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Nanocomputing: When Will It Happen?

Article Description

If you're old enough to remember the 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage, you were probably more impressed with a miniaturized Raquel Welch than with the idea of making technical tools small enough to work at the atomic level. Richard Murch discusses why nanotechnology is so appealing, and why we still don't have it.

From the author of

Autonomic Computing

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Nanocomputing

A nanocomputer is similar in many respects to the modern personal computer—but on a scale that's very much smaller. With access to several thousand (or millions) of nanocomputers, depending on your needs or requirements—gives a whole new meaning to the expression "unlimited computing"—you may be able to gain a lot more power for less money.

Nanocomputing is evolving along two distinct paths:

  • New nanoproducts, techniques, and enhancements will be integrated into current technology such as the PC, the mainframe, and servers of all types. Mass storage will change significantly as thousands of cheap storage devices will become available. Storage need never be a problem or cost again.

  • Research and development are working toward making entirely new nanocomputers that run software—similar to that on today's PC.

We can make a number of statements about nanocomputing that put it into perspective with a healthy dose of reality—and less hype:

  • Nanocomputing is an emerging technology that is at the early stage of its development.

  • Worldwide initiatives are in progress to develop the technology. Japan, Europe, and the United States are in a race to the finish line.

  • Breakthroughs and announcements are increasing with significant rapidity.

  • Governments are beginning to see the potential and are investing heavily in research and development programs. This interest and investment will accelerate progress.

  • Nanocomputing shows great potential, but there are significant technical barriers and obstacles to overcome.

  • The true technology of nanocomputing will not be available for some time. Much development work has to be completed before success can be claimed.

  • Nanocomputing will come from two sources:

    • It will be integrated into existing products and technology (disk drives, for example).

    • Fundamentally new products, software, and architectures will be developed.

  • More hype will follow due to media exploitation.

Major corporations such as IBM, Intel, Motorola, HP, and others are investing significant amounts of money in research to develop nanocomputers. The market for such devices far surpasses the market for the everyday PC. The new technology may even become known as the personal nanocomputer (PN).

Vendors' current nanotechnology research aims to devise new atomic- and molecular-scale structures and methods for enhancing information technologies, as well as discovering and understand their scientific foundations. Carbon nanotubes and scanning probes derived from the atomic-force microscope show particular promise in enabling dramatically improved circuits and data-storage devices in the near future; we can expect to see significant products in this area in the next 2–5 years.

4. Barriers to Progress | Next Section Previous Section

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