Researchers at MIT have developed a tiny drone chip that's smaller in both size and power consumption than one the team designed last year to aid navigation of honeybee-sized drone
The new fully customised computer chip, named Navion, is just 20 square millimetres and consumes just 24 milliwatts of power, which is about one-thousandth of the energy required to power a lightbulb.
Being presented this week at the Symposia on VLSI Technology and Circuits, the tiny drone chip was created by an MIT research team, co-led by Vivienne Sze, the associate professor in the university's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), and Sertac Karaman, the Career Development Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Using such as small amount of power, MIT said the chip is able to process camera images in real-time at up to 171 frames per second, as well as inertial measurements, both of which it uses to determine where it is in space.
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
It can also be integrated into "nanodrones" as small as a fingernail, to help the vehicles navigate, particularly in remote or inaccessible places where global positioning satellite data is unavailable.
The chip 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.
"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."
In the past few years, multiple research groups have engineered miniature drones small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
Scientists envisage that such tiny vehicles will fly around and snap pictures of surroundings, like mosquito-sized photographers or surveyors, before landing back in your palm, where they can then be easily stored away. The MIT researchers' tiny drone chip is one step closer to enabling such developments.
Drones have already drastically cut the time and cost of surveying many structures, according to Arup CIO Stephen Potter.
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