Positive and Negative Poles in the World of Electricity
Elon Musk is a guy so rich that he builds real-life rocket ships for fun.
He also builds electric cars. Or, more accurately, he built a company, Tesla Motors, that builds electric cars. Before that, he made money by handling other people’s money via PayPal. He grew up in Canada, so he’s also a nice guy.
Evidently Mr. Musk is also something of a philanthropist, because last month he gave away Tesla’s patents. Yup, just gave ’em away. Want to build an electric car that competes with Tesla’s? Knock yourself out; here’s the key technology you’ll be needing.
Chromatic Glass Adds Embedded Intelligence to Construction
This week we’re going to talk about programming windows. No, I mean it. Literally, windows. As in, the glass outside your building.
Think I’m nuts? Then you haven’t met the people at View, Incorporated, the Silicon Valley–based company that makes “smart glass.” This isn’t the glass for your smartphone or tablet. It’s window glass, like you’d use for an office building, hospital, or hotel. We’re talking big sheets of glass – as much as 50 square feet. And they’re programmable.
Google Glass, meet Microsoft Windows.
We Explore PowerByProxi and Cota
Not long ago, we looked at wireless power. And we looked at some of the standards and conflicts underway as companies and technologies vie for best position. And it looked like a simple two-sided issue, with the eventual winner not yet clear.
Well, turns out there’s even more going on, some of it in places we rarely visit. I’ve run across two more wireless power stories, and they’re different from what we’ve seen and from each other. In an attempt to find a unifying theme as I bring them into the discussion, the common denominator seems to be their ability to “aim” their power at a device that needs charging.
Let’s back up, however, and start with a quick review.
Microchip's 8-bit Challenge
There is a common assumption that innovation cannot be inspired in the world of 8-bit microcontrollers. If that is the case, then why haven’t they disappeared like the telegraph or the 8-track tape? Perhaps it's because we still need them and sometimes they are just what the doctor (or engineer as the case may be) ordered. In this week’s Fish Fry, I check out some cool new 8-bit MCUs from Microchip Technology with Greg Robinson (VP - Microchip Technology) and we dive down into the guts of these new 8-bit masterpieces - from the intelligent analog features to the digital pin placement capabilities. Also this week, we investigate how Israeli start-up StoreDot plans to revolutionize battery technology. (Hint: It includes chemically synthesized bio-organic peptide molecules!)
Ambient Backscatter Concept Proven
The piper will be paid.
You can do all kinds of things to reduce currents in your wireless sensor node or other module that will be sending a signal. Heck, you can magically make it draw zero power, and still the piper will be paid.
Because when it comes time to transmit that data, then, by definition, you will expend power. That power is required to send your message from you over the air to wherever. That doesn’t happen for free. And it’s typically the most power-hungry part of a well-defined, optimized wireless module. There may be ways to get that transmission power down (like through envelope tracking), but even if you make it 100% efficient, that simply means that the only power used is the power of the signal. Which means you’ll still need to pony up that power.
Or does it?
Every Little Improvement Counts
I’ve always found ISSCC to be a useful exercise. If nothing else, it puts me in my place if I ever start thinking I know a lot. ISSCC reminds you how little you know compared to the hordes surrounding you. It’s an exercise involving me desperately trying to keep the tip of my nose above water while the presenters all around me make waves.
The available topics vary widely, with some remaining consistent over the years and others coming and going. Energy Harvesting now has its own session, and I spent some time there experimenting with how well I could track the presentations.
So this is for those of you following the low-level things that are gradually making harvesters more efficient and useful. We’ll cover three specific threads: DC-DC converters, multi-source harvesters, and maximum-power-point tracking (MPPT).
Why Have 1 When 3 Will Do?
With new technologies come new standards. And resonant power transmission technology, which we covered recently, is no different. As a quick review, this is a way to charge phones and other devices without plugging in and without the kind of placement precision required by older inductive approaches such as those used by toothbrushes.
Why might standards matter? All of the spokespeople for the standards work underway – and, as we’ll see shortly, there’s lots of such work in progress – describe a vision of ubiquitous charging stations in malls and airports and coffee shops and anywhere people might want to charge their electronic devices. If we’re going to have all of these chargers charging lots of different devices from lots of different vendors, then we need a standard so that they all work well together.
The Internet of Things is the Driver
Imagine if our phones and gadgets all had wires for communication. Yeah… almost kills their usefulness. Now imagine a future sensor-saturated world, with all of them communicating by wire. Yup… we’d pretty much be crawling through a cat’s-cradle tangle to get anywhere.
We think of wireless as convenient, and it is. Why, with wireless mouse and keyboard, the rat’s nest behind my desk has shrunk. And then came a wireless printer connection. And, somewhere along the way, wireless USB was supposed to happen, although those wires still seem to predominate. But sometime in the future, with added wireless display transfers, then pretty much the only cables necessary would be for power. Pretty sweet.
There’s a New Way to Do It. Or Is It New?
It all started one night when an MIT denizen’s slumber was awakened by an insistent sound. No, it wasn’t the smoke detector; evidently those aren’t the only devices with batteries designed to go dead at 3 AM in any time zone.
No, this was his cell phone complaining that the battery was running low, and there was but one way to shut it up: get up and plug it in. Which provided some laying-awake time for ruminating on phone charging and the transfer of energy over distance. Which led to a Eureka moment. And, ultimately, a new company.
Batteries have become the boon and bane of our electronics. Boon because they provide us with cool untethered gadgets. Bane because they drain and need recharging, something users want to do as infrequently as possible. Bane also because electronics designers have to pay so much attention to minimizing power consumption.
One part server-on-chip, two parts green energy - with a heavy sprinkling of superhero powers - this week's Fish Fry takes on advances in connectivity. We investigate the University of Texas at Arlington's unique collaboration with WinMEMS to create a new way to harness the wind to power your cellphone. Next, we chat with Mike Major (AppliedMicro) about how AppliedMicro is connecting the data center dots with some faster lines and finally, I’ll tell you how you might be able to get yourself some real superhero powers - using ultrasound.