Singapore’s NUS engineers have created a new microchip that continues to operate even when a battery runs out of energy.
According to the researchers, one of the key challenges of moving IoT devices from concept to reality is to have long-lasting operation under tightly constrained energy sources.
IoT devices such as sensors are often deployed on a massive scale and in places that are usually remote and difficult to service regularly, thus making their self-sufficiency essential.
Currently, batteries used in IoT devices are much larger and up to three times more expensive than the single chip they power.
To extend their overall lifetime, batteries are usually recharged slowly by harvesting some limited power from the environment, such as using a solar cell.
This makes IoT devices over-reliant on small batteries which get fully discharged more frequently. Needless to say, the devices stop functioning every time the battery runs out of energy.
To address this technology gap, engineers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have come up with BATLESS.
BATLESS is designed with a novel power management technique that allows it to self-start and continue to function under dim light without any battery assistance, using a very small on-chip solar cell.
According to the researchers, the chip’s ability to switch between minimum energy and minimum power mode translates into aggressive miniaturization of batteries from centimeters down to a few millimeters.
Moreover, BATLESS enables the uncommon capability to uninterruptedly sense, process, capture and timestamp events of interest, and for such valuable data to be wirelessly transmitted to the cloud when the battery becomes available again.
Despite being in minimum-power mode when battery is not available, the reduced speed of the microchip is still adequate for numerous IoT applications that need to sense parameters that vary slowly in time, including temperature, humidity, light, and pressure.
NUS contend that BATLESS could be used in smart buildings, environmental monitoring, energy management, and adaptation of living spaces to occupants’ needs.
Drawing light on BATLESS’ prowess, Associate Professor Massimo Alioto – leader of the NUS research team, said that it is the first example of a new class of chips that are indifferent to battery charge availability.
Alioto asserts that the microchip uses 1,000 to 100,000 times less power, compared to the best existing microcontrollers designed for fixed minimum-energy operation.
Moreover, its 16-bit microcontroller operates 100,000 times faster than others that have been recently designed for fixed minimum-power operation.
Image and content: National University of Singapore (NUS)