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Toward robust integrated circuits: The embryonics approach

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4 Author(s)
Mange, D. ; Logic Syst. Lab., Swiss Fed. Inst. of Technol., Lausanne, Switzerland ; Sipper, M. ; Stauffer, A. ; Tempesti, G.

The growth and operation of all living beings are directed by the interpretation, in each of their cells, of a chemical program, the DNA string or genome. This process is the source of inspiration for the Embryonics (embryonic electronics) project, whose final objective is the design of highly robust integrated circuits, endowed with properties usually associated with the living world: self-repair (cicatrization) and self-replication. The Embryonics architecture is based on four hierarchical levels of organization. (1) The basic primitive of our system is the molecule, a multiplexer-based element of a novel programmable circuit. (2) A finite set of molecules makes up a cell, essentially a small processor with an associated memory. (3) A finite set of cells makes up an organism, an application-specific multiprocessor system. (4) The organism can itself replicate, giving rise to a population of identical organisms. We begin by describing in detail the implementation of an artificial cell characterized by a fixed architecture, showing that multicellular arrays can realize a variety of different organisms, all capable of self-replication and self-repair. In order to allow for a wide range of applications, we then introduce a flexible architecture, realized using a new type of fine-grained field-programmable gate array whose basic element, our molecule, is essentially a programmable multiplexer. We describe the implementation of such a molecule, with built-in self-test, and illustrate its use in realizing two applications: a modulo-4 reversible counter (a unicellular organism) and a timer ( a complex multicellular organism). We describe our ongoing research efforts to meet three challenges: a scientific challenge, that of implementing the original specifications formulated by John von Neumann for the conception of a self-replicating automaton; a technical challenge, that of realizing very robust integrated circuits capable of self-repair and self-replication; and a biol- gical challenge, that of attempting to show that the microscopic architectures of artificial and natural organisms, i.e., their genomes, share common properties.

Published in:

Proceedings of the IEEE  (Volume:88 ,  Issue: 4 )