ISSCC news: TI, MIT debut power-sipping chip for portable devices

Feb. 4, 2008 – Researchers from MIT and Texas Instruments say they have designed a “proof-of-concept” chip for portable electronics that’s up to 10x more energy-efficient than current chips, for use in applications such as cell phones, sensors, and implantable medical devices.

The ultralow-power design, to be presented Feb. 5 at the International Solid- State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), operates at as little as 0.3V, vs. around 1V for most current chips. It has been demonstrated on TI’s MSP430 microcontroller.

Key to the new design is a DC-to-DC converter to reduce voltage on the same chip, more efficent than having a separate converter component. Redesigned memory, logic, and the converter are all integrated in a system-on-chip, they explain in a statement. The chip also is being designed to minimize vulnerability to typical manufacturing variations exacerbated at lower voltage levels.

While still in the “proof of concept” phase, the researchers foresee commercial applications maybe five years out, for things like implantable medical devices, portable communications devices, and networking devices, offering “greatly increased operating times,” they claim in a statement. In some applications, power could be provided simply by “ambient energy” (body heat or movement/friction), for things like body area networks or wireless body sensor networks. Other potential applications include self-contained sensor networks, which could be dispersed in a military battlefield.

The research was funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.


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