An MIT chip may power long-lasting, bug-size drones

When it comes to drones, size matters.

Marrian Zhou Staff Reporter
Marrian Zhou is a Beijing-born Californian living in New York City. She joined CNET as a staff reporter upon graduation from Columbia Journalism School. When Marrian is not reporting, she is probably binge watching, playing saxophone or eating hot pot.
Marrian Zhou

MIT chip may power long-lasting mini drones.

MIT Researchers

Drones that are smarter, smaller and run much longer may be on their way.

MIT said in a release Wednesday that its researchers, co-led by Vivienne Sze and Sertac Karaman, built a fully customized chip that's as tiny as a LEGO minifigure's footprint and consumes only about one-thousandth the energy to power a light bulb.

Last year, the researchers designed a computer chip small enough to power "Nanodrones," or other honeybee-size drones. This year's version is smaller and more powerful. Tiny drones can use this chip to help with navigation, particularly in remote or inaccessible places. Small robots or devices that need to operate for a long time could also benefit from this chip's energy-saving quality.

MIT said the chip can process in real-time camera images at up to 171 frames per second (DJI Phantom 3's camera shoots at 30 frames per second). It can use inertial measurements to determine where it is in space.

The researchers will present the chip this week at the Symposia on VLSI Technology and Circuits, a conference for world's top technologists to exchange ideas.

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