Small Robots Could Travel for Hours on AA Batteries

Autonomous driving technologies, of course, are nothing new, but researchers from Georgia Tech recently outlined a breakthrough that could boost the potential of a very specific kind of autonomous vehicle — namely, a very small one.

The team last month showcased a series of palm-sized robotic vehicles that autonomously steered around obstacles, and each other, using an application-specific integrated circuit — a new kind of chip that can run on just milliwatts of power.

Engineers detailed a hybrid system that offers the energy efficiency of an analog system with the strength of a digital system. The chip, which receives information from sensors and functions as the brain of the vehicle, can also both follow algorithms, as well as use a reinforcement system to improve its performance over time.

Although the system is slower than non-hybrid rivals, engineers said it is sufficient to accommodate the small robots in the demonstration.

Researchers hope that as motors and sensors become more energy efficient in the future, the chip could allow small robots to autonomously roam around for hours on nothing more than two double-A batteries — perfect for search and rescue efforts.

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