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April 2010

April 05, 2010

The World Electric – Part III

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The future of semiconductors? Imagine that it’s now the year 2093, two hundred years after the Columbian World’s Exposition of 1893 where Westinghouse lit the event with 100,000 incandescent bulbs amazing the Victorian visitors with artificial electric light.  In this future at the end of the 21st century the electronics industry has greatly matured and also diverged.  Micro-electromechanical Systems (MEMS) have merged with analog semiconductor technology to create entire laboratories on silicon and diamond that fit on a pinhead, while digital functions have moved to the quantum mechanical realm of matter.

Digital chips are no longer referred to as microelectronics but rather nano-electronics utilizing groups of quantum dots to form interconnects and logic.  Small geometry CMOS processes faded away around 2020 (the last were sub 16 nanometer 3D structures) with the introduction of production grade high temperature Double Electron-layer Tunneling Transistors (DELTT) and some limited quantum interference devices.  These quantum well devices were unipolar having both positive and negative transconductance based on gate voltage. This eliminated the need for complementary device types ("n" and "p") resulting in greatly simplified structures. These devices were eventually replaced with Quantum Dot Transistor (QDT) variants.

Logic is no longer based on electron currents but rather on electron position... using this method molecular size gates and functions are common place.  Computers now run at equivalent clock speeds exceeding 40,000 GHz (although no clock is running) thanks in part to quantum effects and new quantum architectures.  The additional byproduct is extremely high energy-efficiency resulting in almost no waste heat.

Analog semiconductors on the other hand have merged with nano-scale machines to form complete sensor and analysis engines on a single device.  These devices are so small and consume so little power that a complete health monitor fits into a ring the size of a wedding band. Utilizing mechanical and thermal energy harvesting, no batteries are required and communication with the "net" is accomplished through large arrays of nano-access-points spread like fertilizer across the countryside.  Even structures have pea-size sensors embedded right in the concrete mix during construction that utilize RF energy harvesting to relay the state and stresses providing status in real time.

The world of 2093 as seen in this vision would not exist if not for the never ending march of semiconductor performance - both analog and digital.  Many of these "proposals" of our future are based on research going on right now across many disciplines.  Economic progress dictates growth and if there is to be growth in the semiconductor industry, engineers and researchers will find ways to navigate the physical laws of our world to make gains in performance.  My vision is not everyone’s, but with some historical review, a look at current technologies in production, and a little bit of imagination I’m sure you can imagine the world of 2093 as I do... potentially so far advanced that we (like our Victorian predecessors holding an iPhone) would not even recognize the technology!  Comments are always welcome - until next time...