Researchers at MIT and Texas Instruments have developed a new chip for portable electronics that can be up to 10 times more energy-efficient than present microchips. The chip could lead to cell phones, implantable medical devices, and sensors that last much longer when running from a battery.

The key to improving energy efficiency was discovering how to make the circuits on the chip work at a voltage level much lower than usual. While most chips operate at about one volt, the new design works at just 0.3 volts. Reducing the operating voltage 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. A key to the design is a high-efficiency DC-to-DC converter on the same chip. The redesigned memory and logic, along with the DCto- DC converter, are all integrated for a system-on-achip solution.

Commercial applications could become available in five years or sooner, in areas such as portable and implantable medical devices, portable communications devices, and networking devices. Military applications in the production of tiny, self-contained sensor networks that could be dispersed in a battlefield also are possible. In implantable medical devices, they could be powered using the body’s own heat or movement.

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