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Liquid Metal Capsules Used To Make Self-Healing Electronics

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the terminator-edition dept.

Hardware 135

MrSeb writes "A crack team of engineers at the University of Illinois has developed an electronic circuit that autonomously self-heals when its metal wires are broken. This self-healing system restores conductivity within 'mere microseconds,' which is apparently fast enough that operation can continue without interruption. The self-healing mechanism is delightfully simple: The engineers place a bunch of 10-micron (0.01mm) microcapsules along the length of a circuit. The microcapsules are full of liquid metal, a gallium-indium alloy, and if the circuit underneath cracks, so do the microcapsules (90% of the time, anyway — the tech isn't perfect yet!). The liquid metal oozes into the circuit board, restoring up to 99% conductivity, and everything continues as normal. This even works with multi-layer printed circuit boards (PCBs), such the motherboard in your computer, too. There's no word on whether this same technology could one day be used by Terminators to self-heal shotgun blasts to the face, but it certainly sounds quite similar. The immediate use-cases are in extreme environments (aerospace), and batteries (which can't be taken apart to fix), but long term we might one day buy motherboards with these self-healing microcapsules built in."

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Crack Team? (5, Funny)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 2 years ago | (#38451862)

I don't know if I'd want to be on a crack team. I'm more of a coke team kind of guy.

Re:Crack Team? (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452550)

This kind of story makes me sad. So much wasted potential - Think of how much more this team could have achieved if they had only stayed off drugs.

Re:Crack Team? (0)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452650)

Same drug, only difference is whether you want to ruin your lungs or your nasal passaages (or if you're hard core, your veins).

No matter how you ingest it, cocaine is a NASTY drug that will ruin most users' lives. Mind you, I think it should be legal; you should have the right to screw your life up any way you want.

Re:Crack Team? (3, Interesting)

elewton (1743958) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452992)

I don't know about *MOST* users lives. Most the people I know who use cocaine seem to do so infrequently, and as part of a balanced diet. That seems to be representative of coke users in general; problem users seem to represent 5%-15% of the population, similar to a lot of drugs, though the problematic effects are fairly severe, as is dependence.

Crack cocaine is also a very different drug from base cocaine.

I don't use either, and don't want to.

Re:Crack Team? (4, Insightful)

mister_playboy (1474163) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453030)

Crack cocaine is also a very different drug from base cocaine.

You must write minimum sentencing guidelines. :)

Re:Crack Team? (2)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453596)

Most people I know who use crack started out snorting cocaine occasionally, then daily, then went for the smoked version's extra rush. None of them are in the least productive, they're all ate up with ruined lives.

Re:Crack Team? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453510)

Crack IS coke, essentially.

In 1972... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38451864)

A crack engineering unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If your circuits have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... The A-Team.

Re:In 1972... (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38451944)

I'm not entirely certain I like the idea of Mr. T fixing PCBs. Dwight Schultz, on the other hand [memory-alpha.org] ... Okay, I'm sold.

Re:In 1972... (2)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452138)

I'm not entirely certain I like the idea of Mr. T fixing PCBs.

Overheard in a remote jungle data center: "I pity da fool that soldered this motherboard!"

Re:In 1972... (1)

Zephyn (415698) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452160)

I'm not entirely certain I like the idea of Mr. T fixing PCBs.

You'll change your mind when you see them with armor plating and mounted machine guns.

Re:In 1972... (1)

g0bshiTe (596213) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452180)

Why on the bright side he has plenty of highly conductive gold on his person to fix even the most stubborn of issues.

Re:In 1972... (4, Informative)

MrSeb (471333) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452258)

Just FYI, my use of 'crack' in the summary is _meant_ to be a pun. I know it sucks to point out jokes... but I wanted to make sure it didn't go unnoticed :P

Re:In 1972... (1)

Lashat (1041424) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452316)

As you noted, but chose to ignore your own advice. If you have to point out a joke...it's not a good enough joke.

Re:In 1972... (1)

RoknrolZombie (2504888) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454276)

Thanks asshole...now the theme song is stuck in my head.

Playing God... (1, Funny)

Pastor Jake (2510522) | more than 2 years ago | (#38451868)

Dearest friends,

This "research" is nothing more than a cleverly-disguised plot to play God and create life. I must remind you all that God has given every one of you a unique soul which defines who you are...these self-healing machines have no such thing. The engineers who made this should consider the implications the technology will have on them in the next life, and halt the production of this anti-God and anti-Christian technology.

Sincerely,
Jake

Re:Playing God... (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38451918)

Dearest Jake,

Are you even trying any more? I know there haven't been a lot of stories that are easy to troll, but this one is kind of stretching it.

Sincerely,
The Department of Evolutionary Biology

Re:Playing God... (1)

jank1887 (815982) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452718)

really? I thought he was going for a +5 funny myself. please tell me he wasn't trying to be serious.

Re:Playing God... (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452956)

Well, yes, but it's still a mind-numbingly lazy troll. We can't just fork out funny points for just anything!

Re:Playing God... (1)

mister_playboy (1474163) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453102)

DoctorBob was better. :)

a gallium-indium alloy (1)

slackware 3.6 (2524328) | more than 2 years ago | (#38451878)

Does not sound cheap.

Re:a gallium-indium alloy (1)

durrr (1316311) | more than 2 years ago | (#38451908)

Used in very tiny proportions.
Although possibly enough to expand a short circuit, turning that supposed battery saving miracle into a cascading disaster, blowing your leg off instead of just setting your pocket on fire.

Re:a gallium-indium alloy (1, Offtopic)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#38451962)

Used in very tiny proportions.

Although possibly enough to expand a short circuit, turning that supposed battery saving miracle into a cascading disaster, blowing your leg off instead of just setting your pocket on fire.

This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang or a whimper, but a BZZOWNNT!!!

Re:a gallium-indium alloy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38452356)

Call to John.

I know this hurts.

Call to John now.

Re:a gallium-indium alloy (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38451972)

I think they'd probably design the circuits so that there wasn't enough of the liquid metal to reach the next wire over. That being said, this probably only works under normal gravity, so what you're suggesting might be something of an issue in space.

Re:a gallium-indium alloy (1)

durrr (1316311) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452094)

The wires probably break under shock most commonly, as such they'd be rather dense to not test various abnormal G scenarios, most likely transient high-G scenarios, in microgravity the surface tension is likely to keep things in order.

Re:a gallium-indium alloy (4, Insightful)

Moryath (553296) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452352)

And that's why this is probably useless for consumer grade electronics.

I mean really - how often do you break TRACES in a motherboard or PCB in any home consumer product? I haven't ever seen a failure like that get out of QC. The things that kill consumer electronics are corrosion, solder point failure (usually from overpressured heatsinks or heat based warping, see RROD), bad/exploding capacitors, and the occasional power surge or ESD damage.

MAYBE in aeronautics? Maybe maybe MAYBE in automobiles, if you have a PCB somewhere controlling a multifuel system. But for consumer grade home electronics? Not remotely necessary.

Re:a gallium-indium alloy (2)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452620)

Considering the incredible marketing effort and designed failure in consumer electronics to always buy new crap, I really have to wonder if the average consumer electronic would survive long enough to need this technology.

I have a Number Nine 128 video card still working on an old P4 server. That's damn near 20 years old I think. No cracks in the PCB on that.

If I have motherboards that are 3,5,10 years old still working just fine and I fail to see the point of this technology in consumer products. Military and harsh environments certainly.

Re:a gallium-indium alloy (2)

Algae_94 (2017070) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452666)

I recall a similar idea about a "self-healing" plastic that had microspheres with chemicals that would form some new plastic when they broke. These material advances are cool in that they make materials that are more durable and can last longer before ultimate failure. In normal consumer electronic usage, this material is not very useful like you say. Consumer electronic internals aren't subjected to a lot of physical stress like bending or shear forces and therefore are not a major fail point. In the testing of the material, they most likely happened to find that it heals fast enough to not affect electronic circuits, but I doubt that was their original intention.

I think this sort of material that can heal itself is best used where an object gets physically damaged or worn down over time, not in electronic circuits. Imagine an engine block head that can stop a crack before it gets anywhere. To me, that is a much better use for healing metal alloys.

Re:a gallium-indium alloy (4, Interesting)

jank1887 (815982) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452792)

traces don't break. they suffer from electromigration [wikipedia.org] . I.e., where the constant collision of electrons with the metal lattice eventually creates voids in the metal. Becomes more of a problem with higher power processors and narrower conductors. some metals are more susceptible as well. (aluminum more than copper, i think).

And similarly, they would get hot (due to the high current density in the near break) before they break, and this heat could trigger the liquid metal release. There are applications for high-reliability electronics. I think the automotive sector is the one that most easily comes to mind for the consumer market. Long use equiment, like medical equipment maybe too.

Also, don't forget, the equipment you have is designed to operate as long as necessary without the types of failures this would solve. Given this tool, could they be designed differently? More efficiently? Smaller? Maybe.

Re:a gallium-indium alloy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453858)

Traces don't usually break, but I have see cracked barrels (via hole walls) on 0.110" 24 layers PCB. When the aspect ratio is too high say 12:1 ( i.e. too small diameter for too thick a board) and the board is flexed, that can rip the connections from the via.

The liquid metal stuff is very expensive. Not sure if it would short things/cause problems with solder joints/plating on a live warm board.

Re:a gallium-indium alloy (1)

Kneo24 (688412) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454278)

Oh, traces break. I've seen it numerous times - granted it's due to other sources causing them to break. Besides, if enough electromigration happens, you can effectively call it, "broken", as in it doesn't work properly anymore. Seriously, playing the game of semantics here is pointless, though it was a good effort on increasing the vocabulary of the community.

Re:a gallium-indium alloy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38454344)

Mod parent, -1 a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Electromigration is primarily a problem in ICs. These 10 micron beads are over ten time larger than most of the features on a chip in a current submicron process and it's rather improbable that these beads will scale down that far since said features are only a handful of atoms wide at that scale.

Re:a gallium-indium alloy (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453838)

The power socket on (clumsy women's) laptops and the wires on joggers' headphones.

Always break.

Re:a gallium-indium alloy (3)

triffid_98 (899609) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454338)

I mean really - how often do you break TRACES in a motherboard or PCB in any home consumer product? I haven't ever seen a failure like that get out of QC. The things that kill consumer electronics are corrosion, solder point failure (usually from overpressured heatsinks or heat based warping, see RROD), bad/exploding capacitors, and the occasional power surge or ESD damage.

Agreed 100%. Its highly unusual for a PCB to fail, 90% of the time it's been bad solder joints or bad caps which can then escalate into other problems. Solder joints go bad due to heat or vibration or just being poorly soldered in the first place.

This problem is going to get much worse before it gets any better. lead based solders help prevent joint cracking and they're now illegal in the EU. As a result all new electronics use lead-free formulations. This means more heat/vibration related failures than ever, all because more politicians demanded we 'think of the children!'(tm)

Re:a gallium-indium alloy (1)

fnj (64210) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453298)

Why would you suppose it only works under normal gravity? The wetting phenomenon does not depend on gravity at all.

Re:a gallium-indium alloy (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453470)

Because I am not a physicist and assume blithely that everything obeys macro-scale Newtonian physics, duh.

Doesn't sound practical either (2)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452052)

I once worked for a company that tried to get something like this to work. Wetting was a major problem. PCB traces are prone to oxidation anyway, and if they are in buried layers then they are prone to surface contamination from the epoxy. Although in theory cracks should be clean surfaces, the GaIn has to get there in the first place, and in doing so its own surface may be contaminated. Even a very thin layer of oxide or an organic monolayer may well be enough to prevent wetting. I suspect that this will succeed up to the point they try to make it work successfully in real circuit boards.

Re:a gallium-indium alloy (1)

eparker05 (1738842) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452536)

Neither of those metals are cheap, even in minuscule proportions. Indium is about 80 times the price of copper at current rates, and gallium is not much cheaper.

I suppose in some mission critical applications this would work, but I don't see this coming to consumer electronics, I'll bet it would just be cheaper to replace most devices than it would be to add this technology.

Space applications (2)

mangu (126918) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453202)

When you have something like a telecommunications satellite that costs $250 million and has to last 15+ years without maintenance, you aren't looking at the cost of materials for making micro capsules.

You are paying upwards of $100 million / ton for the whole thing anyhow.

Re:Space applications (1)

Kneo24 (688412) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454320)

I'm curious, what part of their last sentence did you not understand? They already conceded on the point that in some critical applications that this would work, but not in consumer grade electronics. I think anything costing as much as you stated would fall under the "mission critical application" idea.

But Doc, we just need a little plutonium! (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 2 years ago | (#38451884)

Great, so we just need metric tons of gallium and indium, facilities to make it into a special alloy, then redesign all the circuit boards out there to be self-healing. Brilliant!

Re:But Doc, we just need a little plutonium! (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452118)

Only one Slashdot do you need to be told that "metric tons" don't exist - they are tonnes, and require no prefix.

I have some indium, a sample rescued from a waste bin. I would really like a tonne of indium. You could buy an apartment with it.

Re:But Doc, we just need a little plutonium! (1)

Lashat (1041424) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452344)

Does that apply to the often used "metric shit-ton"? So, the correct usage would actually be shit-tonne?

Re:But Doc, we just need a little plutonium! (4, Informative)

DRJlaw (946416) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452674)

Only one Slashdot do you need to be told that "metric tons" don't exist - they are tonnes, and require no prefix.

Authorities who disagree with you include:
The Encyclopedia Britannica [britannica.com]
The Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus [cambridge.org]
The US National Institute of Standards and Technology [nist.gov]
and about 16.5 million other hits on Google.

For some reason, having the homonyms ton/tonne variously refer to a short ton (907.18474 kg), a tonne (1000 kg), or long ton (1,016.0469088 kg a.k.a. English ton) vexes some people. They prefer to specify a "metric ton" rather than so overemphasize "tonne" that they sound as if they have a speech impediment.

The unit of measure exists by virtue of its pervasive use. The fact that you prefer an alternate equivalent does nothing to change that fact.

Let me explain (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452896)

The gp has a sig which reads "Only on Slashdot does an AC get modded Informative for pointing out that the LHC is in Europe."

The SI unit that equals 1000kg is a tonne. But the United States, in a fit of parochialism, has decided to rename it a "metric ton". To quote:

Thus the spellings “meter,” “liter,” and “deka” are used rather than “metre,” “litre,” and “deca” as in the original BIPM English text; (ii) the name of the unit with symbol t and defined according to 1 t = 10^3 kg is called “metric ton” rather than "tonne";

So, my little joke was in fact directed at the parent poster, who commented adversely on USA-centricism but used an Americanism for his unit of mass. Personally, I stick to the original SI.

Perhaps you should rename them "freedom tons".

Re:Let me explain (3, Informative)

DRJlaw (946416) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453842)

The SI unit that equals 1000kg is a tonne. But the United States, in a fit of parochialism, has decided to rename it a "metric ton".

The SI unit that equals 1000 Kg is a megagram (Mg, or 10^6 grams). The tonne is not an SI unit [bipm.org] , but, in a fit of nostalgia [oxfordwine.co.uk] , has been metricized and accepted for use with the SI system.

Re:But Doc, we just need a little plutonium! (1)

Algae_94 (2017070) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452704)

How about they just start with bad solder joints that can fix the craptastic job done by the original manufacturers.

hear come the T-1000's (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38451988)

hear come the T-1000's

Re:hear come the T-1000's (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38452164)

You can't, liquid metal is silent.

Re:hear come the T-1000's (1)

tom17 (659054) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453280)

In space, no-one can here you scream.

Not such a good idea (4, Interesting)

ka9dgx (72702) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452018)

I know it would be an alloy... but Gallium isn't such a great thing to be shipping around in airplanes, etc..watch this youtube video of gallium eating an aluminum can [youtube.com] for an idea why.

Re:Not such a good idea (1)

jank1887 (815982) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452858)

that's because it wants to be an alloy. it will alloy with steel too. but once it is a stable alloy, it can be just fine. E.g.: Gallinstan [wikipedia.org] (68.5% Ga, 21.5% In and 10% Sn) being used as a replacement for mercury in a lot of liquid metal systems.

Re:Not such a good idea (1)

Menkhaf (627996) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453908)

MOD PARENT UP!!!!1111 Look at what common table salt does to water! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JD85OUkEKKw [youtube.com] (oh wait, NaCl != Na -- just like gallium != a gallium alloy)

Delivery mechanism is what? (2)

davewoods (2450314) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452028)

The liquid metal oozes

Sounds a lot like gravity is the main mechanism for deploying the liquid, in which case any circuit that is not facing "Up" cannot utilize this technology otherwise the liquid will just pour whichever direction is down, which is not always toward the circuit... Or am I just understanding this concept incorrectly?

Re:Delivery mechanism is what? (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38452338)

At those scales, the effect of gravity relative to static forces is very small. Very small amounts of liquid metal would spread in any orientation. For those who've soldered, you'll know that solder spreads through wires regardless of which way they're oriented. It takes to the surfaces. Only when you add too much does gravity begin to play a substantial role.

I agree with another poster that whetting is going to be the hardest problem. Although knowing gallium, it's possible that their technique will allow it to alloy with the existing metal and for an amalgam, in essence actually permanently repairing the trace. One would have to experiment to know for sure, but it seems likely that this is the mechanism that is used.

Re:Delivery mechanism is what? (2)

davewoods (2450314) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452646)

I double checked the size of the capsules after I posted and thought about static as a possibility, but I did not want to accidentally sound like a moron, I would rather sound like an uninformed nerd that wants to learn.
Thanks for the response confirming my thoughts!

Re:Delivery mechanism is what? (1)

Kneo24 (688412) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454350)

Someone mod this AC up as informative. They're spot on.

Ah yes, yet another solution to the wrong problem (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38452040)

Ah yes, yet another ingenious solution to the wrong problem.

The main problem these days with PC boards is the exact opposite-- tin whiskers growing BETWEEN the traces, not with traces breaking down.

Soon we will be able to buy the Chinese knockoff (1)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452108)

And the formulary used will cause our capacitors to expand and leak self-healing fluid all over the motherboard.

It's not _that_ self healing. (2)

Minwee (522556) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452112)

What happens when it breaks a second time? Then it's just as broken.

This kind of thing may help resist a sudden, one-time shock, but it won't do a thing to protect electronics from ongoing wear. Perhaps if there were a way of notifying the device that it had been broken so that it could quickly inform the user and void its own warranty then it would be more useful.

Re:It's not _that_ self healing. (1)

subreality (157447) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452264)

If it breaks a second time it likely won't be in the same spot. And if it was, at least you got the extra runtime.

As for the warranty... What's the point of a warranty that's void if the device breaks?

Re:It's not _that_ self healing. (1)

Minwee (522556) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452606)

If circuits broke entirely at random without any reason at all then that would be a fair assessment. It's more likely that breaks will be a result of circuit boards being placed under stress as a result of design flaws, and that will happen in the same place every time. I know a number of notebook computer owners who would be happy to demonstrate this.

What's the point of a warranty that's void if the device breaks?

You're thinking like a consumer again. The point is that it gives the manufacturer another excuse not to honour an otherwise expensive warranty, much like the "water damage detectors" inside many phones which are sensitive enough to turn red if somebody sneezes in the next room.

Re:It's not _that_ self healing. (1)

subreality (157447) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452694)

Water damage detectors at least have a hint of it being the consumer's fault (even if they get tripped by other things in practice).

"Warranty void if product breaks" is easily understood by the customer as "no warranty". So why not just have no warranty?

Re:It's not _that_ self healing. (1)

Minwee (522556) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453494)

Because pesky consumer protection laws require that one be offered.

Re:It's not _that_ self healing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453672)

i'd be interested in what corporate background you have, which companies and corporate cultures you've absorbed, that led you to conclude "so that it could quickly inform the user and void its own warranty then it would be more useful."

EMP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38452150)

I wonder if this would provide protection against an EMP attack.

Re:EMP (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38452298)

No, because an EMP destroys most of the active semiconductor devices (integrated circuits and discrete componensts such as diodes, transistors, thyristors, etc), and also many of the passive devices (resistors, capacitors, inductors) in a circuit. It doesn't just create open circuits in metallic PC board traces.

Re:EMP (2)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453138)

NO, EMP only destroys semiconductors. Won't bother resistors, coils, capacitors, or vaccuum tubes. If you want an EMP-proof circut, use tubes rather than semiconductors and you're good to go.

Re:EMP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453306)

It certainly can destroy passive components. I have had my transceiver front-end destroyed by a nearby lightning strike, which generated a strong but local EMP, although it did not make a direct hit on my antenna or feedline. The tiny surface mounted inductors were destroyed, as were the surface mounted multilayer chip capacitors.

Re:EMP (1)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452306)

I wonder if this would provide protection against an EMP attack.

That is an intriguing and useful prospect. I would also be curious to know this.

Short circuit (1)

bigtrike (904535) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452246)

How do they prevent this from creating short circuits under stress?

Re:Short circuit (1)

Kneo24 (688412) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452470)

In general PCB's are designed in a way where there's a layer of substrate (i.e. whatever the PCB is made out of) between that trace and the next one. I work with industrial electronics for a living. The biggest annoyance I see is when boards are literally fried from components blowing up. This can very easily cause the traces to go open. This alloy would attempt to keep the connectivity there which could cause further mishaps. The issue is compounded when the board is burned and the carbon in the board starts shorting traces together. Failures like open traces almost never happen, but when you have 100k+ of a device out in the field, even 3% failure rate can yield a lot of repairs.

Skynet (1)

AtomicAdam (959649) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452250)

Subject says it all. nuff said.

Work for EMP damage? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38452292)

Any way to make this work to counter EMP (electromagnetic pulse) damage? Seems like having a heat activated repair mechanism triggered by the electon pulse would be easier to control than a mechanical one... but I'm only guessing. Would be a nice cheap way to help protect against a "lights out" attack without going back to using vacuum tubes...

Re:Work for EMP damage? (2)

Frangible (881728) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452346)

EMPs are a greatly overstated risk, and science does not back Hollywood. There's a video of an actual upper atmospheric detonation of a nuclear weapon, that shows some LLNL physicists on a beach eating hot dogs and steaks. The nuke detonates and temporarily interrupts the transistor radio that's playing, and then it starts working again a few seconds later. No vacuum tubes required.

The only "EMP weapons" that have done anything require direct conductivity (think Tazer). It's a non-issue.

Re:Work for EMP damage? (1)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452472)

I get what you're saying, but what are the odds of a 1960s transistor radio that Gilligan and the Professor could fix with a soldering iron being a little tougher than whatever 65 nanometer or smaller process they used to make the electronics in your smartphone, desktop, laptop or tablet?

I've also read the bigger problem is above ground wires taking up the energy and frying the gear in the homes and businesses those wires attach to.

Re:Work for EMP damage? (1)

ka9dgx (72702) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452700)

Given the built-in anti-static I/O lines on most chips these days, it's definitely a non-issue. You can walk across a room with wool slippers and an amber staff, and you might do some damage, but a nuke far enough away not to cause blast damage isn't going to be a problem.

Re:Work for EMP damage? (1)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452728)

I think the bigger problem here is that you think Gilligan could help the Professor fix something. Kind of lost the credibility of your post there......

Re:Work for EMP damage? (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453212)

I've also read the bigger problem is above ground wires taking up the energy and frying the gear in the homes and businesses those wires attach to.

More likely the fires are cause by short circuts in the power transistors or power supply diodes, causing high voltage to run through wires that just aren't big enough to hanle the voltage.

Semiconductors are extremely sensitive to heat and overvoltage, other components not so much at all.

Re:Work for EMP damage? (1)

fnj (64210) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453486)

Yes; EMP is an electromagnetic phenomenon whose electrical component is measured in volts per meter, just like the field from a radio or TV transmitter. It is the length of the "antenna" which the EMP intersects that determines the amount of electrical energy induced into the circuit. A long power line will induce a hell of a jolt. A transmitter or receiver with a whip antenna, or anything with any kind of antenna coming out of it, or something electrically connected to something else which it is not immediately adjacent to, is next. A small, self contained piece of electrical apparatus like a pocket radio, cell phone, typical self contained GPS unit, etc, is way down the totem pole for damage.

Re:Work for EMP damage? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453076)

You are incorrect.

You obviously are not aware of it, but the weapons that were tested in the 50s and early 60s, prior to the atmospheric test ban treaty, such as the one that you saw footage of, were designed to generate optimum blast, heat, and prompt radiation damage. Any EMP that those weapons designs produced was entirely incidental to their operation, and was therefore a minor side-effect that the weapons designers noted, but did not try to maximize.

However, as weapons designers became more sophisticated, and as miniaturized circuitry became more widely deployed in the battlefield, designs were developed that could produce many orders of magnitude greater EMP effects, but with minimum blast, heat, and radiation. These designs would cripple any civilian equipment that was not specifically hardened to withstand them.

Do not make the sophomoric error of taking your lack of knowledge as if it were evidence that moderm EMP weapons would not wreak havoc on civilian electronic infrastructure.

Re:Work for EMP damage? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38453784)

Small scale directed EMP weapons have already been developed and tested - they are "pinch" type warheads mounted on cruise missiles that are designed to take down power stations, communications and fixed air defenses IIRC. Saw an article about them back in 2003 or 2004.

Having spoke to a knowledgable person concerning the effects of EMP on semiconductors, it seems like this wouldn't work, since there is simply too much "wiring" (read that as lines and interconnects in the chip) to protect. Metal faraday caging around the chip would work, but it's too expensive to make the design changes required and quite simply not a priority.

As for the effects of EMP on everything else - apparently replacing all the electrical power lines, transformers, sub stations and power plants in the country would be the first hurdle before you started worring about consumer electronics... of course, you won't have any functioning equipment to DO all that, but I digress.

The whole "Hollywood hype" attitude dismissing the risk is off the mark too. If anything, nobody prepares against EMP because quite simply there's no reasonable defense against it apart from preventing it from happening in the first place. Protecting the infrastructure is a staggeringly huge and unaffordable proposition which would be a "waste of money" if it never happens, so of course the logical political assumption to make is that it never WILL happen. Ostrich meet sand, sand, Ostrich.

Re:Work for EMP damage? (1)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453568)

Starfish Prime [wikipedia.org] , an atmospheric nuclear test in 1962, results: "electromagnetic pulse also made those effects known to the public by causing electrical damage in Hawaii, about 1,445 kilometres (898 mi) away from the detonation point, knocking out about 300 streetlights, setting off numerous burglar alarms and damaging a telephone company microwave link. The EMP-damaged microwave link shut down telephone calls from Kauai to the other Hawaiian islands."

I'm not sure it's a non-issue, particularly given that modern electronics have geometries that are at least two orders of magnitude smaller than anything in 1962, so should be damaged by two orders of magnitude less voltage gradient, and modern weapons designers have apparently made weapons that are optimized for higher EMP, so I would expect that a modern EMP blast would be larger, and electronics more suseptible, than a blast that demonstrably did cause damage to electronics.

Re:Work for EMP damage? (1)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453792)

The nuke detonates and temporarily interrupts the transistor radio that's playing, and then it starts working again a few seconds later ... The only "EMP weapons" that have done anything require direct conductivity (think Tazer).

Okay, but how well does a transistor radio work after being microwaved on high for a few seconds? No direct conductivity required...

Useless in the real world (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38452302)

While this has a certain cool factor it is pretty impractical. The chances of a copper trace failing due to shock or vibration are much smaller then the chances of the components that are soldered down failing. Copper is quite malleable. By the time you have deformed a PCB enough to destroy a trace you have probably cracked every surface mount part on the board.

printers (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38452350)

I guess we'll be stuck with "PC Load Letter" forever now

Won't make a difference (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38452466)

Having this "failsafe" technology won't make any difference in most motherboard markets for one simple reason: it will cost more. A good parallel example: we all know the effect cheap capacitors have had on circuit failures. I have two LCD monitors at the school I administer fail in the last three months due to bad caps. There are plenty of good quality capacitors out there, but manufacturers don't use them when they cost $.05 or $.10 cents more a pop. Multiply that by the hundreds-of-thousands that are made yearly, and you save yourself tens of thousands of dollars.

Even if "self-healing" motherboards were made, and made effectively, the only market that would be willing to invest in the extra costs is the server market, where $100 more invested in redundance has the potential to save $10,000+ from lost business due to downtime.

Was this invented by Africans? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38452498)

Just asking...

Sorry - we aren't allowed to ask questions like that, are we... it would be "racist"...

You know, the magic word that is responsible for leading white countries into third world status.

You know, third world status, where there are no computers, no medicines (unless you are expecting them to come from some other 'more intelligent than blacks are' country), disease, mass starvation, endless civil wars, no sanitation, etc.

i.e. YOUR country is being turned into a third world shithole by non-stop third world immigration.

Anybody who has children here, or nephews and nieces, care to actually DISCUSS what's happening? Or should we just pretend it will all magically go away if we ignore it.

Doesn't add up (4, Interesting)

Asic Eng (193332) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452624)

The article states this technology is intended to automatically repair integrated circuits via "microcapsules, as small as 10 microns in diameter". Being charitable and going with 90 nm geometries (which we still used in our company last year - we are a bit slow) that's too large by a factor of 100. Interesting for PCBs, but not for integrated circuits.

The article also states that the technology would fix things "so fast that the user never knew there was a problem" and then explains that "a failure interrupts current for mere microseconds".

The summary corrupts that somewhat into the claim that "operation can continue without interruption". It's far too slow for that. Let's assume a rather slow 33 MHz bus - that gives us a clock period of 30 ns - so we'd miss at least 33 clock cycles in this scenario. This interruption might not be noticed by the user, if an error correcting protocol is used on the bus and the system retransmits. Otherwise you would get wrong data, and you have to assume that will be noticed sooner or later.

Interesting technology on PCBs or communication wires, I could see it being used in safety-critical applications. On integrated circuits it doesn't seem feasible. Basically you make the transistors and wires on ICs already as small as you can. To repair the wires on the IC you now need to insert capsules into the wires to do the automatic repair - so they would be way smaller than the wires. If you could manufacture these structures you'd make the wires smaller though and then you'd lose your ability to insert the microcapsules ... there is no way to win that race.

Re:Doesn't add up (2)

lurker1997 (2005954) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453180)

On integrated circuits it doesn't seem feasible. Basically you make the transistors and wires on ICs already as small as you can. To repair the wires on the IC you now need to insert capsules into the wires to do the automatic repair - so they would be way smaller than the wires. If you could manufacture these structures you'd make the wires smaller though and then you'd lose your ability to insert the microcapsules ... there is no way to win that race.

Along the same lines, if you need twice the room to have the capsule next to the trace/wire, you might as well just make the wire twice as thick and figure that this makes it tougher. To determine if this technology is worthwhile, they would have to compare time to failure between their system and one with traces that occupied the same volume as their wire+capsule combination.

Re:Doesn't add up (2)

Asic Eng (193332) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453702)

Or alternatively, rather than making the wires twice as thick, you could implement the system twice and add some checker logic to find out if something has gone wrong. That's being used a lot on ICs for automotive applications, currently. (At least duplicated embedded CPUs and core logic - peripheral logic is checked with other means.)

Also for safety applications you have to consider other fault sources like radiation flipping bits which occurs a lot more often than IC wires breaking due to aging. These capsules don't help with that at all, but having duplicated checking systems would.

And then of course there is triple-voting (also frequently used in automotive safety for certain critical parts of the circuit).

Re:Doesn't add up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38454202)

sounds like useless bullshit to me. Was that a public grant program for some foreign exchange students ph.d ?

Skynet (1)

Synerg1y (2169962) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452686)

Finally has the technology to build the terminator from Terminator III (the "evil" one) .

Oh come on. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38452706)

44 comments already and no stupid T1000 jokes?

Too expensive (1)

tttonyyy (726776) | more than 2 years ago | (#38452800)

Anything that adds cost to PCBs is bit of a no-no - I can't see how the "self-healing" benefit can factor into any PCB design (especially motherboards, which have the least layers possible to reduce cost) unless it is for some specialist application, where using such tech would warrant the extra cost involved.

Cool, but, lets face it - not going to be every day.

Now let me get this straight... (1)

rastoboy29 (807168) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453190)

Basically, this is a technology where, if a short develops and a circuit is broken, it will immediately repair the circuit?

Are we sure that is a good thing?  If there is a power problem, for example, couldn't that just cause a new short to happen somewhere more expensive to repair?

Re:Now let me get this straight... (1)

zAPPzAPP (1207370) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453728)

You put in fuses or fuse-diodes for that reason. A random crack in a circuit line is not a good safety measure against shorts.
Btw, this does not repair short circuits. It maintains connectivity. In a short circuit, there is too much connectivity, not too few.

Do it for the components. (1)

Stumbles (602007) | more than 2 years ago | (#38453666)

It might be useful but in my 30 years of dealing with electronic equipment; I have encountered way, way more faulty components than a burnt or "faulty" run. Of the times I have found a toasted run, there was always a toasted component to go along with it.

That's nothing (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 2 years ago | (#38454268)

My computer is so overclocked, I have a pipeline feeding this stuff in to keep repairing the motherboard!
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