New Chip Developed to Help Bee-Sized Drones Navigate

New Chip Developed to Help Bee-Sized Drones Navigate


Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who were responsible for designing a chip able to help bee-sized drones navigate, claim that they have now shrunk the chip’s design in both size and power consumption.

A team co-led by associate professor in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) Vivienne Sze and Class of 1948 Career Development Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Sertac Karaman, have reportedly built a fully customised chip from scratch; focusing on reducing power consumption and size while also aiming to increase processing speed.

The new chip, reportedly named ‘Navion’, is just 20 millimetres in size – roughly the size of a LEGO figurine’s footprint – and consumes just 24 milliwatts of power, which is equal to approximately 1 one-thousandth of the energy needed to power an average lightbulb.

“I can imagine applying this chip to low-energy robotics, like flapping-wing vehicles the size of your fingernail, or lighter-than-air vehicles like weather balloons, that have to go for months on one battery,” said Karaman.

“Or imagine medical devices like a little pill you swallow, that can navigate in an intelligent way on very little battery, so it doesn’t overheat in your body. The chips we are building can help with all of these.”

Because the chip uses such a small amount of power, it is able to process real/time camera images at up to 171 frames per second, alongside inertial measurements, both of which it uses to determine where it is in space.

Researchers claim that the chip can be integrated into tiny ‘nanodrones’ and will help vehicles navigate, particularly in remote or inaccessible places where global positioning satellite data is unavailable while its design can also be run on any small robot or device that needs to navigate over long stretches of time on a limited power supply.

The team behind the chip now plans to demonstrate its design by implementing it on a miniature race car. While a screen displays an on-board camera’s live video, the researchers also hope to show the chip determining where it is in space, in real-time, as well as the amount of power that it uses to perform this task. Eventually, the team plans to test the chip on an actual drone, and ultimately on a miniature drone.

Image credit: MIT

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