Microchip gets thinner, consumes 10 times less power

June 14th, 2008 - 3:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, June 14 (IANS) A microchip that consumes 30,000 times less power in sleep mode and 10 times less power in active mode than existing chips has been developed. Named Phoenix Processor, it is intended for sensor-based devices like implants, environment monitors or surveillance equipment.

The chip consumes just 30 picowatts in sleep mode. A picowatt is one-trillionth of a watt. Theoretically, the energy in a watch battery can run the Phoenix for 263 years.

Phoenix, like other chips, is just one square millimetre in size. But its battery is as thin as a film.

In most cases, batteries are much larger than the processors they power, expanding the size and cost of the entire system, said David Blaauw of the University of Michigan. For instance, the battery in a laptop is about 5,000 times larger than the processor and it provides only a few hours of power.

“Low power consumption allows us to reduce battery size and thereby overall system size. Our system, including the battery, is projected to be 1,000 times smaller than the smallest known sensing system today,” Blaauw said. “It could allow for a host of new sensor applications.”

A group of University of Michigan researchers is putting the Phoenix in a biomedical sensor to monitor eye pressure in glaucoma patients.

Engineers envision that chips like this could also be sprinkled around to make a nearly invisible sensor network to monitor air or water or detect movement.

They could be mixed into concrete to sense the structural integrity of new buildings and bridges. And they could power a robust pacemaker that could take more detailed readings of a patient’s health, researchers say.

The design will be presented June 20 at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Symposium on VLSI (Very Large Scale Integration) Circuits.

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