MIT Team Develops Energy Efficient Microchip

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Texas Instruments Company have discovered a way to significantly decrease microchip energy consumption to one tenth of the current rates. This reduction in power consumption translates into longer battery life for portable devices, such as mobile phones and handheld computers, and may enable devices to operate on electricity produced using relatively low power sources, such as body heat or movement.
The new energy-efficient chip, seen here mounted in a plastic package (Credit: MIT) 
The new energy-efficient chip,
seen here mounted in a
plastic package (Credit: MIT)

The researchers achieved the breakthrough cut back in power consumption by reducing the chips’ voltage to less than a third of the currently employed voltage levels and by minimizing power loss. The chip’s design takes into consideration fluctuations in the power source, such as battery power drain, changes of the environment in which the chip operates, and the changing demand for electricity from the internal circuitry. 

Currently, the novel microchip technology is not ready for commercial use, as the developing team has encountered a couple of major setbacks. The reduction of working voltage deviates from industry standards and therefore requires manufacturers to re-design their memory and logic circuits to uphold the low voltage thresholds. This reduction in voltage also makes the microchip more prone to manufacturing problems arising from variations and imperfections in its base material – silicon.  

From left, electrical engineering graduate students Yogesh Ramadass, Naveen Verma, and Joyce Kwong, along with Professor Anantha Chandrakasan. This team has developed a microchip that can be up to 10 times more energy-efficient than present technology (Credit: MIT) 
From left, electrical engineering
graduate students Yogesh Ramadass,
Naveen Verma, and Joyce Kwong,
along with Professor Anantha
Chandrakasan.This team has developed
a microchip that can be up to 10 times
more energy-efficient than
present technology (Credit: MIT)

It is estimated that it may take up to 5 more years of work to overcome these difficulties and reach a product ripe for commercial applications. For the moment, the team has proven the feasibility of their work on Texas Instruments MSDP430, a microcontroller which was recently used for the first voiceless phone call. This promising piece of technology may lead to advances in military, medical, and everyday applications, and will hopefully enable us to enjoy a ‘greener’ world. 

TFOT recently covered more advances in chip technology research. These include high speed carbon nanotube-based chips, ultra small high speed optical switches, and a cooling method for microchips.

More information on MIT’s new low power microchip can be found on the university’s website.