Fayetteville Firm Completes Grant to Improve Energy Efficiency of Vision Processors

Fayetteville's NanoWatt Design announced Wednesday that it had completed Phase 1 of a federal research grant it used to developed methods for improving battery life in vision processors, including those used in the defense industry.

The latest improvements are targeted at vision processors used in factories, automotive applications and by the Department of Defense, NanoWatt CEO Ron Foster said. 

The $150,000 Small Business Innovation and Research Phase 1 grant from the National Science Foundation, awarded last summer, was used to support NanoWatt's ongoing research in asynchronous integrated circuit technologies that promise more efficient battery life and heat dissipation in electronic devices.  

Specifically, it concentrated on proving NanoWatt’s solutions in a multi-core, image processor design targeted at the growing demand for image processing in wearable computers.

"For example, heads-up displays -- or HUDs -- allow projected information supplied by a computer to be viewed on a transparent display by an observer, such as a pilot, without having to alter his angle of vision," Foster said. "Another example of growing HUD applications is a motorcycle helmet that allows the rider to see at any time a projected image captured by a rear-view camera."

Foster said HUDs expend extra energy in acquiring images that might be sent by Bluetooth from a camera or a user's cell phone, then displaying these images on special optical surfaces.

"Each of these applications rely on computation-intensive image processing, and several processor cores are needed to keep pace," he said. "Reducing energy consumption is critical for battery life, but eliminating heat is also a concern for user comfort. For example, it is not practical to include a fan in wearable glasses. The best approach is to design for maximum efficiency, which is the focus of NanoWatt Design’s innovative solutions." 

NanoWatt worked with a $5 billion defense-aerospace partner company for the Phase 1 project, Foster said. He couldn't name the company because of a privacy agreement, but NanoWatt was provided access to design details of the company's 16-core processor used in its research.

NanoWatt's solutions reduced energy per core by 27 percent, Foster said. He expects a Phase 2 project for July that will work on refining the multi-core processor and developing software to allow such processors to be customized for different image processing applications, such as HUDs and night vision goggles. 

NanoWatt has three issued patents, five patents pending, and plans to file two additional patents based on inventions that arose during the Phase I project, Foster said.

An Innovate Arkansas client firm, NanoWatt Design has received support from several state agencies including the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority, the Arkansas Risk Capital Matching Fund and the Arkansas Research and Development Tax Credit program. It is a portfolio company of VIC Technology Venture Development of Fayetteville.

In addition, Foster noted private equity investment rounds in 2012 and this past December.

"This new investment will provide flexibility for the company as it continues to contact customers to gain feedback and further refine its energy-saving solutions," he said.