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Navion: The New Chip Shrunk Further to Help Honeybee-sized Drones Navigate

Moupiya Dutta
Moupiya Dutta
She finds it interesting to learn and analyze society. she keeps herself updated, emphasizing technology, social media, and science. She loves to pen down her thoughts, interested in music, art, and exploration around the globe.

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Tiny computer chips designed by MIT researchers last year have shrunk even further to help honeybee-sized drones navigate. The MIT chip has been upgraded in size as well as in power consumption.

Navion, the new chip which is intended to be presented this week at the Symposia on VLSI Technology and Circuits is fabricated with a focus to reduce power consumption and size while also escalating the processing rapidity. The new Navion computer chip is just 20 square millimeters which hint us about its size which is apparently that of a LEGO minifigure’s footprint. It consumes just 24 milliwatts of power, or about 1 one-thousandth the energy required to power a lightbulb.

The chip works real swift as it can process in real-time camera images at up to 171 frames per second with a very tiny amount of power consumption with measurements to detect where it is in space. According to the researchers, the chip can be integrated into “nano-drones” which is as small as a fingernail, helping the vehicles to navigate thus enabling the drones to go places where global positioning satellite data is unavailable.

Small robot or devices can be easily navigated with the help of the MIT chip 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” –Karaman member of the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems and the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society at MIT.

Karaman can actually imagine how human intelligence will take technology to a different level. The pace that technology has taken makes Karaman imagine of a time when swallowable small pills will help to navigate human body without overheating.


Multiple research groups have investigated minuscule drones so as to fit in the palm of your hand. It’s like a mosquito-sized photographer that can fly around and snap pictures of the surroundings and land back in your palm safely. But to count its major drawback it carries that measured power that is needed to make its motor fly, thus leaving very little energy for other essential operations, such as navigation, state estimation, or a robot’s ability to determine where it is in space.

To reduce Navion’s power consumption researchers came up with a design to minimize the amount of data. The team, through the design, was able to reduce the chip’s memory from its previous 2 megabytes to about 0.8 megabytes. The chip was tested on the previously collected datasets that were generated by drones flying through various environments, such as office and warehouse-type spaces. From these examinations, the researchers were able to bring down the chip’s power consumption from 2 watts to 24 milliwatts.

The group plans to demonstrate its design by implementing its chip on a miniature race car. Ultimately the MIT chip upgrade will be trialed on an authentic drone, and eventually on a miniature drone, by the researchers in support of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the National Science Foundation.


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