ZURICH, Switzerland IBM has taken the wraps off a groundbreaking project to develop terabit memories based on MEMS technology and referred to as "probe-based storage." The next step is deciding whether to move development to the next phase.
Probe-based storage, formerly known at IBM as the "Millipede Project," remains a high priority at the IBM research facility here. It "is part of our efforts into nanotechnology, but at this stage we only have prototypes," Paul Seidler, manager of the Science and Technology group at IBM Zurich Research Laboratory told EE Times.
Seidler also spoke at an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the IBM research facility in Ruesslikon, near Zurich. The laboratory was IBM's first research facility outside the U.S. Four IBM Zurich researchers have won the Nobel Prize, including the 1986 Prize for physics for the invention of the scanning tunneling microscope won by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer. Georg Bednorz and Alex Mueller won the physics prize the following year for their work on high- temperature superconductivity.
The Zurich team in investigating very-high data rate nonvolatile storage. The work was initially led by Binnig and microfabrication specialist Peter Vettiger. The technology "could eventually evolve as the ultimate memory technology," said Seidler.
"While we have working parts and have demonstrated complete data storage systems, there are still technical issues to solve, and the company has made no commitments to a product," Seidler added. "In any case, our role here is to prove that the proof of principle works, [and] it does."
In 2002, Vettiger told EE Times it could be two to three years before the team could refine the technology to where it could be considered for manufacturing.
The "millipede" chip uses scaled-down MEMS techniques to physically locate and melt holes in a polymer atop a movable silicon substrate. Bit locations are addressed by moving the substrate under the desired read/write head, which is then heated. Static tension causes the head to melt the polymer, making a hole, which can then be read later by the same head when it is not heated.