PORTLAND, Ore.--A new electronics architecture developed by researchers at Columbia University promises to cut power consumption of sensors by 100 times using daisy-chained intermittent operation, enabling future sensors to cut the power cord for monitoring vital signs, weather patterns and energy consumption, among other applications.
Self-powered electronics eliminates the need for batteries and the maintenance headaches of keeping sensors and other remote monitoring facilities online 24/7 year-in and year-out, according to the Columbia researchers that worked on the projection.
"Power consumption becomes very low as you pack more functionality into smaller spaces," said Peter Kinget, a professor at Columbia. "But nanoscale transistors are not as reliable and cannot sustain as large signal levels, requiring new design concepts."
Columbia University demonstration chip shows that by cutting power 100-times plus communicating only when necessary, ambient light can power battery-free standalone self-powered sensors.
Using daisy-chained intermittent operation--instead of always-on transmission--can enable many types of sensors to dramatically reduce power consumption while still providing the data needed to make them useful. Such applications include smart clothing that monitors vital signs and transmits a wearer's location during emergencies, sensors that monitor energy consumption from inside walls of new buildings, or sensors dropped from planes to collect and transmit data about weather patterns in remote regions.
The Columbia architecture chosen by Kinget uses tiny amounts of ambient light to generate nano-amps of current on-chip to power sensors that intermittently sample their environment whenever they have stored up enough energy to take a reading. Then instead of powering up a long-range wireless receiver, the device queries its environment to find its closest neighboring sensor, to which it sends it reading daisy-chain style for communication from node to node. Finally, since reliability cannot be guaranteed from such tiny devices, an algorithm is used to average multiple readings to achieve any desired level of accuracy.
It was inevitable that we would reach a point when very small local networks would be ubiquitous enough for this level of communication to evolve. The power and potential evil use for these devices boggle the mind.
I have been wondering why the cable companies did not realize this potential due to their extensive networks to integrate additional services into their subscribers life. Home monitoring, auto environmental control, safety, and fire are just a few very useful things they could do for limited investment.
I can't wait to see the uses for these devices.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.