May 7, 2012Science and Technology
Electromechanical relays for more energy efficient ciruits

Electronic devices have gotten smaller, cheaper, and more powerful with remarkable consistency over the past few decades. However, that progress has begun to stall due to the limit on energy efficiency of the CMOS transistors used in electronic chips today. Interestingly, researchers from UCLA, Berkeley, MIT, Stanford, and Caltech have found that the answer to our problem might come in the form of a “primitive” technology—electromechanical relays. These relays are a tiny version of a basic switch, using voltage to physically open and close a circuit, and are much more energy efficient. A transition from transistors to relays will require drastic changes; fortunately, the software used to design integrated circuits today can still be used. Research has also shown that the durability and reliability of relays won’t be issues. The main downside to relays is their relative slowness due to mechanical delays. However, researchers have been able to increase the speed of relays with optimized circuit designs specific to relays and size reduction. While there is still much more progress to be made, charging our electronic devices everyday might soon become a thing of the past.

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