It’s a digital world. Or is it?
NASA technologist Jonathan Pellish isn’t convinced. In fact, he believes a computing technology of yesteryear could potentially revolutionize everything from autonomous rendezvous and docking to remotely correcting wavefront errors on large, deployable space telescope mirrors like those to fly on the James Webb Space Telescope.
“It’s fast forward to the past,” Pellish said, referring to an emerging processing technology developed by a Cambridge, Mass.-based company, Analog Devices Lyric Labs.
So convinced is he of its potential, Pellish is meeting with scientists and engineers to explain the technology’s capabilities and is using fiscal year 2013 NASA Center Innovation Fund resources to build printed circuit boards that researchers can use to test the technology’s performance for a range of scientific applications. Pellish works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. He also has carried out preliminary radiation-effects studies to see how the technology’s architecture holds up under the extreme environment encountered in space.
“I wouldn’t do it unless I really believed in it,” Pellish added. “This is one of the few things I’ve seen that is really different than what others are trying to do. I think this technology could fundamentally change the way we carry out onboard processing.”
The new technology is an analog-based microchip developed with significant support from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Instead of relying on tiny switches or transistors that turn on and off, producing streams of ones and zeroes that computing systems then translate into something meaningful to users, the company’s new microchip is more like a dimmer switch. It can accept inputs and calculate outputs that are between zero and one, directly representing probabilities, or levels of certainty.
“The technology is fundamentally different from standard digital-signal processing, recognizing values between zero and one to accomplish what would otherwise be cost prohibitive or impossible with traditional digital circuits,” Pellish said.