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Chip upgrade helps miniature drones navigate

National Science Foundation-funded researchers, who last year designed a tiny computer chip tailored to help honeybee-sized drones navigate, have now shrunk their chip design even further, in both size and power consumption. The team built a fully customized chip from the ground up, with a focus on reducing power consumption and size, while also increasing processing speed. The new computer chip, named "Navion," is just 20 square millimeters -- about the size of a LEGO minifigure's footprint -- and consumes just 24 milliwatts of power, or about 1 one-thousandth the energy required to power a lightbulb. Using this tiny amount of power, the chip is able to process in real time camera images at up to 171 frames per second, as well as inertial measurements, both of which it uses to determine where it is in space. The researchers say the chip can 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.

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