Fuel-Gauge ICs Maximize Battery Runtimes for Devices

Maxim Integrated offers the MAX17260 and MAX17261 ModelGauge m5 EZ fuel gauges IC that are well suited for a broad range of Li-ion battery powered applications.  These battery characterization-free solutions provide high levels of accuracy while also offering small size and ease of design.

The MAX17260 and MAX17261, which feature the ModelGauge m5 EZ algorithm, provide a high level of accuracy in fuel gauging compared to competing solutions. This allows designers to maximize their devices’ runtime by preventing premature or sudden device shutdowns, while maintaining a smaller battery size. The fuel gauges, which are housed in an ultra-small 1.5 mm x 1.5 mm package, feature a very low quiescent current of 5.1 µA to minimize draining the battery during long periods of standby time. The products allow designs to be quickly done without battery characterization or calibration.
As devices have become more sophisticated with their feature offerings and increasing power density, designers are now challenged with achieving an enhanced user experience without compromising battery runtimes. There is also a huge market need for highly accurate fuel gauges, as less accuracy may introduce uncertainty that must be compensated with higher battery capacity and larger physical dimensions.

Accurate battery state of charge (SOC) prevents sudden crash and premature device shutdown; Provides easy to understand battery information for end users such as time to empty, time to full under current, as well as hypothetical load conditions; Dynamic power technology enables high system performance without crashing the battery and results in smaller battery size.

The very low quiescent current of 5.1µA of these chips prevent excessive energy loss during long periods of standby time. This battery characterization-free solution offers no battery size limit; MAX17260 offers a high-side Rsense option to simplify ground-plane design; MAX17261 offers a flexible switched resistor divider option to support any number of series cells (multi-cell batteries). The devices support small electronics with 1.5 mm x 1.5 mm wafer-level packaging (WLP) as well as 3 mm x 3 mm TDFN.

The MAX17260 is available for $0.93 (1000-up); MAX17261 is available for $1.22 (1000-up). MAX17260GEVKIT and MAX17261GEVKIT evaluation kits are available for $60.

Maxim Integrated | www.maximintegrated.com

GNSS Modules Enable Low-Power Location-Based IoT

Telit has announced the SE878Kx-A series of GPS and GNSS integrated antenna receiver modules for applications that require high performance, maximum reliability and low power consumption. Compatible with GPS, GLONASS, Beidou and Galileo, the new SE878K3-A and SE878K7-A enable device vendors to develop quickly and cost-effectively location-based IoT solutions for use in virtually any country worldwide.

The SE878Kx-A series supports dual internal-external antennas to ensure connectivity when one is broken or compromised, along with a SAW filter to maximize jamming immunity. These features make the modules well suited for mission-critical applications and other use cases where reliability is key, such as alarms, stolen cars or high-end asset tracking. The SE878Kx-A series also provides seamless integration with Telit’s cellular modules, including eCall/ERA-GLONASS compliant solutions, making them ideal for telematics applications such as fleet management, road tolling and in-vehicle navigation systems.

Telit | www.telit.com

Low-Power MCUs Extend Battery Life for Wearables

Maxim Integrated Products has introduced the ultra-low power MAX32660 and MAX32652 microcontrollers. These MCUs are based on the ARM Cortex-M4 with FPU processor and provide designers the means to develop advanced applications under restrictive power constraints. Maxim’s family of DARWIN MCUs combine its wearable-grade power technology with the biggest embedded memories in their class and advanced embedded security.

Memory, size, power consumption, and processing power are critical features for engineers designing more complex algorithms for smarter IoT applications. According to Maxim, existing solutions today offer two extremes—they either have decent power consumption but limited processing and memory capabilities, or they have higher power consumption with more powerful processors and more memory.
The MAX32660 (shown) offers designers access to enough memory to run some advanced algorithms and manage sensors (256 KB flash and 96 KB SRAM). They also offer excellent power performance (down to 50µW/MHz), small size (1.6 mm x 1.6 mm in WLP package) and a cost-effective price point. Engineers can now build more intelligent sensors and systems that are smaller and lower in cost, while also providing a longer battery life.

As IoT devices become more intelligent, they start requiring more memory and additional embedded processors which can each be very expensive and power hungry. The MAX32652 offers an alternative for designers who can benefit from the low power consumption of an embedded microcontroller with the capabilities of a higher powered applications processor.

With 3 MB flash and 1 MB SRAM integrated on-chip and running up to 120 MHz, the MAX32652 offers a highly-integrated solution for IoT devices that strive to do more processing and provide more intelligence. Integrated high-speed peripherals such as high-speed USB 2.0, secure digital (SD) card controller, a thin-film transistor (TFT) display, and a complete security engine position the MAX32652 as the low-power brain for advanced IoT devices. With the added capability to run from external memories over HyperBus or XcellaBus, the MAX32652 can be designed to do even more tomorrow, providing designers a future-proof memory architecture and anticipating the increasing demands of smart devices.

The MAX32660 and MAX32652 are both available at Maxim’s website and select authorized distributors. MAX32660EVKIT# and MAX32652EVKIT# evaluation kits are also both available at Maxim’s website.

Maxim Integrated | www.maximintegrated.com

The Dick Tracy Wristwatch TV

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

JeffHeadShot

At my first technology editor job back in 1990, my boss at the time was obsessed with the concept of the Dick Tracy wristwatch. Dick Tracy was a popular comic strip that ran from the late 30s up until 1972. Now, let me be clear, even I’m not old enough to be from the era when Dick Tracy was part of popular culture. But my boss was. For those of you who don’t know, the 2-Way Wrist Radio was one of the comic strip’s most iconic items. It was worn by Tracy and members of the police force and in 1964 the 2-Way Wrist Radio was upgraded to a 2-Way Wrist TV. When chip companies came to visit our editorial offices—this is back when press tours were still a thing—in many editorial meetings with those companies, my boss would quite often ask the hypothetical question: “When are we going to get the Dick Tracy wristwatch?”

Confident that Moore’s Law would go on forever, semiconductor companies back then were always hungry to get their share of the mobile electronic device market—although the “device” of the day kept changing. My boss’s Dick Tracy wristwatch question was a clever way to spur discussion about chip integration, extreme low power, wireless communication and even full motion video. Full motion video on a mobile device in particular was a technology that many were skeptical could ever happen. In that early 90s period, the DRAM was the main driver of semiconductor process technology, and, in turn, the desktop PC was by far the dominant market for DRAMs. As a result, there was a tendency to view all future computing through the lens of the PC. It would be more than a decade later before flash memory surpassed DRAMs as the main driver of the chip business, and that was because the market size of mobile devices began to eclipse PCs.

As most of you know, Circuit Cellar has BYTE magazine as a part its origin story. Steve Ciarcia had a popular column called Circuit Cellar in BYTE magazine. When Steve founded this magazine three decades ago, he gave it the Circuit Cellar name. The April 1981 issue of BYTE magazine famously had a picture of basically a wristwatch with a CRT screen and keyboard with a mini-floppy disk being inserted into its side. That’s a vivid example that we humans are notoriously really bad at predicting what future technologies will look like. We have an inherent bias imposing what we have now on our view of the future.

Fast forward today and obviously we have the Dick Tracy Wristwatch and so much more—the Apple Watch being the most vivid example. Today’s wearable devices span across the consumer, fitness and medical markets and all need a mix of low-power, low-cost and high-speed processing. But even though technology has come a long way, the design challenges are still tricky. Wearable electronic devices of today all share some common aspects. They have an extremely low budget for power consumption, they tend not to be suited for replaceable batteries and therefore must be rechargeable. They also usually require some kind of wireless connectivity.

Today’s wearables including a variety of products including smartwatches, physical activity monitors, heart rate monitors, smart headphones and more. Microcontrollers for these devices have to have extremely low power and high integration. At the same time, power solutions servicing this market require mastery of low quiescent current design techniques and high integration. To meet those needs chip vendors—primarily from the microcontroller and analog markets—keep advancing solutions that consume extremely low levels and power and manage that power.

One amusing aspect of the Dick Tracy wristwatch was that it was referred as a 2-Way Radio (and later a 2-Way TV). With Internet connectivity, today’s smartwatches basically are connected to an infinite number of network nodes. I can’t claim to be a better predictor of the future than the editors of 1981’s BYTE. But now I need to come up with a new question to ask chip vendors, and I don’t know what the question should be. Perhaps: “When are we going to get the Star Wars holographic 3D image messaging system?”. And in wristwatch form please.

This appears in the May (334) issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

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Step-Down Converters Target Always-On Car Systems

Maxim Integrated Products has announced the ultra-compact, pin-compatible MAX20075 and MAX20076 step-down converters that enable system designers looking to create small and highly efficient 40-V load dump-tolerant applications. The MAX20075 and MAX20076 step-down converters offer low quiescent current (IQ) and feature integrated compensation. This enables minimal external components that can lead up to 50% savings in board space making them well-suited for always-on automotive applications.

According to Maxim Integrated, car customers expect always-on applications to bring them experiences richer and more compelling than ever before. However, car system designers are challenged with having to balance delivering advanced features with meeting size constraints, power-saving features and high efficiency.

The MAX20075 and MAX20076 in peak current mode draw just 3.5 µA in the low power operating mode, which is key to meeting the stringent OEM IQ consumption requirements of 100 µA per module. The converters enable low noise operation via pin-controlled spread spectrum and fixed 2.1 MHz operation to meet CISPR 25 Class 5 EMI compliance. Furthermore, added advantage of the 2.1 MHz operation and internal compensation is that it lowers the solution size and the bill of materials (BOM) compared to a non-synchronous device that operates in the AM band.

The MAX20075 and MAX20076 are available with a low minimum on-time mode operation, which allows the converters to support large input-to-output conversion ratios. For example, Vbatt input to Vout of less than 3 V at 2.1 MHz; this translates to not having to use a secondary supply, which reduces overall BOM cost by $0.30 to incorporate new functions into the design for greater flexibility. The MAX20075 and MAX20076 meet AEC-Q100, are available in a 3 mm x 3 mm TDFN package, and operate over the -40°C to +125°C temperature range.

Maxim Integrated | www.maximintegrated.com

MCUs Offer Capacitive Touch and Proximity Sensing

Bringing capacitive-sensing capabilities to cost-sensitive applications, Texas Instruments (TI) has announced an expansion of its MSP430 microcontroller (MCU) family with capacitive touch technology. Developers can use the new MSP430FR2512 and MSP430FR2522 MCUs with integrated capacitive touch to add as many as 16 buttons as well as proximity sensing capability to industrial systems, home automation systems, appliances, power tools, home entertainment, personal audio applications and more.

New MSP430 microcontrollers with capacitive touch technology provide a solution to applications exposed to electromagnetic disturbances, oil, water and grease. The MSP430FR2512 and MSP430FR2522 MCUs deliver International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) 61000-4-6-certified capacitive sensing MCU-based solutions for applications exposed to electromagnetic disturbances, oil, water and grease. According to TI, the new MCUs offer five times lower power consumption than the competition, supporting proximity sensing and touch through glass, plastic and metal overlays.

TI’s CapTIvate technology adds the benefits of capacitive touch and proximity sensing to applications such as access control panels, cooktops, wireless speakers and power tools. Developers can quickly evaluate capacitive sensing for their applications with the new BOOSTXL-CAPKEYPAD BoosterPack plug-in module that is compatible with the CapTIvate programmer board (CAPTIVATE-PGMR) or TI LaunchPad development kits. The BoosterPack module joins a portfolio of MCUs, easy-to-use tools, software, reference designs and documentation in the CapTIvate Design Center and online CapTIvate technology guide. In addition, developers can find answers and support in the TI E2E Community to speed development with CapTIvate technology.

Production quantities of the MSP430FR2512 and MSP430FR2522 MCUs are available in a 20-pin very thin quad flat no lead (VQFN) package and a 16-pin thin shrink small outline package (TSSOP) starting at $0.69 in 1,000-unit quantities. The CapTIvate BoosterPack plug-in module (BOOSTXL-CAPKEYPAD) is available for $29.99.

Texas Instruments| www.ti.com

4 mA Integrated Sensor Transmitter Boasts Small Footprint

Maxim Integrated Products has announced the MAX12900, an ultra-low power, highly integrated 4 mA to  20 mA sensor transmitter. Embedded system developers can use it to create small, low power and highly accurate designs for industrial automation system. Ideal applications include industrial automation and process control, loop-powered 4 mA to 20 mA current transmitters, remote instrumentation and smart sensors.

Today’s system designers must develop enhanced 4 mA to 20 mA sensor transmitters with several considerations in mind. These include improved measurement accuracy over a wide temperature range and reduced size to fit in a small enclosure. In addition, they are required to meet a tight current budget of their overall sensor transmitter system as low as 4 mA.

The MAX12900 increases system accuracy with 10 ppm / degrees C voltage reference for up to 3.5x lower drift compared to traditional solutions. The small footprint (5 mm x 5 mm package size) of the MAX12900 integrates 10 optimized building blocks that results in a significant space savings of 20%-50% vs. traditional 4 mA to 20 mA sensor transmitter implementations.

The addition of an integrated high voltage LDO and power sequencing capability simplifies the power up of the 4 mA to 20 mA sensor transmitter. Its reduced current consumption for low power requires just 250 µA of current maximum, enabling up to 50% power savings compared to traditional solutions. The new MAX12900 solution reduces implementation complexity, generating system cost savings by converting pulse width modulation data from a microcontroller into current over a 4 mA to 20 mA loop with two, three, or four wire configurations. The MAX12900 is available in a 32-pin TQFN package and operates over a wide industrial temperature range of -40℃ to +125℃.

The MAX12900 is available at Maxim’s website and select authorized distributors for $2.89 (1000+.) The MAX12900EVKIT# evaluation kit is available for $55

Maxim Integrated | www.maximintegrated.com

March Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The March issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is coming soon. And we’ve got a healthy serving of embedded electronics articles for you. Here’s a sneak peak.

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Here’s a sneak preview of March 2018 Circuit Cellar:

TECHNOLOGY FOR THE INTERNET-OF-THINGS

IoT: From Device to Gateway
The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the most dynamic areas of embedded systems design today. This feature focuses on the technologies and products from edge IoT devices up to IoT gateways. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child examines the wireless technologies, sensors, edge devices and IoT gateway technologies at the center of this phenomenon.

Texting and IoT Embedded Devices
Texting has become a huge part of our daily lives. But can texting be leveraged for use in IoT Wi-Fi devices? Jeff Bachiochi lays the groundwork for describing a project that will involve texting. In this part, he gets into out the details for getting started with a look at Espressif System’s ESP8266EX SoC.

Exploring the ESP32’s Peripheral Blocks
What makes an embedded processor suitable as an IoT or home control device? Wi-Fi support is just part of the picture. Brian Millier has done some Wi-Fi projects using the ESP32, so here he shares his insights about the peripherals on the ESP32 and why they’re so powerful.

MICROCONTROLLERS HERE, THERE & EVERYWHERE

Designing a Home Cleaning Robot (Part 4)
In this final part of his four-part article series about building a home cleaning robot, Nishant Mittal discusses the firmware part of the system and gets into the system’s actual operation. The robot is based on Cypress Semiconductor’s PSoC microcontroller.

Apartment Entry System Uses PIC32
Learn how a Cornell undergraduate built a system that enables an apartment resident to enter when keys are lost or to grant access to a guest when there’s no one home. The system consists of a microphone connected to a Microchip PIC32 MCU that controls a push solenoid to actuate the unlock button.

Posture Corrector Leverages Bluetooth
Learn how these Cornell students built a posture corrector that helps remind you to sit up straight. Using vibration and visual cues, this wearable device is paired with a phone app and makes use of Bluetooth and Microchip PIC32 technology.

INTERACTING WITH THE ANALOG WORLD

Product Focus: ADCs and DACs
Makers of analog ICs are constantly evolving their DAC and ADC chips pushing the barriers of resolution and speeds. This new Product Focus section updates readers on this technology and provides a product album of representative ADC and DAC products.

Stepper Motor Waveforms
Using inexpensive microcontrollers, motor drivers, stepper motors and other hardware, columnist Ed Nisley built himself a Computer Numeric Control (CNC) machines. In this article Ed examines how the CNC’s stepper motors perform, then pushes one well beyond its normal limits.

Measuring Acceleration
Sensors are a fundamental part of what make smart machines smart. And accelerometers are one of the most important of these. In this article, George Novacek examines the principles behind accelerometers and how the technology works.

SOFTWARE TOOLS AND PROTOTYPING

Trace and Code Coverage Tools
Today it’s not uncommon for embedded devices to have millions of lines of software code. Trace and code coverage tools have kept pace with these demands making it easier for embedded developers to analyze, debug and verify complex embedded software. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child explores the latest technology trends and product developments in trace and code coverage tools.

Manual Pick-n-Place Assembly Helper
Prototyping embedded systems is an important part of the development cycle. In this article, Colin O’Flynn presents an open-source tool that helps you assemble prototype devices by making the placement process even easier.

Quantum Leaps

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

JeffHeadShot

Throughout my career, I’ve always been impressed by Intel’s involvement in a wide spectrum of computing and electronics technologies. These range from the mundane and practical on one hand, to forward-looking and disruptive advances on the other. A lot of these weren’t technologies for which Intel ever intended to take direct advantage of over the long term. I think a lot about how Intel facilitated the creation of and early advances in USB. Intel even sold USB chips in the first couple years of USB’s emergence, but stepped aside from that with the knowledge that their main focus was selling processors.

USB made computers and a myriad of consumer electronic devices better and easier to use, and that, Intel knew, advanced the whole industry in which their microprocessors thrived. Today, look around your home, your office and even your car and count the number of USB connectors there are. It’s pretty obvious that USB’s impact has been truly universal.

Aside from mainstream, practical solutions like USB, Intel also continues to participate in the most forward-looking compute technologies. Exemplifying that, in January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) show in Las Vegas, Intel announced two major milestones in its efforts to develop future computing technologies. In his keynote address, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced the successful design, fabrication and delivery of a 49-qubit superconducting quantum test chip. The keynote also focused on the promise of neuromorphic computing.

In his speech, Krzanich explained that, just two months after delivery of a 17-qubit superconducting test chip, Intel that day unveiled “Tangle Lake,” a 49-qubit superconducting quantum test chip. The chip is named after a chain of lakes in Alaska, a nod to the extreme cold temperatures and the entangled state that quantum bits (or “qubits”) require to function.

According to Intel, achieving a 49-qubit test chip is an important milestone because it will allow researchers to assess and improve error correction techniques and simulate computational problems.

Krzanich predicts that quantum computing will solve problems that today might take our best supercomputers months or years to resolve, such as drug development, financial modeling and climate forecasting. While quantum computing has the potential to solve problems conventional computers can’t handle, the field is still nascent.

Mike Mayberry, VP and managing director of Intel Labs weighed in on the progress of the efforts. “We expect it will be 5 to 7 years before the industry gets to tackling engineering-scale problems, and it will likely require 1 million or more qubits to achieve commercial relevance,” said Mayberry.

Krzanich said the need to scale to greater numbers of working qubits is why Intel, in addition to investing in superconducting qubits, is also researching another type called spin qubits in silicon. Spin qubits could have a scaling advantage because they are much smaller than superconducting qubits. Spin qubits resemble a single electron transistor, which is similar in many ways to conventional transistors and potentially able to be manufactured with comparable processes. In fact, Intel has already invented a spin qubit fabrication flow on its 300-mm process technology.

At CES, Krzanich also showcased Intel’s research into neuromorphic computing—a new computing paradigm inspired by how the brain works that could unlock exponential gains in performance and power efficiency for the future of artificial intelligence. Intel Labs has developed a neuromorphic research chip, code-named “Loihi,” which includes circuits that mimic the brain’s basic operation.

While the concepts seem futuristic and abstract, Intel is thinking of the technology in terms of real-world uses. Intel says Neuromorphic chips could ultimately be used anywhere real-world data needs to be processed in evolving real-time environments. For example, these chips could enable smarter security cameras and smart-city infrastructure designed for real-time communication with autonomous vehicles. In the first half of this year, Intel plans to share the Loihi test chip with leading university and research institutions while applying it to more complex data sets and problems.

For me to compare quantum and neuromorphic computing to USB is as about as apples and oranges as you can get. But, who knows? When the day comes when quantum or neuromorphic chips are in our everyday devices, maybe my comparison won’t seem far-fetched at all.

This appears in the February (331) issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

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Skylake-Based SBC Runs on 15 Watts

VersaLogic has released the Condor—a high-performance embedded computer that measures only 95 mm x 95 mm x 37 mm and is built around Intel’s 6th generation “Skylake” Core processor. The Condor provides up to six times the processing power of Intel’s Bay Trail processors, while keeping power consumption as low as 15 Watts.The Condor’s on-board TPM security chip can lock out unauthorized hardware and software access. It provides a secure “Root of Trust.” Additional security is provided through built-in AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) instructions.

PR_EPU-4460_HICondor is the latest addition to VersaLogic’s line of EPU (Embedded Processing Unit) format computers. EPUs are designed around COM Express form factors, but are complete board-level computers. They provide all the future flexibility of separate CPU and I/O modules, and are delivered as complete fully assembled and tested units (including heat plate), ready to bolt into a system.

On-board I/O includes two Gbit Ethernet ports with network boot capability, two USB 3.0 ports, four USB 2.0 host ports and two serial ports. One SATA III interface supports high-capacity rotating or solid-state drives. Eight digital I/O lines, I2C and SPI are also available. Two Mini PCIe sockets (one with mSATA capabilities) provide flexible solid-state drive (SSD) options. Systems can be easily enhanced by leveraging the Mini PCIe sockets with plug-in Wi-Fi modems, GPS receivers, MIL-STD-1553, Ethernet, Firewire and other mini cards.

The Condor is designed and tested for industrial temperature (-40° to +85°C) operation and meets MIL-STD-202G specifications to withstand high impact and vibration. For additional reliability, the Condor includes on-board power conditioning which accepts an input of 8 to 30 volts to greatly simplify system power supply design. For additional protection, the conditioner includes Reverse Voltage Protection (RVP) and Over Voltage Protection (OVP) functions.

The Condor, part number VL-EPU-4460, is in stock now. OEM quantity pricing for starts at $1,304 for the Core i3 model with 8 GB RAM.

Versalogic | www.versalogic.com

Op Amp Features Ultra-High Precision

Texas Instruments (TI) has introduced an op amp that combines ultra-high precision with low supply current. The LPV821 zero-drift, nanopower op amp enables engineers to attain the highest DC precision, while consuming 60% less power than competitive zero-drift devices, according to TI. The LPV821 is designed for use in precision applications such as wireless sensing nodes, home and factory automation equipment, and portable electronics.

LS-First-Page

The LPV821 is a single-channel, nanopower, zero-drift operational amplifier for “Always ON” sensing applications in wireless and wired equipment where low input offset is required. With the combination of low initial offset, low offset drift, and 8 kHz of bandwidth from 650 nA of quiescent current, the LPV821 is the industry’s lowest power zero-drift amplifier that can be used for end equipment that monitor current consumption, temperature, gas, or strain gauges.

The LPV821 zero-drift op amp uses a proprietary auto-calibration technique to simultaneously provide low offset voltage (10 μV, maximum) and minimal drift over time and temperature. In addition to having low offset and ultra-low quiescent current, the LPV821 amplifier has pico-amp bias currents which reduce errors commonly introduced in applications monitoring sensors with high output impedance and amplifier configurations with megaohm feedback resistors.

Engineers can pair the LPV821 op amp with the TLV3691 nanopower comparator or ADS7142 nanopower analog-to-digital converter (ADC) to program a threshold that will automatically wake up a microcontroller (MCU) such as the CC1310 SimpleLink Sub-1 GHz MCU, further reducing system power consumption.

Designers can download the TINA-TI SPICE model to simulate their designs and predict circuit behavior when using the LPV821 op amp. Engineers can also jump-start gas-sensing system designs using the LPV821 op amp with the Always-On Low-Power Gas Sensing with 10+ Year Coin Cell Battery Life Reference Design and Micropower Electrochemical Gas Sensor Amplifier Reference Design.

Pre-production samples of the LPV821 op amp are now available through the TI store and authorized distributors in a 5-pin small-outline transistor (SOT-23) package. Pricing starts at $0.80 in 1,000-unit quantities.

Texas Instruments | www.ti.com

The Quest for Extreme Low Power

Input Voltage

–Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

JeffHeadShot

Over the next couple years, power will clearly rank as a major design challenge for the myriad of edge devices deployed in Internet of Things (IoT) implementations. Such IoT devices are wireless units that need to be always on and connected. At the same time, they need low power consumption, while still being capable of doing the processing power needed to enable machine intelligence. The need for extreme low power in these devices goes beyond the need for long battery life. Instead the hope is for perpetually powered solutions providing uninterrupted operation—and, if possible, without any need for battery power. For their part, microcontroller vendors have been doing a lot in recent years within their own labs to craft extreme low power versions of their MCUs. But the appetite for low power at the IoT edge is practically endless.

Offering a fresh take on the topic, I recently spoke with Paul Washkewicz, vice president and co-founder of Eta Compute about the startup’s extreme low power technology for microcontrollers. The company claims to offer the lowest power MCU intellectual property (IP) available today, with voltages as low as 0.3 V. Eta Compute has developed and implemented a unique low power design methodology that delivers up to a 10x improvement in power efficiency. Its IP and custom designs operate over severe variations in conditions such as temperature, process, voltage and power supply variation. Eta Compute’s approach is a self-timed technology supporting dynamic voltage scaling (DVS) that is insensitive to process variations, inaccurate device models and path delay variations.

The technology has been implemented in a variety of chip functions. Among these are M0+ and M3 ARM cores scaling 0.3 V to 1.2 V operation with additional low voltage logic support functions such as real-time clocking (RTC), Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and digital signal processing. The technology has also been implemented in an A-D converter sensor interface that consumes less than 5 µW. The company has also crafted an efficient power management device that supports dynamic voltage scaling down to 0.25 V with greater than 80% efficiency.

According to the company, Eta Compute’s technology can be implemented in any standard foundry process with no modifications to the process. This allows ease of adoption of any IP and is immune to delays and changes in process operations. Manufacturing is straightforward with the company’s IP able to port to technology nodes at any foundry. Last fall at ARM TechCon, David Baker, Ph.D. and Fellow at Eta Compute, did a presentation that included a demonstration of a small wireless sensor board that can operate perpetually on a small 1 square inch solar cell.

Attacking the problem from a different direction, another startup, Nikola Labs, is applying its special expertise in antenna design and advanced circuitry to build power harvesting into products ranging from wearables to sensors to battery-extending phone cases. Wi-Fi routers, mobile phones and other connected devices are continually emitting RF waves for communication. According to the company, radio wave power is strongest near the source—but devices transmit in all directions, saturating the surrounding area with stray waves. Nikola Labs’ high-performance, compact antennae capture this stray RF energy. Efficient electronics are then used to convert it into DC electricity that can be used to charge batteries or energize ultra-low power devices.

Nikola’s technology can derive usable energy from a wide band of frequencies, ranging from LTE (910 MHz) to Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz) and beyond (up to 6 GHz). Microwatts of power can be harvested in an active ambient RF area and this can rise to milliwatts for harvesters placed directly on transmitting sources. Nikola Labs has demonstrated energy harvesting from a common source of RF communication waves: an iPhone. Nikola engineers designed a case for iPhone 6 that captures waste RF transmissions, producing up to 30 mW of power to extend battery life by as much as 16% without impacting the phone’s ability to send and receive data.

Whether you address the challenge of extreme low power from the inside out or the outside in—or by advancing battery capabilities—there’s no doubt that the demand for such technologies will only grow within the coming years. With all that in mind, I look forward to covering developments on this topic in Circuit Cellar throughout 2018.

This appears in the January (330) issue of Circuit Cellar magazine

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January Circuit Cellar: Sneak Preview

The January issue of Circuit Cellar magazine is coming soon. And it’s got a robust selection of embedded electronics articles for you. Here’s a sneak peak.

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Here’s a sneak preview of January 2018 Circuit Cellar:

 

                                     IMPROVING EMBEDDED SYSTEM DESIGNS

Special Feature: Powering Commercial Drones
The amount of power a commercial drone can draw on has a direct effect on how long it can stay flying as well as on what tasks it can perform. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child examines solar cells, fuel cells and other technology options for powering commercial drones.

CC 330 CoverFPGA Design: A Fresh Take
Although FPGAs are well established technology, many embedded systems developers—particularly those used the microcontroller realm—have never used them before. In this article, Faiz Rahman takes a fresh look a FPGAs for those new to designing them into their embedded systems.

Product Focus: COM Express boards
COM Express boards provide a complete computing core that can be upgraded when needed, leaving the application-specific I/O on the baseboard. This brand new Product Focus section updates readers on this technology and provides a product album of representative COM Express products.

TESTING, TESTING, 1, 2, 3

LF Resonator Filter
In Ed Nisley’s November column he described how an Arduino-based tester automatically measures a resonator’s frequency response to produce data defining its electrical parameters. This time he examines the resultsand explains a tester modification to measure the resonator’s response with a variable series capacitance.

Technology Spotlight: 5G Technology and Testing
The technologies that are enabling 5G communications are creating new challenges for embedded system developers. Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child explores the latest digital and analog ICs aimed at 5G and at the test equipment designed to work with 5G technology.

                                     MICROCONTROLLERS IN EVERYTHING

MCU-based Platform Stabilizer
Using an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), two 180-degree rotation servos and a Microchip PCI MCU, three Cornell students implemented a microcontroller-based platform stabilizer. Learn how they used a pre-programmed sensor fusion algorithm and I2C to get the most out of their design.

Designing a Home Cleaning Robot (Part 2)
Continuing on with this four-part article series about building a home cleaning robot, Nishant Mittal this time discusses the mechanical aspect of the design. The robot is based on Cypress Semiconductor’s PSoC microcontroller.

Massage Vest Uses PIC32 MCU
Microcontrollers are being used for all kinds of things these days. Learn how three Cornell graduates designed a low-cost massage vest that pairs seamlessly with a custom iOS app. Using the Microchip PIC32 for its brains, the massage vest has sixteen vibration motors that the user can control to create the best massage possible.

AND MORE FROM OUR EXPERT COLUMNISTS:

Five Fault Injection Attacks
Colin O’Flynn returns to the topic of fault injection security attacks. To kick off 2018, he summarizes information about five different fault injection attack stories from 2017—attacks you should be thinking about as an embedded designer.

Money Sorting Machines (Part 2)
In part 1, Jeff Bachiochi delved into the interesting world of money sort machines and their evolution. In part 2, he discusses more details about his coin sorting project. He then looks at a typical bill validator implementation used in vending systems.

Overstress Protection
Last month George Novacek reviewed the causes and results of electrical overstress (EOS). Picking up where that left off, in this article he looks at how to prevent EOS/ESD induced damage—starting with choosing properly rated components.

Wearables Drive Low Power Demands

320 Wearablese Lead Image for Web

MCUs & Analog ICs Meet Needs

Wearable devices put extreme demands on the embedded electronics that make them work. Devices spanning across the consumer, fitness and medical markets all need a mix of low-power, low-cost and high-speed processing.

By Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

Designers of new wearable, connected devices are struggling to extend battery life for next-generation products, while at the same time increasing functionality and performance in smaller form factors. These devices include a variety of products such as smartwatches, physical activity monitors, heart rate monitors, smart headphones and more. The microcontrollers embedded in these devices must blend extreme low power with high integration. Meanwhile, analog and power solutions for wearables must likewise be highly integrated while serving up low quiescent currents.

Modern wearable electronic devices all share some common requirements. They have an extremely low budget for power consumption,. They tend not to be suited for replaceable batteries and therefore must be rechargeable. They also usually require some kind of wireless connectivity. To meet those needs chip vendors—primarily from the microcontroller and analog markets—keep advancing solutions that consume extremely low levels of power and manage that power. This technology vendors are tasked to keep up with a wearable device market that IDC forecasts will experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.4% in 2020.

MCU and BLE Combo

Following all those trends at once is Cypress Semiconductor’s PSoC 6 BLE. In September the company made its public release of the PSoC 6 BLE Pioneer Kit and PSoC Creator Integrated Design Environment (IDE) software version 4.2 that enable designers to begin developing with the PSoC 6. The PSoC 6 BLE is has built-in Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) wireless connectivity and integrated hardware-based security.

Photo 1 The PSoC BLE Pioneer Kit features a PSoC 63 MCU with BLE connectivity. The kit enables development of modern touch and gesture-based interfaces that are robust and reliable with a linear slider, touch buttons and proximity sensors based using Cypress’ CapSense capacitive-sensing technology.

Photo 1
The PSoC BLE Pioneer Kit features a PSoC 63 MCU with BLE connectivity. The kit enables development of modern touch and gesture-based interfaces that are robust and reliable with a linear slider, touch buttons and proximity sensors based using Cypress’ CapSense capacitive-sensing technology.

According to Cypress, the company had more than 2,500 embedded engineer customers registering for the PSoC 6 BLE early adopter program in just a few months. Early adopters are using the flexible dual-core architecture of PSoC 6, using the ARM Cortex-M4 core as a host processor and the Cortex-M0+ core to manage peripheral functions such as capacitive sensing, BLE connectivity and sensor aggregation. Early adopter applications include wearables, personal medical devices, wireless speakers and more. Designers are also using the built-in security features in PSoC 6 to help guard against unwanted access to data.  …

Read the full article in the December 329 issue of Circuit Cellar

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December Circuit Cellar: A Sneak Preview

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 Here’s a sneak preview of December Circuit Cellar:

MICROCONTROLLERS IN MOTION

Special Feature: Electronics for Wearable Devices
Circuit Cellar Chief Editor Jeff Child examines how today’s microcontrollers, sensors and power electronics enable today’s wearable products.

329 Cover Screen CapSimulating a Hammond Tonewheel Organ
(Part 2)

Brian Millier continues this two-part series about simulating the Hammond tonewheel organ using a microcontrollers and DACs. This time he examines a Leslie speaker emulation.

Money Sorting Machines (Part 1)
In this new article series, Jeff Bachiochi looks the science, mechanics and electronics that are key to sorting everything from coins to paper money. This month he discusses a project that uses microcontroller technology to sort coins.

Designing a Home Cleaning Robot (Part 1)
This four-part article series about building a home cleaning robot starts with Nishant Mittal discussing his motivations behind to his design concept, some market analysis and the materials needed.

SPECIAL SECTION: GRAPHICS AND VISION

Designing High Performance GUI
It’s critical to understand the types of performance problems a typical end-user might encounter and the performance metrics relevant to user interface (UI) design. Phil Brumby of Mentor’s Embedded Systems Division examines these and other important UI design challenges.

Building a Robotic Candy Sorter
Learn how a pair of Cornell graduates designed and constructed a robotic candy sort. It includes a three degree of freedom robot arm and a vision system using a Microchip PIC32 and Raspberry Pi module.

Raster Laser Projector Uses FPGA
Two Cornell graduates describe a raster laser projector they designed that’s able to project images in 320 x 240 in monochrome red. The laser’s brightness and mirrors positions are controlled by an FPGA and analog circuitry.

ELECTRICITY UNDER CONTROL

Technology Spotlight: Power-over-Ethernet Solutions
Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) enables the delivery of electric power alongside data on twisted pair Ethernet cabling. Chief Editor Jeff Child explores the latest chips, modules and other gear for building PoE systems.

Component Overstress
When an electronic component starts to work improperly, Two likely culprits are electrical overstress (EOS) and electrostatic discharge (ESD). In his article, George Novacek breaks down the important differences between the two and how to avoid their effects.

AND MORE FROM OUR EXPERT COLUMNISTS:

Writing the Proposal
In this conclusion to his “Building an Embedded Systems Consulting Company” article series, Bob Japenga takes a detailed look at how to craft a Statement of Work (SOW) that will lead to success and provide clarity for all stakeholders.

Information Theory in a Nutshell
Claude Shannon is credited as one of the pioneers of computer science thanks to his work on Information Theory, informing how data flows in electronic systems. In this article, Robert Lacoste provides a useful exploration of Information Theory in an easily digestible way.