All’s Fair in Love and Power (Consumption)

Fairchild’s New Foray into Smart Power

by Amelia Dalton

Any engineer who is worth his or her salt probably knows the illustrious (and occasionally infamous) tale of Fairchild Semiconductor and the creation of Silicon Valley. Fairchild is certainly one of the most important companies in electronics history. But, what has Fairchild done for us lately? This week my guest is Saj Sahay of Fairchild Semiconductor, and we discuss three megatrends driving innovation in electronic design. It turns out Fairchild Semiconductor is back - with a bold new mission - and they’re doing some really cool stuff in the area of “Power Systems in Package”. As a bonus, we also find out what it’s like to take a run around not one but two olympic stadiums (without having to actually compete in the games). Additionally, we find out how your PCB can have its signal- and power-integrity cakes and eat them too... or something like that.

 

Lean Green Energy Harvesting Machine

PMICs and Biofuel Micro Trigeneration

by Amelia Dalton

In the venerable words of Kermit the Frog, "It's not that easy being green", but in this week's Fish Fry we're going to show you that being green may be getting a whole lot easier. We examine a new Micro Trigeneration Prototyping system coming out of the University of Newcastle that aims to cool, heat, and provide electricity to your home using unprocessed plant oils. Tom Sparkman (Spansion) and I also explore Spansion's super green new family of power management integrated circuits for energy harvesting targeted at the IoT market.

 

Tesla, Edison, and the Patent Office

Positive and Negative Poles in the World of Electricity

by Jim Turley

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.

 

Power Windows 2.0

Chromatic Glass Adds Embedded Intelligence to Construction

by Jim Turley

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.

 

Aiming Wireless Power

We Explore PowerByProxi and Cota

by Bryon Moyer

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.

 

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.

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