Posts Tagged ‘energy harvesting’

EtaCore ARM Cortex M3 Core Operates at Low Voltage (0.25V and up) for Higher Power Efficiency

July 14th, 2017 1 comment

We’ve previously seen Ambiq Micro offering Apollo ARM Cortex M4F MCU with Cortex M0+ energy efficiency, and later the upgraded Apollo 2 MCU with even lower power consumption and better performance. The company can achieve such efficiency thanks to low sub-thresold operating voltage in the 0 to 0.5V range. Another startup – Eta Compute – is now offering another low voltage solution with their EtaCore ARM Cortex M3 IP, and other IP blocks operating at low voltage (0.25 to 1.2V).

Eta Compute claims a “10x improvement in power efficiency over any alternative”, and battery life of over 10 years on a CR2032 coin cell. Their website does not provide that many details about the core and development tools, but still mentions the following:

  • The only commercially available self-timed technology supporting dynamic voltage scaling (DVS) that is insensitive to process variations, inaccurate device models, and path delay variations
  • Includes M0+ and M3 ARM cores scaling 0.3 to 1.2 volt operation with additional low voltage logic support functions such as RTC, AES, and DSP
  • Analog to Digital Converter (ADC) sensor interface consuming less than 5uW for the most power constrained applications
  • Efficient power management device that supports dynamic voltage scaling down to 0.25V with greater than 80% efficiency
  • Encryption and Decryption, signal processing, and real time clocks are other examples of Eta Compute IP supported by DVS, 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 delivers robust, process and delay insensitive operation. The company’s IP is portable to technology nodes at any foundry simplifying the manufacturing process.

Eta Compute further explains that they developed delay insensitive asynchronous logic (DIAL) design IP for maximum power efficiency allowing small batteries and energy harvesting – such as solar, thermal, vibration, or RF energy harvesting- to power the design.

The company does not appear to make MCU themselves, but they provide EtaCore IP for other companies to design and manufacture MCU based on their solutions. To allow for an evaluation of their solutions, they designed EtaCore ARM Cortex M3 reference design which includes sensors for ambient light, temperature, humidity and pressure, is powered by a half-inch square solar cell, and optionally support LoRaWAN components. The reference design measures 8.9 x 3.8 cm, and can be programmed with Eclipse, Keil and Linux debug and development environments.

8Power Vibration Energy Harvesting Technology Powers Batteryless LPWAN GPS Trackers, MEMS Sensors

May 23rd, 2017 No comments

While IoT products usually promises one to 10 years battery life, they will be several billions of them, and ARM’s CEO even forecast one trillion IoT devices in the next 20 years. Recharging batteries at home may be fine, but imagine having to recharge or replace batteries on top of electric poles, inside walls, in remote locations, and other hard to reach places, considerable resources would have to be deployed just to replace or recharge battery every year or whenever the battery is close to being depleted.  That’s why work on energy harvesting technology for batteryless devices may be so important, and 8Power is one of the companies working in the field through their vibration energy harvesting technology that is said to harvest up to 10x the power of competing devices under comparable condition thanks to the use of parametric resonance phenomenon.

8Power LTE NB-IoT GPS Tracker (Left) and MEMS Sensor (Right)

The company has recently announced their Track 100 family of LPWAN GPS tracker, such as Track 100XL relying on LTE NB-IoT, but they also have models supporting LTE Cat M1 and LoRaWAN. The IP67 devices include vibration energy harvesting technology, as well as optionally a solar panel. The company also provides a “secure cloud hosted data platform to provide dashboards, analytics, device management, security and application API access to manage fleets of devices”. There’s no battery, and no need for (battery related) maintenance. Track 100 trackers are powered through the vibration generated by trucks, trains, or other vehicles.

The company is also working on integrating the technology into MEMS sensors that consume very little power (10 mW) in continuous operations. Beside leveraging vibrations from the transportation industry, and 8Power technology can also generate power from vibrations from  infrastructure (bridges, embankments, transmission lines) or machinery (high-power motors and rotating equipment), and the technology has already been validated through a experiment to monitor the structure of an older bridge in Scotland.

The company showcased their technology and latest products at IDTechEx 2017.


PragmatIC Manufactures Ultra Thin and Flexible Plastic Electronics Circuit, Plastic ARM Cortex M0 MCU Coming Soon

May 22nd, 2017 4 comments

Electronics manufacturing now relies on silicon wafers, and it works great for many applications. However, some other applications require or benefit from a cheaper price, thinner circuits, and flexibility, and PragmatIC addresses all those three issues with technology to print electronics circuits on plastic sheets.

Plastic Cortex M0 MCUs with Memory

The technology is said to costs less than 1/10th cost of silicon, with the circuit printed on 10 μm thick flexible plastic “wagers” with support for 10 layers. Circuit starts from basic gates up to ARM Cortex M0/M0+ chip as shown above. Simpler circuits are currently sold for as low as $0.01, but the area for Cortex M0 MCU is 1cm2, and a bit too big for commercial applications, so they plan on shrinking the process to make it commercial viable. ARM is an investor in the company, and PragmatIC is ramping production capacity with the ability to manufacture on billion plastic chips/circuits in 2018.

They have 6 types of products/solutions:

  • PragmatIC Compute – Digital logic in silicon, such as the well-known 7400 series, timers, counters. Fully programmable processor cores are still in development… watch this space!
  • PragmatIC Design – Supports third-party design for custom flexICs
  • PragmatIC Power – Variety of wireless energy harvesting approaches with products providing rectification at low frequency (LF, e.g. 125kHz) and high frequency (HF, e.g. 13.56MHz), as well as PragmatIC’s patent-pending Proximity Field Communication (PFC)
  • PragmatIC Talk – Proprietary capacitive identification and LF/HF radio frequency identification (RFID) protocols. Near Field Communications (NFC) solutions are being worked on.
  • PragmatIC Show – Solutions for driving displays or visual indicators, including conventional surface mount LEDs as well as printed display technologies: electrophoretic (EPD, e.g. e-Ink), electrochromic (EC), liquid crystal (LCD) and organic LED (OLED).
  • PragmatIC Sense – Analogue interfaces to sense touch, light, vibration, sound, temperature, etc. Future developments include full analogue-to-digital conversion (ADC) allowing precise measurement of environmental factors.

The price point, flexibility and thinness of the solution makes it suitable for various applications such as RFID or sensors directly on “smart packaging”, security for smartcard and bank notes, toys and games with curved displays, and once plastic MCU are small and cost effective enough their could be used in wearables, for example in smartwatch to offer thinner devices, or larger batteries, or integrated directly into clothes. I also imagine that eventually combining RFID or GPS with energy harvesting technology, it might be possible to have tracking enabled for all kind of goods or documents, even the cheapest ones.

Charbax interviewed the company at IDTechEx discussing the work with ARM, the technology, and various applications.

Batteryless, Urine Powered Smart Diapers Notify You When It’s Time to Change Them

December 22nd, 2016 4 comments

One of the downside with current smart wearables is that most need to be recharged quite often, every day, week or month, and we’re still a long way of 10 year battery life offered by typical watches. I’m hopefully that eventually many devices won’t need to be recharged at all as we’ll have made improvements both in terms of power efficiency and energy harvesting using solar, body heat, vibrations and other techniques.

batteryless-urine-powered-smart-diaperTakakuni Douseki, professor at the Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering of Ritsumeikan University, has been working on micro energy harvesting, and his latest “wireless involuntary urination sensor system” notifies the user when it’s time change the diapers without the need of any battery, instead using energy generated by urine and stored in a capacitor in order to transmit the data wirelessly.

The prototype is using a modified baby diaper with a 320x5mm activated carbon piece, and a 1.8mm aluminum electrode placed between the absorbent and a waterproof sheet. The amount of electricity generated increases with the amount of urine, with the current peaking at the time of “release” as shown in the chart below.


All that electricity is stored in a capacitor, and when the amount of urine reaches a threshold level (80 cm3), the system transmits an ID signal over a wireless connection up to 5 meters. The system may be commercialized later for example to care of patients suffering from incontinence. The research paper about urine energy harvesting and self-powered diaper can be found on IEEE website.

Via Nikkei Technology

Ambiq Micro Introduces Ultra-Low Power Apollo 2 Cortex-M4F MCU Consuming Less than 10 μA/MHz

December 18th, 2016 1 comment

Last year Ambiq Micro unveiled their Apollo Cortex-M4F MCU with Cortex M0+ energy efficiency thanks to operation in sub-threshold voltage (< 0.5 V), and the MCU is said found in Matrix Powerwatch, a fitness tracker powered by body heat that you never need to charge. The company has recently announced a new version of the micro-controller with Apollo 2 MCU with better maximum performance thanks to a higher maximum clock speed (48 MHz vs 24 MHz), and higher efficiency (10 μA/MHz vs 30 μA/MHz @ 3.3V).


Apollo 2 MCU key features and specifications:

  • Ultra-low supply current
    • <10 μA/MHz executing from flash at 3.3 V
    • <10 μA/MHz executing from RAM at 3.3 V
  • ARM Cortex-M4 Processor up to 48 MHz with FPU, MMU, wake-up interrupt controller with 32 interrupts
  • Ultra-low power memory
    • Up to 1 MB of flash memory for code/data
    • Up to 256 KB of low leakage RAM for code/data
    • 16kB 1 or 2-way Associative Cache
  • Ultra-low power interface for off-chip sensors
    • 14 bit, 15-channel, up to 1.2 MS/s ADC
    • Voltage comparator
    • Temperature sensor with +/-2ºC accuracy
  • Serial peripherals – 6x I2C/SPI master,1x I2C/SPI slave,2x UART, PDM for mono and stereo audio microphone
  • Clock sources
    • 32.768 kHz XTAL oscillator
    • Low frequency RC oscillator – 1.024 kHz
    • High frequency RC oscillator – 48 MHz
    • RTC based on Ambiq’s AM08X5/18X5 families
  • Wide operating range – 1.8-3.6 V, –40 to 85°C
  • Package –  2.5 x 2.5 mm 49-pin CSP with 34 GPIO; 4.5 x 4.5 mm 64-pin BGA with 50 GPIO

The MCU promises weeks, months, and years of battery life thanks to Ambiq Micro’s patented Subthreshold Power Optimized Technology (SPOT) Platform. Apollo 2 will be suitable for battery operated devices, or even batteryless devices leveraging energy harvesting such as wireless sensors, activity and fitness trackers, consumer medical devices, smart watches, and smart home/IoT devices.

Documentation and devkits are available but you’d need to contact the company to learn more. Ambiq Micro’s Apollo 2 is currently sampling to some partners, and will be sampling more broadly in the coming months. A few more details may be found on Ambiq Micro Apollo 2’s product page.

Meet Body Heat Powered MATRIX PowerWatch, The Activity Tracker You Never Need to Charge (Crowdfunding)

November 15th, 2016 4 comments

There are currently several issues with wearables that makes it sub-optimal devices, from displays that can’t be always-on, to unreliable sensors, and in my experience pretty poor reliability, as I’ve managed to go through 4 fitness trackers / smartwatches in a year. Another issue is that contrary to typical watches lasting 10 years with a coin cell battery, most wearables require to be charge every few days, weeks, with the very best devices being chargers every few months. MATRIX PowerWatch promises to solve latter, as you will never need to ever charge it since it charges itself by harvesting energy using your body heat.

matrix-powerwatchThe company promotes it as a smartwatch, but it’s closer to an activity tracker, since you can’t keep the Bluetooth LE connection all the time in order to receive notifications to your smartphone. It’s basically used to show time, track your activity and sleep patterns, and you can synchronize the data with your iOS or Android phone when you need it. It does not have to be done often, as the watch can keep up to one year of data. The watch is water-resistant up to 50 meters, and controlled by two buttons (no touchscreen). One extra advantage of the heat body charging mechanism is that it will also allow the watch to accurately track the amount of calories burned, while all other wearables are just making informed guesses. If you don’t wear the watch, a backup battery takes care of power, the watch goes to sleep keeping track of time.

So how does it convert body heat into energy? The company explains:

Our thermoelectric technology converts heat to electric power. It is based on the Seebeck effect discovered in 1821. In the absence of an applied voltage gradient V, electric current, J, can still be generated if there is a temperature gradient, T: . A thermoelectric material must have a low thermal conductivity and high electrical conductivity to function efficiently. NASA has used this technology to power the Voyager spacecraft and Curiosity, the mars rover.

A thermoelectric module is composed of many tiny semiconductor “legs” that when added together create a large voltage.

Some obvious concerns about the technology is whether it will work as advertised in all conditions. It relies on temperature delta, so what happens when the ambient temperature is close to body temperature, would the watch just go into sleep mode in that case, relying on the backup battery? The comments are also interesting, where we learn the display is apparently a black & white LCD display, and not a low power e-Paper display, and some people are starting to ask features like a color display, GPS support, and BT notifications which may not be a realistic goal… But other aspects of the project also inspire more confidence, as they have allegedly tested 1,000 working prototypes, and Arrow Electronics is involved in the manufacturing of the project.

The watch was launched on Indiegogo yesterday, and the project has already surpassed its $100,000 crowdfunding campaign. If you’ll like to get involved you can still go with an super early bird pledge of $119 for the PowerWatch with a nylon strap. Other rewards are just for various  quantities up to 100. Shipping is free to the US, adds $15 to the rest of the world, and delivery is scheduled for July or September 2017 depending on the rewards.

Via Liliputing and CNET

Cypress Introduces PSoC 4 L-Series ARM Cortex-M0 MCU and Development Kit

February 9th, 2016 No comments

Cypress Semiconductor has recently unveiled PSoC 4 L-Series micro-controller family based on ARM Cortex M0 core with more programmable analog and digital blocks, expanded memory, new peripherals and higher number of I/Os, as well as the corresponding Arduino compatible CY8CKIT-046 PSoC 4 L-Series Pioneer Kit to evaluate their latest solution.

PSoC 4200L Block Diagram (Click to Enlarge)

PSoC 4200L Block Diagram (Click to Enlarge)

Key features of PSoC 4 L-Series MCU

  • ARM Cortex-M0 CPU @ 48-MHz with DMA controller, up to 256KB flash, up to 32KB SRAM and  up to 98 GPIOs
  • CapSense with SmartSense auto-tunning2x Cypress Capacitive Sigma-Delta (CSD) blocks
  • Programmable analog
    • 4x configurable opamps
    • 4x current DACs (IDACs)
    • 2x low-power comparators (CMP)
    • One 12-bit, 1-Msps SAR ADC
  • Programmable digital
    • 8x Universal Digital Blocks (UDBs)
    • 8x configurable 16-bit TCPWM
    • 4x independent serial communication blocks (SCBs)
  • Full-Speed USB 2.0 controller
  • 2x CAN Controllers
  • Segment LCD Drive support up to a maximum of 64 output (commons or segments)
  • Power
    • 1.71 to 5.5 V Operation
    • 20-nA Stop Mode with GPIO pin wakeup
    • Hibernate and Deep Sleep modes allow wakeup-time versus power trade-offs
  • Packages48-pin TQFP, 64-pin TQFP, 68-pin QFN, 124-pin μBGA

PSoC 4 L series micro-controller are programmed with Cypress PSoC Creator IDE running on Windows only, several getting started guides can be downloaded, and you may join Cypress Developer Community for support.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The quickest way to get started or/and evaluation the new MCU is to get CY8CKIT-046 PSoC 4 L-Series Pioneer Kit with PSoC 4 L-Series pioneer board, a USB standard-A to Mini-B cable,  4 jumper wires, 2 proximity sensor wires, a stereo audio earphone with microphone, and a Quick Start Guide.

Pioneer board specifications:

  • MCU – PSoC 4200L (CY8C4248BZI-L489) Cortex M0 @ 48 MHz with 256KB flash and 32KB RAM
  • Storage – 1 Mbit Cypress F-RAM (FM24V10G) + footprint for micro SD slot or serial NOR flash
  • Wireless Connectivity – Bluetooth 4.1 LE via footprint for EZ-BLE PRoC module (CYBLE-022001-00)
  • USB – 1x micro USB connector, 1x KitProg USB connector
  • Audio – 3.5mm audio jack
  • Debugging
    • PSoC 5LP programmer and debugger chip
    • PSoC 5LP I/O header (2x 8-pin)
    • PSoC 4200L program and debug header
  • Expansion Headers
    • Arduino compatible headers on main board (left)
    • Arduino compatible headers on shield board (right)
    • Digilent Pmod compatible I/O header
    • Character LCD header
    • 2x CapSense proximity headers
    • EZ-BLE I/O header
  • Misc – Current measurement jumper, reset and user buttons, RGB LED, status LEDs, CapSense Gesture pad
  • Power
    • 5V via micro USB port
    • Footprint for Cypress Energy Harvesting PMIC (S6AE101A)
  • Dimensions – N/A

You can get extensive hardware and software documentation, as well as purchase the devkit for $49 on PSoC 4 L-Series Pioneer Kit product page.

PSoC 4 L-Series MCUs are currently sampling with production expected this quarter. More details can be found on PSoC 4 L-Series page.

Via EDN Europe

Review and Teardown of Simplelink Self-Powered Power Switch

December 30th, 2015 1 comment

After I wrote about SimpleLink Batteryless power switch and receiver, the company decided to sent me a kit to try out by myself. So in this review, I’ll checkout the kit, install a demo to show how it works, and finally have a look at the internals.

SimpleLink Self-powered Pwoer Swtich Kit (Click to Enlarge)

SimpleLink Self-powered Power Swtich Kit (Click to Enlarge)

The kit include a power cord with a US plug and a holder and corresponding light bulb that you need to connect to the corresponding red and blue wire of the receiver (white cylinder), and you can control with the green power battery-less switch. Two 3M double face stickers are also included for the receiver and switch, as well as a strap for the switch, a screw set for either the light holder or receiver, and a user’s manual shown below.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Installation is pretty self-explanatory, and you just need to connect the blue and red cables to the input (mains) and output (light) as indicated on the receiver.


Then you just need to connect it the mains (100 to 240V AC), and press the switch to turn the light on and off. You can watch a full unboxing, as well as a two short demos: one close to the receiver, one at around 5 meters starting at 3:11 in the video below.

This works using RF (433MHz) connectivity and in theory line of sight range is 100 meters, and indoors 30 meters, but I found the switch to because unreliable at around 20 meters with line of sight, and if I’m placed at the other side of my house, around 8 meters away, it’s also unreliable through multiple walls at this distance. So it works pretty well, but not exactly as far as in the specs.

I’ve started the teardown by opening the switch.

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Click to Enlarge

We can see a thin wire instead the enclosure that is used as the RF antenna. It starts to be a little more difficult to open after, and I broke a few clips.

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Click to Enlarge

But the second step shows a rubber pad to cover the board, and a tiny button with a spring. After some more efforts I can finally take the board out.

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Click to Enlarge

So the system is using some kind of coil for energy harvesting. I could not identify the model number, but for example, a company called Coilcraft provides inductors and transformers specifically designed for energy harvesting.

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Click to Enlarge

Lifting the coil revealed ST Micro STM8S103F3P6 8-bit micro controller, and Texas Instruments CC115L sub-GHz RF transmitter. The board name is SimpleLink-V05 MFB20151129.

Finally, I could reassemble everything together, with the switch still working! Yeah! But time to care of the receiver that is much easier to disassemble…

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Click to Enlarge

The solder looks thick and clean on the high voltage tracks, so I guess it’s reassuring. The board is called SimpleLinkV4 M&D151129, so both the receiver and switch boards are pretty recent, about one month old. I simply had to pull the board out to check out the other side of the board.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The relay is WRG RJ-SS-112DM1 operating at 12V DC, and supporting up to 10A @ 250V according to the specs. While the board itself is not UL or TUV certified, the relay is said to have some “SSA approval ratings” for “CQC”, cUL, and TUV.

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Click to Enlarge

A short wire is again used as the RF antenna.

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Click to Enlarge

The long push button and LED are also interesting. The button is used to pair the receiver and the switch in case of issue, but I did not have to use it. The LED turn blue when the light bulb is turned on, and turned off with the light.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The RF board is soldered, and I did not remove it, but I can see two IC, which should be another STM8S MCU coupled with Texas Instruments CC113L smart RF receiver.

I’ll probably use the system with one of my outdoor fluorescent lamp. SimpleLink used to sell the kit on Aliexpress for $48, but they’ve since removed all product from their store. I found the price to be on the high side, and in a world of $3 WiFi modules, I’d expect a receiver + switch kit to be closer to $20 than $50. You can still check out SimpleLink wireless and batteryless switches on the company website.