Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Get Ready for the Computers of the Future


Sandia National Laboratories launches push to innovate next-generation machines

Computing experts at Sandia National Laboratories have launched an effort to help discover what computers of the future might look like, from next-generation supercomputers to systems that learn on their own — new machines that do more while using less energy.

Sandia National Laboratories/Randy Wong

Sandia National Laboratories’ Francois Leonard holds a wire mesh cylinder similar in design to a carbon nanotube that might form the basis for future computing technology. Computing experts at Sandia are exploring what computers of the future might look like — new types of machines that do more while using less energy.

“We think that by combining capabilities in microelectronics and computer architecture, Sandia can help initiate the jump to the next technology curve sooner and with less risk,” said Rob Leland, head of Sandia’s Computing Research Center. Leland recently outlined a major effort into next-generation computing called Beyond Moore Computing that’s part of Sandia’s overall work on future computing.

For decades, the computer industry operated under Moore’s Law, named for Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore, who in 1965 postulated it was economically feasible to improve the density, speed and power of integrated circuits exponentially over time. But speed has plateaued, the energy required to run systems is rising sharply and industry can’t indefinitely continue to cram more transistors onto chips.

The plateauing of Moore’s Law is driving up energy costs for modern scientific computers to the point that, if current trends hold, more powerful future supercomputers would become impractical due to enormous energy consumption.

Solving that conundrum will require new computer architecture that reduces energy costs, which are principally associated with moving data, Leland said. Eventually, computing also will need new technology that uses less energy at the transistor device-level, he added.

Sandia experts expect multiple computing device-level technologies in the future, rather than one dominant architecture. About a dozen possible next-generation candidates exist, including tunnel FETs (field effect transistors, in which the output current is controlled by a variable electric field), carbon nanotubes, superconductors and fundamentally new approaches, such as quantum computing and brain-inspired computing.

Sandia’s facilities will play key role in researching future computing technology

Sandia is well positioned to work on future computing technology due to its broad and long history in supercomputers, from architecture to algorithms to applications. Leland said Sandia can play a key role because of that far-reaching background and two key facilities: the Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications (MESA) complex, which performs multidisciplinary microsystems research and development and fabricates chips to test ideas; and the Center for Integrated Nanotechnology (CINT), a Department of Energy Office of Science national user facility operated by Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories.

No one is sure what tomorrow’s high performance computers will look like. “We have some ideas, of course, and we have different camps of opinion about what it might look like, but we’re really right in the midst of figuring that out,” Leland said.

Erik DeBenedictis of Sandia’s Advanced Device Technologies department said Sandia can play an important role in creating breakthroughs that are not simply variations of transistors — developments such as computers that learn or technologies that move data from one part of the computer to another more efficiently — crucial for big data problems.

What ultimately prevails might well be something not yet invented, Leland said.

“That’s the first challenge, to figure out what the new device technology is, then work through what the implications of that are, what sort of computer architecture is required to assemble that device into components and subsystems and systems,” he said.

New technology must be broadly adopted to drive improvements

Sandia needs both capability computing, which means finer resolution and more accuracy, and capacity computing, or running many different jobs simultaneously.

“So what does efficiency buy you? It allows you to have a bigger computer or more computers with the same amount of operating expense — paying your power bill,” said Advanced Device Technologies department manager John Aidun. “There’s no limit to the amount of efficiency we would like to achieve because really there’s no limit to the amount of computing we would like to do.”

Whatever technology comes next must be broadly adopted so it will drive continual improvements, similar to the way the 1947 invention of the transistor transformed society. It’s not enough to have a device that’s fast; it has to be something that can be built into a complete computer system, Aidun said.

Thus, new technology must have commercial uses. “There will have to be some industrial base that supports it and produces it and that can be used to assemble a large number of these into a system that can be deployed for national security,” Leland said. “What we’d really like to do is figure out how to advance the state of the art for national security in a way that is more broadly deployable across society.”

The computer industry is exploring technologies that in essence are drop-in replacements for transistors with improved characteristics: different designs such as the fin FET, a 3-D rather than a flat configuration on a computer chip, Aidun said. While the design would be moderately disruptive for industry, it’s still compatible with standard silicon fab technology and opens the potential for generations of ever-smaller fin FETs on a chip, he said.

While industry views a beyond-transistor technology as something far off, Sandia’s national security interests anticipate bigger changes will be needed sooner than industry would develop them on its own, Aidun said. He estimated Sandia could have a prototype new technology within a decade.

Identifying best computer designs can help accelerate innovation

To accelerate the process, Sandia wants to identify computer designs that could take advantage of new device technologies and demonstrate key components or steps in fabrication that would lower the risk for industry by demonstrating technological feasibility.

“We’d be doing it with an eye toward helping industry give due attention to national security needs in computing,” Aidun said.

The numerical capability developed in computers in World War II remains valuable today for such tasks as nuclear weapons simulations. But the modern era’s largest computing development — the Internet — deals with text and demands computing functions called integer calculation, also used in mobile computing.

Improving mobile computing could allow much more efficient and rapid data processing aboard satellites, so less data would need to be sent to Earth for processing.

“The mobility we see in cell phones and tablets is the closest match for the mobility needs of UAVs and satellites,” DeBenedictis said. “The energy and time required to transmit data to the ground, process it there and send the answer back is a bottleneck, and it can be more resource-intensive than just computing on the device.”

He also suggested turning more programming over to cognitive computers to help programmers manage ever-faster computers. “While computers have gotten millions of times faster, programmers and analysts are pretty much as efficient as they’ve always been,” he said.

Cognitive computing can play role in pattern recognition

Cognitive computers might be able to do more to recognize patterns in satellite imagery, for example. People would still make the judgments, but computers would help by recognizing some lower-level patterns, he said. Up to now, programmers have created ways for computers to recognize images; computers didn’t learn on their own. A cognitive computer, however, would learn to identify patterns, DeBenedictis said.

“A computer can learn to recognize images pretty well. Humans assisted by a computer recognizing images could improve the ability significantly,” he said.

Researchers also must determine what hardware and software changes are needed so new devices are both possible to manufacture and practical to operate. “You have to design over all those different considerations,” Leland said. “That’s what makes this a particularly challenging problem.”

Today’s computer systems rely on huge, longstanding investments in massive amounts of software.

“So we are strongly motivated to develop computers that will run old software that was optimized for traditional computer architectures that are not used today,” DeBenedictis said. “To break out of that, we have to find different architectures that are more energy efficient at running old code and are more easily programmed for new code, or architectures that can learn some behaviors that once required programming.”

Since the software of today won’t unleash the full capabilities of the hardware of tomorrow, he expects computers in about a decade that can run both today’s software and new software. New software “would learn or would process information in fundamentally different ways, and become the most powerful aspect of the computer over time,” he said.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies and economic competitiveness.

Sandia news media contact:

Sue Holmes,, (505) 844-6362

Sue Holmes | newswise
Further information:

Further reports about: Computing decade improvements recognize satellites technologies transistors

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht The TU Ilmenau develops tomorrow’s chip technology today
27.04.2017 | Technische Universität Ilmenau

nachricht Five developments for improved data exploitation
19.04.2017 | Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz GmbH, DFKI

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

Latest News

Bare bones: Making bones transparent

27.04.2017 | Life Sciences

Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions

27.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

From volcano's slope, NASA instrument looks sky high and to the future

27.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>