Spintronic CPUs a decade away: Intel

Alternative methods of radically increasing the performance of CPUs, such as spintronics, wouldn't find their way into production for at least another 10 years, Intel said this week in Taiwan.

Alternative methods of radically increasing the performance of CPUs, such as spintronics, wouldn't find their way into production for at least another 10 years, Intel said this week in Taiwan.

Until now, computer processors have operated by using the binary on/off characteristic of electrons. However, the angular momentum of the electrons can also be used, as well as the direction of that momentum, with the potential to increase performance and capacity of chips.

Robots and magic:
Alanson Sample, an Intel
research intern demonstrates

(Credit: Suzanne Tindal/ZDNet.com.au)

Although, over the next decade or so, the focus will remain on incremental and more mundane improvements to get smaller and more efficient chips, according to Intel senior fellow and director communications technology lab, Kevin Kahn, who was speaking at the Intel Developer Forum in Taipei yesterday.

This, Kahn said, was because the changes are better understood and relatively quantifiable as well as cheaper and more effective to deploy.

"We will push existing technology architectures as long and hard as we can because we know how to do them," he said, adding that a step-change such as using spin required a large amount of planning to be able to work with existing products: "No matter how hard you push on the new ones, it'll be a while."

The comments followed a futuristic keynote, in which Kahn detailed what humans could do to make computers smarter, perhaps heading towards a Terminator-like reality where computers outperformed their human counterparts.

He spoke about possible improvements in materials going into chips, as well as spintronics. He then moved onto sensors and actuators , displaying a robot which used an electronic field to sense when objects were near. The pre-touch had a shorter range than vision, but a longer range than touch, he said.

The robot was able to take a dragon fruit without crushing it and hand it to Kahn. "You begin to believe that robot's alive," he said of the way it tracked his hand. "It's a very loose kind of following. It's like it's sniffing your hand out."

An actuation method he showed used sound. Sound, and not a fan, was generating the force which pushed a blue slip of paper upwards.

(Credit: Suzanne Tindal/ZDNet.com.au)

Another demonstration was a method of transferring power wirelessly using resonance frequencies such as being done to light the lamp in the first photo. The power transfer was 75 per cent efficient, Kahn said although the prototype shown could not operate over more than a metre or so.

If receivers were built into mobile devices, and transmitters in specific spaces, whenever receivers were in range, they could automatically charge the devices, Kahn said.

The wackiest thing which Kahn described was programmable matter, or small units which moved relative to one another to form objects, changing the form of devices, or helping with computer simulations, so that operators can simply push or pull a design to make changes.

Current research in the area was using magnets or electrostatic forces, Kahn said, adding that for him the idea really was "in the space of magic".

Suzanne Tindal travelled to Taiwan as a guest of Intel

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