April 11, 2013 at 8:33 PM ET
When you need to get from here to there, you may not always be able to rely on satellite signals like GPS to guide you. This incredibly tiny chip allows position to be tracked and determined, and can be embedded in the smallest of devices.
The chip takes up just 10 cubic millimeters, and as the picture shows, fits neatly into the Lincoln Memorial on the back of a penny. It contains three gyroscopes and three accelerometers (one of both for each directional axis), and a highly accurate master clock.
Combined, these tools can track what direction the chip is moving and how fast, and its tiny size means it can be put on just about anything without much effect on its weight or shape. This is useful for creating small drones and robots, ordnance that adjusts its own trajectory, and of course as a backup when more powerful positioning systems go down.
This TIMU, or timing and inertial measurement unit, was created by DARPA-funded researchers at the University of Michigan, as part of their Micro-PNT project.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.