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Hundreds of Sensors Will Become Your Life-Long Buddies

Hundreds of Sensors Will Become Your Life-Long Buddies

In professional applications such as intelligent factories, smart grids, and smart buildings, ultra-low-power wireless connectivity will enable maintenance-free monitoring of infrastructure systems and resources. (Image courtesy of Thinkstock)

Industry experts are consistently predicting an electronic connectivity explosion—by the end of this decade nearly 40 billion systems and connected devices could be communicating with each other.

Much of this, of course, will involve the Internet of Things (IoT) via short-range radio technology. So it comes as no surprise that nanoelectronics research center Imec/Holst and MegaChips, a fabless semiconductor company specializing in system LSIs and products incorporating original algorithms and architecture, formed a  research-and-development partnership geared toward ultra-low-power (ULP) short-range radio technology for smart homes and buildings.

Your Life On A Chip

These two organizations foresee a huge market expansion for connected devices with small, battery-operated sensor devices integrated into homes, offices, automobiles, and even human bodies. This could create a situation where every human has hundreds of sensors playing an active part in their daily lives. As these wireless sensors become connected and operate in heterogeneous networks, they’re expected to enable supraliminal systems.

In professional applications such as intelligent factories, smart grids, and smart buildings, ultra-low-power wireless connectivity will enable maintenance-free monitoring of infrastructure systems and resources. Currently, such infrastructures are monitored on just a few locations and for only a few parameters, usually with expensive cabled systems. The availability of reliable autonomous, wireless sensor nodes will create substantial cost-saving opportunities by avoiding downtime of machines in factories or shortage of energy or other resources.

Low-Power Radio Solutions

Researchers from Imec/Holst and MegaChips aim to develop an ultra-low-power, multi-standard, sub-gigahertz radio solution (compatible with ZigBee 900 MHz and IEEE802.15.4g) on CMOS technology. They hope to achieve a transmit power two times lower than current state-of-the-art (60 mW) radios, and a receive power five to 10 times lower (6 mW).

The two organizations believe that energy-harvested solutions will eventually enable fully autonomous sensors. Even within this very modest power consumption, a programmable output transmitter up to 13 dBm is provided. Together with the –120-dBm sensitivity, this performance produces communication distances of up to 2 km in free space, thus guaranteeing reliable coverage in big industrial premises, smart-metering applications, and non-line-of-sight situations in smart buildings.

Megachips and Imec announced their collaboration at the recent Imec Technology Forum in Tokyo. In another announcement, Imec revealed that SCREEN Semiconductor Solutions, a manufacturer of semiconductor production systems, joined Imec’s supplier hub for joint R&D into cleaning, wet etch, and advanced lithography coat/develop processing techniques.

The collective thinking by the two organizations is that strong R&D interactions between manufacturers and suppliers at an early stage of development help to accelerate technology advances, allowing for efficient cost sharing, reduced risk. and optimized returns on investment.

Suppliers joining the Imec’s hub can assess their tools on product stacks; develop process control as well as hardware and software options; and integrate new materials. As part of the joint R&D agreement, SCREEN will advance process development on its AquaSpin SU-3200 single-wafer cleaners for FEOL and BEOL applications, as well as SOKUDO DUO coat/develop track processes for lithography patterning.

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