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Palem said PCMOS is ideally suited for encryption, a process that relies on generating random numbers. It's equally well-suited for graphics, but for different reasons. In a streaming video application on a cell phone, for example, it is unnecessary to conduct precise calculations. The small screen, combined with the human brain's ability to process less-than-perfect pictures, results in a case where the picture looks just as good with a calculation that's only approximately correct.
"The key is to consider the value that the computed information has for the user," said Palem, who directs Rice's Value of Information-based Sustainable Embedded Nanocomputing Center (VISEN). "Our goal is green computing. We're looking for applications where PCMOS can deliver as well as or better than existing technology but with a fraction of the energy."
If PCMOS can slash energy use for embedded ASICs in key devices, the implications are enormous. For consumers, it could mean the difference between charging a cell phone every few weeks instead of every few days. Globally, that would help reduce the information technology industry's carbon footprint.
"Based on our findings, we view PCMOS as a path to help IT become more 'green' even as it keeps pace with Moore's Law," said Palem, the Ken and Audrey Kennedy Professor of Computing, professor of computer science, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and professor of statistics.
Palem said he hopes PCMOS technology will enter the embedded computing market in as little as four years. The PCMOS research was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Intel Corp.