From MIT News comes what seems to be one of a long string of disruptive technologies in the semi-conductor industry. The potential impact of these chips is unimaginable at this time. Can you imaginge a pacemaker or other implantable medical device that requires no batteries?
Researchers at MIT and Texas Instruments have unveiled a new chip design for portable electronics that can be up to 10 times more energy-efficient than present technology. The design could lead to cell phones, implantable medical devices and sensors that last far longer when running from a battery.
The key to the improvement in energy efficiency was to find ways of making the circuits on the chip work at a voltage level much lower than usual, Anantha Chandrakasan, the the Joseph F. and Nancy P. Keithley Professor of Electrical Engineering, explains. While most current chips operate at around one volt, the new design works at just 0.3 volts.
Reducing the operating voltage, however, is not as simple as it might sound, because existing microchips have been optimized for many years to operate at the higher standard-voltage level. "Memory and logic circuits have to be redesigned to operate at very low power supply voltages," Chandrakasan says.
One key to the new design, he says, was to build a high-efficiency DC-to-DC converter--which reduces the voltage to the lower level--right on the same chip, reducing the number of separate components. The redesigned memory and logic, along with the DC-to-DC converter, are all integrated to realize a complete system-on-a-chip solution.
One of the biggest problems the team had to overcome was the variability that occurs in typical chip manufacturing. At lower voltage levels, variations and imperfections in the silicon chip become more problematic. "Designing the chip to minimize its vulnerability to such variations is a big part of our strategy," Chandrakasan says.
So far the new chip is a proof of concept. Commercial applications could become available "in five years, maybe even sooner, in a number of exciting areas," Chandrakasan says. For example, portable and implantable medical devices, portable communications devices and networking devices could be based on such chips, and thus have greatly increased operating times. There may also be a variety of military applications in the production of tiny, self-contained sensor networks that could be dispersed in a battlefield.
In some applications, such as implantable medical devices, the goal is to make the power requirements so low that they could be powered by "ambient energy," Chandrakasan says--using the body's own heat or movement to provide all the needed power. In addition, the technology could be suitable for body area networks or wirelessly enabled body sensor networks.
A liitle far away from this blogs usual energy effiency topics, but I hope it is of interest to many of you.