U-M start-up Ambiq Micro develops energy-efficient microcontrollers to power breakthrough technologies

Imagine a world in which clothing, phones, credit cards, appliances, cars, medical devices, roads, even entire buildings are embedded with tiny intelligent sensors that are constantly monitoring and managing activities.

That phenomenon, called ubiquitous computing, is already underway. But it’s been hampered by the size of the batteries required to power conventional microchips.

U-M start-up Ambiq Micro could change that however, with energy-efficient microcontrollers that are approximately 10 times more energy efficient than conventional microprocessors in active mode and up to 130 times more energy efficient in sleep mode.

Ambiq Micro’s microcontroller, just one square millimeter, is designed to last for dozens of years. The power-frugal, miniature package is what will allow high impact breakthroughs such as an implantable device to measure eye pressure in a glaucoma patient, or “smart paint” on bridges that can warn of impending failures.

Ambiq Micro’s technology is the result of more than 10 years of research by U-M Electrical Engineering professors David Blaauw and Dennis Sylvester, with the work of research fellow Scott Hanson. Hanson earned a PhD in electrical engineering from U-M in 2009 and now heads up Ambiq Micro as CEO.

The company drew widely on U-M’s innovation infrastructure, including the Office of Technology Transfer, to form the company, develop a business plan, and secure financing.

  • In 2008, Blaauw, Sylvester, and Hanson engaged U-M Tech Transfer for business development assistance and to explore funding opportunities for further product development. The result was $150,000 from the U-M College of Engineering Translational Research fund (ETR) and Gap funding through Tech Transfer.
  • Partners from U-M’s Ross Business School helped the founders form the company and participated with them in business plan competitions where AmbiqMicro secured $330,000 in funding.
  • The student-run Frankel Commercialization Fund provided venture support
  • U-M Tech Transfer Mentor in Residence David Hartmann helped the new company identify prospective customers in key markets.

With $2.4 million in seed funding led by DFJ Mercury, a seed and start up venture capital firm, Texas-based Ambiq Micro is on track to meet its goal of first commercialization by 2014.

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