IBM looks "beyond silicon" in €2.2 billion research project


IBM is spending €2.2 billion during the next five years to look "beyond silicon" and develop semiconductors for the cloud computing and big data markets of the future.

The electronics company has launched two projects. The first will look at the "serious physical challenges" that will threaten semiconductors in the coming years.

The second will look at developing alternatives to existing silicon chips, which could open up a range of different uses that are unavailable today.

Today's semiconductors are expected to scale from 22 nanometers down to seven or below by the end of the decade. IBM said as the chips get smaller, the benefits around lower power, lower cost or higher speed will disappear due to the nature of silicon and the laws of physics.

John Kelly, Senior Vice President, IBM Research, commented: "The question is not if we will introduce seven nanometer technology into manufacturing, but rather how, when, and at what cost?

"IBM engineers and scientists, along with our partners, are well suited for this challenge and are already working on the materials science and device engineering required to meet the demands of the emerging system requirements for cloud, big data, and cognitive systems."

It predicted that among the technology that could deliver smaller, faster and more powerful chips are quantum computing, neurosynaptic computing, which apes the brain's computational capabilities, silicon photonics, which uses pulses of light to communicate rather than copper wiring, and III-V, which can offer higher performance at lower power density.

Other tech that will be examined are carbon nanotubes, which could replace silicon entirely because of its thinness, next generation low power transistors and graphene, which is currently being researched in an European Commission project.

Tom Rosamilia, senior vice president, IBM Systems and Technology Group, said: "In the next 10 years computing hardware systems will be fundamentally different as our scientists and engineers push the limits of semiconductor innovations to explore the post-silicon future."

Teams of IBM research scientists and engineers will work on these projects in New York and California in the United States and in Europe.

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