Memristor Technology Beginning To Mature

from the still-just-a-toddler dept

A few decades ago, the memristor was a theoretical circuit element conceived by Leon Chua, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. The “memory resistor” retains its memory even without power, and it joins the the resistor, capacitor and inductor as the fourth fundamental circuit element. Memristor technology became a reality in 2008 with a lab prototype that proved the existence of this basic electrical circuit. Following that breakthrough, a flexible memristor was developed in 2009, but despite the apparent progress in research labs, these devices are not exactly ready yet for commercial production.

Still, the potential for memristor technology is remarkable. Memristors promise to create a new type of memory that can mimic brain synapses in a way that could improve machine pattern recognition. More practically, memristors can be used in storage devices that would allow computers to boot up immediately — since memristor-based memory doesn’t have the same power or mechanical restrictions as conventional memory technologies. Recently, memristors also have been used to perform logic functions — which could bring memory and logic functions closer together for more efficient computation. Given that a significant amount of energy is usually devoted to shuttling data around from storage devices to processors, memristor-based processors could also store data and reduce data retrieval inefficiencies.

The hurdles remaining for memristors lie in manufacturing challenges for introducing new materials into existing lithographic processes. Additionally, there are cost issues, scale up issues and questions about the reliability of new devices based on untested technology. Very optimistic labs are predicting commercial non-volatile memory based on memristors starting in 2013. However, given that flash memory was invented in the 1980s, and SSD storage has only recently become somewhat price competitive to hard drives, it may take a couple decades for memristors to really gain traction.

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