At a conference in Shanghai recently (disclaimer: I attended as a guest of HP), HP’s John Apostolopolous, a director at HP’s research labs outlined HP’s plans for Memristors. HP’s plans for memristors, Apostolopolous postulated, could be seen within the next few years in flexible, low power personal computers with exceptional battery lives.
But what’s a Memristor, anyway?
Even if you’re not an electrical engineer, you’re probably familiar with the basic terminology of circuits — things like resistors, capacitors and so on. A memristor is a circuit type that was mathematically postulated back in 1971, with just one small problem; nobody quite knew how to build it. It’s a resistor with the ability to store memory based on a charge placed across it. The storage is more or less permanent; unlike the memory in the RAM that runs your current computer, a memristor can store information even when the power is cut. It’s even more granular than that, because a memristor works by having various levels of charge applied to or taken away from it. Standard memory is binary — ones and zeroes — and can only think in those kinds of “on” or “off” terms. A memristor should be feasibly able to store information in an essentially analogue way, because it’s not just a one or a zero; it’s a level of charge.
Why does that matter? Well, for a start, according to Apostolopolous, that means that a device using memristors for storage could be a lot more power efficient, simply because there’s no need to convert the ones and zeroes of standard memory back into more complex forms if they’re already stored that way.
Equally, the permanent storage capabilities of memristors could lead to computers with instantaneous ability to power up. It’s even postulated — although not yet demonstrated — that you could build arrays of memristors to form synapses similar to the human brain. We’re probably a fair few years away from a memristor-based brain, but Apostolopolous reckons that it should be feasible to use memristors as memory storage in products in the next couple of years.