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Could Mechanical Replace Electrical?

The MEMS Industry Group sponsored a webinar recently with a focus on switches. Literally; mechanical switches. Just really tiny ones made of a beam that can be actuated by an electrical signal.

OK, so I guess it’s not completely mechanical, it’s electromechanical, but the suggestion is that you could configure complete circuits with these.

The presenter was Maarten De Boer of CMU, and he painted a picture of what could happen with the continued evolution of micro- and nanoswitches. The “pros” of such an approach are:

  • Lower power (only needed to actuate; don’t necessarily need holding power)
  • Better “off” characteristics; there’s no leakage (also contributes to lower power)
  • You can carry RF signals

The “cons” are:

  • They’re slower to respond (if you had circuits made out of them, the suggestion was to parallelize as much as possible to avoid ripple delays in serial circuits)
  • They’re larger – at present (the suggestion being that this could evolve… I don’t know about competing with sub-10-nm sizes… Yes, I know the whole transistor isn’t sub-10-nm, but still…)
  • This only works for digital – there’s no amplification, so you clearly wouldn’t replace analog transistors with switches

Reliability is still a work in progress; work is underway to determine failure times and modes.

To be clear, this wasn’t a suggestion that SoC designers around the world should stop their work and re-evaluate whether to replace billions of transistors with billions of switches (what could possibly go wrong??). But it was an interesting look at what could be possible as the relatively large switches we have today scale down into the nano realm. You never know.

You can view this and other past webinars a the MIG website.

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