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While the chip industry has spent decades making chips smaller and more powerful, they have only more recently focused on making them more energy efficient, too. Researchers from MIT and Texas Instruments debuted a new chip design at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco this week, which they say is up to 10 times more energy efficient than current technology.
The trick used by the team, which is working out of the MIT Microsystems Technology Laboratories, is to make the chip operate at very low voltage. While most current chips operate at around 1 volt, this new chip’s operating voltage is 0.3 volts. Reducing the voltage required redesigning the memory and logic circuitry but means the chip will consume a fraction of the energy, which could lead to longer-lasting and potentially self-charging electronics able to gather enough power from “ambient energy,” according to the the team.
Commercial applications are still about five years away, the researchers say. The extremely low operating voltage of this chip could run a variety of portable personal electronics, like cell phones, as well as medical implants. Such a low operating voltage also has the team hopeful the chip could collect “ambient energy” from body heat or movement to power itself.
The big chip makers are working on improving the power efficiency of their microprocessors, from IBM’s optical supercomputing chips to Intel’s hafnium-infused processors. This new chip design is also a new proof of concept, adding another technological twist to the semiconductor race. As the cost of electronics drops, the operating cost of everything from data centers to iPods has become the price point to squeeze.