We have an insatiable appetite for computing. But our ongoing need for computation is burning more than 5 percent of global electricity. And that figure is expected to double each decade.
A new Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence tackles that challenge head on using cutting-edge new fields of science.
FLEET (The ARC Centre of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies), to be opened on Tuesday 12 June at Monash University, is a collaboration of more than 100 researchers at seven Australian universities and 13 Australian and international science organisations.
The Centre will use the emerging science of topological materials (recognised by the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics ) and atomically-thin, 'two-dimensional' (2D) materials to create ultra-low energy electronics that achieve zero, or near-zero, wasted dissipation of energy.
"The information technology revolution has improved our lives, and we want that to continue," says FLEET Director Professor Michael Fuhrer.
"We want self-drive vehicles, on-demand translation, augmented reality, and an 'Internet of Things' - not to mention computation-intensive entertainment platforms such as Netflix and YouTube."
For the past 50 years, our ever-increasing need for more computing was satisfied by improvements in computing technology, which produced ever-smaller, ever-more efficient chips. We refer to this constant shrinking of silicon components as 'Moore's law'.
However, as we hit limits of basic physics and economy, Moore's law is winding down.
"When we exhaust further efficiencies in silicon technology and data-centre management, energy will become the limiting factor for any further computation growth," says Professor Fuhrer.
Already, information and communications technology is responsible for 5 to 8 per cent of global electricity use, with most of that energy consumption 'hidden' out of sight in vast, factory-sized data centres (or server farms). In fact, each smartphone is now responsible for burning more electricity than a household fridge.
Continuing the IT revolution means finding a new electronics technology that uses much less energy.
"FLEET places Australia at the forefront of exciting new scientific research - building capacity for advanced electronics research and training today's workforce for the electronics industry of the future," says Fuhrer.
The Centre of Excellence will be opened by ARC Chief Executive Officer Professor Sue Thomas with Monash Provost and Senior Vice President Professor Marc Parlange and FLEET Director Professor Michael Fuhrer. MC will be Professor Ana Deletic, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of New South Wales, Sydney.