A steam-powered mechanical computer designed two centuries ago by British inventor Charles Burbage has been the inspiration for an energy-efficient nano computer. The tiny, ultra-robust device is the brainchild of a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison who say that their machine, which could go boldly to places where silicon chips fear to tread such as car engines, would be constructed from nanometer-sized components just billionths of a meter wide. If successful, the technology could be used for anything from toys and domestic appliances through to military defense systems.One of the authors of the blueprint is Professor Robert Blick. "We are not going to compete with high-speed silicon," he claims, "but where we are competitive is for all of those mundane applications where you need microprocessors which can be slow and cheap as well."
Professor Blick paid tribute to the English mathematician and engineer whose designs, although never finished, were capable of complex calculations, according to recent reconstructions by the Science Museum in London. "It's inspired by Babbage's ideas, but these days we can scale it down."
The researchers are in the process of building the first elements needed for the computer and are expecting the idea to become commercially available to customers—such as, for example, the US military. Unlike traditional chips, nano mechanical devices cannot be knocked out by electromagnetic pulses, something that is seen as the Achilles heel of many defense systems. [BBC News]