PV energy harvesting reference designs for 'forever battery' IoT

April 08, 2021 // By Rich Pell
PV energy harvesting ref designs for 'forever battery' IoT
Ultra-low-power wireless semiconductor company Atmosic Technologies has announced the release of its new ATM3 series of IoT reference designs, expressly developed to optimize power savings with photovoltaic (PV) energy harvesting to provide manufacturers with flexible, compact and cost-efficient design possibilities for Bluetooth connected devices.

Integrating the company's M3 Bluetooth 5 system-on-chip (SoC) with energy harvesting technology, the three reference designs - one each for solar/light-powered remote control, keyboards, and beacons/sensors - are highly integrated to enable more compact and cost-efficient IoT product designs. The company says that it has further enhanced power efficiency in the reference designs with integrated photovoltaic energy harvesting that significantly extends the battery life of IoT and consumer devices, enabling batteries to last the entire lifetime of the device to achieve "forever battery" life, or so they may operate without batteries, enabling "battery free" devices.

"These reference designs will make it easy for IoT and consumer product designers and manufacturers to create remote controls, keyboards, and beacons/sensors that have 'forever battery' life or are completely battery free, thanks to the power and design efficiencies from Atmosic’s lowest-power BLE and photovoltaic energy harvesting technology," says Srinivas Pattamatta, VP of Marketing & Business Development, Atmosic. "These are yet another set of proof points that showcase how focusing on low power and energy harvesting in every aspect of design will dramatically reduce, and in many cases eliminate altogether, the IoT's dependence on batteries."

With the company's photovoltaic technology maximizing the solutions' power-capture qualities, each of the reference designs only requires a very compact photovoltaic cell that fits compactly within the end-product design to capture ambient sunlight or indoor light, which is then stored to be used as needed. The designs offer a variety of energy storage options, with each having been developed with the goal of the end product requiring as little power as possible to operate, thus driving operational efficiencies in end use deployments.

The benefits of "forever battery" life are lower operational hassles and costs with the operator or end user rarely or never having to expend resources to replace batteries. In industrial implementations of beacons, for example, hundreds and even thousands of beacons may be deployed in a manufacturing plant, shopping center, or entertainment venue so the costs of battery replacement can be expensive – taking into consideration both the cost of new batteries and labor – in addition to being time consuming.

For personal applications such as remotes and keyboards, the reliable operation of the device is a huge benefit – the user does not have to bother with the inconvenience of replacing batteries. And the benefits extend beyond immediate user advantages to the more pressing environmental need to dramatically reduce battery dependence among the increasing number of deployed IoT devices worldwide.

Each of the new reference designs offers a unique set of design features optimized for the product’s specific use case and design requirements. The ATM3 reference design series features the company's ultra-low power Atmosic BLE with a power management unit (PMU) integrated directly onto the BLE chip to achieve space and cost efficiencies. The intelligent PMU features direct connection to the photovoltaic (PV) cell to maximize harvesting efficiency, and delivers the energy required for the BLE operation in real-time while also storing excess energy not needed for immediate use.

  • The ATM3 remote control reference design enables multi-year battery life (i.e., "forever battery life") and also enables devices to be battery free depending the configuration. This can be done with a solar cell that is the size of two postage stamps – claimed to be many times smaller than the competition. The reference design provides three distinct storage configurations to provide for product design customization, including: integrated standard coin cell battery with no supercapacitor; standard coin cell with supercapacitor; and rechargeable coin cell with no supercapacitor.
  • The ATM3 keyboard reference design offers the industry's most efficient photovoltaic cell integration in a keyboard design, says the company. With the company's ultra-low power BLE and efficient energy harvesting, the PV cell needed is claimed to be less than half the surface size of competitor designs. The M3's "best-in-class" energy efficiency also enables smaller battery and energy storage options, resulting in additional design and cost efficiencies. Flexible design configurations include two battery options and other energy storage configurations.
  • The ATM3 beacon/sensor reference design is optimized for wireless performance and cost efficiency by integrating the photovoltaic cell, supercapacitor, and optional coin cell battery into the design, and the PMU on a single chip. The company says that its lowest-power BLE and efficient PV energy capture reduces the size of the photovoltaic cell that’s required to power the beacon, resulting in design and cost efficiencies. Due to the low power of its BLE solution, the solar cell needs to be only the size of the beacon. The beacon/sensor design also features optional integration of a temperature/humidity sensor and accelerometer for sensing applications.

The three reference designs are being released in Q2 of 2021, during which time the company says it is offering demonstration units, evaluation kits and "how to" design collateral to qualified manufacturers.

Atmosic Technologies


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