TI sees its chips paving way for new health products

NEW YORK Tue Feb 28, 2012 5:02am EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Texas Instruments is working with makers of medical devices and sports accessories to develop new types of energy-efficient products, according to an executive at the company.

The Dallas-based chipmaker has created new microcontrollers -- tiny chips that are embedded in everything from industrial equipment to toys -- that consume half as much power as existing chips, according to Scott Roller, vice president of TI's microcontroller business.

This has huge implications for the battery life of electronic devices, according to Roller who expects the Wolverine-branded chips to be broadly available in June for customer tests and produced in volume by TI in the first quarter of 2013.

One company, carrying out early tests of the chips, plans to put built-in pedometers in sports shoes to record the wearer's mileage. Because the pedometer would be so energy efficient it could generate all the power it needs from the user's kinetic energy, Roller said.

"The amount of energy created from walking is so small no (pedometer) today can run on this," Roller told Reuters, adding that the device could potentially work for more than 10 years.

Jim McGregor, a chip analyst with technology research firm In-Stat, said that reducing power needs will be key to the future of advanced electronic devices because the more functions a device can perform, the faster it will drain its battery.

"Unfortunately, battery technology is not keeping pace with semiconductor technology," said McGregor. "So, to be able to produce devices that can provide this level of functionality with 10-20 years battery life is overcoming many of the limitations of the battery technology."

Other companies that are already testing early versions of the Wolverine chips include leading medical device makers, according to Roller who declined to name the companies.

One application that is being developed is a wearable glucose monitor in the form of a thin patch that could continuously measure the user's blood-sugar levels.

Unlike older monitors, which require the patient to draw blood for each reading, the patient would simply use their smartphone to scan the patch to download all the measurements that have been taken since the last scan, the executive said.

Roller estimated that TI will be between two and three years ahead of its competitors with such energy efficient chips. TI's rivals in the embedded chip market include STMicroelectronics and Freescale Semiconductor Holdings.

(Reporting By Sinead Carew; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

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