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.
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.)
In the Short and Long Term
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?
Thing Power and LaunchPad Motor Control
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.
Ayla Networks Launches Kit
A few years ago I was meeting with a small wireless interconnect company called ZeroG Wireless, and the discussion included a vision of machines and devices and appliances and people interacting via this huge, messy, chaotic structure we refer to as the internet. And all of the vagaries and un-thought-through possibilities and the promise of things as-yet unimagined were neatly wrapped up in a succinct little phrase: the Internet of Things.
I loved how descriptive the term was; I hadn’t heard it before then, and it was a long time before I really heard it again, so I frankly thought they had come up with it. Well, I no longer think that, and, having just returned from the Sensors Expo, I can safely say that the Internet of Things was at the top of the agenda (above sensor fusion). It’s frickin’ everywhere.
Memory Company Expands to Processors and Analog
What two components does every embedded system need? Processors and memory, I reckon. And now Spansion has both.
Most of us know Spansion – if we know the company at all – as a maker of flash memory. Old-timers will remember Spansion as the spinoff of AMD’s flash memory business, but that was a long time ago. Since then, Spansion has become one of the larger flash memory companies, focusing mainly on NOR flash (as opposed to NAND flash).
That’s all fine and dandy, but, as we know, memory is a commodity business. You compete on price and little else. Sure, there are other technical criteria such as write time, retention period, interface peculiarities, and whatnot. But for the most part, you’re in a life-or-death struggle to eke out a penny’s worth of difference from your competitors.