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Voltage Detector Chip Allows Batteries in Sensors to Last Longer

09 February 2017

Researchers at the University of Bristol have developed a voltage detector chip that when combined with a sensor eliminates standby power by enabling zero-power sensing and listening.

The chip requires only a few trillionths of a watt to activate other circuits and the result is extended battery life in small batteries in some cases by years. Bristol has made the chip available to companies to use in order to design sensors that continuously listen, without using power from a battery or main power.

The chip is a sensor-driven circuit that requires no power supply, instead using a fraction of the power contained in the output signal of the sensor. Researchers have demonstrated how the voltage detector chip eliminates standby power with a television with no continuous draw of power during standby, by using the chip that is powered up at a distance, directly from the infrared signal of a standard TV controller.

The voltage detector chip sensor-driven circuit that requires no power supply, instead using a fraction of the power contained in the output signal of the sensor. Source: University of Bristol The voltage detector chip sensor-driven circuit that requires no power supply, instead using a fraction of the power contained in the output signal of the sensor. Source: University of Bristol “The ultra-low power UB20M voltage detector provides sensing that is continuous and free,” said Dr. Bernard Stark of the University of Bristol. “This is because it is able to respond to minute quantities of power from unpowered sensors. No battery or other power is needed for the device to stay alive and listening, and battery maintenance is therefore reduced or not needed. We are now actively seeking commercial partners to use the voltage detector chip in their product, and would welcome companies to get in touch.”

Electronic sensing devices use power to both listen and react. For applications such as security alarms, activity monitors and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices, energy used to keep the device alive and listening is far more important than energy used to react. So in these applications, eliminating listening power is a necessary aspect to increasing battery life and improving devices’ impact on the environment, Bristol said.

How It Works

The voltage detector chip uses just a miniscule quantity of energy from the device it is waiting for—such as infrared light from a TV controller or movement of an asset tracker. This energy switches on mains- or battery-powered devices when needed. The chip is also small enough to fit in many autonomous electronics devices, researchers say.

Bristol sees this chip helping areas such as mains-powered equipment, battery-driven sensors and monitoring systems, remotely powered sensors, in devices to eliminate mechanical switches and as a data generating device.

To contact the author of this article, email Peter.Brown@ieeeglobalspec.com


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