We’re still used to thinking that low-power chips for “mobile” or “Internet-of-Things (IoT)” applications will be battery powered…but the near ubiquity of lithium-ion cells powering batteries could be threatened by capacitors and energy-harvesting circuits connected to photovoltaic/thermoelectric/piezoelectric micro-power sources. At ISSCC2015 in San Francisco last week, there were several presentations on novel chip designs that run on mere milliWatts (µW) of power, and the most energy efficient circuit blocks now target nanoWatt (nW) levels of power consumption. Two presentations covered nW-scale microprocessor designs based on the ARM Cortex-M0+ core, and a 500nW energy-harvesting interface based on a DC-DC converter operating from 1µm available power was shown by a team from Holst Centre/imec/KU Leuven working with industrial partner OMRON.
Kudos to Dr. Larry J. Hornbeck, the extended team at Texas Instruments (TI) that has worked on Digital Micromirror Device (DMD) technology, and to the TI executives who continued to fund the R&D through years of initial investment losses. Hornbeck has been awarded an Academy Award® of Merit (Oscar® statuette) for his contribution to revolutionizing how motion pictures are created, distributed, and viewed using DMD technology (branded as the DLP® chip for DLP Cinema® display technology from TI).
The technology now powers more than eight out of 10 digital movie theatre screens globally. Produced with different resolutions and packages, DLP chips also see use in personal electronics, industrial, and automotive markets. The present good-times with DMD are enjoyed only because TI was willing to make a major long-term bet on this novel way to modulate pixel-arrays, which required building the most complex Micro-Electro-Mechanical System (MEMS) the world had ever seen.
Development of the DLP chip began in TI’s Central Research Laboratories in 1977 when Hornbeck first created an array of “deformable mirrors” controlled with analog circuits. In 1987 he invented the DMD, and TI invested in developing multiple money-losing generations of the technology over the next 12 years. Finally, in 1999 the first full-length motion picture was shown with DLP Cinema technology, and since then TI claims that the technology has been installed in more than 118,000 theaters around the globe. We understand that TI now makes a nice profit from each chip.
“It’s wonderful to be recognized by the Academy. Following the initial inventions that defined the core technology, I was fortunate to work with a team of brilliant Texas Instruments engineers to turn the first DMD into a disruptive innovation,” said Hornbeck, who has 34 U.S. patents for his groundbreaking work in DMD technology. “Clearly, the early and continuing development of innovative digital cinema technologies by the DLP Cinema team created a definitive advancement in the motion picture industry beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.”