MIT-TI Team Unveil New Microchip
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 innovative design was presented Feb. 5 at the International
Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco by Joyce Kwong, a
graduate student in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and
Kwong carried out the project with MIT colleagues Anantha
Chandrakasan, the Joseph F. and Nancy P. Keithley Professor of
Electrical Engineering, and graduate students Yogesh Ramadass and
Naveen Verma. Their Texas Instruments (TI) collaborators are Markus
Koesler, Korbinian Huber and Hans Moormann. The team demonstrated the
ultra-low-power design techniques on TI's MSP430, a widely used
microcontroller. The work was conducted at the MIT Microsystems
Technology Laboratories, which Chandrakasan directs.
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, Chandrakasan explained. 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 said.
One key to the new design, he says, was to build a high-efficiency
DC-to-DC converter right on the same chip. The redesigned memory and
logic, along with the DC-to-DC converter, are all integrated to realize
a complete system-on-a-chip solution.
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 said. 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.