When Eight Is Enough

Microchip's 8-bit Challenge

by Amelia Dalton

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!)

 

Communications Out of Thin Air

Ambient Backscatter Concept Proven

by Bryon Moyer

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?

 

Optimizing the Energy Harvest

Every Little Improvement Counts

by Bryon Moyer

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).

 

Wireless Power Standards Proliferate

Why Have 1 When 3 Will Do?

by Bryon Moyer

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.

 

Which Wireless Will Win?

The Internet of Things is the Driver

by Bryon Moyer

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.

 

Wireless Power

There’s a New Way to Do It. Or Is It New?

by Bryon Moyer

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.

 

Tiny Turbines, Real Superhero Powers, and Servers-on-Chip

by Amelia Dalton

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.

 

Bright Ideas and Big MCUs

by Amelia Dalton

This week's Fish Fry takes on Black Friday* -- no coupons needed, and no standing in line necessary! In honor of today's annual celebration of America's shopping obsession, we go behind-the-scenes to check out the engineering ideas (big and small) that drive this gift-giving season. Dianne Kibbey (element14) rolls in with a shopping cart chock-full of innovation from element14’s Smarter Life Challenge, and Rich Hoefle (Microchip Technology) delivers the goods on the world’s fastest single-core 32-bit MCUs. (Can you imagine our holiday gift-giving season without MCUs? Neither can I.)

 

Smart Energy Getting Smarter

In the Short and Long Term

by Bryon Moyer

It’s time to take another look at the grid, yet another part of our world that is supposed to be getting smarter. And, for this update, there are two decidedly distinct aspects to address: the here-and-now – bits that can be used today, in particular for smart meters; and the yet-to-come – a look at some insights provided by Imec last month into their view of where things are going.

SoC me ASAP

The obvious main theme for what’s become available in the last few months has everything to do with SoCs and platforms for smart meters. Now, smart meters are, for some of us, old news. I’ve seen the battles, I’ve seen the chained-and-padlocked analog meters, and, well, all of that has disappeared from the headlines. Every house I’ve been in for the last several years has had a smart meter. So… we’re done with smart meters. Right?

 

Get Your Motor Runnin'

Thing Power and LaunchPad Motor Control

by Amelia Dalton

Late fall doldrums got you down? Looking for a new project to break up the longer, darker nights? Dreaming of a motor control design for the holidays? Never fear! Fish Fry is here to help!

First up, we spin our motors on over to LaunchPad land with Chris Clearman from Texas Instruments, to check out a brand new motor control evaluation kit. And, what if your new motor control design didn't just consume energy (yawn - how old school), but it also produced it? Well, it could if MicroGEN Systems has anything to say about it. Straight off a win at this year's MEMS Executive Congress Technology Showcase, Robert Andosca (President/CEO - MicroGEN Systems) is here to talk to us about Thing Power - a whole new way to harvest energy.

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