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Cheap Metal-Insulator-Metal (MiM) Diode Created

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the technological-increment dept.

Science 137

An anonymous reader writes "Progress on metal-insulator-metal diode manufacturing was just reported online in the professional journal Advanced Materials (abstract). For the first time a high-performance 'metal-insulator-metal' diode was created with cheap materials. This is a fundamental discovery. It could change the way manufacturers produce electronic products at high speed, on a huge scale, and at a very low cost, even less than with conventional methods."

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137 comments

Ground breaking (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34077146)

A complete gamechanger, just like memristors!

Re:Ground breaking (1)

DarkKnightRadick (268025) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077162)

Whatever happened to memristors?

Re:Ground breaking (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34077184)

I forget.

Re:Ground breaking (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34077206)

Oh, I remember! It was a- that is, the thing is a big--

Hmm. I guess I forget too.

Re:Ground breaking (1)

contra_mundi (1362297) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077198)

Like with every breakthrough, it'll take atleast 50 years to reach consumers.

Re:Ground breaking (2, Interesting)

davester666 (731373) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077834)

And even though everything about the process will be cheaper, faster and better, the 'cheaper' part will magically disappear through the use of patent fee's.

Re:Ground breaking (2, Informative)

Zerth (26112) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077208)

Whatever happened to memristors?

HP just developed an implementation in the last year.

It will take them a couple years to get a production line going, then a few more years before it starts showing up in products.

Re:Ground breaking (4, Informative)

TopSpin (753) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077342)

Whatever happened to memristors?

HP has partnered with Hynix to develop the manufacturing process and commercialize memristor products. Memristors used for storage will eventually appear as ReRAM (resistive RAM.) Meanwhile, other companies are working on memristor designs based on material other than TiO2 as is used by HP.

Would someone with a good grounding in semiconductors please elaborate on why MIM diodes are significant? I have a good handle on basic electronics but not enough experience to deduce how MIM diodes would improve circuit design.

Re:Ground breaking (1)

blackraven14250 (902843) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077390)

I think it's that MIM is cheap, at least compared to doped silicon.

Re:Ground breaking (2, Informative)

i.of.the.storm (907783) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077446)

I think you're right, and I would guess that the startup costs are much cheaper with this technology. But I wonder how useful it is when we can already print thousands transistors for pennies after the initial cost of a fab. Maybe it will allow for easier tinkering for people sitting in their garage? Would be pretty cool to build your own diode.

Re:Ground breaking (3, Interesting)

blackraven14250 (902843) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077506)

even if it costs pennies now, the fact that it will cost a single penny later is definitely a step forward. That is especially true if the silicon supply is less abundant (not likely), or less easy to mine (possible), than the supply of the metals and insulators used here. That would mean a greater rise in the price of silicon over a given time frame than the price of the metal/insulator.

Re:Ground breaking (5, Insightful)

kurokame (1764228) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077630)

Silicon is not something we're going to run out of in the foreseeable future. If we do, it would probably be right after we ran out of nitrogen.

Re:Ground breaking (1, Insightful)

blackraven14250 (902843) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077646)

It's not a matter us running out. If the supply of silicon is harder to mine and purify than the metal/insulator (whichever is harder) necessary for the new technology, then the new tech is an economic improvement.

Re:Ground breaking (4, Insightful)

kurokame (1764228) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077764)

The insulator is generally treated silicon, e.g. silicon nitride.

Also, metals are something you find pockets of in the Earth's crust. The majority ended up in the core by virtue of its greater density. Silicon, on the other hand, is a key ingredient in the crust itself, and tends to be present in the minerals which you would have to find, extract, and process to get the metals involved in circuit-on-silicon fabrication.

Also, the amount of material in the silicon wafer itself is far, far more than the entirety of all surface features comprising the integrated circuit.

If anything, you would want to be comparing the relative scarcity or value of the metals involved versus the dopants involved, the relative ease of fabrication, and the particulars of what you can fabricate like minimum feature size, chip area per circuit element, and compatibility with other things you want to do on your wafer.

Re:Ground breaking (1)

The Hatchet (1766306) | more than 3 years ago | (#34078264)

Silicon is like 70% of earths crust. If we have run out of it, we have run out of earths crust. Beaches would be mined for their sand, dirt would all be gone. I mean literally, you don't know how ridiculous that notion sounds.

Re:Ground breaking (5, Informative)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 3 years ago | (#34078856)

No. It's that MiMs are fast. The best junction diodes run out of steam at a few THz while MiMs work up into optical frequencies and so can be used to rectify sunlight. MiMs have been made before and are used in some exotic lab equipment but those point-contact devices are hard to make and touchy. These guys claim to have produced MiMs using more or less standard planar processes.

Here's a paper [colorado.edu] that explains MiM theory, though it isn't about this development.

Re:Ground breaking (5, Interesting)

kurokame (1764228) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077622)

Mainly, most immediately, it gives you an additional way to make a diode or diode-based structure when you're designing your fabrication sequence. Fabrication on the foundry / mass-production level occurs through processes which give you pretty much a set sequence of layers (deposited materials, treatments, patterning, etching, etc.). You can make anything you can design within that process...and most anything else usually stays in a research lab.

The extraordinarily common CMOS process involves numerous metal layers "high" above the wafer (numerous layers intervene). These are separated by insulators. Normally, you make diodes at the wafer layer where you're doing your doping.

MiM means you can put diodes in regions of your chip where they couldn't practically be fabricated before without a lot of time doing a one-off chip in a lab. With "a lot" often being several months to a year, assuming everything turns out perfectly, assuming your lab even HAS all the necessary equipment, and assuming you don't have something better to do - which is rare if you're not still a grad student.

Re:Ground breaking (2, Interesting)

Pinky's Brain (1158667) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077996)

This might be true, but looking at the thesis linked below the main target seems large area/feature size devices devices such as TFT display backplanes and drivers.

Re:Ground breaking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34078210)

In normal CMOS processes you can only create transistors on the silicon substrate's wells, meaning that you have at most one layer of transistors. The other layers above the substrate layer are generally polysilicon for transistor gates or metal layers for interconnects with dielectric insulation in between.

If you could build transistors in the metal layers, one could build 3D chip layouts giving room to much higher transistor densities per chip area unit. I have not RTFA but making a diode in Metal-Insulator-Metal is a first step towards making a MIM transistor and I assume this is what the news are about.

Ugh... yet another paywall stopping innovation (1)

ka9dgx (72702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077174)

I really hate this kind of thing... a potentially useful technology for building electronics devices at home, and it's behind a paywall.

Re:Ugh... yet another paywall stopping innovation (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077202)

I wouldnt pass judgement without knowing how much they spent on developing it.

Re:Ugh... yet another paywall stopping innovation (1)

contra_mundi (1362297) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077212)

In every case, either they'll be stinking rich or we'll never hear of this technology again.

Re:Ugh... yet another paywall stopping innovation (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077282)

If they're rich, it's because it was a very important development and they were rewarded for taking the time and energy to make it useful. If we never see it again either it wasn't really all that important or somebody, in an effort to get around a patent, came up with an even better approach.

Any way you slice it, it's good.

Re:Ugh... yet another paywall stopping innovation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34078574)

It is not very useful or important to anyone else if they are the only one who can do it.

Re:Ugh... yet another paywall stopping innovation (4, Insightful)

WarJolt (990309) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077214)

Everyone wants information to be free... Until they come up with an idea of their own and publish it.

Re:Ugh... yet another paywall stopping innovation (2, Insightful)

coldmist (154493) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077346)

Information wants to be free. People want to control it and hide it and charge for it. But, if I told you a secret, you naturally want to share it. If I write a book, and people read it, that information is now theirs too, ie "free".

Of course people want free information. But, some people keep it in chains and lock it up and prevent it from becoming "public" knowledge, for their own personal gain. It's a war that has been waged for ever and will continue to rage...

Re:Ugh... yet another paywall stopping innovation (5, Insightful)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077450)

What are you smoking? Sounds yummy.

Just about every scientist who's employed in a university wants to give away their published articles for free to anyone with even a tiny interest. The only ones who like paywalls are publishers.

Re:Ugh... yet another paywall stopping innovation (5, Informative)

mdmkolbe (944892) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077826)

As a published academic myself, I concur. I don't get a dime from my published articles so paywalls don't help me. I benefit from people hearing about, reading, being influenced by and eventually citing my work because those things lead to higher academic ratings which lead to better positions, grants, etc.

For free? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34078816)

I'm an academic, and I pay to have my articles published. Giving it away for free would actually be a step up for me.

Re:Ugh... yet another paywall stopping innovation (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34077242)

the article?

There may be a building in your neighborhood that houses paywall penetrating tools. You can even go there and use them for free. I believe your community may call this building a "Library."

Or, if you are talking about them patenting the "invention", then yeah.. that sucks.

Cheaper than silicon? (0)

seanadams.com (463190) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077216)

the most abundant element in the universe? Or is it cheaper somehow in terms of production process?

Re:Cheaper than silicon? (3, Informative)

seanadams.com (463190) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077218)

er never mind, the point is _higher performance_ done more cheaply than before, not a cheaper diode in general.

Re:Cheaper than silicon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34077376)

er, never mind, the point is _lower performance_ done more uselessly than before

tunnel carrier transport is fundamentally a low current density process

a tunnel junction may be just dandy for low current density applications like solar cell interconnects (yes, even at the pitiful current densities encountered in concentrator photovoltaics), but they don't get past low GHz switching speeds (even if individual carriers can zip through at THz rates)

low-speed electronics don't need to be made any cheaper - they already have almost worthless value

Re:Cheaper than silicon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34077394)

moreover, this is VERY old news
http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy03osti/33263.pdf

Re:Cheaper than silicon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34077302)

The problem with silicon parts is the ridiculous levels of purity required and the expense of melting/reacting it.
Brief overview: http://pvcdrom.pveducation.org/MANUFACT/REFINE.HTM

Re:Cheaper than silicon? (4, Informative)

Tailhook (98486) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077388)

the most abundant element in the universe?

The most abundant element in the universe is Hydrogen. Silicon, while plentiful in raw form, must be purified, crystallized, doped, etc. for use in microelectronics. This is an expensive, energy intensive process with less than perfect yield. Copper and aluminum are vastly easier to deal with.

Re:Cheaper than silicon? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34077584)

Do you call iridium "iridum"? No? Then fucking stop calling aluminium "aluminum".

Re:Cheaper than silicon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34077628)

Honour the local colours.

Re:Cheaper than silicon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34077738)

Boy, someone sure woke up on the wrong side of the Atlantic this morning.

Re:Cheaper than silicon? (1)

treeves (963993) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077802)

Do you call mercury "hydrargyrum"? Why not? Are you ignorant?

Re:Cheaper than silicon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34077888)

More importantly who modded parent insightful.

Re:Cheaper than silicon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34077806)

Do you call platinum "platinium"? No? Then fucking stop calling aluminum "aluminium"

Re:Cheaper than silicon? (1)

seanadams.com (463190) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077588)

The most abundant element in the universe is Hydrogen.

For Si vs H, does it matter if we're talking about by mass versus by number of atoms? It never occurred to me to consider which metric people might be talking about.

Re:Cheaper than silicon? (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077664)

It doesn't matter, no. Wikipedia says [wikipedia.org] hydrogen makes up 75% of normal matter by mass and 90% by number of atoms in the observable universe. Silicon is just one of dozens of possible byproducts of, say, a supernova—its presence is tiny compared to even carbon and helium. No idea what GGP was smoking.

Re:Cheaper than silicon? (1)

treeves (963993) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077870)

He was probably thinking of abundance in earth's crust and assuming the universe is the same.
But no, Si is a distant second to oxygen in abundance in the Earth's crust.
It's the most abundant element in the Earth's crust that is a solid at room temperature. There you go.

Re:Cheaper than silicon? (1)

yariv (1107831) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077442)

Well, silicon is quite abundant on earth, about 15% of it, and more importantly almost 30% of the crust (still second to oxygen, by the way), but it's not even close to being "the most abundant in the universe". As irrelevant as it is to chip manufacturing, almost all baryonic matter in the universe is hydrogen and helium. Silicon is not even close...

Dooooood !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34077250)

A diode !!

WTF is a diode ?? No really what is a diode ??

Re:Dooooood !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34077260)

Seriously?

Re:Dooooood !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34077298)

It like transistor but operate reverse polarity. When polarity reversed diode operate like PnP junction not conjungate junction. Purpose to exist is speed in gate switch of unpower cMOS sunblimated ovaries prior to.

Re:Dooooood !! (2, Informative)

mail2345 (1201389) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077306)

A diode maintains a one way flow of current.

Re:Dooooood !! (4, Funny)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077336)

What about Smoke Emitting Diodes? (or Light Emitting Resistors?)

Re:Dooooood !! (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077508)

I once created smoke emitting LEDs and I evacuated my workshop fast. I was using a clever power supply my dad had built. It had a pot from 0-10V and a rotary switch for +0, +10, +20. Very convenient but I left it on +10 by mistake. From model airplanes and bicycles I have seen a few smoke emitting NiCD batteries. One cold morning the battery pack on my bike shorted. Years ago a friend of mine chucked his NiCDs into the bottom of his backpack and walked home. The batteries melted a hole in the pack and were unusable afterwards.

Re:Dooooood !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34078910)

Back when I was in school, a student in my electronics class invented a light emitting resistor. He stuck a low value resistor between the line and neutral in an AC outlet.
I myself, am the proud inventor of the 100% efficient lithium battery spot welder. I used one of my fingers as a thermistor in that project. (it reached Ahh!!!!!111 degrees celcius)

Re:Dooooood !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34077860)

(or Light Emitting Resistors?)

You mean an incandescent bulb?

Re:Dooooood !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34078660)

Had a couple of incandescent resistors at work, once. 1 KW of power put into a 10W metal can resistor... Helped pinpoint the problem with the inverter circuit though.

Re:Dooooood !! gayness (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34077384)

A diode is a GAY-NOT-GAY dude, of bicurious persuation, dude.

Fundamental discovery? (1)

sosaited (1925622) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077352)

I am no Electrical Engineer, but I am sure diodes are not the only component used in electrical circuits, so how is it a fundamental breakthrough that is going to affect the overall manufacturing speed of electronic products? Moreover, From TFA

High speed computers and electronics that don’t depend on transistors are possibilities

Which high speed computer in use today doesn't use transistors? The only related research in transistor-less gates I can think of is QCA and magnonics, both of which are a few years away from being used in Computer manufacturing, and neither uses diodes as the base.

Re:Fundamental discovery? (1)

IorDMUX (870522) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077370)

High speed computers and electronics that don't depend on transistors are possibilities

Which high speed computer in use today doesn't use transistors?

I believe they meant: (High speed computers) and (electronics that don't depend on transistors) are possibilities.

Though... I'm not really certain *how* this invention enables such things, even after reading it over.

Re:Fundamental discovery? (1)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077488)

well, the electrons tunnel instead of 'moving',
one thing the article didn't touch on is that if the electrons tunnel instead of moving then entropy is good.
so heat should be next to zero I should imagine?

electrons tunnelling is a bit like 1+1 = 3
the extra 1 that's missing is the work, which would create heat and slow things down.

Re:Fundamental discovery? (1)

OpinionatedDude (1323007) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077434)

I would have to agree -- you are no Electrical Engineer.

Re:Fundamental discovery? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34078200)

Your comment, while factually correct, is unhelpful.

So is this one.

Re:Fundamental discovery? (3, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077512)

But isn't a transistor just a diode with a way to control the junction? So maybe you could position a third wire and get some gain out of it.

Re:Fundamental discovery? (1)

whoever57 (658626) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077660)

But isn't a transistor just a diode with a way to control the junction?

Not CMOS transistors, which are the dominant type used today.

How does this work? (4, Informative)

Required Snark (1702878) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077360)

I went and asked Mr. Google how this worked, and I couldn't find any answers. The best clue I got was that these devices use quantum tunneling, but this still does not explain how they exhibit diode behavior. Even the font of all online knowledge, Wikipedia, doesn't seem to know. Someone please post about this.

One thing I did see is that this kind of diode can operate at 100's of THz frequencies, and that this enables nantennas. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nantenna [wikipedia.org] If these kind of MIM diodes can be made cheaply then a new cost effective class of solar power device may become feasible. So it could be a really big deal.

Re:How does this work? (1)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077496)

I expect the 'diode' behaviour is to tunnel or not to tunnel.

hardly surprising you don't find an explanation, if you had have done, surely it would have been invented already.

with all tunnels open, is that like a superconductor version of a computer? where work always equals 1 no matter how much it computes?

I don't know tunnelling too well.

Re:How does this work? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077688)

If these kind of MIM diodes can be made cheaply then a new cost effective class of solar power device may become feasible

Heinlein had them in several stories. The idea was to build a photovoltaic cell as a radio receiver.

Re:How does this work? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34078682)

There is plenty of things that work, and noone out of the manufacturing copany knows how. This makes the company competitive.

Whats the catch? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34077386)

When I hear electron tunneling I can't help but see oxide or whatever the hell these things are made of slowly being eaten away.

Does this really mean cheaper, better, faster switching for free or is there a catch? Does it degrade with use like flash memory?

Re:Whats the catch? (1)

treeves (963993) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077906)

Electron tunneling is not like going *through* a layer, so much as it's like having a certain probability of being on the other side to begin with. One of those quantum things.

Re:Whats the catch? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34078060)

In flash chips sometimes the electrons don't quite exactly tunnel thru the insulating layer to be held in the floating conductor and as a result they eat some of the insulator away.

With this technology it is a different arrangement of insulating layers but I'm curious if the same degregation effect applies or if there are other potential reliability or performance issues related to this technology.

Re:Whats the catch? (1)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | more than 3 years ago | (#34078180)

You need to RTFM. The electrons held in the insulating layer are the stored data.

Tunnelling is the way that electons move though solids by behaving like waves instead of particles. Its like ghosts going through brick walls only smaller. (Or light behaving like waves instead of particles, but bigger).

Re:Whats the catch? (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 3 years ago | (#34078108)

It's like a light emitting diode of sorts, but instead of emitting light it permits unidirectional travel of power.

With use, most anything degrades. How fast depends on the amount of power you're pushing through.

Convenient discovery (1)

Palmsie (1550787) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077658)

This seems like an incredibly convenient discovery considering China's new embargo of rare metal exports to Japan and the US.

Re:Convenient discovery (1)

treeves (963993) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077910)

Unfortunately, rare earths are not used to make diodes or semiconductors, so this doesn't help that situation.

Accuracy in reporting (1)

Dutchmaan (442553) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077718)

"This is a fundamental discovery. It could change the way manufacturers produce electronic products at high speed, on a huge scale, and at a very low cost"

This is a fundamental discovery. It could change the way manufacturers produce electronic products at high speed, on a huge scale, and at a very high profit. There.. fixed that for ya.

Not Tunnelling (1)

mim (535591) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077724)

Quantum synapsing would be a more accurate description. Though the development is a few years out, this will revolutionize computing as we currently know it.

How it works? (1)

Kim0 (106623) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077990)

As a solid state physicist, my fast and sloppy guess as to how this works, is that the fourth thin layer that is visible in the picture, is a sort of stair step so electrons coming from that direction have to do two easy tunnelings, while those from the other side have to do one hard tunneling.

So, will this get the Nobel Prize in ten years? (1)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | more than 3 years ago | (#34077998)

So, will this get the Nobel Prize in ten years or later? It does really sound like a radical idea.

How the MIM Diode replaces a transistor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34078002)

There is very little information online without subscribing to a journal, but it appears that the tunneling can be controlled in these devices. That is, a transistor is turned on and off by varying the electric field profile in the channel, a MIM diode can somehow have the tunneling modulated to turn it on or off.

Horrible horrible public science (5, Informative)

Bender_ (179208) | more than 3 years ago | (#34078076)

I am a semiconductor scientist, but I completely fail to understand what this news is about. The article does nowhere mention the materials used, the device behavior, the application, the purpose or anything else.
A MIM device as is, is a capacitor. And that is exactly what the picture is showing. When this type of capacitor is scaled to the nanometer regime it starts to get leaky due to quantum mechanical tunneling through the dielectric. The abstract mentions 'controlled quantum mechanical tunneling'... Aha, this could be what it is about. But as long as metal electrodes are involved this will only create a nonlinear resistor. Still no idea what the exact purpose is.

Are nanoscale MIM capacitors new? No, not at all. Right now you have billions of them doing their job in your computers main memory. Depending on the vintage of your computer, these capacitors employ nanolaminates of ZrO2 and Al2O3 at a total thickness of 5 to 10 nanometers. Quantum electrical tunneling is of high relevance in these devices, since it leads to loss of stored information. So, is cheap new? A quick calculation suggests that the manufacturing cost of a single MIM device in a DRAM is approximately 10^(-10) US$.

Patent (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 3 years ago | (#34078208)

A patent has been applied for on the new technology, university officials say. New companies, industries and high-tech jobs may ultimately emerge from this advance, they add.

Yeah. In twenty years.

Not saying this isn't a great invention; they deserve to earn from this (unlike software patent trolls). But the likely outcome of this system is that the technology will rot for decades until it enters the public domain.

Example: Perpendicular recording has been around since 1976 as an idea. It was commercially implemented in 2005. Part of that time was probably spent on making it viable, but the patents filed between 1976 and 1985 conveniently ran out before it ever reached the market.

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