“Extreme low power” chip with energy harvesting provides lifetime battery solution for remote controls

Most people probably don’t mind changing batteries in remote controls every so often, but it contributes to e-waste especially if you’re not using rechargeable batteries, and I always find it’s pain as I don’t usually have stock, or don’t feel like waiting for several hours to recharge the batteries.

Universal Electronics Inc, or UEI for shorts, claims to have a solution with a family of QuickSet-certified chips using “Extreme Low-Power”, energy-harvesting and “high-performance technology” that would provide lifetime battery life to Bluetooth, voice remote controls. The main goal is “to help transition the world towards a more sustainable future, by reducing primary battery waste throughout the life of the product, which in turn reduces the cumulative CO2 footprint”.

QuickSet extreme low-power-energy-harvesting chip remote controls

We don’t have a lot of information about the chip, but the company provides some of the key benefits of the Bluetooth 5.2 SoC:

  • Arm-based with Trustzone security
  • Up to 2.5 times more processing power than current generation SOCs
  • Up to 80% lower power consumption so that batteries can last up to 10 times longer, depending on the remote architecture, due to adaptive scaling of the supply voltage.
  • Integrated energy harvesting that recovers energy already present in consumer homes, such as natural and artificial lights, radio frequencies from wireless devices, and other energy sources.
  • Power management – Support for a wide range of energy storage and charging options with a configurable, ultra-efficient Power Management Unit (PMU) that enables “true self-powering”.

I’m not exactly sure why people writing press releases keep on using the meaningless expression “current/previous generation”, and it’s unclear what those are, even after checking out the company’s products page since I don’t see any other Bluetooth SoCs.

The built-in energy harvesting solution is optional, and there will be two versions at launch, the UE961 “extreme low-power” silicon with support for Bluetooth 5.2 LE connectivity, and UE962 adding energy harvesting capabilities. Later on, the company plans to introduce a multi-protocol version with an additional 802.15.4 radio that should probably be used for Zigbee, Thread, and/or Matter.

Thanks to TLS for the tip.

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14 Replies to ““Extreme low power” chip with energy harvesting provides lifetime battery solution for remote controls”

  1. > I’m not exactly sure why people writing press releases keep on using the meaningless expression “current/previous generation”, and it’s unclear what those, are after seeing the company’s products page since I don’t see any other Bluetooth SoCs.

    It’s because they expect that most readers will not check. Same for “80% power reduction hence batteries last 10 times longer” (which can only be explained by batteries having twice the capacitiy multiplied by the 5 times smaller consumption). Pure marketing 🙂

    1. If the battery has a 5 year lifetime and you change your batteries in your remote once every 3 years, then 85% power reduction only reduces 40% of the battery waste. It’s still meaningful, but it’s not what they are advertising, at all. Not to mention that power usage always always always expands to consume capacity. So in reality this will only lead to more highly-featured low-power devices.

      Remember when cellphones had 1mo standby? ie Nokia 2760?

      Today we could make a cellphone with a year of standby. But we don’t. Why? Because it would still have a 90’s feature set, and bling sells, regardless of whether it’s needed.

      1. Oh I definitely agree, that’s what I tell people who say “did you hear about these new batteries, your phone could last one week”, and I reply “no, vendors managed to make you recharge them all day along and they know you’re willing to accept this situation, they’ll just add tons of useless and poorly developed crap allowing them to further cut development costs at the expense of your power bill”.

  2. Do these guys actually make their own chips or are they using someone elses silicon? Is this likely to be sub-threshhold technology like ambiq or arm’s m0n0 project?

  3. Hi, is there a wireless technology which can be powered by battery during at least one year and start an arduino (or activate a gpio) for few seconds ? I mean something wireless, on battery which is waiting for a signal to start something.
    I would like to be able to trigger a device remotely but all wireless solutions which listen for a signal to trigger something are not working with batteries…
    There must be something which is capable to wait for a signal with a very little power consumption, isn’t it ? 😅
    Let’s take an example : I have solar covers in my house. They are controlled by a button.
    So I want to close my cover instantly triggered wirelessly.
    Put an esp8266 inside will consume quickly all the power of the cover battery. With deep sleep I will loose the reactivity.
    So I’ m looking for a good idea 😄 Thank you !

    1. That’s always the same problem. We’d all want longevity and reactivity at the same time. The main problem with radio is that keeping an oscillator beating consumes power. And the highest the frequency, the most power it draws. If you could go with very low frequencies (tens of kHz) you might be luckier. But you’ll still need the electronics to decode a pulse. Note also that doing this with discrete components will not necessarily result in a lower power draw compared to a highly integrated chip.

      A better approach (without oscillator) might be to rely on light beams (infrared or laser pointer) as these ones will passively wait for a change. Maybe it’s acceptable to aim a remote at your device ? With IR on short distances you don’t even need to aim at it, with a large enough beam and high enough power you could completely illuminate it and deliver your “wakeup” pulse. Again, the decoder must be really low power as it will be triggered a lot for false positives. But there should be some margin, as a single 3Ah 18650 cell could deliver 340 uA continuously and last one year.

    2. Do you need to power the Arduino or anything else? If so, how often, for how long, and how much power do you need? Do you actually need an Arduino?

      If not, then a decent BLE or Zigbee chip (that means, NOT an ESP32) should definitely be able to run for over a year on battery while listening for requests. It won’t be instant, and it’s going to be a compromise between battery size, battery life, and reaction time (based on the polling interval). But a 1 second delay should be achievable with a one year battery life if you don’t expect to run off a CR2032.You can play with Nordic’s power profiler to see the trade-offs https://devzone.nordicsemi.com/power/w/opp/2/online-power-profiler-for-bluetooth-le

  4. I do definitely remember having a solar-powered calculator back in 80-ies. What stops them from putting a small one on each side of the remote?

    1. A calculator requires very, very, very little power. It uses virtually no power when not in use, only wakes up when you press a key (just the time required to process that key, update the display, save state, and go back to sleep). No timer, no power needed to monitor the keys, no power for the LCD other than when updating it…

      A remote is slightly more power hungry. Either it uses IR which I guess uses more power than just updating an LCD, or BLE which usually requires period wake-ups to maintain the connection alive.

      Of course, more recent remote with capacitive touchpads, gesture recognition, voice control, etc. use even more.

      It’s then all about tradeoffs.

    2. Nothing, Samsung has already done it and they’re likely using this or a very similar chip in their upcoming remotes.

    3. I know this was done by philips tv in europe 2010-2011. There are probably more brands that did it around the same time.

      Ladies’ GadgetsPhilips Econova LED LCD TV With Solar Remote – Ladies’ Gadgets (ladiesgadgets.com)

      It got abandoned afterwards. Probably due to it’s relative high cost vs the limited benefit for the IR remotes which were also getting replaced by RF remotes at the time.

      On a regular battery an IR remotes typically also lasts years. So one could argue adding the solar panel+ rechargeable battery would not make that much sense overall on the environmental footprint for a modern TV as it is only designed for a lifetime of around ~6 years anyway.

  5. This is great. But the energy harvesting direction is naive/cute, not practical. We’ve had energy harvesting for watches for decades, and it’s expensive. Antenna-based energy harvesting doesn’t capture even a tiny fraction of what a couple square mm of solar cell would, unless this is meant to operate in 24-7 darkness. So I suspect that this will excite some people and eventually they will turn back to solar+capacitor as a much cheaper and easier solution.

    1. As above, Samsung is already doing this with their current remotes. So calling it naive/cute is clearly naive by you.

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