to a fault, the entire chip is likely to be thrown in the bin.  This is because prising open the lid of your laptop and playing around with the innards of a microchip are unlikely to bring about much success.  In fact, it’s pretty much impossible to wield a soldering iron at a multilayer integrated circuit.

This means consigning otherwise functioning chips to the bin, adding to e-waste and costing money, and the problem increases with moves to ever smaller chip manufacturing processes.  In some applications, such as in aerospace designs, this can cause serious difficulties.

However, researchers at the University of Illinois reckon they might have cracked the problem with a healing mechanism that works in a fraction of a second.  In fact, it would solve a fault without the user even becoming aware.

The system involves self-healing polymer microcapsules which are just 10 microns in diametre.  In tests the team showed that on top of a gold line circuit, the microcapsules would break open and release their liquid metal when a crack was seen in the circuit.  This liquid metal quickly fills in the gap in the circuit and restores the conductivity and electrical flow.

According to the team, previous attempts at self healing circuits have been purely structural, while their system allows restoring conductivity.  And it can do so extremely fast.

It only takes microseconds to restore a circuit’s conductivity with a 90 percent success rate.

The system, which also works with battery components, can autonomously figure out and target breakages that the human eye might not be able to spot.  Which is, of course, good news for any engineers looking to put together an army T-1000s in their garden shed.