Motorola and MIT to create thinking chips

Motorola Inc. is donating $5m (£3m) to the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to help develop things that think.

Motorola Inc. is donating $5m (£3m) to the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to help develop things that think. The donation will fund a new lab, dubbed the Motorola Digital DNA Lab, and research into how embedded microprocessors can make life easier for consumers.

Motorola estimates that several billion of its processors are embedded in devices throughout the world right now -- from cars to cell phones to microwaves. Getting those processors to share their knowledge with each other is the goal. "There's such as awful lot of intelligence scattered all over the place," said Hector de J. Ruiz, president of Motorola's Semiconductor Products Sector, on Monday. "What we need is a vision of [what] the world would be like if they could be connected to one another."

MIT's Media Lab is hoping to provide that vision. The lab has been working on "Things that Think" for some time now. The goal is to develop technology in new an inventive ways. For example, professors at the lab on Monday demonstrated a technology where a chemical solution can be printed on pieces of plastic. That chemical can perform like an electronic device, reading a signal and storing information.

Technology like that could eventually produce "disposable electronics," said MIT professor Joe Jacobson, leader of the project. Another technology demonstrated hits a bit closer to home for Motorola. Students there developed a type of sensor that, when attached to a mobile phone, allows the phone to detect whether it's being held, and how close to a person's face it is. The upshot is a cell phone that doesn't need to be "turned on" to receive a call -- just hold it near your ear and it will turn itself on automatically.

The sensors used in that prototype are already being used in other products, including a car-seat sensor that can tell the weight of the person sitting in the seat. That's used today to detect whether a baby seat is in place, in order to disable an air bag.

"Right now, information technology is designed with the principle that the user will meet the needs of the technology," said professor Neil Gershenfeld, another project leader at MIT. "The thinking behind all of these projects is that we have to take responsibility for making the machine meet the consumers' needs."


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