US computer scientists have created a way to design polymorphic integrated circuits that can rapidly reconfigure themselves with multiple functions.
Boffins at Rice University said that the "n-variant" chips can assume one identify or a subset of identities at a time depending on the user's needs.
The engineers claim that building multiple "personalities" into integrated circuits can offer better security, circuit optimisation and customisation without sacrificing the related power, delay and area metrics.
The technology is being unveiled today at the Design Automation Conference in California.
"With 'n-variant' integrated circuits it is possible to design portable media players that are inherently unique," said Farinaz Koushanfar, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice and principal investigator on the project.
"New methods of digital rights management can be built upon such devices. For example, media files can be made such that they only run on a certain variant and cannot be played by another."
Koushanfar added that content providers could also use n-variant chips to sell metered access to software, music or movies.
The chips can be programmed to switch from one variant to another at a particular time or after a file has been accessed a certain number of times.
The availability of multiple triggers for switching between variants opens the door for diverse applications, according to the scientist.
"Our polymorphic chips can switch between variants based on external triggers and automated self-adaptive triggers," added Rice computer science graduate student Yousra Alkabani.
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