Lighter electric cars and aircraft possible with nano-scale electrical relay

The new relay requires only a tenth of the energy to work, compared with transistors.
Published Apr 03, 2020

A KTH research group has developed a nano-scale electromechanical relay that could be used to reduce the weight of electronics in electric cars or even aircraft.

The new technology, which can be used for memory circuits and processors in electric cars and aircraft, can withstand temperatures as high as 200C without loss of performance, eliminating the need for cooling elements that dissipate heat but add unwanted weight.

The work was reported in Nature Communications .

Relays are basically switches. In the nanoelectromechanical (NEM) relay, they act like a transistor in a computer: they are turned on by applying voltage and then they create the binaries that communicate Boolean logic.

Simon Bleiker , researcher at the department Micro and Nanosystems  at KTH, says the team is taking the next steps toward developing the relays for electric vehicles. “We are working on scaling up the technology from a few relays to 1,000 or 10,000 that are integrated with each other,” he says.

Simon Bleiker

Though it’s still too early to tell exactly how much weight reduction the prototype technology will enable, Bleiker says there are other advantages to the relays.

“The heat resistance also allows the technology to be used in harsh environments where ordinary, electrical transistor-based circuits work poorly or not at all, as in space and inside jet engines,” he says.

Relays have traditionally been slower than transistors. In this case, the electromechanical relay is 10 times slower than transistors, but it also requires only a tenth of the energy to work. He says the researchers have experimented with combining relays and transistors and have been able to show that this configuration offers double the speed and half the energy consumption, compared to technology using transistors only.

The work was carried out by researchers from KTH, the University of Bristol and the University of Southampton.

Peter Ardell/David Callahan

Rana, S., Mouro, J., Bleiker, S.J. et al. Nanoelectromechanical relay without pull-in instability for high-temperature non-volatile memory. Nat Commun 11, 1181 (2020).

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Last changed: Apr 03, 2020